Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What is the Greatest Gift?

“I hate religion and I hate most Christians

This was a facebook post by a former HopeTree resident. My heart sunk and I wondered if I was among those she hated. I walked into uncharted territory and asked. She said, “No Ms. Adele, Not you.” I inquired further to see what was behind the statements. She gave me permission to share the following with you. I pray you have ears to hear for the Lord has something to teach us tonight. “They don’t accept people and they think only they are right and no one else can be.”  She suggests we open your minds before our mouth.” If you read between the lines you will see the problem is, we do not love. God has made me uncomfortable since that day in November and HopeTree employees should be uncomfortable too. We pride ourselves on being a Christian organization and yet we failed this young lady by not following Jesus’ command. We can give her food, clothes, a roof over her head, education, a job, and support, but if we fail to love as Jesus taught us then we have really done nothing. If all we do is love her then we have done everything. Let us pray.

“Lord God, we thank you for your love. Love that does not discriminate, that never ends and has no conditions tied to it. Lord forgive us when our love for others has fallen short. Please send your Holy Spirit and pour out your love onto us this evening. Amen.

The Unforgivable Sin.  Every culture, race, religion has one. Even in the time of Mary and Joseph there was one. Too bad for her, that sin was to be pregnant out of wedlock.  Here she finds herself pregnant by the Holy Spirit and not yet married to Joseph. It was within Joseph’s right to publicly shame and have her stoned.  He could even throw the first one. But in our passage from Matthew we see him do something different. He was going to divorce her quietly. He chose to love her rather than to shame her. But then the angel had a different plan, a better plan. The angel explained to Joseph who this baby was and that he should remain with Mary and name their son Jesus.  Even before Jesus is born we are shown what love looks like. Love is an embrace not a shaming. Joseph chose to embrace Mary rather than shun her. What is this kind of love? Please oblige me and allow me to read from 1 Corinthians 13:1 – 13

If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I want to look at two of the nine characteristics of love. The first is Kindness. This is an active word. When you are kind you are doing something for another. As Christians it is important to remember that God is love and where love is God is. As Christians one characteristic of us should be the desire to grow closer to God. When we grow closer to God we live out of love. Being one with God is to continually live in love for others. There should never be a moment that we do not desire happiness for others. In desiring happiness for others we are driven to be kind to them. What does this kindness look like?
A man who lives in Texas noticed a family of 4 leaving the grocery store with their arms filled with groceries. He noticed them cross one side of the street then wait at the median before crossing. He decided to approach them and inquire if they needed a ride. In talking with them he learned they lived 5 miles from the grocery store. This family had already walked five miles to get their groceries and were prepared to walk back five more. The man helped them load their groceries in his car, during the ride he learned they had just resettled in Texas from Africa. They had fled their war-torn country in hopes to give their children a better life here in the US.
This is kindness, going out of our way to help someone with a need. It means sacrifice, whether that be time, money or physical labor. Sacrifice is important to remember because Jesus tells us we are to love as he has loved us. And his love for us led him to sacrifice his life for us. We must ask ourselves, are we in a place where we are willing to sacrifice for others? In order to love others then we need to be open and willing to sacrifice.
The second characteristic of love is courtesy. This is Love in Society, Phrased by scripture as, “Doth not behave unseemly or Love does not dishonor others.” According to Drummond, one does not need smarts to behave in a courtesy manner. It is simply an outpouring of someone who loves everyone. Did you catch that? It’s not something we learn or teach others, courtesy comes from being filled with the love of God.

So why would we withhold the love of God from others? Why do we as a society, refrain from showing courtesy from others? Why do we dishonor other people? I ask these question because as a nation I have seen very little honoring of life and people lacking courtesy towards others. Do you know who Lizzie Velasquez is? 

Lizzie is a 27 year old motivational speaker with a rare genetic disorder. This disorder prevents her from gaining any weight. As a result of her looks she has been the victim of bullying her whole life and has used it as motivation to encourage others to fight against bullying and achieve their dreams. Lizzie is for me a symbol of the lack of love I see in our society. Women are held to ridiculous beauty standards in our society and if you don’t meet them then you are constantly reminded of that through bullying, harassment and sometimes sadly, assault. Women aren’t the only ones who face harsh treatment, receiving less than the courtesy scripture says we are worthy of. Many in the gay community face bullying and harassment, transgendered people face the same harsh treatment. But it doesn’t stop there. You can be shamed and ridiculed for not being white, for being Muslim, Jewish, atheist and so on, basically because you are not Christian. I am not saying all Christian do this but all should speaking up and calling out and proclaiming LOVE for all. People with disabilities are not immune either. We are so quick to dishonor anyone who is not ‘acceptable’ in our eye. The funny thing is scripture tell us our job is to love. There is no mention of differences. In fact, scripture tells us in Christ we are all the same, the labels disappear. So why do we succumb to the divisive labels? These labels we have for those who are different are nothing more than a tool of the enemy. If God calls us to love then Satan will introduce something into our lives to sabotage that love. This Christmas let’s accept God’s gift of Love then turn around and share that love with everyone we meet. To HopeTree employees, let's decide tonight to let love be the motivating factor behind our work with our clients. They deserve nothing less. Every person we encounter deserves nothing less than kindness and courtesy, both attributes of the love we are called to live in scripture. We never know when a person we encounter may be a prodigal child. Drummond asks the question, “How many prodigals are kept out of the Kingdom of heaven by the unlovely character of those who profess to be inside.” God wants all his children to come home to him but he chooses to use us to make that happen. Will we be the agents of love that bring lost souls to Christ or will we be the hindrance that keeps them away from their creator?
It seems like an impossible task but I believe that we can love all as Christ has called us to love. See, another truth I know is that we are all created int the image of God. That means, we all, despite labels, are a reflection of the Divine. And if we are a reflection of the Divine then the love God has for us resides in us. We have all we need to love others. 
Even if you disagree with the gay lifestyle you can still love the LGBTQ community.
Even if you don't understand the transgendered person, you can still love them.
Even if you believe Christ is the answer you can still love people of other faiths.
Even if you are an abled body person you can still love the disabled.
Before I end, I have a message for our residents, young and old, If O or any HopeTree Employee has ever failed to love you I am sorry, will you please forgive us. I now have two requests. If your reasoning for not coming to Christ is because of our behavior I want you to give God a chance, God is not us. God loves you and created you. He has a plan for you that includes a future, a future with hope and promise. 
My last request, if we as adults fail to love you, choose love. You set the example we need for how we are to live with one another.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Please Listen!

Matthew 26:36-46New American Standard Bible (NASB)

The Garden of Gethsemane

36 Then Jesus *came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and *said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. 38 Then He *said to them, My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”
39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” 40 And He *came to the disciples and *found them sleeping, and *said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” 43 Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. 45 Then He *came to the disciples and *said to them, [a]Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!”

Whenever a person gets angry, regardless of age, I get nervous and uncomfortable. I become fearful that the angry person will become violent because I have seen anger turn into violence. This is a feature of my PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). My tendency is to get them to calm down by getting them to be quiet. The problem with that is it dismisses what they are feeling and sends a silent message that their current life experience has no value. As a chaplain I know and have been taught that I need to allow space for someone to feel their emotions, however they manifest. The most powerful thing I can do for that person is to listen. In listening I validate them and their life experiences and they feel heard, and subsequently they calm down on their own.

Right now, more than ever, we need listeners in America. As of today Donald J. Trump is our President Elect despite the fact that Hillary Rodham Clinton won the popular vote.

Popular Vote
Clinton - 59,861,516
Trumo - 59,639,462

Electoral Vote
Clinton - 232
Trump - 306
This data was pulled from here.

I am not disputing the results and I accept the outcome as this is how the election system is set up. Why I point this out to you is to show you that Millions of people are not happy with the outcome of this election. These people have real concerns and fears about their personal lives and the future of our country. The last thing we need to do is to dimiss their feelings by telling them to 'calm down' and 'get over it', or 'just accept it.'

Latinos who are American citizens are afraid of being deported because of the color of their skin
Muslims who are American citizens are afraid to travel for fear they won't be let back into America, their country
Blacks are afriad that violence against them will escalate
Women are afraid they will continue to be victims of sexual assault
People with disabilities are afraid they won't be fully included in society
Women are also afraid that they will lose their right to make personal and private healthcare decisions with their doctors.
Children adopted from other countries are afraid they will be taken from their parents.
Children of color are afraid to go to school for fear of being bullied because of their skin color.
LGBTQ people are afraid they will lose their newly found freedoms and continue to face discrimination.

People have real fears and we need to listen to them and stop dismissing them and their life experiences.

If we want true unity in this country then we need to be uncomfortable and start listening to the different stories around us.

Matthew 21:12-13New International Version (NIV)

Jesus at the Temple

12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buyingand selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’[a] but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’[b]

You are proabably wondering why I included these two passages that center around Jesus. I include them to show that Jesus had feelings too. 
To my Christian readers, if you can accept these passages as part of your Saviors story then please give room for others to express their feelings as well.

Monday, June 13, 2016

HATE...Is NOT of God

Yet again we find ourselves filled with emotion over another Mass shooting and trying to make sense of it. And while everyone means well as they process their own grief it seems some words can come across as cold and hateful and leave the message that the victims in some way asked for what they got. 

I want to take the time to study the scripture with you and see if we can get a grasp on where God is in the midst of 50 dead and 53 injured. 

Matthew 2:16 - 18

 16Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. 17Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled:

John 11:33 - 35

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
Isaiah 66:13
 “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
Isaiah 49:15

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”

All these verses paint a picture of God as mothering and compassionate. A God who nurtures us and grieves with us. I want to share one more passage that provides a portrait of How God relates to us. That is the image of the Body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:12 - 31

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[a] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues[b]? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

If God instructs us to be accountable to each other and responsible to each other then is he not also those things to us? When we laugh he laughs, when we cry he cries.
To solidify that God is the caretaker and the comforter in these heinous massacres I want to establish the role of the devil here. As he clearly has one.I give you the following verses.

John 10:10
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Ephesians 6:10-12
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
The devil is alive and well, make no mistake about it. And when darkness invades our world leaving people dead you can be assured the devil is at the center of it. No atrocity like the massacre in Orlando should ever be attributed to God. Our God sent his own son to earth to die on a cross that we might have life. That is not the actions of a revengeful God. The devil would have us think that but that would be incorrect. Please see this act for what it is. An act spurred by the devil and evil as Ephesians say we battle against. And know that God is in the midst fo the grieving.

Lastly, can we learn to love our neighbor? This will never end if we fail to do so.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Loving the Unlovable

Disclaimer: This is written primarily for people in the Human services profession. If you are in an abusive relationship with a  significant other, do not stay in it. You have every right to be loved and respected and not hurt by others. Check resources in your locality and seek help if you are in this situation.

People on the margins of life have been on my mind lately. This is the result of a conversation with a friend and my weekly devotion this week. How many of us can say that we excel in loving everyone, including those who bother and annoy us? I don't expect any reader to raise their hand. If we are honest, we have all failed to love those that are unlovable. We know who they are, the child who is constantly disrespectful, the adult who is verbally abusive, the one's who show no appreciation for what has been provided for them. I am no different. The devotion and the conversation reminded me of a time I failed to love the unlovable. I would like to share it with you.

It was 2009 and I was serving as Director of Children and Youth at St. James United Methodist Church in Tarboro, NC. I had a part time job sitting with an elderly lady at the local senior living community. Things started off well but as time passed she would get angry at me. She would say I was a waste of her time, tell me I was fat and needed to lose weight, then there was the day she ran into me with her walker. That was it for me. I was not about to let someone abuse me when I was trying to be their friend. I called her daughter that night and promptly quit.

Seven years later as I reflect I realize this woman needed the love and patience I could offer and I simply cut her off. One of the most difficult passages to digest in scripture is when Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek when someone strikes it, to walk an extra mile when a soldier demands we walk one and to give the cloak off our back when we are asked for our shirt. Jesus is calling us to a different way of living. Are we going to accept the call?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Love is......

"The truth is that the more intimately you know someone, the more 

clearly you'll see their flaws. That's just the way it is. This is why 

marriages fail, why children are abandoned, why friendships  don't 

last. You might think you love someone until you see the way they 

act when they're out of money or under pressure or hungry, for 

goodness' sake. Love if something different. Love is choosing 

to serve someone and be with someone in spite of their filthy heart. 

Love is patient and kind, love is deliberate. Love is hard. Love is 

pain and sacrifice, it's seeing the darkness in another person and 

defying the impulse to jump ship."


Monday, January 25, 2016

A Prayer (for all of us) to Pray

Pray for this fragile earth, our island home. Pray that we would be good stewards and she would withstand our abuse.

Pray for the Church. Pray that where it is right God will strengthen ti, and where it is in error God will direct it. Pray that God will fill the Church with all truth and peace.

Pray for the joy of human life, with all its wonder and surprises. Pray we would remember that all people are created in the very image of God.

Pray for the poor, the destitute, and the dying, in full knowledge that God looks with special favor upon those in greatest need.

Pray for our families, friends, and our neighbors, and for those who are alone.

Pray in thanksgiving for all the blessings of this life, and for the promises of the next. Pray that we may live not by our fears but by our hopes, not only by your words but by your deeds.

*Taken from the Prayer Books of the Church of Ireland and the Anglican Church of New Zealand and the Iona Abbey Worship Book