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Saturday, June 5, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Ephesians 6

There are lots of different ways that you can learn about a person’s character. I certainly use a lot of standards ways to gauge someone’s character (i.e. match their words versus their actions, how they treat people society might deem “unimportant”, etc.). For the past decade I’ve been using at least one non-standard way to gauge someone’s character. That way will probably seem silly at face value.

That non-standard way?

Where a person parks when they pull into a parking area. Let me tell you why (and how) I use that as a gauge.

My use of where a person parks grew out of a practice that was observed by the Conference Office of The United Methodist Church back in Denver. Just outside the front door, there was a primo parking spot. That parking spot was marked “Reserved for Bishop.”

Every time I would pass that designated parking spot, the hairs on the back of my neck would go up - for such a practice went against everything I learned about Jesus and his values (i.e. the last shall be first; and the first, last). I thought to myself, “If a leader has any parking spot designate for her/himself, it should be the one furthest from the door (unless there are mobility issues involved for the individual).”

Since then, I’ve spent the last twelve years watching individuals and their parking practices and using it as one method for gaining a little insight into a person’s character.

So what’s this got to do with today’s reading?

Well, in the culminating words to the Ephesians, the author of the passage addresses the ways we should act within the context of our relationships. One of the relationships the author addresses is the one between master and servant. Even in the context of THAT relationship – a relationship predicated on a complete imbalance of power – the author notes: “You are your servants are both under the same Master in heaven. [God] makes no distinction between you and them.”

Those words remind me that when it comes to the Reign of God, there are truly no distinctions between individuals. Words like “bishop”, “conference minister”, “pastor”, and “committee chair” don’t mean a lot in the bigger scheme of things. What matters most is the way we treat one another as well as the way we think about ourselves in relationship to one another.

As you spend your day running around today, watch yourself when you pull into a parking lot. See what parking spot you gravitate toward. Do you pick the spot that is closest to the door and most convenient for you; or do you make a point of considering the needs of others. You might gain an interesting insight into yourself and your real values through this “silly” little exercise.

Til next time…

Friday, June 4, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Ephesians 5

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with some individuals who shared something in common: they had lost a spouse or significant other. There were many things that touched my heart that the individuals in the conversation shared. There was one theme, in particular, that struck a chord with me. They talked about how difficult it can be at times to see other couples in public now that they are alone. When they see other couples, the individuals said, they are tempted to approach them and ask, “Do you realize how lucky you are to still have your loved one with you?” They felt epsecially tempted to say that when they encounter a couple who is fighting.

That remark made me think about how easy it is for us to take things for granted: our spouse/partner, our family members, our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors. Then something happens abruptly - like say an illness or an accident – and before you know it, the special person in our life is gone.

The challenge, the participants in the conversation said, is to live a life of thankfulness and gratitude for what we have – while we still have it. That is the challenge!

As I reflect on this comments, I can’t help but feel as if they were reading the author’s mind of today’s passage - for in that passage the author noted that as people of faith, “Thanksgiving [should be] our dialect.”

My experience at the group last night and the words from Ephesians this morning got me to wondering what dialect I use most. Do I speak a language of thanksgiving, a language of complaint, a language of expectation, or what?

I would invite you to consider what dialect you speak as well. Sitting with the question might raise our awareness significantly and give us the opportunity to learn a new language (while we still have time!).

Til next time…

Thursday, June 3, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Ephesians 4

I am absolutely LOVING reading Ephesians because it feels like a primer written for today about how to go about living our faith in the context of the world.

With that said, it’s important to note that the words the author of Ephesians uses are not necessarily easy words to digest. They are some of the most challenging words I’ve encountered in some time.

The passing begins, for instance, with words telling us to get off our backsides and take action (“I want you to get out there and walk – better yet, run! – on the road God called you to travel”). Next, in this day of rabid individualism the author lifts up a call to radical unity (“Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness”). The author proceeds then to call us on our immature behaviors that threaten our Oneness (“No prolonged infancies among us, please”). And then the author gives us a radical way for rooting out dis-ease – within ourselves and others (“What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth”). The words in the passage make Dr. Phil sound like someone who sugarcoats things!

So what are we to make of all this straight talk?

I can’t speak for you, but for me the lesson is fairly clear: the solution to many of our problems lies right in front of our eyes. Better yet, the solution isn’t rocket science. The solution lies in simply getting back to the basics (i.e. do something, work together, don’t ignore elephants in the room, and speak the truth). Sounds easy! The hard part is putting those words into action.

Perhaps there is a problem that you’ve been wrestling for quite a while that seems awfully complex. If that’s the case, try placing the words from today’s passage into the context of that problem and see if they might help clear up your perspective on the matter.

Til next time…

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Ephesians 3

If you were ask me to evaluate myself as a leader, I could do so with some degree of objectivity. I have a sense, for instance, that I do a pretty good job communicating with most folks. I also do an effective job delegating to others because I’m not a micromanager. Those would be a couple of my strengths.

I also certainly have my weaknesses. By nature I’m an ideas person. That means sometimes I can get so focused on the forest (ideas) that I forget to tend to some of the trees (details). I also have difficulty confronting difficult personalities who are extremely rigid and put their own interests before the well being of the group.

Why do I find it so difficult to engage difficult personalities?

I suppose there are a couple of reasons for that. First, I was raised in a household where conflict was supposed to be avoided at all costs. Thus, my first tendency (even at 42!) is to avoid conflict whenever I can. Second, I have codependent tendencies buried deep within me that cause me to want to be liked by everyone. Being in conflict with another obviously impairs my ability to be liked. Therefore, I sometimes end up shooting myself in the foot as a leader because I am hesitant to deal with difficult personalities.

I can’t help but be encouraged by two things said in today’s passage from Ephesians – for each of them gives me hope in addressing situations I have a tendency to avoid.

First, in speaking of his call to spread the Message to all people, the author noted: “It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details.” This reminds me that I’m not alone in living out the challenging dimensions of my call; God is deeply present/involved in my attempts to live out that call. Second, the author noted: “When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go.” Those permission-giving words encourage me to take risks to go beyond those things that would otherwise impede my journey.

Now if I can only live into those words.

I’ve been very candid with you today in my assessment of self. I would encourage you to use my self-reflections to do the same for yourself. What are your strengths and challenges? Once you’ve identified them, see if the words from today’s passage can give you the strength to boldly go forth and address the challenges (i.e. name the elephants in the room). I’ll be right there in the struggle with you – challenging myself to practice what I’ve been known to preach 

Til next time…

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Ephesians 2

If you were to ask me to empty out my pockets on most days, among the usual stuff (i.e. keys and cell phone) you would find an old, crusty-looking silver dollar. The silver dollar itself doesn’t look all that impressive. In fact, the only notable thing about it is that it comes from the 1880’s. Other than that, most folks would completely ignore it.

For me, however, there is something about that silver dollar that makes it much more than just a coin. My maternal grandfather – who died two years before I was born – use to carry that silver dollar around with him for luck each day. Lots of my relatives say that I look a lot like my grandfather and have his sense of humor. So on those days when I carry his silver dollar around with me, I feel a special connection with a piece of my family that I never got to know. What might seem like a silly old coin to some folks is so much more than that to me.

In today’s passage from Ephesians, Paul introduces us to another object whose importance lots of folks underestimate.

That object?

The cross. Many folks look at it and see it only as a symbol of the pain, suffering, and death. For that reason, some folks who are uncomfortable embracing those negative things often distance themselves from the image of the cross.

In today’s passage, however, Paul presents the cross in another light. In speaking of the differences that use to exist between the religious insiders and outsiders, Paul noted: “The cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders.” In this context, the cross is beautifully presented as an agent of reconciliation and restoration for us all.

Perhaps there is something in your life that has been interpreted by you rather one-dimensionally. As a result, you might have overlooked or minimized that something. If that’s the case, perhaps Paul’s words could motivate you to re-think your approach toward that something. There might be tremendous untapped value in that object you have overlooked that could bring new meaning to your life.

Til next time…

Monday, May 31, 2010

What I’m reading today: Ephesians 1

When I returned to the area in which I was born and raised two weeks ago, I had the chance to re-connect with several friends that I hadn’t seen for years. I had a great time catching up.

Some of the friends with whom I reconnected were a bit surprised to hear that I was a pastor. They had known that my faith was deeply important to me growing up, but they assumed I would have pursued a career in politics – an area in which I was very active early in my life. “We thought you would end up in a place where the action was,” was the unspoken response I encountered on more than one occasion.

As I think about the attitude I felt projected, I couldn’t help but think: “I AM where the action is.” And if anyone has doubts about that, they would need to look no further than Paul’s blueprint for the church contained in today’s passage from Ephesians. There Paul makes it clear that the church is clearly the place where the action is.

“The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world,” Paul began. “The world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.”

Every day I step onto the campus of our local church I am reminded just how true that sentiment is. For here is just a small list of the things I see happening because of our local church:

• 93 children growing in our pre-school
• 35 kids learning in the private middle school we host
• 40 young adults participating in our Youth Musical Theatre program
• Sunday school & Vacation Bible School programs that provide a solid foundation of spiritual formation
• A middle/senior high youth group that melds fellowship and service
• A vibrant choral program that joins people’s love of God and music
• Covenant groups that nurture the bonds of fellowship and inquiry
• A spiritual deepening group for those desiring more from their connection to God
• A women’s group for those over the age of 50 designed to support and encourage participants as they move into their next 50 years
• A retired men’s group that provides a forum for exploring the issues of the day
• A women’s lunch group that melds together fellowship, learning, and mission
• A group (New Beginnings) for folks below the age of 50 who are trying to make sense of their faith in the world.
• Folks working to support the APECA program that provides health and environmental training for the people of Peru
• Twenty 12-step groups helping individuals on their road to recovery from various addictions
• A Mommie and Me program that helps toddlers and parents strengthen their bonds
• Yoga groups that overcome the distinction between mind and body
• A “Coins for Cards” gift card program that helps meets the needs of those in economic distress in our community
• Food collection that benefits the West Valley Food Pantry

As I review this partial listing of events that grow out of the life of just one local church, I can sure see why Paul said the world is peripheral to the church – for it is clear that our local churches can be foundational places upon which our vision of the world is created.

On this holiday weekend when you take time to remember those who have sacrificed so much for our enjoyment of our freedom, I hope you’ll also take a moment and give thanks for all the ways our local churches have indeed become the means through which the spirit of Christ speaks and acts.

Til next time…