The next example

Psalm 133
In the last several weeks, major league baseball has offered two wholesome moments. Some would say all of baseball is wholesome. But I’m thinking of the Blue Jays fan who caught a homerun ball from a Yankees player. Almost without hesitation, the fan gave the ball to a younger Yankees fan wearing a jersey of the homerun hitter.

Tears started streaming down the young boy’s face. A day later both fans got a chance to visit with the hitter, who is the boy’s favorite player. 

Then last night, a Cardinals player, who is sure to be a first-ballot hall of famer, did something for the first time. His team was ahead by so much, they put him in to pitch. Mind you, he’s forty two years old and only plays as a designated hitter now. He didn’t have a great inning. One opposing player got a hit off him (several did). When he got to first base, he asked if he could keep the ball. 

It was a sign of respect and admiration for a great player and, I presume, a friend.

Don’t you wish these were the stories we read more about? That we could fill our world with an abundance of examples of humanity living “together in unity” (Psalm 133:1)? Of course, there are infinite moments like these. But they aren’t what makes the news. The many more we know happen don’t always involve professional sports players or celebrities. 

Maybe that’s a good reminder for us today. All the negativity we see on TV and read in media is our fault. We watch it. We consume it. If we didn’t, they wouldn’t show it. So many of us feed off fake adversity and suspicion of one another. It’s a multi-billion-dollar industry.

I’m a United Methodist because of our sense of connection. That was the one thing that caught my attention most about our polity. In every church I’ve served, I’ve tried to make that a local reality. You can guess the many reasons why that can be one of the most difficult things to pull off. But I keep trying because I agree with the psalmist who wrote Psalm 133. It is good and pleasant for us to live in unity.

So, our example may be baseball related today. May it be the Spirit spurs you to be the world’s next example of what it means to live at peace and unity with your family, your church and your neighbors. You may not be on TV, but you’ll know the Lord’s blessing.

Stay blessed…john

Spiritual travel

Acts 10:1-8
Mark Twain once made a great observation. He said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” In short, travel is the cure for ignorance.

Maybe a bit of spiritual traveling would benefit us, too. Many Christians don’t know faith outside of their personal context. That is, what they know of following Jesus is what they’ve learned in their one church. Now, the local church is an effective means by which God shapes who we are. But we can learn from each other. Like traveling broadens our perspectives, spiritual traveling grants us fresh eyes.

That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong, necessarily, with your church. As we open ourselves to see how other Christians worship and serve, we get a new sense of God’s work.

My guess is every preacher has a special folder. It’s the one full of printed material they’ve collected from other congregations. I’ve even had people bring stuff to me from other churches. Bulletins. Prayer Cards. Giving sheets. Sermon notes. For me, there’s a practical reason I keep these. I’m always looking for better design elements. But even more than that, these materials remind me of the congregations I visit.

For example, John Wesley UMC in Nashville, TN is the most hospitable church I’ve ever attended. Their welcome stuck with me. You could tell welcoming strangers wasn’t new or awkward to them. It was an important element of their worship of God and love of neighbor.

What about the church that had a small play and rest area in their worship space? This was for their children to sit together and worship with the rest of the church. No one seemed bothered by their noise. They didn’t need a special time during the service just for them because they were already a part of it. I’ve seen churches designate rocking chairs for parents to soothe their babies. There was no need to have to excuse yourself from the sanctuary.

What do those ideas say about the values of those churches?

I have more examples. They all have contributed to my life of worship and even my pastoral ministry. I encourage you to take advantage of opportunities to visit other Christians, too. No, don’t skip out on your church. They need you. Your presence matters there.

When you go on vacation, though, pick a church to visit. When a local congregation in your community has a special event, join them. My city has a church that hosts a heavy metal worship service. It’s not my kind of music, but I’m intrigued. There’s a group of people I probably wouldn’t share too many other experiences with. But God gives us these opportunities to unite in Christian fellowship.

Acts 10 reminds us that we can find faithful people in the most unexpected places. But they’re only unexpected because we think they are. Make spiritual travels and you come to expect to see God.

Limiting our exposure to other people and places limits our love for others. Some studies suggest it may keep you from being a more trusting person. It’s good for our soul and faith to travel. So, get out there. Plan some spiritual traveling. Look forward to a new thing God might show you.

Stay blessed…john

No medals for love

1 Peter 1:17-2:1
Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart, soul and mind. When he said that, he didn’t surprise anyone. That’s what you’d expect someone to say. Even his sequent greatest commandment wasn’t too outrageous. It’s not like forgetting salt in the offering was everyone’s favorite commandment (Leviticus 2:13).

The expectation of the greatest commandment is to love God with all your being. Think of whatever drives you. Your motivation. Your get up. All those things you give to accomplish your goals or even to make it through the day at work. The commandment is to love God with every bit of that personal energy.

We all have that oomph. Your level of it may exceed mine. But we all know when we’re, as we say, giving it all we have. When it comes to loving God with our oomph, we can easily envision what that looks like. Tithing, praying, worshiping and serving are easy examples. You don’t just give. You give with joy and hopeful expectation of what your offering means to God and the Lord’s ministry. When you pray, you pray with fervor and intent. And your worship isn’t passive or indifferent. It is your life’s aim to praise God.

When people first get that feeling is when they call me. “Pastor,” they’ll ask, “what can I do for the church?” I love those calls. Not because I have something that needs fixing at church. Those calls are the reminder that God’s Spirit is still moving amongst the people of God.

What I hope we realize is what you can do for the church is what you can do for others. It’s the second greatest commandment. So, if we’re called to love God with all our oomph, how do you suppose we’re called to love each other?

Yes, with the same level of oomphness. 1 Peter 1:22 reinforces this. According to Peter, the preciousness of what Christ has done for us sets the table for deepening our trust in God. Christ also bolsters our hope in the Lord. And he provided us the capacity to share a mutual love. But we don’t stop at mutual love. Peter goes on to say to “love one another deeply from the heart.”

Now, a surface reading of that text makes it sound Hallmark-y. Loving one another, though, isn’t about sappy feelings. The sense Peter is giving in that text goes much deeper. Think of the Olympic athletes we’re admiring right now. Their athletic skills are amazing.

We know these athletes spend years in training. They discipline their bodies and lives to prepare. When Peter says to love one another deeply, it’s that intensity and dedication he has in mind.

There are no medals for loving each other in this way. But doing so means we understand that God’s gift to us is worth more than perishable things like gold and silver.

Stay blessed…john