Saturday, January 4, 2014

Lean Into the Light! - a sunday sermon slice from 1/5/2013

LEAN INTO THE LIGHT!   John 1: 1-5, 14-18

The year of our Lord, 2014 has dawned and the scramble has begun.  Folks are scrambling to get their goals in place, their resolutions together, their peace restored or established for that matter, and their last year’s journeys pushed into the background.

In one of Holy Scripture’s mightiest Psalm, Psalm 119 the Psalmist joyfully declares this great truth speaking of the Lord beginning in verse 129 (ESV)

“Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. 130 The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.”

Where is the light of Jesus Christ already shining in your life?  Where are all your dark, dank and dusty corners?   Are you ready to re-open your heart and let that Jesus light shine in again or for the very first time? 

A timeless story is told of an Englishman who transcended his childhood spent as a street urchin, an urchin is an old 14th century word used to refer to a child who is poor and dirty causes trouble out on the street and who tends to annoy people; if you guessed we don’t use this term much in America, you’re right!  This child of whom I speak grew up in London.  He grew up, and against all odds became a reasonable successful writer with a nice home and a loving family.  

But, being a writer every now and then he ran into what’s known as “writer’s block.”  For some time he was unable to feel inspire to write.  It seemed as though the creativity that had once sustained him had suddenly turned off.  His debts were mounting and he was under pressure from his publisher.  He was becoming more and more depressed as he thought that if he couldn’t break his case of writer’s block his children would wind up on the streets.  He was discouraged.  He was depressed. He couldn’t sleep.  He began to spend his nights walking the streets of London.   

He saw the poverty, the inhumane conditions of the children working nights in the factories, the terrible struggle of parents trying to eke out a living for their families.  Gradually, the full reality of what he was seeing began to sink in – the impact of the greed and those who would take advantage of others.  An idea touched his heart and began to grow in his mind.  There was something he could do to make a difference!  He returned to his writing with new energy and enthusiasm he had never known.   

The vision of contributing impassioned him.  He no longer felt doubt or discouragement.  He didn’t worry about his own financial concerns.  He wanted to get this story out, to make it as inexpensive as possible, and to make it available to as many people as possible.  His whole life had changed.  It was as though he had really SEEN THE LIGHT!!!!!  And, as a result the whole world changed!  Charles Dickens’s masterpiece, A Christmas Carol has brightened the lives of millions of people around the world for 150 years!  (I am grateful to Stephen Covey for the retelling of this story of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol in his book, First Things First.)

Out text from John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus is the light of all people and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overtake it! LEAN INTO THE LIGHT OF JESUS AND YOU CAN RELY ON HIM  TO SHOW YOU YOUR DIVINE DESTINY IN THIS NEW YEAR!

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Hard Lesson in Survival

If you've ever whispered a prayer in an airplane during a storm you'll feel the fear that gripped the group of oil riggers who were flying in a snowstorm during some of the early moments of the movie, The Grey.

Some critics called it formulaic but issues men rarely talk about with each other came out in the conversations of the group of men who were simply trying to hold on to survive as they tried desperately to get back to civilization and the rest of their lives with their families after a terrible plane crash.

I couldn't help but remember the real life story of the lead actor, Liam Neeson.  His wife, Natasha Richardson, died tragically on March 18, 2009 after sustaining a head trauma on a ski slope at Mount Tremblant Resort in Quebec.  The distant, troubled look in his eyes (in the pic above) reminded me of the search for meaning we all live with as we face the ups and downs of living.

This was not the triumphant story of the folks who survived the plane crash in a movie of my childhood called, Alive.  The brutal Alaskan wilderness would not let go of these men as though their fate had been decided from the moment they stepped onto the plane itself.

Some critics called it too long and too slow. But I find in my life and ministry that there are too many platitudes we use when we're talking about the meaning of life.  I love God deeply and believe that my destiny is caught up in what God would have me do, achieve and experience.  I accept that some suffering in this life is God ordained and must come my way to make me stronger, wiser and more courageous myself.

But watching the men in this movie struggle with memories, hopes, heartaches and finding courage got my spirit wrestling.  Can you keep going when folks around you doubt you?  Can you forge ahead when the finish line is so far away that you lose sight of it or your vision of it?  When someone is depending on you to get something right are you ready to complete that task or all of those tasks well?

The fight and the journey is worth pursuing!  Whatever you're going your heart and know that your trust in the Divine and in yourself is worth it regardless of the outcome.  I'd love to get the feedback from others, particularly men who have taken the time to see the movie.  Share your thoughts!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Reactivating Vision Power

What if Steve Jobs was right when he admitted a key thing about his vision for Apple Computers?  He admitted, "We started out to get a computer in the hands of everyday people, and we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams." Could one of America's great visionary corporate leaders have had a vision that didn't match with the outcome?

He said it happened.  I have been blessed to attend the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection's Leadership Insititute on four occasions now.  And their visionary pastor, Rev. Adam Hamilton said he, "never imagined he'd be the pastor of a congregation of thousands of members."  And yet, there he is in Kansas City, Kansas with one of the most vibrant churches in the post modern age.

Nehemiah is always cited as a biblical example of an extraordinary, visionary leader.  And, as a pastor, I have felt the pressure to produce just like Nehemiah did.  But a great truth was revealed to me recently by  Michael Fletcher, author of Overcoming Barriers to Church Growth.  He noted, "Visioning may be the hardest but most important job of the senior pastor-finding God's vision for the local church he (she) leads."  And if we start visioning, somehow, with a particular hope, dream or end in mind its probably because that would represent good planning, right?

I remember hearing about the comedian, Dave Chappele.  Success hit for the brother!  He went from stand up in clubs, on the road, to a hilarious Comedy Central Show where he was the principal star, writer and producer.  It seemed he had everything he wanted.  The cash was flowing and he was firmly planted in one place where his televsion project was doing well.  And one day he flipped out.  He just left.  He moved to Africa (or so the rumor said) and took a break from his responsibilities on Comedy Central.

Was his vision power somehow too puny to see the success that he experienced?

How do we activate or reactivate the power of BIG visioning that turns impossible situations into miracles from on high?  I know it can't happen without prayer.  Strong leaders must emerge in churches who can stomach the threat of failure remembering Tavis Smiley's encouragement to "fail-up."  There are other hints, other clues and other answers to this question that I really would like your feedback on.  Would you help in this process?  I'd love to hear your suggestions.        

Monday, September 19, 2011

Can We "Virtualize" Community?

There is a whimsical joy I get from just trying to imagine what these three penguins were grooving to at the time somebody snapped this picture.  These three are enjoying some community time...time together, face to face.

The church is at its best when we are in community.  I was reminded of that as I spoke to a member of my congregation.  He's twenty-three years younger than me and is very close to being a "digital native."  The kinds of electronic devices he grew up with were much different than the ones I grew up using.  When soul singer Celo Green croons the line, "She's an X-box, but I'm more Atari," I realize just how old I'm getting.  I was actually living before the Atari video game was available.

I called this younger member on the phone.  Most of the time, though, we keep up with each other on Face Book.  I told this younger member I want to reach out to him and start trying to build community with he and his peers.  I let him know that I would leave the church grounds to make a meeting time happen.

I am interested in knowing more about what the term "community" even means to another generation of adults.  I saw a definition by Dr. Ruth Tucker that interested me even though she's at least twenty years older than I am now.  She wrote that when she thinks of "community"......
It relates to my childhood memories and to my adult life, especially in relation to the church and workplace.  Whatever the word means, I know I have rarely experienced it in adult life with the exception of my marriage to John, which is a wonderful combination of community and intimacy.
I still remember discovering the world of blogging and bloggers and the virtual community we all share.  I dropped out of this community for awhile but now I want to get back in.  I have begun to study answers about how to write and maintain a great blog but I find myself coming back to this writing task with more questions than answers. (I understand that blogs that give 'tips' are especially popular)  I'm trying to find that elusive balance between the virtual world and the kind of "community" I can share with other people face to face.  Seeing the joy of those penguins was just the start of coming back to blogging for me.  I'm hoping that we'll share our tips, our reflections, our hopes and dreams as we reach out to each other in this awesome task known as blogging.  In the meantime, I'd love to know whether you feel anywhere near as satisfied in the virtual world of Face Book, Twitter, etc versus places like the church, or in a relationship where your community requires you to show up and spend some "face time" with other folks.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

4 Living Life to the Fullest Lessons from the movie Last Holiday

I must admit that the movie Last Holiday charmed me because of the warmth of the two lead actors, Queen Latifah and L.L. Cool J.  In that red dress Queen Latifah is styling to the max!

The love story between the Queen and L.L. won't win any famous awards but the life lessons of the story are hard to resist.  Here are four of those lessons that I hope will help you:

  1. That Special Trip or Vacation is Definately Worth SAVING For!  
The depth and length of this recession we find ourselves in, the Great Recession (some are calling it) reminds us that spending some and saving some of our precious dollars is what we all need to do.  Saving for travel can be exciting because the anticipation of visiting famous destinations can sustain us until it's time to go!   We all can benefit by looking forward to a time when we can throw caution to the wind and just kick back and enjoy ourselves.....even if it's only for a little while.

  2.   Don't Keep Your Talents to Yourself!

Queen Latifah's character, Georgia from New Orleans, was so careful about her life that she kept her talents hidden and obscured.  She kept them to herself.  But when a doctor told her she only had 3 weeks to live (sorry to spoil for you if you haven't seen it yet)  all of a sudden she let her talents flow.  And folks took notice too.  Your talents are meant to be used and shared.  USE THEM!

 3.   Let Love Take Hold

L.L. Cool J's character, Sean, didn't even know that Georgia was diggin' on him.  Not really.  But once he got the hint he could follow up and it turned out he was carrying a torch for Georgia himself.  They looked like a happy couple on screen.  We've got to let the folks we love know it.  We've got to let go of all that fake shyness and let love flow! 

 4.   Don't Be Shy About Making New Friends

Another lesson of the movie was the relationship that developed between Queen Latifah and the french chef at the hotel where she was staying in Europe.  He felt appreciated because she ordered every dish on the menu.  She clearly took delight in enjoying the gourmet dishes the chef prepared.  If we can simply learn to enjoy the moments we're given and live life to the fullest while we can there are people out there waiting and willing to befriend us and make our lives fuller and richer. 

If you're going to pick up a movie this holiday season on DVD....try this one!  It's great entertainment and the love story also re-enforces some life lessons that remain timeless.  Enjoy!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Living With a "Bucket List" Mindset

"You only live once, so why not go out in style?"
I have lived with that line in the trailer of one of my favorite movies for a long while.  And after a visit with two of my favorite cousins, who have made it a point to travel the world shamelessly, I was reminded again that life is short.  We've got to live it to the fullest while we have the chance.  Living with a "Bucket List" Mindset means doing five important things while you can.

See these 5 important tips below!

  1. Travel the world and never look back!  International travel is hard to beat in terms of what it teaches us.  The beauty of a place like Rio in Brazil or the sugar cane fields of Barbados can only be fully experienced up close.  Don't wait, travel the world!

  2. Find a friend who you can speak truth to and who can speak truth back to you!  The world is filled with hucksters, liars and fools!  Avoid them and find a friend who can be counted on to "zing" you every now and then!

  3. Laugh.....even when you feel like crying.  Oh, don't skip the crying part but a great sense of humor is a great helper in times like these!  Laughter AND crying is good for the soul.

  4. Connect with your spiritual self and don't ignore it!  In the movie, Morgan Freeman is heard even quoting his pastor at one point, IMAGINE THAT?

  5. Reconcile those old hurts!  Jack Nicholson's character must gather himself to reunite with a daughter whom he'd been previously estranged from. 
Maybe the movie was emotional for me because I visit hospital rooms regularly as a church pastor.  I see families at their best and at their worst.  Maybe the movie was emotional for me because I recently found out that a good friend who was about six years younger than me died suddenly....or at least suddenly from the perspective of a person who only saw her occasionally after college.  I've lost so many family members to the scourge of cancer also.

Maybe the movie was emotional for me because I could buy the DVD itself for a rock bottom price as my favorite Albertson's Grocery store in my neighborhood was moving out because of the recession. 

Find out what chords are touched in you when you watch the movie, The Bucket List.  But, take the five tips to heart and you will find gifts of God in unexpected places, people and things! 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Thought to Sustain Your Spirit in Tough Times

Sometimes the achievement is to make it through to the blessing on the other side of your challenge!  Listen to the wisdom of George Washington Carver, the great inventor and innovator who took the peanut and made it shine.  He wrote:
In these strenuous times, we are likely to become morbid and look constantly upon the
dark side of life, and spend entirely too much time considering and brooding over what
we can't do, rather than what we can do, and instead of growing morose and
despondent over opportunities that are shut from us, let us rejoice at the many
unexplored fields in which there is unlimited fame and fortune to the successful explorer.
         Explore the "can-do" things in your life and move, thrive and live abundantly!