Below is my weekly email to the Tonganoxie UMC congregation. I share it here so that others can keep in touch with what the church is up to. Let me know if you’d like to be added to the list to receive the note weekly.
Dear Tonganoxie UMC Family,
Below is my weekly email to the Tonganoxie UMC congregation. I share it here so that others can keep in touch with what the church is up to. Let me know if you’d like to be added to the list to receive the note weekly.
Dear Tonganoxie UMC Family,
This morning we conclude our series, “Lessons From the Farm on Growing in the Christian Life.” For the last four weeks we have explored various attributes or principles of the Christian life, specifically as they are related to images and metaphors from the farm and from agriculture.
If you have been with us through this series you know that none of the principles shared or the lessons are particularly earth shattering or new; they’re simply the kinds of things that we often know, but struggle to actually live day to day.
On the first Sunday of this series we talked about the reality of the human condition, all of the stress and pressure of living, of trying to meet the expectations that others place upon us. We likened the mess of the human condition to being stuck in the mud and addressed the reality that, try as we might, we aren’t able to get ourselves unstuck. As the starting point for our spiritual lives we must surrender our lives to Christ and then turn to follow him. In this act of surrender we are able to get unstuck from the mud.
On the second week we talked about the next step in our Christian journey, the need to be in community and relationship with other Christians. We talked a bit about the act of putting up a field’s worth of those small square hay bales and how to try to do so on one’s own would be a nearly impossible task. Just like putting up hay, we identified that growing in our Christian faith is not to be done alone.
A couple of weeks ago now we talked about what the gardens of our souls need as we seek to grow into who God wants us to be. Specifically we talked about the weeds that can grow out of control and choke out the good that God hopes for us. In order to grow as God would hope for us to grow in the Christian life we must tend to the weeds, we must use discipline.
And last week we talked about the need to effectively manage the manure in our lives. If you were with us last week you’ll remember that we named the reality that manure happens. There is no denying or hiding from this reality. However, we also named the fact that it is not the manure of our lives that will ultimately define us, it is what we do with the manure in our lives. And so we talked about the need for a manure management plan, a way to turn the manure of life into compost, something that can be rich and life giving to others.
As we conclude this series this morning we’re talking about the end, goal, purpose, mission of the Christian life. As we explore this reality today we do so using the framework of the harvest. Again I asked Ben Myers, one of our resident farming experts, to tell me a little bit about what the harvest means in the life of a farm. Hear what he had to say…
(Ben’s Harvest Video)
Some of what Ben says here is key. The harvest is a very important time, of course, it is the culmination of months of hard work. And so you watch very closely and you wait very patiently so that you might harvest at the just right time so that your work hasn’t been in vain. When it is time for the harvest, we can see if the things we have done in cultivating our spiritual lives have been done well.
Throughout this series we have talked a lot in generalities about the life that God would want us to live, the fruit that God might hope for our lives to bear. As we talk today about preparing for the harvest, I want to spend just a bit of time talking a bit about what that life might look like, about what it is that God might hope for from us.
In the passage we read a few minutes ago from the 22nd chapter of Matthew Jesus gives us insight into this very question. He is essentially set up in this story. The Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Saducees when they put him to the test. So the Pharisees, the religious rulers of the day, gathered together and one of them, a lawyer we’re told, asked him a question, ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ By asking Jesus this question, the lawyer was seeking to trap him, to have to give priority to one law at the expense of all the others. Jesus’ response, is magnificent…
‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
What kind of fruit does God look for in our lives? What should be the goal or the end or the purpose of the Christian life? You should love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. You should love your neighbor as yourself.
To love God with our whole heart and soul and mind is about more than simply professing love or even than feeling affection. Loving God with all of our heart and soul and mind requires energy and work and investment on our part. Regularly being engaged in worship is an important part of this, having time and space in our routines where we can pause and breathe and feel God’s spirit at work in our lives is important. Gathering with other Christians to sing songs of praise and to hear the scriptures read and God’s word proclaimed is an important part of growing in our love with God.
Sometimes we will need to do these things even when we don’t particularly have warm and fuzzy feelings toward God. The closest illustration I can make to this is the relationship that we have with our partners. There are times that I don’t necessarily feel warm and fuzzy feelings toward Heather. You’ve experienced this, right? You’re tired, you’re stressed, you and your partner have been going in a million different directions trying to stay on top of the demands of life and it’s just not really much fun.
Even in these times I know I am to show my love to her as her partner. I am to act in loving ways. So it is with our relationship with God. Sometimes we feel really close to God and it’s easier to do these things. Sometimes we don’t feel particularly close to God, but we are still to take the opportunity to show our love.
The other piece of this, then, is that we’re called to love our neighbors as ourselves. I realize that statements like these often lend themselves to the most favorable definition possible. You might seek to define love as simply as you can or to define neighbor as narrowly as you can, but I challenge you to think expansively about this. Define love as generously as you can, define neighbor as broadly as you can. Love your neighbor as yourself.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement that evolved into our United Methodist Church called these two things, loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind and loving our neighbors as ourselves, sanctification. It is important to understand that growing in the Christian life is to be a daily journey that unfolds throughout the course of our lives. I often try to look at it like this. Today, I hope to love God and to love my neighbors just a little bit better than I did yesterday. Tomorrow I will hope to love God and to love my neighbors just a little bit better than I do today.
There will be days when I fail to do this. There will be days when I make mistakes and turn my back on God. There will be days when I fail to extend love to my neighbors, but the good news is that even in the midst of my failings God loves me and forgives me and calls me into another day. I invite you to consider adopting this perspective. I know you’ve heard my say it before, but it’s worth repeating here, God love you exactly the way you are, but doesn’t want you to stay that way.
Bit by bit, little by little, day by day, over the course of a lifetime, we can make incredible progress as we grow into the people God calls us to be.
The harvest that God hopes for in each of our lives is that we do these two things and that we do them better today than we did yesterday. We are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves.
The extent to which we do these two things is the harvest our lives bear. However, there is another way in which the harvest of our lives can be measured and gauged. This is related to the other parable we read a few minutes ago. Jesus is traveling through Galilee healing and teaching and performing miracles and Matthew explains to us that “36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’”
Jesus saw hurting and broken people who were in need of a shepherd. Jesus charges his disciples with going out into the field and to helping people meet and connect to God. Jesus lived for reaching people who have no connection with God. Jesus calls us to help with that work. We are sent out to help find others who are lost and hurting, we are sent out to share the good news with others who might join us as workers cultivating the great harvest.
Regardless of who you are, the family you come from, where you work, or the connections you have, there are people in this world with whom you have unique and special connections. You all know people who trust you in ways that they would never trust me. I’m the pastor, it’s my job to tell people about Jesus, it’s my job to tell people that God loves them. I know this might sound odd, but people are sometimes less likely to hear those things from than they are from you. You are just a friend or a co-worker or a neighbor, you don’t necessarily have an agenda.
I was recently told the story of a man who was traveling with his family and staying in a hotel. One evening the man and his daughter were in the lobby playing a board game and they watched as a woman came into the hotel to check-in. Sitting in the lobby they couldn’t help but overhear as the desk clerk had to explain to the woman that her credit card had been declined. The woman was clearly embarrassed and expressed frustration, saying that she wasn’t sure what she could do. She said she was going out to her car and would look for another card and come back in a few minutes.
Without really thinking the man grabbed a pad of paper and wrote a couple of notes and took them to the front desk with his credit card. He handed them to the clerk with one note on that read, “I am a Christian and want to share God’s love by paying for that woman’s hotel room tonight. Please don’t tell her it was me and please just hand her this other note when you tell her her room is paid for.
The man returned to his board game with his daughter and the woman soon came back to the desk. The clerk explained to her that her room was paid for and handed her the second note that the man had written. It simply read, “I am a Christian who believes deeply in God’s love. I also believe that as a Christian I am to share that love with others. I have paid for your hotel room tonight and want you to know that God loves you.”
The woman was clearly moved and expressed her disbelief to the clerk who simply said that it had been an anonymous gift. After the woman went upstairs to her room the clerk came over to the man and expressed how much his gesture had touched her. “I’m going to call my boyfriend and tell him what I witnessed on my break and I can’t wait to tell my manager on Monday. What you did is one of the neatest things I have ever seen anybody do.”
Do you see the power of what this man did? In one simple gesture he shared God’s love with the woman who needed a room for the night. He showed his daughter what it looked like to extend Christian love. He showed the desk clerk how Christians share God’s love and give. His actions also impacted the desk clerk’s boyfriend who would hear the story that night as well as the hotel’s manager who would hear the story early the next morning. The man who put forth the effort to share God’s love in this simple act would later say it was the best $60 he ever spent.
You too can do things like this, can share God’s love with a hurting and broken world in seemingly simple and insignificant ways. And so I leave you with a couple of questions. What fruit are you going to bear? What will the harvest of your life look like? This is why we’re here. The harvest is plenty, the laborers are few.
Below is my weekly email to the Tonganoxie UMC congregation. I share it here so that others can keep in touch with what the church is up to. Let me know if you’d like to be added to the list to receive the note weekly.
Dear Tonganoxie UMC Family,
Several times this week I was shocked as I looked at the calendar and realized that September was rapidly coming to a close. It is hard to believe that 2011 is almost 3/4 of the way over. It is hard to believe that the holidays will soon be upon us and we will soon ring in 2012. I spent Tuesday of this week mapping out worship for the rest of the year and roughly outlining plans for 2012. I am excited about all of the opportunities that we will have to grow together as we worship God in the coming months and do hope you’ll continue to make Sunday mornings a priority in your relationship with God! This morning I want to share a couple of things with you related to worship.
Thank You for Your Excellent Summer Worship Attendance
Church worship attendance is typically at it’s lowest point of the year during the summer months. That said, I want to commend you for your faithfulness to being in worship through this summer. In 2009 our average worship attendance for June, July, and August was 87 people/Sunday. In 2010 our average worship attendance for June, July, and August was 95 people/Sunday. This summer our average worship attendance for June, July, and August was 109 people/Sunday. Over the course of the last two years our summer worship attendance has increased by just over 25%! The numbers reflect the exciting energy that has been and is building here with our church. I want to thank you for your faithfulness in worship attendance this summer, I am excited to see how this energy continues to build through the rest of this calendar year!
Help Me Plan Sermons for 2012
Over the next couple of months I will be seeking to formalize plans for preaching and worship in 2012. As I do, I would value your input! About what kinds of things would you like to hear a sermon series? With what topics/ideas/issues do you wrestle? About what questions of faith would you like to learn more? If we were going to do a series or two geared specifically at inviting new people to be a part of our church what do you think your friends and neighbors in the community might find interesting or compelling? Please give it some thought and feel free to send me an email with any ideas that you might have.
Join us Sunday as we Conclude “Lessons from the Farm”
This Sunday morning we will conclude our series “Lessons from the Farm on Growing in the Christian Life” by talking about “Harvest Time.” We’ll talk about the type of harvest God desires in our lives and how we can take everything that we have learned through this series and use it to be the people God intends for us to be. I do hope that you’ll plan to be in worship Sunday and I look forward to seeing you then!
When I think about how much this church has grown in the last couple of years and how exciting these last few months have been, I find myself feeling incredibly energized about the future into which God is calling us. You are a wonderful congregation and it is a blessing to serve as your pastor!
Grace and Peace,
Today we continue our series “Lessons from the Farm.” A series that we designed to help us take a fresh look at some of the keys to growing in the Christian life. Through this series we’re exploring agricultural metaphors and lessons from farming as they pertain to our spiritual growth. The hope for this series is that we might be reminded of and inspired to live out some of these important truths so that we might fully live the life that God has called us to live.
We began the series several weeks ago by talking about the first step to experiencing the life that God wants for us. The important step of surrendering our lives to Christ allows us to turn and follow him so that we can be freed from the mess that is the human condition, we can finally get unstuck from the mud of life.
Two weeks ago then we talked about the next step, the important role that Christian companionship or community plays in our spiritual growth. We are not designed to operate in isolation from others and so we need to connect with people as we seek to grow into who God would have us be. We need the strength and support of community and at the same time we need to be engaged in community for the sake of others who need our strength and support.
Last week then we talked about the importance of discipline as we grow in our spiritual lives. As we explored this lesson we looked at the need to tend to the weeds in crops or in gardens. I confessed that this summer we neglected the garden for a few weeks in the midst of the craziness of moving in and then it got hot and several more weeks went by and all of a sudden we had a mess on our hands… And I invited you to think of these weeds as a metaphor for our spiritual lives. To produce the fruit that God hopes for us, we must tend to the weeds.
This week we’re going to talk about manure. I imagine that many of you have seen the bumper stickers or at least heard the sentiment that, well, to paraphrase, “manure happens.” We know this right, in life there is suffering, hardship, pain, unpleasantness. These things are as much a part of living as manure is a part farming.
A couple of weeks ago now Heather and Hannah and I were having a leisurely breakfast on a Saturday morning and out of the corner of my eye I saw a horse and buggy traveling down the road. I grabbed Hannah and we ran outside excited to see the horse turning to go down our street. We watched horse go by and Hannah waved at it excitedly.
About a week later I was out in the yard working on Friday during my day off and the same guy came by again and stopped to chat. After he left I found myself thinking about the years that I had gone to horse-back riding camp as a kid and how neat I thought horses were and I began to think that it might be fun to have a horse someday. That afternoon I was poking around online and did a little bit of looking into what exactly that might entail and was blown away by how much is involved with having a horse.
You have to get them shots, and take them to the vet, there is some kind of paste you have to put in their mouth, you have to keep them clean, you have to have a farrier come and put shoes on them, you have to feed them (a lot), and then you have to clean up after. And do you have any idea how much manure horses make from all of that food that you feed them? The average 1,000 pound horse creates 50 pounds of manure a day. That’s nearly 9 tons of manure a year from one horse. Manure happens…
This is not just the case with farm animals, but with our lives as well. Bad things happen in life. You will lose loved ones. You will experience tough times. You will be betrayed. You will be disappointed. There is no hiding from these realities. But it is not these realities that define us, it is how we respond to these realities that defines us.
In dealing with the manure of life it seems that people most often take one of two approaches. Some people choose to be in denial of the fact that manure happens and so when it ultimately does they’re not prepared and are totally blindsided, taken aback and paralyzed by the painful reality they’re experiencing.
The other extreme approach that some people take is to fixate on the possibility of manure, to be so consumed by worrying about the potentially bad things that might happen that they again become frozen in fear. Of course, neither one of these options is particularly helpful. The best solution is to recognize the fact that bad things do happen and to have some helpful/healthy perspective regarding this reality – to have a manure management plan.
When we are paying attention we can’t hide from the reality that bad things happen. Death and pain are a natural part of the cycle of life. This time of year we see this all around us as the colors leave plants and trees, things that we have planted in our gardens bear fruit for the last time and die. We enter into a cold and dark winter with a sense of trust and a hope that new life and resurrection will come in the spring. As people of faith we enter into this season mindful of Jesus’ words from today’s gospel reading, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
This cycle of the seasons, of life and death, is a natural part of living in this created world. Yet so often people still struggle with the questions of why. Why must things die? Why must there be pain and suffering? As people of faith we have the assurance held by the Apostle Paul when he wrote to the Romans, “…we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us…” and “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
But even in the midst of these assurances, times of death and decline can be incredibly difficult. Nonbelievers and even sometimes people who consider themselves to be believers, struggle with the notion that God can be all loving when so much pain, so much manure, exists in the world. And so the question of why, why there is so much manure, is a totally legitimate and honest question.
And it’s not just a questions that people today wrestle with, it is a question that many of the authors of the bible struggled with. The book of Job is full of these questions about why bad things happen, especially to faithful people. The Psalms are filled with songs of pain and despair, people crying out to God. Through the Bible we see time and time again the reality that storms and earthquakes exist as a part of life.
It seems like whenever a tornado or hurricane strikes and brings destruction and despair with it, there are religious leaders who make bold claims like the storms must be punishment for sin or that God was seeking to teach someone a lesson and sent the storm. Often statements like this make nasty assumptions about the nature of God, that God would negatively impact the lives of hundreds if not thousands of people or even kill people just teach a sinner a lesson.
In the early 2000′s after a hurricane came through Florida and caused some remarkable damage, then governor Jeb Bush said something fascinating. He said that hurricanes are the price of living in paradise. This way of thinking is very different than the mindset that God sends storms as punishment and I believe it is a faithful and a helpful understanding of how God is at work.
Florida is a beautiful state with gorgeous beaches and a wonderful climate. However, when the sun’s rays heat up the waters of the ocean to approximately 82 degrees, winds pick up and storms begin to form and the winds and the storms begin to swirl and hurricanes can be born. The very same elements of God’s created order that make Florida so beautiful, the warm temperatures, the water, the breeze, also open the door to the possibility of storms that can cause serious devastation. These storms, like the manure of life, are a natural part of the process for living. Manure happens. Again, the question is what are you going to do with it?
When I was doing my research about horses and began to learn about manure, I knew I was going to be preaching about this in a few weeks so I did a bit of research regarding what needs to be done with that much manure and it turns out that there are four different things that can be done with manure. As I talk about these I invite you to hear the parallels that exist between what people choose to do with manure and our spiritual lives. In these options, I hope you might begin to put together your own manure management plan.
The first option for dealing with manure is to simply pile it up. You can just put it off into the corner of the yard and keep adding to it. Day after day, the more manure there is, you just add it to the pile. The pile gets bigger and bigger, but you just try to keep it out sight and out of mind. The problem with this plan, however, is that the pile will eventually grow to the point where you can’t simply hide it. It will eventually get so big that it will overshadow everything else in your life.
Another option for dealing with manure is to try to burn it. If you douse manure in the right combination of chemicals, some kerosene and gasoline, you can burn it. From what I understand, this isn’t a pretty process! The burn creates a horrible smell and it can be a nasty messy process and sometimes it can even cause other things to catch on fire. I have heard that most people who try this once, don’t try it again. Yet people do keep trying this, dumping chemicals on the manure pile hoping that it will simply burn up. We all know people who have tried to deal with the manure in their lives like this, by dumping chemicals on it and hoping it will go away. It isn’t any prettier when people do this with their lives. It can be incredibly destructive.
Another approach that people could take to dealing with manure is to bury it. You can dig a big hole and put your manure in the ground. You can dig a lot of little holes and put your manure there, but there are a couple of problems with this plan. The most obvious, of course, is that your yard is full of these holes. A more significant problem is that if you do this, the manure won’t break down. Without exposure to oxygen the manure will always be manure. Thirty years down the road the manure that you bury will still be there, lurking under the surface. We have seen people do this with the manure in their lives, haven’t we?
The fourth option for dealing with manure, the ideal option, is to compost it and turn it into fertilizer. If manure is taken care of and treated in the right way it can be transformed from something nasty and unpleasant to something of great value that gives nutrients to the things it touches. This is my hope for your life, that you might learn to manage your manure in such a way that allows it to become something life giving.
So how do we do this? What is needed for the best manure management plan? Last month I visited a bit with Ben Myers, a member of our congregation who has farmed for years, and asked him to tell me a little bit about the process of using manure as a fertilizer. I began by asking if you could just take the manure and put it on what you want to grow. Let’s hear what he had to say…
You can’t just take the manure and put it straight on to what you want to grow. In fact, I learned this week that to do so would be counterproductive. The microbes that help break down the manure require nitrogen to do their work and will steal this nutrient from plants actually inhibiting their ability to grow. You can’t just put manure straight onto something, it takes time to turn manure into something like fertilizer.
The other interesting thing that Ben said is that it takes weather, the breeze and the sun to make this happen, to turn manure into fertilizer. Something fascinating that I learned this week is that ideally you should turn your manure to expose it to the air and to the sun to help it break down into fertilizer. The best case scenario is that you would turn it every 7 days. Just think about that… It is going to take time to turn manure into fertilizer, but while you give it the time it is also good to turn it and to expose it to the breeze and the sun every 7 days.
When we are dealing with the manure of our lives, it will take time for that to become something that can be rich and nourishing. However, as we move through our weeks and our months we need to be in worship, encountering God and growing with one another so that we can turn that manure, so that we can expose it to God’s holy spirit, so that it might be transformed into something good and rich and nourishing that is a blessing to others.
Dear Tonganoxie UMC Family,
Several mornings this week I got up early and went for walks before the sun was up and I could definitely tell that fall was in the air. I love the changing of the seasons! When spring comes I love the warming break from the bitter cold. As fall now begins I love the cool refreshing air that is such a relief from the oppressive heat of summer. There is something special about the seasons of change when we can experience relief from something that has become tiresome and the newness of what is to come. I think it is much the same with our spiritual lives, that there are particular times of the year when we are more likely to experience a new beginning, a fresh start. This Sunday, September 18th, is National Back to Church Sunday, a day I believe has the potential to be such a time. In today’s email I want to share a couple of things with you that are going on in our congregation and then invite you to be present (and to consider inviting others to join us) for a fun Sunday in worship.
Administrative Council and Potluck on Sunday
This Sunday at 11:30(ish), following the second service, our Administrative Council will be meeting and having a potluck lunch in Hughes Hall. These meetings are an important time of sharing, dreaming, and planning as a congregation. The meeting and the meal are both open to all members and friends of our congregation and I would invite you to come and participate. All ministry team leads (committee chairs) are expected to be there or to have a representative from their team present. Everyone is welcome! Childcare is available.
Three Questions for the Community
At last month’s Administrative Council meeting I shared three questions that I wanted people to go into the community and ask of three people over the course of the next month. I also shared them here in my weekly email. They were:
I encourage all of you to find people in the community to ask these questions and then listen hard to what they have to say. We’ll spend a little bit of time reflecting on these answers this Sunday at Administrative Council.
Sunday Mornings Full of Opportunities
Last Sunday we kicked off our new fall schedule of Sunday morning activities and I want to make sure that you are thinking about these great things so that you might make it a point to come and be a part of them:
Please plan to be here on Sunday and to engage in one of the many opportunities that exist!
Invite Someone to Join You for National Back to Church Sunday
As I mentioned above, this Sunday is National Back to Church Sunday. This week’s sermon “Manure Management” is a continuation of our “Lessons from the Farm” series that you won’t want to miss!
If you were with us last week in worship we used a promotional video for National Back to Church Sunday. You can view it again here.
As I shared last week, part of my hope is that we be a community of faith where all people, regardless of their past or their hesitations about church, will feel welcome. Please consider sharing this video with a friend or a neighbor or a family member and including an invitation along these lines, “This week in church our pastor is preaching a sermon called Manure Management and I’m excited to hear what it’s all about. It’s also National Back to Church Sunday and I wondered if you might want to come with me. There is coffee. There is food. There are friendly people. I could meet you there and introduce you to a couple of people. It really isn’t that scary and I think you would be glad you came.”
I hope that you have had a wonderful week, that you are enjoying this beautiful beginning to fall, and that I’ll see you Sunday in church. As always, know that you are in my thoughts as prayers as a congregation and that I consider it a huge blessing to serve as your pastor.
Grace and Peace,
I recently finished Chad Gibbs’ God and Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC. In general I found the book to be an entertaining and thought-provoking read and thoroughly enjoyed it! Following in the footsteps of his family, Chad became an Alabama football fan at an early age. In young adulthood he enrolled at Auburn University and, much to the dismay of some of his family, converted his football loyalties.
I was particularly struck by an exchange in the book between Chad, his friend Jordan (from PAC-10 territory), and Rachel a campus pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Auburn.
Rachel told us how she was born into the Auburn family. ”My grandfather played here, his face is on one of the murals outside the stadium. He used to lay down the law to us grandkids, saying if we were going to be Auburn fans, then we would have to act like Auburn men and women.”
“What do you mean Auburn men and women?” Jordan asked.
“It’s a family thing,” I said, and Rachel nodded. ”But not always something that is passed down generation to generation. I’m in the Auburn family, but I came by it a much different way than Rachel. I think really it means you are part of something bigger than yourself. When you go out into the world, you are representing Auburn, and when you need help, you know Auburn people will have your back.”
Jordan nodded, though I’m not quite sure he got it, and walking back to our tailgate, I started to understand why.
“What you are describing as the Auburn family,” Jordan said, “is really what the church is supposed to look like.”
When I thought about it, he was right. In fact I think Auburn sometimes does a better job of being the church than the church does. Walk around campus on a game day wearing orange and blue, and you will certainly feel loved and that you are part of something big. At tailgates we welcome and feed strangers, something that almost sounds biblical. As a matter of fact, at least once a day I see someone post a prayer request on an Auburn sports message board, where dozens of Tiger fans promise to lift up prayers on their behalf… in many ways Auburn had become my church.”
I have experienced similar feelings as a KU basketball fan and imagine that many others who are a part of various fan bases around the country have as well.
Have you had experiences like this, being a part of a group that does a great job of being “the church” even if said group has nothing to do with the church?
Any thoughts on what our churches can learn from these fan bases about loyalty, care for one another, and community?
I would love to hear your thoughts!
Over the weekend Heather cleaned out the piano bench and rediscovered the sheet music for this blast from the past.
Last night she spent some time playing it on the piano and singing it and then we watched this video a couple of times. We were thoroughly amused by the sheer 90′sness of it all and playing a fun game of “name that 20 year old celebrity.” This morning I can’t get the song out of my head and thought I’d pass it along.
Do you remember this song?
What celeb were you most excited to see when watching the video?
Has there been another big celebrity driven pop phenomenon like this since?
Talk amongst yourselves…
Today we continue our series, Lessons from the Farm on growing in the Christian life. Through the course of these five weeks we are seeking to identify and understand some key principles for growing in our faith, for becoming the people that God wants us to be as we grow in our relationship with God and engage the world around us. To help us do this we are looking at different agricultural metaphors and teachings from the parables of Jesus and the scriptures.
As we began the series two weeks ago we talked about the need that we have to surrender our lives to Christ. As we live day-to-day we often get bogged down in the muck and the mire of life. The reality of the human condition often finds us stuck in the mud and no matter how hard we try to get ourselves unstuck, we simply can’t. Through surrendering to Christ we can experience the freedom that God offers.
Once we have surrendered our lives to Christ a crucial next step is to engage in Christian community. Last week we learned about the act of putting up hay and the reality that it is not a one-person job. Through this conversation we then explored the reality that we need one another as we grow in our faith, we need to be engaged in small group opportunities for fellowship and growth in the church. We need to be engaged for our own sake as well as for the sake of others who need us.
Today then we turn to talk about the third of these principles, the next thing about which we need to be intentional as we grow in our Christian faith; discipline. Sounds exciting doesn’t it! I know discipline is a favorite topic of most of yours… it’s mine too! When you hear the word discipline what do you think of…?
Webster’s defines discipline in a way that I think is helpful for our conversation this morning, “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.” And I would add to that our spiritual lives. Discipline is training that can mold or perfect the lives that we seek to live, the lives God calls us to live. And as we talk this morning about the discipline we’re called to exhibit with our lives, we turn to another important lesson from the farm.
Many of you know that our church owns a home on the north side of town for the pastor and her or his family to live in. Last spring after it had been announced that I would be serving here, Francis, my predecessor, and Donna his wife, invited Heather and Hannah and me to the house to look at what would be our new home. While we were there Donna asked what we would like planted in the garden with the idea that she would plant it so it would be ready for us to enjoy once we moved in.
We moved into the house in late June and the garden had already begun coming to life, it was clear that we would soon be enjoying lots of yummy squash and peppers and tomatoes as there were these nice neat rows of developing plants.
As we settled into our new home and our new routines this summer an incredible amount of energy went into unpacking and putting the house together and settling in. We didn’t give the garden the attention that it needed in those first weeks. And then it got really really hot and we continued to be busy with life and settling in and starting my work here. For a couple more weeks we failed to give the garden the attention that it needed. And all of a sudden, early the week of the fair in mid-August, I realized that things were out of control and so I went out and snapped a couple of pictures for you to see…
This one from the side shows the tomato plants under attack…
How much is this just like our spiritual lives? We have the best of intentions, people have planted and tended to seeds in our lives, we have great potential to bear fruit, but if we let things go untended for just a month or so, the weeds can grow up to the point of choking out what we really want to grow.
It takes hard work to get what you want to grow to grow. But you’ve seen a picture of my garden now and so I don’t want you to have to take my word for it. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit with Ben Myers, a member of our congregation who has a great amount of experience farming and here’s what he had to say about this…
(Have to Fertilize Video)
If you’re not willing to put in some hard work, you might as well of not planted it in the first place. It takes hard work to get what we want to grow to grow. It takes discipline.
The flip side of this, though, is that the stuff you don’t want to grow, doesn’t need any help growing – it just takes over! Again, hear what Ben has to teach us about this…
The weeds will take over. And if you let the weeds go, you won’t have any crop. Again, I hope you can see the simple lesson here as it pertains to your soul, to your spiritual life. And so I ask you to think about it this morning, what are the weeds that are growing in the Garden of your soul? What distractions do you face? What takes your energy?
In today’s gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus is again using an agricultural metaphor to teach. The author of Matthew puts it this way… 24He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.
This parable is often referred to as the parable of the wheat and the tares. The weed that the author of Matthew refers to as a tare is something very similar to what we know of as rye-grass today. When rye-grass, or tares, first start to grow the plants look very similar to wheat. By the time it has grown enough and it is clear that it is not wheat, the rye-grass has wrapped itself around the wheat becoming enmeshed and tangled up with the wheat. The good wheat that is to be harvested and turned into flour or bread is now mixed with a noxious weed. Again, we experience much the same with our spiritual lives. What are your weeds?
I know that for some of you, work-a-holism is a significant weed, things with your job consume more of your time and energy than you would like and then take away from the time that you have for your family, for your friends, for tending to the garden of your soul. Your job is not the key to being who God created you to be. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to do something you are passionate about, it is a part of who God calls you to be, but not to the detriment of other important relationships in your life. When you are old and in need of care, your job won’t be there to help you with the difficult transitions of life, your job won’t visit you in the nursing home or take you to your doctor’s appointments.
I know that for some of you temptation is a significant weed. Maybe you struggle with drugs or alcohol or food issues and wrestle with the temptation to give in on a daily basis. Maybe you have had challenging times in your marriage and have been tempted by a relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Even a seemingly innocent friendship can lead to dangerous places of temptation and before you know it boundaries have been crossed and a weed has grown out of control in your life.
For others of you I imagine you struggle with any variety of weeds: anger, pride, resentment, jealousy, envy. These weeds can creep into our lives and grow to the point where they choke out God’s hopes and plans for us. We must take care of the weeds, sometimes by pulling them, sometimes by getting a spade and digging them out.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement that evolved into what is now our United Methodist Church established three general rules for living the Christian life. These rules can be helpful as we seek to tend to the weeds in our lives and so I want to share them with you this morning. My hope is that they might be for you a simple guide to help you tend to the garden of your soul.
The first of these rules is to do no harm. Don’t yell at or hit your spouse or children would be an obvious and maybe extreme implication of this. On a more subtle level following this admonition to do no harm might mean not succumbing to the temptation to smoke one more cigarette or have one more drink of you are battling addictions. It might mean not eating those things that you know are bad for your system and leave you feeling cruddy. It might mean not beating yourself up emotionally for your perceived shortcomings. It might mean being mindful of how the things that you purchase and consume impact our planet and the people who helped produce and distribute those goods to your home. Do no harm, don’t nurture the weeds in your soul, don’t plant weeds in the souls of others.
The second of these general rules is to do good. This is an extension of the first rule. It is not enough to simply avoid doing bad things, we are also called to actively be involved in doing good things. Care for yourself. Care for God’s creation. Care for others with whom we share God’s creation. Wesley is believed to have said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” Actively seek to provide water and fertilizer, to help the good things grow in your life and the lives of others.
The third of these general rules Wesley often referred to as our need to attend to the ordinances of God. In our more 21st century English this can best be summarized as stay in love with God. Stay connected to God as the source of your strength and seek to grow in that relationship. Specifically Wesley encouraged people to do this in six ways:
Each of these different techniques can be like carbon dioxide or rain or fertilizer or sunlight for the gardens of our soul. Stay in Love with God.
Ten words. Do no harm. Do Good. Stay in Love with God.
As we close this morning I want you to again hear these words from 2nd Peter. Hear them as words of challenge and words of encouragement.
“5For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, 6and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, 7and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. 8For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins.
It takes hard work for us to tend to the gardens of our soul, and while this might go without saying, it is incredibly important work. The degree to which we are tending to our connection with God makes a huge difference in so many aspects of our lives. And so this morning I want to leave you with this challenge, to do the hard work, to tend to your spiritual life so that you don’t end up looking something like this (picture).
Dear Tonganoxie UMC Family,
I hope that you have had a wonderful week and that you have been able to take advantage of the beautiful weather! This Sunday we are officially ringing in the new school year here at the church and I am really excited for all of the great things going on. Our Bell choir will be assisting in worship at the 10:30 service, the chancel choir will rehearse after the 10:30 service in preparation for assisting in worship next Sunday and a variety of educational programs for people of all ages kick-off. In today’s email I want to share some details about these various activities as well as a word about the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Sunday School Starts
On Sunday at 9:30 a new year of Sunday School begins with opportunities for all ages!
We will be celebrating all of this back-to-school fun with a big picnic/party outside on Sunday evening at 5pm. Plan to join us for a great time! Hot dogs and drinks will be provided, you are invited to bring a side dish to share.
Youth Group Kicks Off This Thursday
This Thursday marks a very exciting time in the life of our church’s Youth Group as they kick-off a new weekly gathering. All youth in the 5th – 12th grades are invited to gather for this exciting time of fun, fellowship, and faith development. Plan to be to Hughes Hall by 7pm on 9/15 for an exciting start to an exciting year!
10 years ago Sunday is a day that will long be remembered as a defining day for our country and our world, 9/11/01. In remembrance of this day we are hosting a prayer vigil upstairs in our chapel from 11:30-3:30 on Sunday. I have put together a prayer guide that will walk you through a guided time of prayer and reflection. I hope that you’ll plan to make it a point to come and spend a few minutes in prayer and reflection as we mark this anniversary. You might also want to let your friends and neighbors know about this opportunity as we have designed this vigil to be open to the community.
If you are interested in exploring some more resources regarding the anniversary of 9/11, particularly as they pertain to our faith, I would invite you to visit the special page set-up by the United Methodist Church here.
I hope that you have a wonderful weekend and look forward to seeing you in worship on Sunday as we continue our “Lessons from the Farm” series and celebrate the beginning of a new year of Sunday School.
Grace and Peace,
My sermon from September 4th, 2011 based on John 15:1-17 . 2nd of 5 in “Lessons from the Farm” series.
In today’s gospel lesson Jesus is using an agricultural metaphor to teach about the spiritual life. God is the vine grower, Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. Through this parable Jesus wants us to understand that, in order for us to thrive as branches, in order for us to be what the vine grower would hope for us to be, in order for us to produce fruit, we must stay connected to the vine, we must stay connected to Christ who is the source of strength. I want us to hold to this idea and to this image throughout our time together this morning.
Today we continue our sermon series, “Lessons from the Farm.” Through these five weeks we’re going to look to different agricultural realities and metaphors and lessons learned from the farm that speak to us about what it means to grow more fully in the Christian life, to become the people and the community that God calls us to be. If you were with us last week I hope you might remember the illustration I shared using my two tomatoes.
You’ll remember I had a store bought tomato that on the surface appeared perfect, but that we concluded was surely less flavorful and less satisfying than the one I had just recently picked out of my garden. The tomato from the garden was ripe and a deep red and juicy and flavorful in a way that a store bought tomato will never be.
So as we explore these various lessons from the farm it is my hope that we will continue to open ourselves up to the idea of having a farm fresh faith, a faith that is alive and vital, a faith that is juicy and flavorful. Faith like this can help us to be transformed as we connect to God’s love for us.
Through this series we’re looking at 5 keys to living and growing in the Christian faith, things that aren’t rocket science, but things that though we know them, we often struggle to live. My hope is that as we work through this series together you will be inspired to remember and to act upon and live those realities that you already know.
Last week we talked about the reality that we’re stuck in the mud. We talked about the realities of the human condition and the fact that, try as we might, we can’t get ourselves unstuck. We acknowledged the reality that we need Christ, who came to earth to show us God’s love, who invited us into a new way of living, who was ultimately killed, but who rose on the 3rd day proving God’s ability to triumph over even death. And so as we talked about the reality of our condition and our need for Christ we talked through the need that we have to surrender our lives to Christ and to then turn and follow him as we live moment to moment and day to day.
This morning then we’re going to talk about the second Lesson from the Farm, the second of these principles that we know, but that we often struggle to live. After we respond to God’s love for us, after we acknowledge our need for Christ and turn to follow him then we need to be participating in and involved with a Christian community. We need to have other people in our lives who come alongside us and walk with us as we grow in our Christian faith.
To continue with the vine metaphor from today’s gospel lesson, we need not only remain connected to Christ in order to be who God would want us to be, in order to produce the fruit we’re called to produce, but we also need to remain connected with one another as the body of Christ, as the church. If we were the only branch on a vine like this, if all of the other branches were cut off, chances are we wouldn’t make it either. Yet we often try to do just this with our spiritual lives…
At one point when I was in high school I got roped into helping put up some hay. I don’t remember many of the details. I don’t remember even where we were, I don’t remember how many bales there were in the field, but I definitely remember it was about 140 degrees outside with 90% humidity. At least that’s my memory of it…
Now I did grow up outside of town here on a few acres, but for the most part I always have been and always will be a city boy. Yet somehow I got roped into helping put up hay on one of those brutally hot summer days. Though I can’t remember the specifics, I think there were only 2 of us and I, at least, didn’t know what I was doing. If my memory serves me correctly, the other guy knew what he was doing and assumed that I did too, I guess that’s why he had roped me into helping. So he didn’t really communicate what needed to be done. I didn’t really ask what needed to be done. We just started loading hay onto the trailer. It was ugly. We stacked it high, but we did not stack it tight. How that hay ever stayed on that trailer I don’t know…
A couple of weeks ago, in preparation for this series, I went out to Ben Myers’ farm and spent some time interviewing him. Ben’s property actually neighbored my families’ when I was growing up and he was always a great neighbor and someone who I knew was wise so I wanted him to help this city boy understand some important things about farming so that I might better be able to communicate and teach those things to you as well.
Remembering my less than successful attempt at putting up hay I asked Ben if he could tell me a little bit about how the whole process is supposed to play out, how many people you should have and how the hay should be stacked. Let’s hear what Ben had to say.
So there is a specific way that it makes the most sense to load a trailer… who knew?! And one of the keys for me in what Ben said is that you ideally you have at least three people, one on the truck organizing the bales and two on the ground loading the bales and maybe even a fourth to drive the truck. When it’s done right, putting up hay is not a one-person job.
There simply are some things that are not meant to be done alone. Not just putting up hay, but living the Christian life as well. We need other people. Other people need us. However, our spiritual lives often look a lot like I’m sure I did trying to put up hay, not knowing what I was doing, not talking to the person closest to me in that experience. In these situations, things aren’t really put together, there isn’t any balance and if the truck were to hit a bump, the whole thing might come tumbling down.
The Christian life has so much to offer, but when you do it all by yourself it can be exhausting and even confusing, it can at times be unfulfilling. Yet more and more I encounter people who seek to go at it alone, who seek to live out their faith in isolation. Several months ago I was visiting with a woman in our community and I asked her if she attended church anywhere. She responded quickly saying, “I usually go to the church of the shade tree.” Though she didn’t say it, I heard in her statement that sentiment that I hear people say all the time, “I’m not really religious, but I’m spiritual.”
Without giving it a great deal of thought I quickly responded and said, “well that can be a great place to experience God, but it’s a really tough place to be in community with others. She smiled and shrugged her shoulders and that was about the extent of that conversation…
This sentiment that one can be spiritual, but not religious, is increasingly common. And while I understand, at least on some level, what people are saying when they make that statement, I think it is often a cop out. Our spiritual lives are best lived in relationship with others, in a community. Our spiritual lives have the best chance of bearing fruit when we remain connected to the vine, to Christ and to the community of faith as the body of Christ in the world today.
As a culture we used to live in community in ways very different than we do today. I imagine that some of you can remember a time when laundry was done on the front porch and then hung out to dry. We now have our washers and dryers tucked away in the basement or in an interior room of our house, we do all of that inside. Groups of families from the neighborhood used to gather around the one radio on the block or the one color tv on the block and now on any given evening we are in our own homes in front of our own screens oftentimes with more screens than people in any given room.
The church is the last place where we’re really expected to authentically engage in these relationships, but even here we often struggle to know what that looks like or how to do that. We are so used to just smiling and saying fine whenever anyone asks how we’re doing that the idea of really engaging in community, letting down our guard, finding a place to be ourselves and to be loved anyway and even to be challenged and encouraged to grow, this all seems like a foreign concept in our culture today, but it is our call as the church.
From the earliest days the church was a group of Christ’s follower’s who committed to living in community with one another as they sought to grow in and share Christ’s love with the world. The book of Acts explains it like this…
42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
The early church was not simply a community who came together for an hour or two once a week. They were a group devoted to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship and to the breaking of bread and to prayer. They were together regularly supporting each other and sharing life with one another on a variety of levels.
Our call as the church, as the body of Christ in the world today is that we might regularly be in community and relationship with one another. When the church is functioning at it’s best a significant part of how we stay connected to the vine, of how we receive the strength and the nourishment and the sustenance that we need, is through the relationships that we share with one another here.
In some churches this call to be in community with one another is a push toward participation in a formalized small group ministry. While I am confident that our congregation would greatly benefit from a program like this, it isn’t something that we have today and it likely isn’t anything that we’ll offer, at least not through this school year.
However, there are still a number of different ways in which you might connect with others in small group setting through the church: Sunday School classes, recreation, study, UMW, youth group. To fully be connected to the vine that is Christ we need to be growing in our faith more than just in worship on Sundays, we need to be connecting with one another throughout the week too.
As you grow in your Christian faith you need opportunities to connect with others, but the flipside of that is that they need you too. When Ben and I first started talking about putting up hay he told me a story…
When we fail to be a part of the community of faith when we fail to be present and active and engaged we are in many ways like those kids who told Ben they couldn’t handle it and left him to do all of the work. Putting up hay isn’t a one-person job. Growing in our spiritual lives isn’t a one-person job. I challenge you to commit to being involved in this community of faith, in ways more than just worship, for your own sake, for the sake of others in this community, and for the sake of the mission to which God has called us.