Tag Archives: necessary flexibility

The Impact of Small Gestures

Sermon notes are below the video.

While preparing for this sermon I sent a question out to my facebook

friends list asking them to share a small gesture that meant a lot to them.

I will read a few of them, and will share the rest at the beginning of open

worship. We often underestimate our impact on other people, and forget

that small acts of recognition can have a much bigger impact than we

expect. In quantum physics and social science this is called the observer

effect and pretty simply put the mere act of observation impacts and

alters the state of what is observed. I will go further and say if

observation has an impact, recognition has an even deeper impact. So,

let us hear from my friends list a couple of small things with a big

impact.

hey…gestures of kindness just flow from my friend Carole

Spencer…It’s like she has a hidden reservoir of kindness…when she

was preparing to move to IN – days before she left she took out

time from her over packed schedule to have lunch with me…a nice

unrushed time together you would never have known what kind of

a time crunch she was under…that’s only one story…she continues,

through small gestures of love and caring to let me know that I am

special and loved…now I am choked up…God bless her

In reference to your small gesture. I was about 19 or 20. We were

not a huggy touchy feely kind of family. I was going through it and

Josh gave me a hug. It was a gesture of brotherly love one I have

not forgotten. Boys are always being told to toughen up. It’s a

shame. We are not allowed to feel the emotion of where we are at.

A friend here who has a small income brought me a candy bar on

my birthday. It made my day.

43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip,

he said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter,

was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and

told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law,

and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the

son of Joseph.” 46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from

there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. 47 When

Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is

an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” 48 “How do you know

me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you

were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Then

Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the

king of Israel.” 50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I

saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.”

51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you,[i] you[j] will see ‘heaven

open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’[k] the

Son of Man.” John 1:43-51

1) Finding Philip – what a huge story behind two words.

2) Like last week with Andrew, Philip’s priority was bringing those

he cared about into relationship with the Messiah.

3) Can anything good come from Nazareth? The reputation of the

“wrong side of the tracks.”

4) Where are our Nazareth’s? God intentionally chooses to work in

the places we think can’t possibly be places God could be at work.

5) The fix is: come and see. Not come and do or come and fix, but

come and witness the activity of God.

6) Recognition of what Jesus sees. The power of the words “I see

you.”

7) This small gesture of recognition was not miraculous to Jesus, but

if you are part of a marginalized people under oppressive rule,

maybe recognition feels more miraculous than we might think.

8) In our open worship I would like you to think on small gestures

from others that had a big impact on you and if you feel led, to

share them with us. I will begin by reading off what was shared

with me.

I’ve got a story about a military chaplain who offered me the use of his office – to study or nap – when I needed to get somewhere quiet. I’m trying to figure out how to tell the nutshell version. I’m sure you understand why that’s difficult for me.

I was at my daddy’s funeral, and a man about my age came up to me, cowboy hat in hand and asked me to forgive him for his bullying me in school. How much courage this man had. He knew that he might never see me again and because he had become a Christian, he wanted to make things right. What could I do but hug him? God’s grace is a wonderful thing. Many other people bullied me in school, he is the only one who asked forgiveness.

My husband died and I was walking my dog a couple of days later (more his dog). This guy came up to me who I never met and said that God wanted him to pray for me. He asked my name and told me he would be praying for me. He told me God loves you very much. I thought it was very strange but I needed it really bad!! I never saw him before or after in my neighborhood. Do you think he was an angel? I was very suicidal at the time.

Twelve people from my small group at church showed up at my dad’s home and worked for 2 1/2 hours in 88 degree plus temperatures to help with yard work and such. His neighbors and another really good friend of mine helped out as well. The yard had gotten to the point that was beyond anything I could do by myself. Everyone did it with joy, laughter, dedication and hard work. The result was amazing! They all did it just because – no ulterior motives- they just wanted to help out and do something nice

I was thinking (again) of a small gesture from a stranger that was incredibly meaningful to me. One morning I was taking the kids to school and the youngest was shrieking non-stop (be was on a medication that caused crazy behavioral side-effects). It was so bad that I pulled over and took him out of the car to try and help him calm down. A minute later (he was still screaming), the front door of the house we were parked next to opened, and a woman came out onto the porch and, with absolutely no judgement, asked: “is there anything I can do to help?” I thanked her, and told her no, he just needed some time to collect himself. She nodded, and said “I guess we all have days like that. If you think of anything, just come on up.” Her compassion and kindness for both my 3 year old and for me in that moment were an incredible gift, and helped me to help him. Such a small thing, only words…. Yet three years later I still remember her.

Amy blessed me with flowers before my flight back yo

When I moved to CA 2 good friends came to see me off at the airport which I didn’t expect, and it made it so much better. Made me feel like a real person

I planned a fishing trip a year ago knowing it would be before hay cutting time where I live We had a warmer than usual season and the hay will now be cut while I am gone. Two people volunteered to put the hay up in the barn for me while I am gone and manage the crew needed to do it. I am greatful.

I was sixteen and had reached my full height of five foot eight inches. However I only weighed about 105 pounds, was pale as only a white Oregonian can get and half awake. I was greasy that spring morning and chose to wear baggy army surplus pants with a black sweatshirt. At the time I was attending an alternate high school at the local community college which required a ride of the city bus. Now, before we begin, it needs to be said that I come from a loving, stable, middle class home. Food was in fact available and the whole family sat down every night for home cooked dinner. I just usually opted out of eating most if any of it. As a consequence I slept for 16 hours a day and didn’t get a lot of exercise. I was also into the whole “war orphan” look and carefully cultivated a sad and lost affect. That morning I was feeling very half dead and was curled up in a ball on the bus mostly asleep. A youngish man on the bus leaned over to me and asked hesitantly “Do you…need, um, breakfast?”. This man looked to my 16 year old eyes as “too old to be potential threat” (potential threats were kids my own age who may feel entitled to pester me) which probably meant he was 25-30. I, being half awake, looked up in confusion and said “No? Um, no thank you? What?” to which he looked abashed and said “oh.” The rest of the ride and day commenced without anything interesting happening. But thinking back, I realize what an amazing amount of bravery this took. This young man had to overcome many social barriers to offer me kindness. First he had to overcome the barrier of talking to an underage girl without being thought a predator, he had to talk to a stranger, which just isn’t done in Salem, Oregon, and then he had to talk to what I’m sure appeared to be a homeless teen. Homeless people in this town are regarded as crazy meth addicts who will murder you without the slightest provocation. I really wish I had had the presence of mind to thank him profusely and encourage his future offers of help. I actually did need breakfast that morning, I’m sure I hadn’t eaten a thing in the previous 20 hours, and emotionally was sorely in need of help. So, maybe with the help of the interwebs, I can communicate this message to him, and to others who hesitate about offering food to strange children. Hey guy on the bus, thanks.

I don’t know if I shared this one or not at CPFC, but an incident on a MAX train had a huge impact on me. There was a young homeless couple a couple seats ahead of where I was standing as we crossed the steel bridge into Portland. They were discussing where they would spend the night and where they might find something to eat. I was standing there trying to decide if I should pull some cash out of my wallet and give it to them when a young man, also homeless but a little better equipped, stepped up and acted. He put his duffel bag down on the floor and zipped it open to reveal a couple dozen cans and other packages of food. He said to them, “Here! Take what you need. It’s not mine. It belongs to Jesus.” He didn’t hesitate and wonder about the right thing to do. He just acted on what was in his heart. And what was obviously there was Jesus Christ’s admonition to love God and love your neighbor. I’ve since come to understand this lesson biblically. Jeremiah 31:31-34 has this to say: “31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to[d] them,[e]” declares the Lord. 33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord.” This says to me that after the coming of Christ and the establishment of the new covenant God has put His law on our hearts. He has informed our consciences as to what is right and what is not. Many people now use the letter of the Law to justify ignoring what their consciences tell them is right. They argue that the Holy Spirit cannot contradict the Law. What they are really trying to say is that they can ignore the Holy Spirit if it contradicts their comfortable, human interpretation of the law. In the incident above, I should have simply obeyed my conscience without thinking through all of the ramifications and possible requirements. When I hesitated, a homeless young man stepped up and taught me a lesson.

 

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First Things First

This sermon was inspired by the following notes.

In our lives, we have many things surrounding us attempting to claim a higher position on our priority list. The hardest decisions in our lives tend to not be between good and evil, but between competing “good” things. Often we make choices and wonder if we chose the right good thing to take precedence. The difficulty for us is compounded by the messages and advertisements around us that each tout themselves as “the best thing”. We have foods that claim to be “superfoods”, insurance companies with “superhero” mascots, politicians claiming to be saviors, and all kinds of products with words designed to make us prioritize that product over everything else. In today’s scripture we see what Jesus’ coming does to our priority structures and what we have to gain from the change.

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. 40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). John 1:35-42

  • A relationship with someone who knows.
  • The responsibility to point to Jesus when we see him at work.
  • Jesus is inviting of people right where they are. He had no entrance exam for following. You start where you are.
  • When we welcome people to be in relationship right where they are with no conditions that is incredibly inviting and when that invitation is accepted Jesus begins to teach.
  • Andrew could have gone back to John, back to work, etc, but he found his brother first and told him about the Messiah. When people encounter the God who loves them Just as they are it changes priority structures. Priority one becomes sharing that love, that good news with loved ones.
  • What would have happened if Andrew had gone back to life as usual? No Peter. A different set of disciples. A different story. A story with a huge missing piece.
  • Andrew’s priorities were not to make Peter acceptable than to bring him, but to drag him exactly as he was, with all of the flaws we have come to know and love, the cowardice, the rashness, the temper, the fear, and all that sheer impulsive open mouth insert footedness that made Peter what he was, directly to Jesus to meet the Messiah.
  • Jesus didn’t give Peter the fifth degree over his theology or lifestyle, but gave him a new name and an invitation.
  • The “Bounded Set” mentality vs. the “Centered Set” mentality.

Bounded Set: Do you believe like me? Concerned with enforcing conformity to a norm. What would you say the pros are to this kind of setup? Pros: Easily defined boundary. Easy to determine who “belongs”. How about the Cons? Cons: Who controls the measuring stick? Not welcoming if not ready to 100% conform.

 

Centered Set: Where are you in relation to Jesus? Concerned with relationship building. What would you say the pros are to this kind of setup? Pros: Welcoming to all. Focused on drawing closer to Jesus. How about the Cons? Cons: Can become relativistic rather than relational. Requires more work.

 

 

[The] situation in the actual world is much more complicated than that. The world does not consist of 100% Christians and 100% non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name: some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand…. And always, of course, there are a great many people who are just confused in mind and have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together.    Consequently, it is not much use trying to make judgments about Christians and non-Christians in the mass. It is some use comparing cats and dogs, or even men and women, in the mass, because there one knows definitely which is which. Also, an animal does not turn (either slowly or suddenly) from a dog into a cat. But when we are comparing Christians in general with non-Christians in general, we are usually not thinking about real people whom we know at all, but only about two vague ideas which we have got from novels and newspapers. If you want to compare the bad Christian and the good Atheist, you must think about two real specimens whom you have actually met. Unless we come down to brass tacks in that way, we shall only be wasting time. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001), 208-209.

  • Today we bear that same trust, to seek God’s face, live for him and reflect the light of his love around us. When this happens we see people coming to God just as they are, with all their flaws and we get to witness the transforming power of God at work in them over the years.
  • Sometimes we allow things about ourselves or others to get in the way of the light we are called to shine, and that light grows dim, we forget to put first things first because our eyes have strayed from the love of Jesus.
  • I am sure that I am not the only one here that is guilty of allowing myself to turn away from God’s light, and I invite all of you to join me in praying that we could have the obstructions and false priorities cleared that we might reflect the unconditional love of God on each person around us, welcoming them into relationship with the Messiah, Jesus. Let us pray. Our Open worship will end with the Keith Green song Oh Lord You’re Beautiful.
  • Open Worship

Holding Plans Loosely

(Click here to listen.)

Is there anyone here who has made a plan for a long term project and had everything happen exactly as they planned it? Yeah, me neither. My favorite example of this involves technology. We were upgrading the computers in our New York office and had budgeted two weeks to complete the changeover. On day 2 we encountered the infamous blue screen of death on each computer we had set up the previous day. That significantly changed the plan for us, and it took a month and a half instead of two weeks. I am sure that each of us has our own horror stories about plans that went awry on us due to some variable we hadn’t considered in our planning. At some point we have to recognize our inability to account for every possibility. As the leader of the Jerusalem church James must have seen the plans he made fall by the wayside more times than we can count. As Jesus’ brother he saw Jesus’ plans change a few times when people were just that crazy. From those points of perspective James must have been awfully frustrated with people who made their plans and figured that God would follow their plan.

13Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” 14Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” 16As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin. James 4:13-17

James was seeing people make plans about the future without even consulting the one in whose hands the future rests. God has a mission, and God’s mission has a church. James is reminding us that we need to be looking for God’s plans, for God’s activity, especially if we want to have what we do make any kind of difference beyond our lifetime. Planning as a follower of Jesus requires us to ask: “Does this plan show that I love the Lord my God with all my heart, mind and strength, and love my neighbor as myself?”

It is no coincidence that James brings money and business into the picture. How many of the business decisions that we make involve any kind of consultation with God? From my experience, and to my own personal chagrin, I am going to have to admit that less than 10% of the business decisions I made involved any kind of prayer or seeking after God’s will. It is so easy to allow the faith in our lives to be compartmentalized and cut-off from the rest of life, and that is why these reminders are in our scriptures. Every single one of us is under pressure to make our decisions and order our lives according to the ways of the world. We are taught to do the best we can to make as much money as possible so that we can be comfortable and secure, and that the God stuff needs to stay on Sunday and really doesn’t have anything to do with “real life”. This is a consequence of the modernism that underlies both liberal and conservative thought. Both of those movements come from a cultural context that has sought to create and enforce arbitrarily assigned categories, which we call labels, and then used the categories to determine which label we can apply to lump groups of people together. I have had the privilege of spending time with both liberals and conservatives and want to tell you that the rabbit hole of labeling seems to have no bottom; each culture continually develops more and more labels to compartmentalize themselves and others into. Nobody seems to be asking the questions of what these labels serve to do or if it is appropriate to assign labels to people we don’t know. Maybe we can start asking the questions, at least of ourselves at first: Does using these labels affirm or deny the image of God in others? Am I using a label as an excuse to not love my neighbor? While modernism did not exist in biblical times, I think we have something we can pull from this text as an important reminder here that anytime we allow the tribal influences of the culture we are part of to rule our decision making and planning process we are putting ourselves under a different master than God, and that master does not have our best interests in mind.

This text has something to say to that myth of individualism, that pull yourself up by your own bootstraps mentality, as well. Namely it says that we are not the masters of our own destiny, that we do not have the ability to control events around us, or whether or not we succeed. Indeed, we can’t even know if we will be alive tomorrow. We are told from the very beginnings of our lives we have the ability to set the course for our life and keep it on the pathway to success, happiness, fulfillment, and that those who don’t have those things made bad decisions to get there. Many of you now know that the reality is much more complicated. Sometimes making good decisions have bad consequences. Sometimes bad things happen to us because of other people’s bad decisions. Believe it or not Friends because we live in a broken world being honest, truthful, and ethical will sometimes negatively impact our worldly success. I used to work for an engineering firm, and one day the owner asked me to bring a brown bag lunch to the building inspector who was doing the final inspection on a project. The bag seemed a little large and heavy to hold a lunch, and I refused. This did not do well for my promotion prospects, or my continued employment, and I ended up moving back home to start again. One of the variables we forget to account for is our and other people’s brokenness. God has a much better understanding of this and uses the writings of the prophets, the words of Jesus, and other New Testament writers like James to remind us to avoid arrogance by depending on God. God is truly the source of our life and worldly success is definitely not an accurate measure of faithfulness. Indeed, some of the writings in the scripture can be read to suggest the opposite. One thing that needs to be pointed out is that things are not hopeless and this is not a call to fatalistically give up on making plans. That would be a grave misinterpretation of this text. James is not attacking plans, he is going after the attitude of triumphalism, that just because we are Christians making plans they will go exactly as planned since God has a vested interest in making us appear prosperous. Ummm…No. We are called to make plans with humility, knowing that a time may come when we are shown an action that is the right thing to do which will set our plans back or even make us give them up because we see a much better way than our plan. Being humble in our planning means having clearer vision when we are trying to carry them out, because we are less emotionally invested in a specific path and we then open ourselves up to seeing our plan improve. This way when we see something right that we absolutely must do to remain faithful we can let go of our plan, place ourselves in the hands of God, and avoid working against God.

Getting ourselves to this point is not going to be one of those “3 easy steps to a new you” plans, but is going to require some intentional work on our part. If you are anything like me there is no way you are going to go from less than ten percent to 100 percent overnight. We have to begin exercising our spirits to keep ourselves aware of God’s presence in our days. One way to start is to pray every time you look at the time. Ask God into the decisions of the hour to come, into the relationships at work, home, school, and running errands. Welcome God into the joys and sorrows of daily life, knowing that God is right there with you as you feel. As we hold this presence in our minds, and as the awareness of our loving God’s presence grows to fill more of our days we will find it much easier to invite God into our decisions and  trust him with our futures. Join me in our time of open worship to absorb these words, to hear new words, and to initiate the communion that can be part of every hour of every day of our lives.

The Much Abridged Faith Journey of Gil George

I decided to share the text of my testimony as well as the video. I place my story in your hands:

It has been a great privilege to sit with some of you and hear the stories about how God is at work in your lives. I believe it is a deep privilege to be given a window into other people’s lives with an eye towards the workings of God. I am so thankful to God for the privilege of sharing the joy that comes from following Jesus and experiencing his presence, grace, and mercy. The importance and power of our testimonies is taught in the book of Revelations 12:10-11

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.

 

My family came to Christ when I was 4 years old, from that point on I was raised as a follower of Christ. At this point in my life I just knew that Jesus loved me. One of the first hymns I learned expresses this simple faith of my childhood.

Jesus loves me this I know For the Bible tells me so

Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong

Yes Jesus loves me, Yes Jesus loves me

Yes Jesus loves me, The Bible tells me so

Jesus loves me he who died Heaven’s gate to open wide

He will wash away my sin Let His little child come in[i]

 

The church that we were part of was a Congregationalist church on the border of Queens and Long Island in a town called Inwood. Our church had a ministry resettling refugees, and many families took people directly into their homes. My family bought a 15 room house in Far Rockaway, and formed a Christian community dedicated to taking in the wanderer. We had people from 21 different countries live with us during the 6 years of ministry, and often I would find myself going from one culture to another as I changed rooms. This time significantly shaped my outlook on culture, and on the importance of listening for other cultures’ viewpoints.

We are one in the Spirit; We are one in the Lord

We are one in the Spirit; We are one in the Lord

And we pray that all unity, May one day be restored

 

And they’ll know we are Christians By our love by our love

Yes they’ll know we are Christians By our love

 

We will walk with each other we will walk hand in hand

We will walk with each other we will walk hand in hand

And together we’ll spread the news That God is in our land

 

We will work with each other we will work side by side

We will work with each other we will work side by side

And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and crucify our pride

 

All praise to the Father from whom all things come

And all praise to Christ Jesus His only Son

And all praise to The Spirit who makes us one[ii]

When we moved to Philly in 1988, I was deeply angry at God (who was given as the “reason” we moved). My parents enrolled me in a private school that I eventually got kicked out of, ostensibly for financial reasons, but mainly because I wasn’t afraid to disagree with the bible teacher on interpretation. Meanwhile we had been attending a Church of God in Christ church in the primarily African-American neighborhood we lived in. My father became the second white elder ordained in the denomination, and I was part of the youth choir. After being kicked out of the private school in October of my senior year, I attended my neighborhood school where I was again in the minority. I was the only white student in the school, and I loved it. I experienced renewal through participating in the drama program at school and in the all-encompassing worship of the African-American church we were attending. At this time in my life I began to own my relationship with God as something apart from my parents’ relationship with God.

I know it was the blood I know it was the blood

I know it was the blood for me

 

Chorus

One day when I was lost He died upon the cross

And I know it was the blood for me

 

They pierced Him in his side they pierced Him in his side

They pierced Him in his side for me

 

He hung his Head and died He hung his Head and died

He hung his Head and died  for me

 

They laid him in the tomb they laid him in the tomb

They laid him in the tomb for me

 

He rose up from the dead He rose up from the dead

He rose up from the dead  for me[iii]

I moved to New York, found out that you can’t really go back home and learned forgiveness in a new way. Denny was a knee capper for a prominent crime family who had been injured on a job, and was found wandering the streets. He ended up in our ministry home somehow, and when his mind returned, he left, but would come back and visit us. On one of these visits he bragged about an arms deal his buddies had going on. My father invited the police, and his associates put a contract out on us. Our house was set on fire at 11:30PM one night, but there was only cosmetic damage. We hid in a safe house and the contract was lifted a week or so later. When I moved back to NYC from Philly I was attending the church I had grown up in. Denny was attending the church. I didn’t believe he was saved and I was still scared of Denny. Denny wasn’t stupid, and invited me to go to a diner with him. We had a long talk, and I ended up forgiving Denny and asking Denny and God to forgive me for my merciless behavior. There is truly no person who is irredeemable.

After one year I returned to Philly where my father was called to assist in a church plant a couple of neighborhoods away that was a joint venture between the Mennonites and the Church of God in Christ and that is where God introduced me to Anabaptists. The Anabaptist theology made a lot of sense to me, and after being part of that church for some time, I began attending a Brethren church plant called Circle of Hope in the downtown area that was mainly attracting a younger crowd, and through its ministry learned to take the church less seriously (in a good way). It didn’t look, feel, or sound like anything I had previously encountered, and that opened my eyes to the realization that the form of worship means nothing and the act of worship means everything. Our 7PM service had a slightly different style of music.

As the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after Thee

You alone are my heart’s desire And I long to worship Thee

 

You alone are my strength my shield to you alone may my spirit yield

You alone are my heart’s desire and I long to worship Thee

 

You’re my friend and you are my brother even though you are a King

I love you more than any other so much more than anything

 

I want you more than gold or silver only you can satisfy

You alone are the real joy giver and the apple of my eye[iv]

Then my girlfriend of 1 month left for a 1 year mission trip. A few months later my father was diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis was 6 months to one year and he didn’t have insurance. While my girlfriend was on her mission, her father was also diagnosed with cancer. I broke down, left my job and eventually moved back home to help out. My father was my mentor, and losing him to a long drawn out time of suffering taught me how to bear my anger to God. I found that I could take the darkest rage to God and let God have it. I screamed, yelled, swore, and called God just about every name I could think of. God just withstood it and left peace in the wake of my rages. I am still a bit angry at God that my daughters don’t have a grandpa, but God is a big God and can take my frustrations. The real lesson for me in this was finding that God really wanted me to bring the ugly, hard, nasty bits of myself to the table as well as the parts that I felt were acceptable. My father died in March of 2000, we moved to Albuquerque in early August my fiancée’s father died in late August and we were married in December. Heck of a year! My wife and I are very well matched; we complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we both have strong communication skills. I have grown much in my relationship with God through this relationship, as I see how much grace I need on a daily basis. Because of the situations we faced the year before we were married, we have a deep understanding of the necessity of grace in our relationship with each other. We have put that understanding to use now that we are parents of two young daughters, and therefore in the sleep deprivation stage of parenting. We already know how to give extra grace, so that has been less an adjustment. The period of time at the beginning of our life together was insane. We were completely drained emotionally, but were able to continue with God walking beside us.

I cry out for your hand of mercy to heal me I am weak

I need your love to free me Oh Lord my rock my strength in weakness

Come rescue me oh Lord

You are my hope your promise never fails me

And my desire is to follow You forever

For you are good for you are good for you are good to me

For you are good for you are good for you are good to me[v]

After 8 months in the Southwest, we decided to retreat, and I took a job at a Mennonite retreat center in the Poconos. I was the kitchen manager for the kids’ camp, and my wife was the Director’s Assistant. We stayed on for two summers, and felt that the retreat time was over and it was time to return to reality when we were going in to New York and Philly to recharge. We moved to Tacoma in the fall of 2002 and became part of the L’Arche community. In that community I learned that while the core members may have had physical, mental or emotional disabilities, I had spiritual disabilities that they didn’t have. It was during this time that I came under the mentorship of a Friends’ pastor, and I felt again the call to pastoral ministry. The call to ministry had always been active in my life, but for the first time I felt ready to pursue it. Finding people whose theology and practice matches what you have come to in your relationship with God feels like coming home and I found my spiritual home in the Northwest Yearly Meeting.

I began the recording process at Olympic View Friends Church in 2004, and began preaching at McKinley Hill Friends Church in 2006. I learned a huge amount in those places, but mostly I learned that I didn’t have the tools to effectively live into my call. With the help of the Friends Center scholarship I went to seminary in my final surrender to the call God has on me. I have known about the call to ministry for a good portion of my life. I ran from it, but always kept finding myself in spiritual fatherhood wherever I went; it was just a style of relationship that happened. I went through Seminary to get the tools and preparation I need to effectively pastor God’s people who I love so much. Right before seminary my daughter Amy was born, and I began to get a vague perspective on the fatherhood of God. I am awestruck by the degree of patience we are shown. I had no idea of the depth of love I was capable of for my daughters, and to consider that God’s love for us exponentially exceeds that of ours for our children boggles my mind.  Cleta Crisman served me well as a guide through the remainder of my recording and my first years of parenthood, helping me process what I was learning in school, teaching me to be a better communicator, and helping me juggle the responsibilities of being a Daddy and schoolwork.

During my seminary years I attended the RiversWay community and learned what it meant to be part of a ministry team, providing mutual support, accountability and learning to lean on other’s gifts.

Now that I am the Pastor at Clackamas Park Friends Church I am finding such joy in God’s work in the church. To see the hand of the Holy Spirit—and name that in people’s lives—is an awesome gift that I am humbled to receive. In my eventful life I have learned what the most important thing is.

All I once held dear built my life upon all this world reveres and wars to own

All I once thought gain I have counted loss Spent and worthless now compared to this

 

Knowing You Jesus knowing You There is no greater thing

You’re my all you’re the best you’re my joy my righteousness

And I love You Lord

 

Now my heart’s desire is to know you more to be found by you and known as yours

To possess by faith what I could not earn all surpassing gift of righteousness

 

Oh to know the pow’r of your risen life and to know you in your sufferings

To become like you in your death my Lord so with you to live and never die[vi]

 

Audiography
 


[i] CCLI Song # 1187 Yes, Jesus Loves Me

Anna Bartlett Warner | William Batchelder Bradbury

Public Domain

For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com

 

CCLI License # 378755

[ii] CCLI Song # 26997 We are One in the Spirit

Peter Scholtes

© 1966 F.E.L. Publications. Assigned 1991 Lorenz Publishing Company (Admin. by Lorenz Corporation)

For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com

CCLI License # 378755

 

[iii] CCLI Song # 28823 I Know it was the Blood

Marvin V. Frey

© 1977 Marvin V. Frey (Admin. by Helen M. Frey)

For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com

CCLI License # 378755

 

[iv] CCLI Song # 1431 As The Deer

Martin Nystrom

© 1984 Maranatha Praise, Inc. (Admin. by Maranatha! Music)

For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com

CCLI License # 378755

 

[v] CCLI Song # 313480 Good To Me

Craig Musseau

© 1990 Vineyard Songs Canada (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com

CCLI License # 378755

 

[vi] CCLI Song # 1045238 Knowing You

Graham Kendrick

© 1993 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com

CCLI License # 378755

Burning Words

(Click here to listen.)

When I was growing up, one of the favorite pastimes at recess was to make fun of each other. There would be all kinds of wisecracks, “Yo Momma” jokes, you’re so poor comments, and other insults that got traded back and forth. When an especially “funny” insult came through, the recipient would hear “Ooh, you got burned.” The pressure would then be on that person to come up with an even more impressive insult to reply or they would lose status is the playground pecking order. Sometimes the pressure would be too much, and then the violence would move from verbal to physical and fists would fly. One of the reasons that Christianity can be such a scandal to the world around us is that we have a call on us to not do violence to our enemies. We are called to step outside of the schoolyard name-calling mentality that pervades the cultures of the world and love our enemies. We are called to look for where the Holy Spirit may be active in the lives of people we have absolute disagreement with. This call to love our enemies is easier to live into physically. We all know on some level that Christ does not want us to lay a beat down on those people who for one reason or another we can’t stand, but sometimes we can’t help but take some verbal potshots at those loony liberals or backwards conservatives. The sad thing is that I have heard these kinds of disparaging remarks from people who in almost every other way are doing their absolute best to follow Christ. Today’s scripture is a stark reminder that we have a higher calling, one that cannot be taken lightly.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

 

The book of James was written towards the end of his life, and it has a sense of urgency. I get the impression that James had some things he had learned through his time of leadership that he wanted to be sure were transmitted to the next generation of the church. I get the idea that this passage stems from James’ experience of that first major conflict in the church. I have to say that no other passage in the scriptures has made me question whether or not I wanted to be a pastor than this one. James is letting us know that we have a huge amount of responsibility on our shoulders when we take on a teaching role in the church. Each of us who teaches: be it Sunday School, discipling others, speaking from the pulpit on Sunday morning, or speaking during open worship will have our words measured by a strict standard, one that determines not only whether we taught the truth as we knew it, but whether we shared that truth in a spirit of love. How many of us fail at the second part of that? I know I do. James reminds us that each person makes mistakes with their words. He doesn’t say some of us or most of us, but that every single one of us makes mistakes with our words and communicates things that go against the truth of God’s way of being and doing what is right. From my own personal experience I have to say that taming the tongue is a challenge. I have been here long enough that while I may not have offended everyone, I have had to go to people and make apologies for when my tongue moved in unhelpful, hurtful ways. I know that I have failed in this way, and will unfortunately fail in this way again. I mourn the fact the words of my mouth sometimes betray the love in my heart. If I had to guess, I am sure that each of you has had the same experience.

One day I was in a bagel shop in New York and overheard an argument about which kind of bagel was the best. It started out with one person extolling the virtues of the egg bagel, how it had the best texture and flavor in the dough and another person arguing the superiority of the everything bagel. It quickly degenerated into a verbal battle in which both sides questioned the intelligence and taste of the other and with both parties trying to enlist others to assist them in shouting down the other person. I couldn’t imagine what it might have looked like if the two were arguing over politics or religion, but if it got that ugly over bagels… It doesn’t take much for words to burn us, just the wrong tone, issue, concern, or just the right tone, issue, or concern. Listening to people who we disagree with is tough, and when we have an emotional investment in something the fire in our tongues seems to leap higher and what comes from our mouths often burns another to the core. The question for us whose tongues sear others is not only one of how to exercise absolute control over our tongues, but how do we make amends, open ourselves up to the correction of others, even others we disagree with. As a leader in the church it is imperative for me to model both aspects of this. You might have noticed some failure on my part in this, but I have grown immensely by the grace of God in this area and work extra-hard at controlling my tongue and seeking out correction from others so that when I err I can learn from the mistake and not repeat it. You’ll notice I didn’t say if I err, I have no illusions about the completeness of God’s work in me. The work is started, and I am putting in my sweat equity and seeing progress, but God is definitely not through with me yet. Praise God that He who started the work in us will be faithful to complete it.

Have you ever had times in your life in which it seems like everything you say goes awry, that when you open your mouth what people hear doesn’t match what you think you are saying? I know that I sure do. Quite often those times are when I think I am being funny. You will never hear me utter the words “Can’t you take a joke?” because I know them for the copout they are. Humor can sometimes send the wrong message and be taken in ways we didn’t intend it, and quite a few of the “doghouse moments” in my marriage come from a misapplication of humor on my part. Sometimes when we attempt to defuse a situation with humor we instead communicate a lack of concern for others. I just have to wonder sometimes when I see what happens when I open my mouth whether it is worth it to keep on trying, I mean set on fire with the flames of hell is not the most encouraging image to work with. We can be disheartened by these words and allow ourselves to be defeated by our mistakes, our slips of the tongue, our burning words, or we can seek forgiveness, opening ourselves up to correction so that we might be refined into better followers of Christ. We can give and receive the grace of God to each other, and limpingly help each other to refine the use of our tongues to better glorify God.

The big question that arises here is how. What does it take for us to deal with the burning coals that live in our mouths? The first thing we have to do is be committed to the process of reconciliation given to us in Matthew 18:15-22.

15“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” 21Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

 

In order for any of us to grow as followers of Christ we need this Matthew 18 process to make us aware of when we fail God, our faith community, and ourselves. Skipping the steps and talking about another’s failure without giving a chance at reconciliation breaks down the whole purpose of following Jesus. When we go to others first, rather than the person who has offended, we make our faith community a place in which reconciliation is impossible and it becomes our tongues that burn. When we refuse to listen to another who is telling us they have been hurt by our words or actions and go straight to defense we damage the process that refines us into better followers of Christ. How can we be reconciled to God or reconcile others to God when we refuse the process God has given us for reconciliation? How can we grow if we are not given the awareness and opportunity to fix what is broken? Jesus has given us the tools to break the cycle of gossip and self-defeat, if only we obey him and use them. Now I am sure that in however many years when I retire and it is time for the roast there will be some good natured ribbings about some boneheaded mistakes I had made at the beginning of my service, and I will submit to the deserved laughter at the idealistic follies of my first few years. I admit openly to having a lot to learn, and hope that you understand if I now take mistakes very seriously and work hard at receiving correction, correcting myself, and seeking out what I need to learn when I mess up and things go haywire. While I would love to not make mistakes, I am still human and need, just as much as each of you need it, the community of faith around me to help me walk through the consequences of speaking too quickly and causing hurt. We need the community of faith to help pick us up, brush us off, forgive us, turn us around, and help us walk in the right direction. Each of us needs this service from each other because we do have a higher call on us, we need to be held accountable to the Spirit of God in us. I would love to wrap this sermon up with a neat and tidy solution, but following God together is messy, and there are plenty of times in which what we really need is not more words, but to bring our messy selves and messy relationships, and messy church to be washed again by Jesus, to plunge into that life giving flow together, allowing Jesus blood and righteousness to cleanse us again. Hi my name is Gilbert George and I am a sinner. I sin against the people I am called to love, my family, my church, my neighbors, myself, but most deeply I sin against the God who loved me so much that he gave his son that through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus I can be part of God’s family. Each of us can stand up and say those same words with complete honesty, but know that that isn’t the end of the story. In the writings of 1 John we hear these words of hope:

9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 2My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Reflection on Sue Mallory’s The Equipping Church

Introduction

Reading The Equipping Church by Sue Mallory has been an extremely helpful journey into the practical nitty-gritty details of guiding a church culture towards a more universal participation in the ministry of the church. Mallory’s pragmatic wisdom and openness to sharing the rough patches along the road of her journey are useful tools for me as I consider my future as a minister. In this reflection I will touch on what aspects of The Equipping Church resonated with me as most useful in my possible ministry contexts and share my thoughts about the problem of scale involved in implementing this kind of system change in a smaller congregation. Overall, Mallory’s book is a tool that I am glad to have on my bookshelf and is going into my list of seminary books to be reread after graduation.

The Key Balance

There was one insight that I felt was foundational for the success of Mallory’s process, and that is found in chapter 6: “We had enough of a plan to give everyone some direction, but not so much plan that we left anyone out.”[1] This sense of directed openness gives a necessary flexibility in dealing with situations as they arise. I know that my weakness definitely runs to not having enough of a plan which has led to a dissipation of energy rather than a harnessing of energy in the church. I really wish I had read this book before I had become the pastor of a small struggling church. I would have had a much better understanding of what I was up against and what needed to happen in my leadership style in order for me to have been more effective. My desire for growth would have been much better realized with a more concrete plan that gave people an opportunity to plug in with their sense of calling. Of course, I may not have had the context to apply Mallory’s information without that experience behind me.

One of the things that most intrigued me about this writing is that Mallory was not the lead pastor in her context. In some ways I think she articulates that not being the lead actually gave her a better position to implement system changes as long as the leader was backing her up. This is not to say that she did not encounter conflict, even with her lead pastor, but that having a lead pastor on board with the vision gave her a buffer between those who opposed the vision and what she was implementing.

Mallory was very open in detailing what obstacles she faced in every stage of her process, and I resonated deeply with some of her experiences. People do indeed leave when you begin implementing culture changes, but sometimes they leave because the culture change marginalizes them. Mallory’s advice to give exit interviews was really helpful, and I think a necessary part of getting past false impressions of why people aren’t sticking around. There are indeed always challenges before us in every stage and state of ministry, so getting good information on what those are, and plugging people into the gaps is a huge piece of how we can be better equipping our churches for service.

Does it scale?

The big question of this book to me is that of size. A large congregation can more easily absorb passive-aggressive resistance to change than a smaller congregation. This is especially true when the people who are behaving this way are the primary funders of the church ministry. As I read Mallory’s experience with opposition, I wondered how well she would have fared in the situation that a friend of mine experienced when they implemented a change that people approved of in a congregational meeting, and suddenly the main givers in the church all stopped giving and some time went by in which the pastor did not receive a pay check. This definitely is a worst case scenario, but one that has much lower chance of success in a larger congregation. The key question here is that of trust and insecurity. Many smaller churches have higher degrees of anxiety in their systems because of their size and that anxiety can lead to a lack of trust when the time comes for necessary changes. Mallory articulates the importance of trust all through the book, so I would guess that for a smaller church, it may be a much longer process for a pastor to implement cultural and system changes because of the need to overcome anxiety and build trust. To scale this to a smaller church would then extend the timeline for significant change by at least a year, probably more.

Conclusion

With some changes to fit a much different polity, I can definitely use Mallory’s principles to guide my ministry in the future as I seek to build a church of ministers. When I finish seminary, I definitely plan on rereading this book with my wife as we build our vision for God’s call on us as a family. Mallory is obviously gifted in equipping others, and this book has left me feeling much better equipped to minister in a way that invites people to use their gifts in service to the world and each other.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Sue Mallory. The Equipping Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.


[1] Sue Mallory, The Equipping Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 88.

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