Elevator: Awkward Encounters of God

Riding the elevator with a stranger is awkward. Bottled up inside a confined space with someone you do not know — very uncomfortable.

I do not like awkward situations, because – obviously – they are uncomfortable!

I usually attempt to break awkward tension in any given situation with a joke or some light-hearted comment! My friends know this about me. They think I am a kidder, who likes “to stir the pot,” but really, I’m just super uncomfortable in awkward moments. I guess making a joke or making a light-hearted comment is my attempt at taking control of the situation.

Inside an elevator with a stranger is a whole other level of awkward, though! I wish I had a standard comment on the ready to ease the awkwardness – something like, “Random fact: Hippos secrete red sweat when they are upset.” That type of knowledge bomb would certainly destroy any degree of elevator awkwardness!

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I once rode in an elevator with James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul.” I do not think I said anything to him. I remember staring at his teeth – also, random. Maybe that should be my elevator ice-breaker. “Hello, my name is Ross. I once rode an elevator with James Brown, the Godfather of Soul. And, now, my new friend, you can say that you’ve ridden in an elevator with a man who rode in an elevator with James Brown!”

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All of this to say, I rode in an elevator with a stranger today. A young man, with tattoos all along his arms and multiple piercings. I stepped into the elevator with him and the awkward tension. How should I stand? What should I do with my hands? Where should I look? What should I say/not say?

I went with the standard head nod and, “What’s up, man?” — You know, alpha male material.

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Apparently, that’s all the guy needed to start telling me his story – His father was in the hospital with a surgery, he was hoping to be released later in the day, he had come down from New York to help his mother with his father, he sold clothes for a living, and he was headed to Florida before flying back to New York.

Y’all, I was only taking the elevator to the 3rd floor! He told me like ten stories within 2 stories worth of an elevator ride!!

I guess the reason we feel awkward – the type of awkward we feel in an elevator with a stranger – is because we all have a story to tell. We have this inherent need to relate, and to relate well, to others. The awkward tension we feel in the elevator with a stranger is not the discomfort of sharing a small, confined space with someone we have never met. The awkwardness results from our resisting the need to relate to others.

There are times in life when we bump into God like a stranger in an elevator. We encounter God in the midst of our life and we have no idea what to say – “Hey, God! Hippos sweat turns red when they are mad, but you probably already knew that!”

God has a way of showing up when we least expect it and when we are least prepared for God’s presence. It can be a little awkward – How should I stand? What should I do with my hands? Where should I look? What should I say/not say?

The awkwardness we experience when we unexpectedly encounter God in the midst of our life results from the same inherent need to relate, and to relate well, to others.

Specifically, at the core of our heart is the inherent need to know God and to be known by God.

“Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by Him.” — 1 Corinthians 8:2-3

Any awkwardness experienced when encountering God is normal! What to do? How to stand? What to say/not say? These uncertainties are the result of a natural need to exist in relationship with God. You have a story worth being told; and, God has a story for you to live. The awkwardness is simply the assurance that you are meant to know and be known by God.

Watch out the next time you step into an elevator. Who knows, you might find yourself riding with God the Father of your soul…not to be confused with the Godfather of Soul.

The Life of a Seed, Part Two

SeedThe second message in the series, The Life of a Seed, further emphasizes the need to “see” and hear” (or, to receive and respond) to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom.

The verses examined in the second message, vv. 10-15, focuses upon the response of Jesus to the question of the disciples regarding his responding for speaking to the crowds in parables.

Jesus clarifies his reasoning for speaking in parables. The blessing of knowing the secretes of the kingdom is a gift of God given to those people who have chosen to receive and respond to the proclamation of Jesus. Knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom is essentially the hidden presence of the kingdom (inaugurated in and through Jesus) and the hope for its future realization!

Click on this link to listen to the second message of the series. 

The Life of a Seed, Part One

SeedThe first message in the series, The Life of a Seed, introduces the Parable of the Sower. The parable is the first of seven parabolic teachings in the 13th chapter of Matthew.

The first message in the series establishes the context of this particular teaching – Jesus offers this parable (and the other six kingdom parables) as a response to people, towns, and the religious authorities who have failed to receive or respond to his proclamation.

The first message resists the urge to move directly into Jesus’ explanation of the parables; rather, attention is given to the instructions he gives to the crows before telling the parable an directly following the parable! Jesus instructs the crowds to “see” and to “hear” the parable, which is interpreted as an imperative call to receive and respond to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom.

You can listen to the full message here.

Live Bolder: On Turning 35

fontcandyI turned 35 last week.

I realize 35 may not seem old to some of you, but turning 35 feels like a milestone in the years. Technically, I am no longer considered a “young adult.” Perhaps, this transition of categorization is what seems so upsetting!

After all, if I am no longer to be considered a “young adult,” then it means I am supposed to be, well, an “adult” — and, quite honestly, I am not sure if I am ready for the responsibility! I have kind of enjoyed the privilege shrug off my mistakes with the comforting realization that I am still trying to figure out this adulting thing…

Not so much now!

Now, I’m not supposed to lean on the excuse that I am in the process of becoming an adult…because, well, it happened somewhere along the way.

And, I am already feeling it.

I had a fun birthday afternoon with JE. We blew up water balloons, threw them at one another, sprayed Solomon with a hose, and then went to VBS where we got to go down a huge waterslide and play in a jump castle…you know, a normal kind of 35th birthday.

But, while I was jumping in the jump castle, my foot slipped out and my knee buckled. I fell awkwardly to the mat with a grimace of pain.

JE laughed, because he thought I was playing around.

I wasn’t!

It hurt.

But, that’s just it – living exposes you too the rick of pain.

Embracing the life given to us can be a blast — it can look a lot like playing with water balloons, jump castles, and water slides! And, embracing life may expose you to the risk of pain, but the joy felt is always greater!

So, here is to being 35!

I’m not going to worry so much about getting older, but about living bolder – embracing the life God has given me with the expectation of being overwhelmed by joy and not so distracted by the risk of a little pain!

You’re Welcome (II): A New View of Christian Hospitality

You're WelcomeWhat does Christian hospitality really look like?

While preparing for a sermon a couple weeks ago, I came across the sermon I delivered on June 26, 2011 – the last Sunday of my first year in appointment to the Hampton-Varnville Charge.

The message that Sunday examined Matthew 10:40-42 in consideration of the relationship between our churches’ vision to Christian hospitality.

I revisited the sermon from June 26, 2011 on July 2, 2017, which marks the first Sunday in a new appointment year! The message, You’re Welcome (II), does not drift too far from the point of the original message: emphasizing a vision towards Christian hospitality as a humble response to God’s blessings upon our community of faith.

However, our reading of Matthew 10:40-42 is particularly interesting. While the message is certainly directed at a Hampton-Varnville audience, the interpretation of might exercise the minds of anyone with a curiosity towards the nature of Christian hospitality.

Here is a brief summary:

Matthew 10:40-42 is part of a much larger conversation between Jesus and his disciples in which Jesus authorizes his disciples to carry his message of the kingdom (as apostles) to the neighboring towns and villages. The message of Jesus is not only to be spoken, but to be demonstrated through deeds of power.

Christian hospitality is often conveyed as a willingness to receive “others” – to have open hearts, open minds, and open doors as our great UMC advertises.

However, Jesus offers a different point of view in these three verses of Matthew, which pushes his followers to move well beyond “openness.” Having already addressed the possible rejection the disciples may encounter in their mission, Jesus declares, “Whoever welcomes you welcome me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. (10:40) Jesus does not emphasize an expectation for the disciples to be open to receiving others; rather, Jesus cast “others” in the role of the welcomer. Others are the one expected to be open to receiving…namely, the disciples and the message they carry! The disciples, therefore, are the ones to be welcomed. 

By implication, therefore, the follower of Jesus is more than an open recipient of other people! No, the follower of Jesus is to humbly approach others with the message of Jesus – a message of God’s grace, mercy, and love!! The follower of Jesus is to approach others with the message of the kingdom, which calls for repentance so others might live a full life in the presence of the Almighty!

Christian hospitality certainly assumes an openness to the reception of others! But, Christian hospitality is more than passive receptivity. Christian hospitality embraces a willingness to humbly (and respectfully) approach others with the message of Jesus. Christian hospitality is a willingness to go to others and to offer oneself as a witness to the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Welcoming a stranger in the pew is a good thing, but Christian hospitality asks more of us…

We must go beyond the pew into the dark places of our world, the forgotten places, the broken places and offer ourselves in the name of Jesus as a witness to the grace, mercy, and love of God!!!

Check out You’re Welcome (II) if you would like to hear the message!

Speck: Choosing to See with Compassion and Empathy

fontcandy“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. — Matthew 7:1-5

I got a speck of saw dust in my eye yesterday. The speck posed an annoyance yesterday evening as Ginny and I sat down to watch America’s Got Talent. I did not mess with my eye, figuring the speck would be flushed out when I slept later that night.

I woke up this morning in a bit of discomfort. The speck had not flushed out. Worse, the speck was rubbing against my eye forming tiny scratches. I tried a couple different approaches to remove the speck: rubbing my eye (not a good idea); wiping the eye lid; eye drops; and, flushing my eye with water. Nothing seemed to help. The speck remained and the discomfort increased as my eye became more bloodshot.

While delivering his “sermon on the mount,” Jesus asks his disciples, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3)

The question is asked so Jesus can further encourage his disciples to first remove the log from their eye so they may see clearly to take the speck out of their neighbor’s eye.

These words are likely familiar to many of you. Jesus uses the imagery of speck/log in reference to the human tendency to judge others. The point of Jesus is to first attend to one’s shortcomings before addressing the shortcomings of others. Or, a more strident reading of this teaching suggests Jesus commands his disciples to attend to their sinful tendencies against the tendency to judge the sinfulness of others. And, of course, this is a teaching that speaks beyond the Twelve to all followers of Jesus — Judge not, lest ye not be judged! 

While judging others is certainly the central issue, Jesus makes a comment towards the end of his teaching, which brings another point into view. Jesus instructs his disciples to remove the log from their eye so they might see clearly to remove the speck out of the eye of their neighbor (Matthew 7:5).

Jesus does identify the ability to assist in the removal of a speck from the eye of a neighbor. The emphasis is a matter of one’s approach: do not seek to call out (judge) others for the specks that limits the view; but rather, approach your neighbor with compassion and empathy as one who knows the pain of having one’s sight blinded by a log!!

A little speck of saw dust is still floating around in my eye. It is uncomfortable; and, it is limiting my ability to see clearly.

Our tendency towards sin is no different. Sin limits our ability to see clearly. Sin blurs our view of God and it disrupts our ability to see and live into our relationship with God through Jesus. Life lived out of rhythm with God through Jesus Christ can be extremely uncomfortable.

That is the point we often miss!

Judging others is not just unhealthy, because it points out the flaws of another without acknowledging the faults of our own. Judging is ineffective! (Dare I say, negligent?)

When we choose to judge, we are choosing to withhold compassion and empathy from our neighbor. We forget the smallest speck can cause a great deal of discomfort and limit one’s vision.

When we choose to judge, we miss the opportunity to serve the well-being of our neighbor – to honor the pain they carry; to comfort them in their distress; or, to offer them a guiding hand.

I guess, at the end of it all, its a matter of the way you choose to see things…

Are you able to see clearly with the love of God? Or, is there a speck in your eye blurring your vision?

Blessings,
RC

Against the Wind

Against the WindThere are times when we feel like we are sailing against the wind.

An adverse wind hits us in the face and we find ourselves struggling to move forward.

What can we do when we are against the wind?

Our message for this week focused upon a similar experience of the disciples. While they were trying to sail across the Sea of Galilee one evening, these men encountered an adverse wind. They struggled at the oars as they attempted to make their way forward.

The story can be found in Mark 6:45-52. Jesus sees the disciples in their distresses. His response brought comfort and peace to the disciples. And, his response stands to offer comfort and peace to us during our times of struggle.

Jesus response can be quickly summarized by four observations:

  1. Jesus goes to them.  Jesus does not pass by them; rather, Jesus goes to his disciples in the midst of their struggle. Likewise, God has a funny way of coming to us through our relationship with Jesus in the midst of weakness and struggle. 
  2. Jesus reveals himself to the disciples. He does not simply come to them; rather, he reveals his identity to them in the midst of their struggle. Our times of struggle may not seem like the most opportune time for God to be revealed, yet God has a way of not only showing up…God reveals God’s love to us (in and through Jesus) when we are most in need of love! But, be clear, God’s revelation of love must be received. God’s grace and mercy must be accepted. 
  3. Jesus climbs into the boat with the disciples. Jesus takes it a step further, literally. Jesus doesn’t simply come to his disciples in the midst of their distress, nor does he only reveal himself to the disciples in the midst of their struggle. Jesus climbs into the boat with them — Jesus enters into their struggle alongside of them! To those of us who are willing to look for God in the midst of our struggle and to accept God’s  revelation of grace, mercy, and love, we will be quick to discover the presence of God alongside of us as we struggle against the winds in our life. 
  4. Finally, the wind ceases, but the disciples must continue to row. The presence of Jesus alongside of the disciples delivers a sense of peace, comfort, and calmness. The presence of Jesus, however, does not negate the struggle!!! The disciples must continue to cross the sea…only, crossing the sea is a little less of a challenge and a little more peaceful with Jesus in their boat! The presence of God in our life will not remove the struggle of needing to move forward, but the presence of God through our relationship with Jesus (and by the power of the Holy Spirit) brings a peace, comfort, and calmness to our lives. The struggle is real, but there is peace in the presence of God.

So, these are just a few quick notes on the message from Sunday! If you have a moment, I would invite you to listen to the full audio message.

Blessings to all!!!

Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way

Not able to make it to a worship service this morning?

Feeling a little uninspired?

That is okay!

Because, sometimes we just feel a little uninspired.

But, have a listen to the message Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way.

Because, there is peace for us still…!

 

Wilted: Exhausted of the Spirit

WiltedEver feel like you are wilting? Does it ever seem as if you’ve been exhausted of the Spirit?

The issue of “spiritual wilt” was the topic of a message from a few weeks ago – Rivers of Living Water.  The message covered the words of Jesus in John 7:37-39 — where Jesus encourages those who are thirty to come to him and those who believe him are invited to drink. For a more complete consideration, I would encourage you to have a listen to the full message.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a post about my new adventure into gardening and how this new adventure has begun nurturing inspiration for my spiritual growthMuch has occurred in the garden (and, I am sure a few more reflections will arise in the coming weeks).

Something very interesting happened about a month ago: my family and I returned from a 48-hour trip to discover our largest plants in a terrible way. Both of the plants were beginning to wilt. The leaves had no life in them and the stems were already limp.

I took a quick inventory of the garden and soon realized the plants were completely out of water. While I drench the garden the morning we left, the following 48 hours were extremely hot. The plants had fallen into distress with the two largest plants already beginning to wilt.

The lives we live are often big and busy – we try to do all we can and as often as we can.  And, quietly frankly, living this way is exhausting.

Even when the betterment of others is our aim, we are susceptible to exhaustion. Sustaining our family, supporting our friends, serving our clients/patients/students is all very exhausting!

Living big and busy lives can wear you down, physically.

For many of us, the exhaustion is more than physical.

The exhaustion is something else; something different.

The exhaustion brought out by our big and busy lives is felt from within — within the body, within the heart, within the place where joy is supposed to thrive.

When our lives gets a little too big and a little too busy, the thriving of joy feels a lot more like a wilting of the heart and the wilting of the spirit.

Back to my plants…

One was of a squash variety and the other was a zucchini.

They were in terrible shape…serious exhaustion, serious wilt.

Over the course of an hour, I began to slowly add water back into the containers. An intentional offering of water was contributed to the roots of these distressed plants.

The response was almost immediate as the stems began standing tall and the leaves became firm within an hour.

The water restored life to the plants.

The water offered to these plants would further sustain their life.

And, most amazingly, two weeks later those plants were producing “fruits” (vegetables) that would sustain the life of my family.

Jesus cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.'” Now [Jesus] said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive. — John 7:37b-39a

The more complex our lives (and, by here, I specifically mean the more we attempt to do, the more frequently we attempt to do it, and everyone we attempt to serve), the more susceptible we are to wilting of a spiritual nature.

“Out of the believer’s heart will flow rivers of living water,” which is true. But, the believer must first go to the source of the water and drink. The believer must receive and be filled by the water that sustains authentic life. Then, and only then, will the heart nourished by the Spirit grow and bear fruit.

Discover the hope in these words of Jesus for all who have or may be feeling a little wilted…

You are not meant to be the source of water that sustains, supports or serves.

You are invited to come; and, you are meant to drink, to be filled, and to allow the Spirit to work in you and through you.

The fruit produced by you (through you) may sustain the authentic life of another, but you are not the source of the water that restores and sustains. You are simply a witness to the power of the Spirit at work in you.

Feeling a little wilted?

Has life gotten a little too big and a little too busy?

Do not be discouraged!

Your exhaustion does not signal your insufficiency. Your exhaustion is simply a reminder of your need to pause before his presence, to receive the restorative and sustaining power of the living water, and to joyfully experience the power of the Spirit at work in you and through you.

Side Note – I encourage those who have time to listen to the message related to this topic. Properly understanding the full significance of the invitation of Jesus “to drink” requires consideration to a key detail in the passage – Jesus spoke these words “On the last day of the festival, the great day.” (John 7:37) The message takes the timing and the setting of Jesus’s words into account for a more complete interpretation of the significance of this Scripture.