Make your bed

Acts 9:32-35
Admiral William McRaven once addressed a graduating class at the University of Texas. His speech has inspired many people, accumulating more than 14.7 million hits on Youtube. Among the several clip-worthy bits of advice, it’s the first that is most unassuming. He talks about the advantages of making your bed. That simple, mundane act, as your first task in the morning, has great benefits.

If you haven’t already, I’ll leave it to you to listen for yourself what those are.

But that simple act also finds its way into scripture in a similar unassuming, meaningful way.

In Acts 9, the apostle Peter meets a man, Aeneas, bedridden for eight years. This is only one person Peter has met as he traveled “among all the believers.” We aren’t given any more context about their meeting other than Peter’s command. We can only assume how Peter heard of him and got to his home.

The apostle’s command is simple: Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!

That simple act that many of us avoid becomes the first sign of new life for a healed man. How many times do you imagine he wanted to get up and make his bed in those eight years? Simple tasks like that were impossible before. Now, his first task isn’t to shout praise, joyfully dance or pray and give thanks. No, your renewed life begins with a made bed.

In other words, Aeneas, you have your life back.

As I reflect on stories like this one, my tendency is to wonder about the healing itself. I join the millennia-aged question of whether these signs were a part of a particular season for the church or if we can expect them now. If we can, why don’t we see more of them?

But I’ll wander from that discussion a bit today.

Instead, I’ll reflect more on Peter’s other movement. The coming and going among the believers. Some of my colleagues and I look forward to hearing our bishop use the worth thither once a year. It’s how he speaks of John Wesley’s activities. He went from here and there among the people of England. America, too. Peter’s thithering allowed him the chance to offer healing to Aeneas.

While I am no apostle, I can go among the saints. And while I cannot heal a bedridden person, I can be a part of God’s healing in other ways. I suspect not many of you are apostles either, and none of you have told me about any miraculous healings you’ve led. That means we have shared possibilities.

You don’t have to go to the ends of the world to be God’s peaceful presence. It could be your greatest witness is to your home. Then start there. You may never see a grand miracle happen before your eyes. The simple ways we share God’s peace may not seem like much. But one small task may be enough for each new day. The blessing in knowing someone is healing is not in how grand an event it is. The blessing is knowing that God has not left us.

Stay blessed…john

What’d you call me?

Nehemiah 1:1-11
It seems like some of us are more Republican than Christian. More Democrat than Christian. Even more American than Christian.

Forgive me if that sounds too harsh. I could be overreacting.

But I say that because I’ve listened to a lot of Christians. And as much as I try to stay away from the comments section, I do get sucked in from time to time.

It might be too much to say we’ve lost our identity in Christ. But why does it feel like “Christian” is only another label? Christian music. Christian books. Christian t-shirts. Christian movies. Christian breath mints?

I’ve reflected on Acts 11:26 before. This is where Barnabas and Paul meet and spend a year teaching the church. “It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians.'”

It could be they came up with that name themselves. Chances are, it was a sarcastic way others identified them. I take that to mean those early disciples committed themselves to their collective walk with Jesus. Acts even said many Christians devoted themselves to their spiritual growth. So much so that other people now needed a nickname for them. Their life centered so much on what they were learning about Christ that it was the dominant quality other people saw in them.

Now, all those jokes about getting out of church by noon come from somewhere. If the outside world were to see our devotion to all things Jesus, would they come up with a name like Christian?

There’s a particular feature of our discourse that leads me to believe we’re less Christian and more everything else. It’s the way we talk about “those” people. We tend to blame a lot of things on those people. Of course, those people are those people whose voting record is different than ours. It’s too obvious they are the ones who are less faithful and God-fearing than us. They have ruined our country. They have done so much harm. Poor us for having to put up with them.

Let me offer you a biblical example of the short sightedness of that kind of thinking. It’s Nehemiah. Before he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, his heart ached for his people. From his place in the Persian capital, he prayed for those left in the ruins of Jerusalem. Notice how he prays.

He asked God to hear his prayer day and night. This wasn’t a one-time prayer. And what filled his prayers? He confessed their sins “which we have sinned against you. Both I and my family have sinned.”

Nehemiah was a faithful person. His humble prayer is a powerful witness for us to consider. He accepts blame for their condition. He didn’t shame his people. He joined in prayer with them. And he wasn’t pinpointing another group’s faults. It was his people, himself included, that needed forgiveness from God.

If we’re going to be more Christian than say American, this is a great lesson to learn. Now, this doesn’t mean we can’t disagree with each other. It certainly doesn’t mean we can’t hold one another accountable to our shared values. But it does mean we are sharing our burdens together. And we can do so in a way that reflects our Christian name and convictions. May God forgive us if we’re more willing to live in disunity than in Christ.

Stay blessed…john

Don’t give up on us

My go-to scripture for weddings is from Colossians 3. Clothes are important on wedding days and Colossians 3 has the great reminder to clothe ourselves with love. It’s a simple illustration important for any family to hear on such a big day.

If I don’t read from Colossians 3, that usually means the couple has done a Google search and wants me to read from 1 Corinthians 13–the love chapter. Easy.

After that, I turn to Ecclesiastes. A wedding sermon based on Ecclesiastes 4 isn’t new. It certainly didn’t originate with me. It’s easy to see how that text speaks to a couple’s wedding day. In chapter four, the preacher/teacher of Ecclesiastes talks about relationships. He finishes a short section by saying, “A threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

The third cord is always portrayed to be God. That reminder becomes a blessing for the newlyweds. Together, the two of them are beginning a new life of growing in love with one another and with the Lord.

In a similar way, that’s what the church does.

We are, after all, the bride of Christ. The church is God’s witness to the world to God’s righteousness and justice. But when we’re splashed with the baptism waters, we don’t automatically learn what that all means. A lot of us aren’t comfortable with the basics of our faith even after we’re baptized. We should talk more about that, by the way. Most of the issues we have as the church, I’m convinced, relate to dull discipleship.

Almost every year that we offer confirmation for our young people, an adult will ask if they can join. No one’s taken me up on my offer to be a part of the class, though. I envision church-wide confirmations because what witness can we share if we aren’t growing in the knowledge of God?

As basic as it may sound, it bears repeating. Part of the work of the church is teaching one another what it means to follow Jesus. That is a lifelong commitment we make to God and each other. As we do, that third cord strengthens and unites us.

The result is a fellowship centered on Jesus and infused with faith talk. How much do we talk about our faith together? In my experience, a lot of us are apprehensive about faith talk. We’re a lot more comfortable talking about the weather or our favorite show.

Why do you think that is?

I’m in my sixth year serving my current church. That’s the longest I’ve been at any one congregation. After we announced my reappointment here, I had several people talk to me about our ministry together. There was a phrase I heard several times in those conversations: “Don’t give up on us, Pastor.”

Don’t worry.

I don’t even know how to do that. Plus, how could I ever give up on a people that God hasn’t given up on? My role as pastor doesn’t even allow me to do that. I see the joy of watching that threefold cord strengthened. We walk together, learning from one another, sharing each other’s joys and pains as we figure out how to walk with Jesus.

Let’s not give up on each other. God has prepared a lifetime for us!

Stay blessed…john