Sunday, December 26, 2010

"Prophecy Fulfilled"--message prepared to give at White Oak UMC

I love snow!!  It was wonderful to wake up in my hometown to snow.  More and more snow came down as the morning continued.  I'll write more about that later.  I thought I'd share a message I wrote for today.  I had been asked to speak at a local church as a Lay Speaker for today, but because of inclement weather, the majority of local churches were cancelled for today.  Here is the message.

White Oak United Methodist Church, Red Bank
December 26, 2010

Matthew 2:13-23 (New International Reader’s Version) [this version is based on the NIV, but has been adapted for easier reading and comprehension]

13 When the Wise Men had left, Joseph had a dream. In the dream an angel of the Lord appeared to him. "Get up!" the angel said. "Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you to come back. Herod is going to search for the child. He wants to kill him."
 14 Joseph got up. During the night, he left for Egypt with the child and his mother Mary. 15 They stayed there until King Herod died. So the words the Lord had spoken through the prophet came true. He had said, "I chose to bring my son out of Egypt."—(Hosea 11:1)
 16 Herod realized that the Wise Men had tricked him. So he became very angry. He gave orders concerning Bethlehem and the area around it. All the boys two years old and under were to be killed. This agreed with the time when the Wise Men had seen the star.
 17 In this way, the words the prophet Jeremiah spoke came true. He had said,

 18 "A voice is heard in Ramah.
      It's the sound of crying and deep sadness.
   Rachel is crying over her children.
      She refuses to be comforted,
   because they are gone." —(Jeremiah 31:15)
     19 After Herod died, Joseph had a dream while he was still in Egypt. In the dream an angel of the Lord appeared to him. 20 The angel said, "Get up! Take the child and his mother. Go to the land of Israel. Those who were trying to kill the child are dead."
 21 So Joseph got up. He took the child and his mother Mary back to the land of Israel. 22 But then he heard that Archelaus was king of Judea. Archelaus was ruling in place of his father Herod. This made Joseph afraid to go there.
   Warned in a dream, Joseph went back to the land of Galilee instead. 23 There he lived in a town called Nazareth. So what the prophets had said about Jesus came true. They had said, "He will be called a Nazarene."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This morning, I want us to try to get an inside look at this story, to try to put ourselves into the story, and then to figure out where we are in the overall story.

Today is December 26th, the first day of Christmas.  We’re reading that the Wise Men had just left.  But in our calendar, they haven’t even come yet.  They’re not scheduled to come until January 6th, Epiphany.   The twelve days of Christmas and Epiphany are two whole other discussions we could have, so I’d better stick to today’s Scripture.

Let’s get the setting:  the wise men (the magi) have been to visit the Christ child.  They brought him gifts (frankincense, gold, myrrh).  Where we come into the story today, they have left the scene.  After they left, Joseph had a dream.  This is not the first time Joseph has gotten a message in a dream.  Earlier in Matthew we are told that Joseph learned in a dream that the child Mary was carrying was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was to be named “Immanuel”.  (see Matthew 1:20-24)

This time, in Joseph’s dream, he is told to flee, to escape to Egypt with his family, for their safety.  Joseph got up, got his family ready and left.  Joseph obeyed.  He didn’t question the authority of the dream.  He trusted what he heard based on previous experience.  He got up from his sleep, he awakened his family, and took off for Egypt.  I think most fathers would relate to the protective nature of Joseph.  He is going to take care of his family.  What amazes me besides his obedience, however, is his faith.  To our knowledge, Joseph doesn’t have contacts in Egypt.  Herod is after his child, so there is no time to search for places to stay along the route via or  Joseph must simply go.  And he does.  Joseph and his family get to Egypt and stay there until King Herod dies.

While they were still in Egypt, Joseph has another dream.  This dream tells him that Herod is dead and it is now safe to return to the land of Israel.  So, Joseph gets up, gets his family and heads back.  But he hears that Archelaus was the king of Judea.  He ruled for 10 years after his father’s death.  (Thayer’s Lexicon) Joseph was afraid to go where Archelaus was. 

Joseph had another dream.  In this dream he was warned to not go back to Judea where Archelaus ruled, but rather to Galilee.  [Just to help us out geographically, Judea is a region of southern Palestine and Galilee is a region of northern Palestine.]  Joseph settled with his family in the town of Nazareth, which is in lower Galilee, and about a three day’s journey from Jerusalem. (Thayer’s Lexicon) [“Three day’s journey in this reference didn’t explain by which mode of transportation.  Further research reveals Nazareth to be about 65 miles from Jerusalem.]

As with Joseph’s obedience to all of his dreams, this fulfilled prophecy.  Joseph paid attention to the dreams and obeyed what he was told to do.  Each time, he took “the next step”. 

When I look at Joseph, I see him as a hero.  He saved his family.  I doubt Joseph would have considered himself a hero, especially not as he was fleeing his country with his family, not knowing where he was going to stay or how he was going to provide for his family.   As I read through the Scriptures and through other materials, it struck me that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were refugees.

One definition of “refugees” that I found mentioned refugees to be “ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances”.  In addition, a refugee is someone who is outside the country of his nationality due to fear of being persecuted.  In Joseph and Mary’s case, the fear was that Herod was going to kill their son, Jesus.  The threat was real.  And, in fact, Herod gave orders for all boys two years and under to be killed.  Fleeing to Egypt and seeking safety there was what the family had to do.

This got me thinking.  And thinking can be dangerous.  I thought about those today who flee their homelands out of fear.  Some of those people seek safety throughout the world. Some of those people seek safety here in the United States.  Some of those seek refuge here in Chattanooga.

I want to share a little bit from a story with you about refugees in Sudan, in Darfur.  These words are from a friend of mine who currently lives and serves as a missionary over there in “Camel Land”. 

there are a lot of refugees in sudan - and a lot in darfur.  something
that sticks out to me among refugees is attitude.  there are those who
have lost children and families and came to the idp (internally
displaced persons) camps and immediately began to find work and provide
for their families and never ever complain (almost to the point of not
even acknowledging the huge loss/change that occurred in their lives).
and there are others who came to idp camps and just sat on the ground
and waited to be given food.  in other words they became victims.  and i
think that there are times that everyone needs help and support, but
there is a difference between accepting help and taking on the role of a
victim.  and i know women who have faced horrible things, who daily
struggle to provide for their families, and they never look back and
they would never consider themselves victims of the war in darfur.  it
would never occur to them to feel sorry for themselves.  rather they
accept this as something that the lord has brought into their lives and
they will (blindly) trust him and follow him and just deal with the
situation and never look back at what could have/should have been.

This past week, in Wednesdays’ paper, there was an article about a refugee from Cuba and his family settling in our area, in Hixson.  The article was about their struggles in their home country, their adaptations to their new life here, and about being recipients of the “neediest cases fund”.  The reason they left Cuba?  “to live freely and express themselves without fear.”

Now, let’s get back to Joseph and his family.  They fled to Egypt.  They were refugees in Egypt.  I wonder how the folks in Egypt treated Joseph and his family? 

Let’s put ourselves into the story.  We’ve already thought about ourselves from Joseph’s point of view (if we are fathers).  Let’s think about ourselves as Egyptians.  We’re in our town and this family of three shows up from Israel.  They look a little different from us, they speak a little different from us (though we might understand some of what they say if they speak a common trade language).  How would we have responded to Joseph, Mary, and Jesus as they sought to navigate our town?

How do we treat those seeking refuge?

In the United Methodist Church, we have the General Board of Global Ministries, better known by its initials GBGM).  On their website, one of the areas of ministry is “Immigration/Refugees”. 
From the website, here is some information about the Refugee Sponsorship Program: “Today United Methodists can embody gospel hospitality by reaching out to refugees coming to the United States. Refugee families struggle to make a new start and recover from the losses they have suffered as a result of their flight for survival. The church community, supported by UMCOR, can ease the way.”  As United Methodists, we support UMCOR through our conference askings, the apportionments we pay.

If you’re not aware, there is an organization in town called “Bridge Refugee and Sponsorship Services”.  They actively seek to help refugees settle, provide them with interpreters, sponsors, and case management.  I’ve heard about “Bridge” for several years, but I haven’t worked with them.  I have met a few folks that do.  They do important work.  Maybe some of you know more than I do and have even volunteered with the organization.  The article I mentioned about the refugee from Cuba referenced this organization as it helped this family settle and find employment.  For those who would like to know more, they have good information on their website about what they do here in Chattanooga, what churches sponsor them, etc. 

There are also other organizations in town that help immigrants that have come to live here.  Among them are La Paz de Dios and the St. Andrews Center.  The St. Andrews Center houses a variety of organizations and ministries and is affiliated with the Chattanooga District UMC.

But, what if helping immigrants and refugees isn’t what God has given us to do?  Then, I’d say that we need to prayerfully consider what aspect of “the least, the last, the lost” God has given us to help.  There are other options: helping the homeless, the hungry, the orphans, the widowed, etc.

In Matthew 25, there is a Kingdom story where Jesus teaches the disciples that whoever they help out in need, they are helping Him.  They didn’t get it.   They didn’t see Jesus hungry, thirsty or in any other kind of need.  If they had, they would have met his need. 

Charlie Brown got it.  I recently found The Parables of PEANUTS by Robert Short.  I have learned much about life from cartoons and collect strips that contain some sort of life message.  Charles M. Schulz has entertained and taught us.  In this particular cartoon strip, Violet is observing Charlie Brown looking at a birdhouse he is holding.  He says: “This birdhouse is going to be for sparrows only!”  She responds: “For sparrows? Nobody builds birdhouses for sparrows Charlie Brown…”  He replies: “I do!”  And in the last frame, as he is walking off, he says: “I always stick up for the underbird!” 

Charlie Brown sticks up for the “underbird”.  What Jesus is asking of us in Matthew 25, throughout his teachings and ministry is that we meet the needs of all--that we “stick up for the underbird”.  

Who is the “underbird “that Jesus is asking you, me to help?  Joseph stuck up for his family, Charlie Brown stuck up for the sparrows.

One of my favorite passages is Micah 6:8, because for me it sums up how I’m to live, how I want to live. 

Micah 6:8 (NIV)
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
   And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
   and to walk humbly with your God.

And just to hear a slightly different version:

Micah 6:8 (New International Reader’s Version)
The Lord has shown you what is good.
      He has told you what he requires of you.
   You must treat people fairly.
      You must love others faithfully.
   And you must be very careful to live
      the way your God wants you to.

What about you?  What about me?

How can we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God?

What is God calling us to do in the wake of the birth of the Christ child?

May we, like Joseph, obey.



May we be guided by the Holy Spirit to follow the way of Christ so that all may recognize Christ in us and experience Christ’s love through us.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Small deeds can change the world.

"Small deeds can change the world." (Max Lucado, Cure for the Common Life: Living in Your Sweet Spot, 116)

The chapter from which this quote comes is entitled "Trust LITTLE Deeds".  Lucado shares several examples where someone has done something small that grew into something bigger.  They didn't know that their simple act of kindness would become something bigger.  They simply did what they knew they were to do. 

You may have heard the expression "Pay It Forward" and you may have seen the movie of the same name.  The basic line is that someone does something kind for someone else, repaying someone else's kindness to them.

We can all do acts, deeds of kindness.  In the movie "Evan Almighty", they were referred to as "Acts of Random Kindness" or "ARK" for short. 

What does it require of us?  Our willingness to use who we are and what we have.  It may take some time and energy as well.  

In reading the chapter by Lucado, I learned several interesting stories. 

1--Pilot Bohn Fawkes sustained hits on the tanks of his B-17 in World War II, but the plane did not explode.  When the technicians opened up the missiles, they found them empty except for one that contained a note written in Czech that said: "This is all we can do for you now."  It appears that the assembly-line worker disarmed the bombs, left many of them empty, and was able to get a note into at least one of them. (Lucado, 115)

2--Operation Little Vittles was begun by another pilot in World War II, Gail Halvorsen.  It started when he handed gum to some children through a fence.  He began to drop gum to the kids and then gum and candy tied to handkerchief parachutes.  He told the children they would know it was him because he would wiggle his wings.  This earned him the nickname "Uncle Wiggly Wings". (Lucado, 111-112) [There has been a book written about this by Halvorsen himself: The Berlin Candy Bomber (2002)]

Both of these examples show a person doing what was in their sphere of influence to do.  What about me?  What about you?  What is in our sphere of influence to do?  What do we have at our disposal?  What small deed might we do for someone else?

Will what I do create a ripple effect of small deeds being done one to another?  I don't know.  I don't have control over that. All that I know is that I must do whatever it is I can do.

There are times when I can let someone go in front of me, whether in a line of traffic or in a line in the grocery store.  There are times when I can make a phone call, send a note or a card (or an e-mail).  There are times when I can go sit in at the radio station and learn to answer prayer line phones.  There are times when I can help the Spanish-speaking family understand what the recorded message said.  These are a few things that come to mind for me.  I'm sure there are many other small deeds that I can do, if I'll only pay better attention.

I'm going to look for the small deed opportunities and do them.

What about you?

Happy journeying!


PS-- In preparing to teach the Lucado chapter in the absence of the teacher, I found some other resources I'd like to add to my blog. 

First, a website:

Second, a quote from a Spanish musician:

Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most. It is not complicated but it takes courage. It takes courage for a person to listen to his own goodness and act on it.
                                                                    ~Pablo Casals (1876--1973)

If you need resources to get you started on WHAT you can do, check out the website.  In addition, there are some books available with great ideas.  There are even websites and books geared toward kids to get kids into action. 

Maybe you'll check out the website and post the acts/deeds of kindness that you do or that you observe.  Maybe you'll post them here on the comments.  Regardless, I hope you'll be motivated with some new ideas!


Saturday, December 11, 2010

A long awaited accomplishment.


I started taekwondo one January several years back.   Master Hall offered a free month's training to parents or grandparents of current students.  I had been wanting to take classes and this was the perfect opportunity.

My daughter had started in the Cubs (affectionately known as "Cubby" or "Cubbies") program when she was about 4 years old.   I watched her learn and grow in her martial arts skills through the years.  When she started sparring, I would suggest things to her.  That is, until I reached green belt and learned it isn't so easy keeping all that together physically and mentally.

Last December I was at Senior Brown level and tested for the Red belt.  I earned it.

Somewhere along the way, I had started having lung issues when I sparred, especially at testing.  However, multitudes of tests showed that on paper, my lungs are fine.   I had also developed some shoulder issues, but I had kept on keeping on.  For that last testing, I plastered on about 3 icy hot pads to minimize pain.  That turned out to be my last testing for a while.

Doctor visits and x-rays showed inflammation in the shoulders, adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulders).  I stopped taekwondo and went into physical therapy for 10 months.  Herniated discs in the neck popped up at some point and those were treated to relieve pain. 

Though my shoulders are still "frozen" and I don't have full movement, I have gone back into taekwondo rather than have surgery on both shoulders.  I am limited in what I can do, but I can still do quite a bit.  One major limitation is sparring, however, as that would cause major damage if my arm were to get caught and jerked.  A new system (E-CAS [Elite Counter-Agression Skills]) in the ITA is coming at a perfect time for me.

Today, I was able to test for the senior red belt.  As it was the late testing day, my daughter and I tested together for the first time.  It was a special experience for me to be back at testing, to be able to do my form (albeit not as perfectly as I would like), and to test along with my daughter (who tested for 2nd degree level 3).

Waiting.  It's a part of my journey in many aspects of my life.  In the past few weeks, I have been able to come out of the taekwondo waiting cocoon and have been able to spread my wings once again.  They have strengthened.  I wasn't sure I would be able to learn my form in the time I had, about 6 weeks.   But, with the help of the instructors, a student manual loaned to me by a friend, some extra time and perseverance, today happened. 

Now I can focus on longer stances, better stances, better set ups, etc.  More time to strengthen those wings. 

The next testing will be for the probationary black belt.  But it's not about the ranks.  It's about the journey. 

My journey in taekwondo is as much a part of who I am as is my spiritual journey and my journeys with relationships.  There are times of waiting in each of these as well.

Right now in my spiritual journey, I'm in a time of waiting.  You might be too.  If you're looking toward Christmas and looking toward the arrival, the coming of Christ, then you're in a waiting period, a season of Advent. 

I was challenged this past week: Where is God in my Advent season?  And, I realized that in the chaos of it all, I wasn't spending quiet time in anticipation or preparation.  So, I've taken some time to PAUSE, to STOP, so I can spend some time waiting.  Waiting in expectation. 

Where are you experiencing "waits" in your journey?  How are you preparing for the arrival of Christ? 

May your waiting moments for the Christ child be blessed and filled with joy and adoration. 

May the waiting periods in your life strengthen you.


Psalm 33: 20-22 (NIV)
We wait in hope for the LORD;
   he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
   for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, LORD,
   even as we put our hope in you.

PS-- If you'd like to read a book that deals with "waiting", I highly recommend Sue Monk Kidd's When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions, HarperOne: 1990.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dry spells.

Dry spells.  Droughts.  Whatever you want to call them. 

If we're talking about weather, we mean that we're not getting any precipitation, primarily rain.  And that means that the earth is dry, there is dust in the air, the plants need watering (though they are relying on their root system).

If we're talking about writing, we mean that there isn't anything coming down the creative pipes.  The thoughts aren't flowing.  Or, if they're flowing, they're not making it coherently to any written form. 

If we're talking about spiritual life, we mean those times when there seems to be nothing happening of significance, possibly no growth or no outward signs at least.  The times in which we may feel distant from our relationship with God and/or others in the body of Christ.

We could mention other areas of life...  dry spells are a part of the normal cycle of life.  Without them, we wouldn't appreciate the "rains"-- the refreshing, flowing, life-giving, sustenance-- when they come.

How do we survive dry spells?  Like the trees and plants.  Our root systems.  If our roots are deep enough and strong enough, they will sustain us.  We will bring in nourishment through them.   Some root systems grow closer to the top and connect to one another.  This is a great example of community.

Whether you are experiencing a dry spell physically, vocationally, emotionally, or spiritually-- know that the rain will come.

Meanwhile, may your roots continue to drink deeply of the waters that flow underneath and may you be supported by the roots surrounding you.

Know that dry spells are normal on the journey.