Tag Archives: god

let nothing be wasted

{excerpt from a sermon I preached on Feb 28, 2016}

Jesus finds himself surrounded, yet again, by an enormous crowd. They are outside of the cities, in the wilderness. It’s a first century Woodstock, thousands upon thousands all gathered to see the celebrity that was the Carpenter from Nazareth. This guy heals the sick, cures the blind, raises the dead, he turns water into wine, and best of all he sticks it to the man. Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, Romans, Tax Collectors – he don’t care – all of them he speaks to as if they were his equal, as if everyone were equal.

But of course it was more than that. There was real need, and people were desperate for change. Their mouths watered for both sustenance and justice, their stomachs growled for both bread and freedom, and their hearts yearned for a King to rise up. So they followed him, no matter how many times he tries to slip out back, dive into the limo, and cruise away atop a mountain. They find him and come begging for one more miracle, one more performance, one more show. And Jesus, incredibly, always comes back down from the mountain. This strange mix of unwanted celebrity and bonafide miracle man always finds himself stopping to embrace a child or heal the sick or show mercy to the forgotten. And despite his clear ability do so, he never treated them poorly. Jesus treats everyone as if they were his dinner guests, old friends come to visit, weary from a long journey.

So Jesus, being who Jesus has already shown himself to be, sees this crowd of people and asks Phillip, “Where are we going to buy bread for all these people to eat?”

I love that question. Where are “WE” going to “BUY” bread for “THEM”?

There is massive need in front of them and Jesus says WE will meet this.

And Phillip doesn’t miss a beat when he answers, “It would take over 6 months wages just for everyone to have a bite of food.” Classic. The old “who’s going to pay for it?” routine.

Somebody always wants to know that answer. And if they’re asking the question, you better believe they’re not going to be the ones volunteering wallet or purse.

Hey, none of us are exempt from this kind of attitude. Sacrificial love is no easy task. It requires a completely different way of viewing your life, and your goals, and success, and wealth, and faith. Sacrificial love, which is the kind of love which Christ calls us, comes with cost. It always has.

A cost, in this instance, paid by a young boy with a sack lunch. But there is a lot more happening here. Jesus is showing them a new way of seeing the world. A way in which one does not run away from great need, but rather finds himself and herself asking, “what am I going to do to help them?”

What do you do when face to face with incredible, seemingly insurmountable, impossible need?

Can we be honest with ourselves for a moment. Let’s be honest. What do we do? We change the channel. We look away. We buy a new shirt. We move to the suburbs. We go on vacation. We fill our minds with something else, our hearts with another drama, our souls with a new passion. We do anything possible to avoid the glaring need before us.

But what if we didn’t?

What if we faced it?

Refused to look away?

Allowed its image and need and wounded-ness to soak in?

What if we chose to look directly at those in need and decided to try?

 

I know that it can seem overwhelming. I know how hard it is to NOT change the channel. I know how difficult it is to try and take in the incredible need of our world. But are we not called to love abundantly? Are we not required to love our neighbor? Are we not able to do more? To be more? To demand more from this life than a two car garage and a week at disney world.

That’s the problem with walking around with Jesus. Sometimes you find yourself face to face with thousands of hungry people and no food in sight and Jesus looks at you and says, “let’s feed them.”

Matthew 6:11-12 says

“Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and hand them out to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. And When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.”

Let nothing be wasted my brothers and sisters. Let not your skills or influence or wealth or time or energy or life be wasted. Let not the mercy and grace of our God be wasted. Let not the abundance of food and resources and advantage that we have be wasted. Let not an opportunity to meet the need of another be wasted. Let nothing be wasted.

trece

Day Six in Guatemala.

The first job I ever had was working for the Salvation Army. They paid minimum wage to anyone that would stand outside of a Walmart or shopping mall, ring a bell, and collect donations. I was fourteen years old and I worked everyday of Thanksgiving break, as well as each Saturday leading up to Christmas. I enjoyed it, loved it even. I chose it.

The first jobs of children in Guatemala are quite different from my experience. (I imagine that is the case for many children throughout the world.) Guatemalan educators struggle to keep kids in school. The demand for extra hands in the fields or selling trinkets in the tourist towns engulfs the schools throughout Guatemala. I knew all of this. I had heard the testimonies, I’ve read the stories, I’ve been to Cairo and Cozumel and seen plenty of kids working. Intellectually, up in my brain I knew this already. But not in my heart, not yet. I had shielded my heart from knowing it, perhaps on accident, or subconsciously, but shielded nonetheless. One could call me blind, if they so desired.

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Hurry Up and Wait

Day One in Guatemala…

The smell of savory spices are flooding my nose right now. I’m sitting on the rooftop of our hotel in Antigua Guatemala. The sounds of people shuffling about the street, music, languages of all kinds fill the cool night air. The roof is peaceful and strangely dark for a city that’s still lit up. It has been a day of hurrying and waiting. That’s how most mission trips start.

We departed our church in Alabama at 3:15 in the morning for a four hour bus ride to Atlanta. Hurry up, get to the bus, and wait.

We arrived at the airport, got our tickets, checked our bags, made our way through the many checkpoints that make up modern airports, and hurried to find our gate. Hurry up, get to the gate, and wait.

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Dara, C.O.R.E., and Six Years of Youth Ministry

This past valentines day I reached the mark of six years in youth ministry, all with my church here in Alabama. Shortly after crossing that threshold a friend asked me if I felt like a veteran youth minister now. My answer: “no, not really.”

Six years ago I moved to Alabama to accept a full time position as a minister. But just a year prior to that I had no idea what I was going to do with my life.

I had moved across the country to attend seminary at Gardner-Webb University in order to become a professor and teach in biblical studies. Two years into that masters program I knew my path was not that of a professor. I was preaching a good amount on Sunday mornings, largely pulpit supply for Pastors on vacation or sick. I attended a wonderful little church that allowed me to preach fairly often. I also preached a few youth events, mostly small youth rallies or disciple now weekends. But my path seemed awfully unclear. I didn’t consider youth ministry a possibility at all, too small for me. (Wow, even typing the words make me feel gross.)

God sent two things into my world that changed all of that: Dara and C.O.R.E.. One of my fellow seminarians was a lady named Dara. She had become my friend the very first day of seminary. In many ways she took care of myself and my two roommates – even at the age of 22 all of us needed a bit of taking care of. I knew her pretty well but hadn’t realized how great a minister she was, not yet.

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Nose and Toes

If you’ve ever stepped onto a raft or slid into a kayak and dared to face the white water then it’s likely you’ve been taught the classic rule of safety known as “nose and toes.”  The logic is sound and simple.  If you fall out of your vessel grab hold of your life jacket, float on your back, and make sure your nose and your toes are up out of the water.

On a beautiful summer morning I kayaked down the Hiwassee river with a group of college students and adults.  The river was fast and cold.  Most of the journey personified peace: tranquil scenes, slow moving pace, crystal clear water, grand conversations.  The scattered white water presented nerve racking, yet exhilarating commercial breaks.  I coasted through the first few rapids without falling.  Well over an hour into the journey most of our group had capsized at some point, I proudly had not.  Yet.

The water churned, it’s voice grew louder.  The fall before us looked deadly (it was not!).  One after another I watched people tumble over trying to navigate the 5 foot drop.

  • Steer to the right.
  • Paddle.
  • Straighten up.
  • Paddle.
  • There you go.
  • You got this Rob.
  • HERE WE GO.
  • Tumble!

My kayak slid right, I leaned right to compensate, but it was too late.  Man over board.  I need to be clear here, I was in no real danger.  But as you may guess, that truth does not truly register in the moment itself.

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storefront prayers

I looked at a journal sitting in the front of a store.  The store was just a store.  They sell clothes and stuff, all for girls.  I was with my wife while she looked around and I meandered about until I saw a notebook resting atop an old box at the front of the store.  A prayer journal, for the public, to write their prayers in.  “Surely no one would use this,” I thought to myself.  Our world doesn’t like to reveal such things, even anonymously.  We hold our weakness tight fisted, hidden from light.  To write prayer requests in a storefront journal for others to read through, far too vulnerable.  I stared at it for a while, and finally picked it up.  I flipped through the pages.

“Pray for my mom and dad, please.”

“Life is too hard, pray for me.”

“Pray that my daughter finds God and lets me in.”

“Please pray for the man that I will marry.”

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Word Smiths and Illusions

“smashing the persistent illusion”

I love that line.  I like lots of lines.  I collect them from books and magazines and stories and everywhere.  Any place that that I hear or notice a collection of words that captures or communicates a thought or idea in a creative or unique way I try to jot that phrase down.  The tag line of this blog is an example of that.

It did not come from a classic novel or academic reading.  That line actually comes from the May issue of GQ magazine (2013).  The context has Robert Downey Jr being interviewed for the cover story.  He’s explaining how most people are really the same and ultimately young actors end up realizing that he’s just another guy.

Here’s his words:

“Nothing pleases me more than when somebody who was awe inspired to be working with me realizes I’m just another schmuck that they’re bored of hanging out with on a set.  I love that moment.  I like it when that persistent illusion is smashed.”  (page 9 of 20 May 2013 GQ)

What a great line!

I read it, loved it, wrote it down.  I believe it as well.  I believe in the idea of smashing persistent illusions.  There are so many that need to be smashed.  The world, my faith, the church, life needs more honesty and truth.  There’s healing that can come from honesty.  Hope that can come truth.  And we all need a bit more of both.

You can read it on my info page.  I serve as a pastor in a church.  The church is full of persistent illusions.  Illusions that are smashed every time cancer is diagnosed and marriages crumble.  Smashed each time death snatches a life away far too early.  I am not interested in silly brick walls posing as faith, nor am I concerned about the false hope of such illusions.  Truth reigns, as does my God.

I believe that God seeks good.  I believe that God weeps over loss and despises death as much as we do.  I believe Christ teaches a way of love, grace, and mercy.  I believe in the power of words, especially words placed well.

This blog, I hope, will be a source of word smithing, smashing illusions, genuine hope, and honest humility.