Lessons from a Flat Tire

Last week, I helped Andrea and her co-teacher transfer some items we stored out our house to their classroom in order to get ready for school. When I left the school, I heard an unwanted noise coming from my car. My window was down so I could tell it was the front tire. When I looked, I saw a screw partially inserted into the tire. Since it had just happened, it wasn’t even in all the way.

I called a local tire place and they assured me they had the tire in stock. I had to call back to make the appointment once I checked my calendar. When I called back, they again said the tire was in stock. On my appointment day, I dropped my car off early and the again looked at their computer and said that the tire was in stock.

Thirty minutes after dropping the tire off, the tire place called to tell me the tire was NOT in stock. Their computer listed it as available, but they were no where to be found in their inventory. A quick repair was now going to take several days (it was Saturday).

I was frustrated. I felt a little hemmed in by not having access to my car. My Saturday did not start out the way I was wanting it to. I was griping and complaining about it.

On Monday, the manager on-duty at the tire place was a relative of one of my softball girls. He indicated that he was going to try and get me a lower price on my tire. Ultimately, I had the best price.

This got me thinking. If he had been able to lower the price, I would have missed out on it if my tire had been replaced on Saturday. In the midst of my complaining and frustration about the tire, the delay could have led to a blessing- a lower price.

How often do we complain and get frustrated with the stop signs, the detours, and the periods of waiting in our lives- when they may be the very avenue that God is using to lead us to a greater blessing? How often do we get impatient with God because the outcome is not what we want, when we want it?

While I didn’t get a lower price on my tire, I did get a reminder that God’s timing is perfect- I may not always understand it, but I am learning to trust God and wait for it.

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Learning from Frederick Douglass

Frederick_Douglass_(circa_1879)

Over the last two years, I have been trying to read more books on racial inequality as a way to better understand and stand with my African American brothers and sisters. (I still have a ways to go). I started with Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and followed that up with James Cone’s The Cross and The Lynching Tree. Both books broke my heart and gave me a new perspective on our country, our communities and myself.

It took me awhile, but I recently finished reading Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight. Douglass was the slave to abolitionist/orator who led an incredible life and fight for the freedom and rights as slaves and black men and women in our country. Blight’s book is dense at times, but also comes alive in the details and narrative of Douglass. Especially interesting to me was Douglass’s interactions with President Lincoln during the Civil War. The period of Reconstruction and Jim Crow laws tied in nicely to Michelle Alexander’s book. Reading about the lynching mobs (among many other atrocities) shows the sins of white America and shows the need for our repentance.

These books are important to read, especially given our news cycle today. Earlier this week, a shooter opened fire in El Paso, TX. The shooter is suspected of posting an anti-immigrant manifesto online that warned of an “Hispanic invasion of Texas” prior to the shooting rampage in the heavily Hispanic border city.” There has been a rise in hate crimes and white nationalism in our country. Books like the Douglass biography and the Alexander book help us to remember the atrocities committed in the name of race and see, despite improvements for equality, that there is a long way to go. Books like this encourage us to not move backward in the ways in which we treat one another. As a white person, reading books like these teach me that the problem of racism is my problem and that I can be part of the solution.

There is no place for racism or white nationalism in our country. As a Christian, we cannot make apologies for white supremacist. Period. We cannot make apologies or remain quiet for any notions of ethnic superiority.  Genesis 1 tells us that God made each person (of every ethnicity and color) in the imago dei, or the image of God. This means that each person has sacred worth and value. When we give in to stereotypes, assumptions, and racist beliefs we are forgetting the imago dei which resides in each of us. We are treating that person as less than God created them. When we agree with rhetoric or beliefs that elevates one person above the other based on the color of skin or where they are born, we have dehumanized that person or group.

In Revelation 7, there is a beautiful image of worship that is taking place around the throne of God. John writes that there are people of every tribe, nation, and tongue worshiping together. As Christians, this is what we should long for in our churches and our communities. As Christians, and especially those of us who are white, should be the first to denounce racist rhetoric and speech regardless of whether it comes from a person of power or from our neighbor. We must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those different from us because we are all made in God’s image.

 

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Answering the Call

This past Sunday, in my first message at my new appointment, I preached on Genesis 12 which is the account of God calling Abram to leave his country, his kin, and his father’s house to go to the land that God would show him. In order to answer the call, Abram had to walk (literally) in faith. There was no map or GPS to guide him to his destination. He left his old life behind to embrace a new life that God revealed to him step-by-step.

In arriving in a new appointment, my call to ministry has been on my mind. I was ten years old when I first discerned that God might be calling me to ministry. I thought it was to be a missionary- which makes because I was listening to a missionary speak at church camp. When I was in my teens that call was refined as I pursued Youth Ministry. I had the opportunity to serve a church as Youth Pastor for nine years. It was fruitful ministry.

In the course of serving as Youth Pastor, my call continued to evolve as I pursued Ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church. Truth be told, I wanted to stay in youth ministry. But what I want and God’s plans are sometimes two different things. The journey to ordained ministry and leading a church (not just the youth) has been a faith stretching experience for me that has led me back to the church where I began as youth pastor.

I write this because God continues to call. God calls me. God calls you. God calls us to great endeavors and God calls us to do “small things with great love.” The challenge for us is to answer the call of God and to take steps of faith to pursue that call. It may not make sense at the time and the steps may not be clear- but like Abram we have to put one foot in front of the other each day and go where ever God leads us.

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Stepping Out of the Boat

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Nine years ago, I preached my final sermon at Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford, DE. I had served there for nine years as Youth Pastor/Associate Pastor. That final sermon was from the story of Jesus walking on water in Matthew 14, and the audacity of Peter to ask Jesus to call him out of the boat to walk on water. Jesus calls Peter out and Matthew records:

“Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.” Matthew 14:29

I think too often we tend to see Peter take his eyes off of Jesus by looking at the storm raging around him. It’s true- we need to keep our eyes on Jesus and not be distracted by what rages around us.

But don’t miss this: Peter walked on the water!

Author John Ortberg wrote a book titled, “If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat.” If we want to accomplish great things, if we want to see God work in us in new ways, we have to get out of the boat. Looking back, I preached that message more as an encouragement for myself. In being called out to Hope/Magnolia/Orchard, I needed to get out of the boat.

Tomorrow, I have the opportunity to step out of the boat again. This time, called back to Avenue to serve as the Lead Pastor. I am certain about the call to Avenue/Milford 18 years ago- and I am certain that God is faithful and that God desires to move in and through me, Avenue Church and the Milford community in new ways. My prayer is that you’ll join me and jump out of the boat as we keep our eyes on Jesus!

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On The Move (or, I’ve Been Reappointed)

On Sunday, February 7th I announced that the Bishop was re-appointing me from my current ministry to Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford, DE beginning July 1, 2019.

(For non-United Methodist, Clergy ‘itinerate’ and are deployed through the leadership of our Bishop and cabinet (and hopefully, The Holy Spirit). I liken it to our military men and women here at Dover Air Force Base. They submit themselves to be deployed where their gifts are needed. They can share any considerations that they would like their superiors to take into account- but ultimately they go where they are sent. United Methodist pastors minister in the same way.)

I was preparing for a new members class when I got the phone call from our District Superintendent about meeting for lunch the next day. This is Methodist code for “You’re being re-appointed.” I knew, in the back of my mind, that this was more of a possibility over last year. However, I thought for sure I would 1-3 more years at Orchard with the unique setting of a successful merger that is thriving and really starting to impact our community.

The irony of the move, to Avenue UMC, is kinda like going back home. Eighteen years ago I interviewed and accepted the position as the full-time Youth Pastor at Avenue. My ministry at Avenue lasted nine years. Nine years of building relationships; nine years of spiritual growth and growth as a leader. If it were not for the leadership at Avenue giving me room to spread my wings, I might still be in youth ministry- which would have been great although it may kept me from God’s evolving call in my life.

I’ve been away from Avenue for nine years come July 1st. I’ve grown so much as a leader and as a pastor. While I still have big ideas (and believe in a big God to accomplish those big dreams), I am more willing to say, “I don’t know.” Through ministry at Hope and Magnolia United Methodist Churches, merging the two together, working as a college chaplain, serving as an adjunct professor, and leading through crisis and times of thriving- I have learned to rely even more on the leading of The Holy Spirit.

Over the next four months, I will be throwing myself into preparing Orchard to thrive with new pastoral leadership. I am committed to making sure that Orchard’s new pastor has everything in place to succeed. I will also start relearning the Avenue community. I am excited about the new possibilities and the growth in my own faith as I trust God through the unexpected.

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Advent: The Christ Candle

*A week or so late, but I wanted to post.*

Over the past four weeks, we have been in the season of Advent. Advent is not a countdown to Christmas, but a season of waiting, expectation, and self-examination as we await the return of Christ. As we gather tonight and light the Christ Candle, we move into the season of Christmas. We are reminded in Luke

 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”[1]

There are many reasons to come and worship on Christmas Eve. The lights, the candles, communion, a heartwarming story, family, friends, the music. Christmas Eve has all the feels.

The birth of Christ is more than nostalgic feelings. On Christmas Eve we proclaim, like the angels, that God’s redemption is here in Jesus. The challenge for us tonight is to take the approach of the shepherds who said: “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see.”

As we light the Christ Candle, let us continue to seek Christ. Let us see for ourselves and make personal the presence of Jesus in our lives. Let us shine the light of Christ for the world to see and experience God’s love for themselves.

Let Us Pray:

God of all Creation, we open our hearts to you this evening. Help us to hear anew the Good News that you are for us and not against us. Strengthen us for the journey to seek you with all of our hearts. Help us to shine the light of Christ wherever you lead us. We ask this in the name of Jesus, the Christ. Amen.

[1]The New International Version(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Lk 2:8–15.

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Fourth Sunday of Advent: Peace

Through our Advent Journey, we have practiced a rhythm of watching and waiting by looking at God’s faithfulness, God’s love, and the joy that God brings us. This morning we light the fourth candle, the Candle of Peace. Our scripture is from Micah 5:2-5

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”

Therefore Israel will be abandoned
until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth.


And he will be our peace
when the Assyrians invade our land
and march through our fortresses. [1]

 We live in a frantic world. A world full of anxiety and worry. Even as we approach Christmas, many of us are filled with stress about the details of Christmas gatherings, managing your finances, the prospects of seeing certain relatives, or the reality of a holiday without a loved one. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year can quickly become The Most Stressful Time of the Year.

Micah tells about a coming leader who will “be our peace even when the Assyrians invade our lands.” Sometimes, it is easy to miss this in hearing the text, but if the Assyrians are invading, then there will be destruction, there will be death, and there will be suffering. The Word of God says that “When” this happens that this leader will be our peace. Our strength. Our security.

When your job lets you go; when you begin life without a loved one; when your finances don’t seem to match up; when that relative reminds you that you’re not doing something right; and when your faith seems to be doing somersaults- Jesus will be our peace. The prophet Isaiah reminds us:

And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.[2]

 

Let us Pray:

Almighty God,
In these troubled times, help us to find our security and our protection in the shadow of your wings. Send the presence of your Spirit in our lives that we might be filled with peace in the midst of life’s storms.  We ask these things in the name of Jesus, our Savior. Amen.

[1]The New International Version(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Mic 5:2–5.

[2]The New International Version(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Is 9:6.

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