A few days after this blog posts, I will be leaving with more than 20 other FUMC Tupelo adults and youth for what will be my second mission trip to Honduras. Having been before, my emotions will hopefully not run all over the place like last year but one emotion I pray I will keep foremost is anticipation of what God will do on this trip. Not just on our team and what we will hopefully accomplish, but I pray that God works directly on me, just as He did last year. You see, last year God basically “hit” me with the proverbial 2x4…as I was most definitely having a few “Martha moments.”
We all know the story from Luke 10: 38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”
41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” NLT
Jesus and his disciples were traveling to Jerusalem when they stopped in a village at the home of Mary and Martha. The Message says: “A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home.” Did you catch that phrase “quite at home”?! Can you imagine Jesus being so comfortable that he felt at home?
Her sister, Mary, sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to what he taught. However, the Bible tells us in verse 40 “But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” (NIV) Too distracted to hear what Jesus was teaching. And that is what happened to me last year in Honduras…I became Martha. Don’t get me wrong…the WORK we did in Honduras is vitally important. We lived out Matthew 25:35-40 each day. The homes and school rooms we built, the food we bought and dispersed and the dental clinic we provided were much needed by the villagers in Diamante. The work we will do this year also has the potential to be life changing for the people of Honduras. But I lost my focus. I was too busy thinking about all we needed to DO that I forgot about simply sitting at his feet and listening to what he was telling me. I forgot to just LOVE on the people of Honduras. And to me, showing the love of Jesus is the most life changing thing we can do.
It strikes me that as I read Luke 10, the story of the Good Samaritan is just prior to the story of Martha and Mary. We are taught that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves and as Jesus points out we are to have compassion on others. As I was writing this post, the song "Live Like That" by the Sidewalk Prophets was playing and the words express so much better what I want to say:
Sometimes I think
What will people say of me
When I'm only just a memory
When I'm home where my soul belongs
Was I love
When no one else would show up
Was I Jesus to the least of us
Was my worship more than just a song
I want to live like that
And give it all I have
So that everything I say and do
Points to You
If love is who I am
Then this is where I'll stand
Never holding back
I want to live like that.
As I prepare for this year’s trip, I pray that I always remember the lessons learned last year and that I am not only being the hands and feet of Jesus in my work but in my love for all his children as well.
I want to live like that.
I stood there in the embrace of a 9 person group hug. I looked around at the tear covered faces of the youth and my wife and wiped the tears from my own face, and we prayed together. We prayed; we prayed for the Holy Spirit to continue to work in our lives as he had on this last night of youth camp. We came together and prayed because it was the natural response to God moving in our lives so strongly. The experience of youth camp excites me because I know that in all 9 of our lives, things will never be the same.
The tears we cried were tears of joy mixed with our hearts response to letting God break down the barriers we set up against Him and others. Tears shed because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is so compelling that it has to change you, there is no other response. That is the experience we had at youth camp. That is the experience we want to bring back to Tupelo.
Coming back from the trip we have been asking ourselves the question “How do we continue to experience God in this way?” That really is the challenge you are faced with when you come back from an experience like a week long youth camp. It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for years.
I challenged our youth with this, and I think it’s something that rings true for all of us. Prayer, scripture, and community. These three aspects of our faith create the intimacy with God that we desire, as great as an experience like youth camp is for our spiritual lives, it’s not sustainable. We can’t just leave our lives and go worship in the woods, nor was that God’s intention. He created a three-pronged approach in order for us to live our lives and keep Him not only as a part of it, but as the forefront of our lives. Prayer, scripture, and community.
Without prayer, we wouldn’t have anything to connect our soul to God. We would be flying blind. I couldn’t love my wife well if I couldn’t speak with her. The same is true of our relationship with God. Prayer refreshes our soul everyday, and it increases our faith.
Reading scripture gives us the opportunity to not only learn, but to experience God revealing His heart to us. He’s given us the opportunity to search His heart, and learn about His desire to know us. What if you could read a book about your spouse's heart or your kid's heart? You’d learn so much about them and be able to love them so much better if they laid their soul out for you on pages. This is the experience of reading scripture.
Last of all community with believers is essential. Without it, we’d be left to figure out this Christian walk alone. We were created to worship God, but more than that we were created to worship Him communally. We need to bear each others burdens, pray for each other, lay ourselves down for one another. God never intended for us to just show our bravest face to people, He wants us to embrace our brokenness. To allow others to enter into our messy lives and share the love of Christ.
These three aspects are the pillars of our youth ministry. I write this because I want to invite you to join us in this pursuit. Pray with me today, that we would develop hearts that desire to know God deeper, through prayer, His word, and authentic community. And pray that through these things we would allow God to break down the barriers that we have put up against Him and others.
A few weeks ago I went to Los Angeles for my friend Kyle’s wedding. I had a day to see the city, so I did what everyone does when traveling: I explored churches. (I confess that I have some strange ideas about how to have a fun vacation.)
My favorite of the places I found was Saint Sophia Cathedral, a majestic Greek Orthodox church. I don’t exaggerate when I say that Saint Sophia is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I was awestruck not just by the cathedral’s beauty but by the presence of Christ there. It was the kind of place you couldn’t just look at; you had to experience it. I stopped and said my midday prayers on the front pew.
The grandest feature in the cathedral is the traditional icon in the central dome, the Christos Pantocrator (“Christ Almighty”). One of the ideas behind the image’s placement is that Christ, who rules over all, has gathered his church under him and within his presence. As I left the cathedral and drove around LA that day, I got to thinking about what it means for us as the church to worship in the presence of the Almighty Christ.
The idea of the church gathered together beneath Christ stood in contrast with some images I had seen shared on Facebook and elsewhere during the few weeks prior. “Good deeds are not done by walking into a church. They are done when you walk out of the church and help others,” one said. “We aren’t called to fill the pews with members; we are called to fill the world with disciples,” went another. Another read, “The mark of a great church is not how many people come, but how many people live differently for having been there.”
I am in sympathy with what I take to be the desire of those messages. We should absolutely be about helping others, about making disciples, and about living differently—precisely because Christ Almighty has offered us new life and promises to the world a new creation. But there was also something in those messages that bothered me—an idea that the real meaning of the church was somehow “out there.” They seemed to suggest that what happens in the church—and worship in particular—is just a means to some other end: doing good in the world, making new disciples, or seeing our lives changed.
But we worship not just to be empowered to do good deeds but rather because when we worship, the Triune God is with us. ("Lord, send your Holy Spirit on us gathered here," we pray in the Great Thanksgiving during the Lord’s Supper.) And we worship not just so we can go out and make disciples but because God has made us members of one body together. (“We are all one in Christ Jesus,” we pray at baptisms.) We worship not just so that we may live differently but because God makes us into a new creation in our life together as the church.
Worship isn't just a means to an end. It isn't just something to help us go out and do things. It's a new way of being--of being with Christ, of being with each other as the body of Christ, and of being in the world that God created and will redeem. For this reason worship is valuable in its own right. It is not just a means but is itself an end because it is an anticipation of the end we have in Jesus, who reigns over us and makes us his own.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Exodus 20:8
Recently I heard a joke about two men having a conversation. One man says, “My wife has a real problem with her memory.” The other man asks, “Oh is she forgetting things these days?” “No,” the man replies, “she remembers everything!"
I wish I had that problem. However, I am definitely more in the “forgetting things” camp. I open the refrigerator then wonder what I am looking for. In fact, I spend a lot of time standing in the middle of a room trying to remember what I was there for.
It is interesting that the fourth commandment of the top 10 begins with the word “remember.” There is no “you shall” or “you shall not” but “remember.” The word “remember” implies there is something we already know, but have forgotten. This is something worth remembering.
However, in our busy lives, in our worry, and in our working we forget. Only when we stop for a moment, like stopping in the middle of a room to recall why we are there, does it come back to us. What we remember when we keep holy Sabbath is good and it restores our soul.
Today there is a new four-letter word that nearly everyone uses. The word is BUSY. We wear our busyness like a badge of honor. And at the same time, we feel guilty and unproductive if we stop, even for a little while. Many of us are operating on “survival mode,” and all the while becoming more and more bereft of joy and delight. Could it be that we have forgotten the Sabbath? God simply says… “remember!”
The commandment is, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” The word “holy” is a word that means “set apart for sacred purposes.” Not only does the Bible give us permission to take time apart, it commands us to do so. We are commanded to stop and to remember.
Wayne Mueller, in his book Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives says this: “Sabbath is more than the absence of work; it is not just a day off, when we catch up on television or errands. It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, or true…Sabbath time can become our refuge…we disconnect from the frenzy…and consecrate our day as an offering…”
I remember when Sabbath was built into our culture. On Sunday my family went to church and came home to a wonderful lunch. Stores were not open, so the pace of Sunday was very different from other days. My family would often take walks in the woods on family land. Or with stores closed my brother and I could ride bikes all through our small town of Magnolia without fear of traffic. I remember when Sabbath was special and refreshing. I often miss those days.
Our days may be busy, but the commandment is the same…Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. The practice of Sabbath is a gracious gift from God for us to stop, even if for a moment. It is an opportunity to disconnect from the frenzy of life and remember that the Kingdom of God is within us, that Christ is with us always, and he has come to give us abundant life. May we all be intentional to remember the Sabbath, and in doing so God will restore our soul.
God of the Sabbath, thank you for this precious gift of time. Help us to take up the practice of Sabbath, that you may find our soul to be fertile ground into which you may sow your seeds of salvation. May our lives produce much fruit for your kingdom as we are found faithful in our rest.
In Christ we pray, Amen.
Let us do life together, growing closer to Jesus, and closer to each other, through stories and experiences from the people of our church. Join us as we begin a new series for the Advent season, beginning Tuesday, November 28.