Tag Archives: God

Let’s be Honest, some folks aren’t going to make it!

From Matthew 13:1-9

Mrs. Smith was one helluva teacher sent from Heaven.  I know because I had her for English.  I know because I watched her put up with Ed.  Ed didn’t want to be in school, Ed didn’t want to learn the puns of Shakespeare or the alliteration of Blake, and Ed didn’t want to be told what to do.

Through it all, Mrs. Smith never gave up.  She’d offer extra time on tests he had no intention of completing.  She’d push him to enter rap lyrics into a poetry contest, but Ed didn’t do extra work.  She’d encourage him to redo the homework he turned in before she graded it, but all this was casting pearls before swine.  Ed didn’t care.  His apathy, a black hole, sucked the energy and impetus around him.  Ed didn’t care.  But Mrs. Smith cared, and she never gave up on him.

Today’s world has joined what some psychologists call the ‘cult of self.’  At the expense of self-awareness and self-limitations, we boost self-esteem eclipsing reality in exaggerated egocentric effigies of us.  We know the education system is failing, yet more students get A’s and Honors than ever before.  If a C is the average, how come so few kids get them?  Ivy League Students were surveyed and 80% of them claimed to be in the top 5% of their class.  And everyone gets a trophy.

But it’s not just kids… Social Media enables us to tell the world about us and to live in a world that revolves around us.  We Instagram what we’re eating, tweet the songs we’re singing, and post “Best Vacation Ever” every time we slip away.  Narcissism rises as we can literally count how many likes, shares, comments, friends, and followers we have.  We create monsters who no longer can be told they are incorrect and will not admit that they made a mistake all in the name of the god called self-esteem.

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells us a parable about farming.  We show up clutching to our report cards, trophies, awards and affirmations; Jesus ruins it.  God loves us, but some of us just aren’t going to get it.  The parable of the sower casting out his seeds is pretty familiar to all of us.  We know about the different types of soils: the path, the rocks, the thorns, and of course the good soil.  And each time we hear this parable, we tell ourselves the same things:  “I’m so glad I’m the good soil,” or “I used to be like that soil, but now I’m the good soil,” or “here’s a list of things I have to do to make sure I’m the good soil.”  We are so focused on ME! ME! ME! we’ve retitled this parable.  No longer is it the parable of the sower but the parable of the soil.

Jesus tells us about God.  Jesus lets us know God doesn’t give up on us.  Jesus is tells us about God’s wasteful generosity.  A farmer goes out to plant.  How many farmers do you know cast seed out on Highway 58?  How many farmers do you know throw seed on rocks or among thorns on purpose?  How many farmers do you know who are tighter than spandex on an 800 lbs gorilla?  Farmers I know count their fingers after they shake your hand.

God is not your average farmer.  Our Lord is so generous every soil gets seed.  God loves the road.  God loves us when we are hard and mean as asphalt.  God loves the rocky soil.  God loves us when we are shallow, undisciplined, and unwilling to let his love affect us deeply.  God loves the soil with thorns and thistles.  God loves us when we let money, worry, friends, and family come before what really matters.  God loves the good soil.  God loves us when we are ready to receive his Word, take it into our lives, and bear fruit.

This is not a story about us.  This is a story about God’s wasteful generosity.  God is willing to love even when there is little chance the love will be returned.  Our part in the story is to love like God loves.

Jesus sat down by the sea and told us a story about God: the most generous, loving, wasteful farmer the world has ever known.  Let’s be honest, some folks are just not going to get it, but that doesn’t stop God from loving them.  It shouldn’t stop us from loving as well.  God gives so much grace in the world that some of the grace is going to waste.  Some folks just aren’t going to follow Jesus.  Yet, God doesn’t give up on them… and neither should we.  After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

Morning Prayer based on Genesis 28

Lord who holds every place within you:

You are in this place and we did not know it.

We came with hurting hearts and anguish

from the journey in the past.

We came with shaky thoughts and anxiousness

for the journey ahead.

 

Come, whisper your words of forgiveness

to us and through us.

Come, loosen the stress in our minds and muscles.

Come, give us rest and dreams to inspire.

Come…

Amen.

God’s Wasteful Generosity

Listen!  A farmer went out to plant his seed!

God’s a farmer?  I’m sure he’s cautious about where the seed will go.

He scattered it on the road.

No!  Not there, the birds will eat it, what a waste!

He scattered it on the rocks.

No!  Not there, the sun will scorch it.  What a waste!

He scattered it among the weeds and thorns.

No!  You’re wasting seed!  It will never grow there!

He scattered it on the earth.

This farmer is far too liberal in his planting!

Had he been more picky with where he cast his seed,

He wouldn’t have wasted so much.

Let those who have ears, hear the Good News.

 

-©2017 Worship’s Wake, Nathan Decker.

Dramatic Reading for Matthew 28

Dramatic Reading for Matthew 28

Needs four readers, one off-stage, three on.  One has luggage, one has a hammer, and one has a camera.

Voice off stage:                                As you Go-

Reader 1:                             “Yes!  We’re going on a trip!  I wonder where God is sending us.  I can’t wait!”

Reader 2:                             “I hope it’s exotic!  I’ve always wanted to travel overseas!”

Reader 3:                             “I’ll bring my camera and some dough, you know souvenirs will be so cheap there!”

Voice:                                   <Clears throat until they listen>  As you are going, Make-

R2:                                          “YES!  It’s a construction trip!  I wonder what God will have us build!

R1:                                          “I bet it’s a church or a school or maybe even a hospital!”

R3:                                          “I’ll bring my old shirts from college!  We can hand them out to the poor children!  We can even get the kids in church to collect happy meal toys to hand out!  Those kids will be so blessed by our presence!”

Voice:                                   <Clears throat again>  As you are going, make Disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow everything I’ve taught you.

R3:                                          “What’s that mean?”

R2:                                          “Disciples?  How do you build those?”

R1:                                          “All nations… including this one?  Does that mean we’re not going anywhere?”

Voice:                                   As you go about your life where ever you happen to be, share what you have been given.  Invite people to see my love in you.  Bring them to me to experience my love in the baptismal waters.  Teach them to follow the my path of peace.

R1:                                          “This isn’t going to be easy.”

R2:                                          “Yeah, I mean, folks around here already know me.”

R3:                                          “But they don’t all know Jesus.”

R1:                                          “Do you think we can share Christ here, in our homes and at our jobs?

R2:                                          “Do you think they will see Jesus in me?”

R3:                                          “Do you think I can still get a souvenir?”

Voice:                                   You don’t have to go anywhere to share the Gospel.  God has already placed you where you are an expert on the culture, language, and people.

Make disciples, immerse them in Christ’s love, and teach them the way of peace.  Amen.

Temptations

Lord, we hunger.
“Turn the stones into bread”
Lord, we want easy answers.
“Isn’t it written…”
Lord, we want power.
“I will give you all of this if you bow down to me…”
God calls us to care for creation
not to reshape it for our own purpose.
God calls us to follow Christ
even when we don’t understand everything.
God calls us to lay down our desire for power
and take up the Cross.
 
Then we will be filled.
No more hunger.
Then we will find peace.
No more searching.
Then we will bow before the one true God.  Amen.
Nathan Decker, Worshipswake.wordpress.com

“Traditions that won’t die – Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve” from Luke 2:1-20

There are some Christmas Traditions that won’t die – like going to church on Christmas Eve.  The tradition I grew up in didn’t go to church on Christmas Eve. Midnight Mass sounded too Catholic for them.  Instead, my family’s tradition was to open our gifts from ma and pa on Christmas Eve knowing on Christmas Day we would go to the extended family Christmas. The one where you got all these gifts you didn’t want from Aunts and Uncles you wouldn’t see again until the next family gathering.

The irony is the first Christmas Eve service I ever went to was in a Catholic Church.  I was at college in Danville.  Two of my good friends were Catholic, so when they invited me, I went.  The priest was very open and joyful. He didn’t care that I wasn’t Catholic.  So when the time came for me to receive communion, I went forward with everyone else.  And that’s when I encountered the wafer.

I’m not sure what brand of dissolvable cardboard the priest gave me, but it wasn’t bread.  Bread has flavor.  Bread has texture.  Bread travels down to your stomach with a sensation that is real, sensual, and gratifying.  Not so with the wafer.  It had no flavor.  It had no texture save the distinct realization by my tongue something had been placed on it with a micro-measure of weight.  And after it dissolved in my mouth, I’m not sure any remnant made it any further down the pipe.

I’m not trying to poke fun at our Catholic sisters and brothers.  I respect their understanding and practice of the Lord’s Supper.  Yet it occurs to me that many times that wafer represents my own experience in spirituality.  It lacks flavor. There are times that I can’t tell you the last time I tasted the joy of the Lord’s presence.  It lacks texture. There are long places in my own life where I don’t feel as if God is with me; quite the opposite of Emmanuel.  It leaves me hungry.

At the first church I served as pastor, I was reminded of this by a 4 year old boy named Cody.  It was an ordinary Sunday with ordinary hymns.  You might say we were going through the motions.  I’m sure it was the first Sunday of the month, because we were having communion.  Folks were coming up to the rail in groups as was tradition. They knelt and received a torn bit of bread which they were invited to dip into the cup.  But the ordinary disappeared when little Cody received his bread.

“Is that all I get?”  He had said it as any 4 year old would have said it.  Quiet enough that the entire congregation heard him.  Loud enough to embarrass his mother and father.  But what struck me was his honesty about the hunger.  He didn’t come here for wafers or crumbs.  Cody wanted the flavor, the texture, the fulfillment.  Cody wanted the feast, all that God would give him.  Cody wanted to experience God at the table.

You may be asking what does this have to do with Jesus, the Stable, the Manger, etc.  God didn’t offer us fast food solutions, but instead offered us a full multi-course feast in this babe, in this birth, in this life, in this death, and in this resurrection.  He could have been born in a palace, yet he chose a stable.  He could have had Angels announcing his coming to all humanity, yet he chose shepherds in a field.  He could have picked any town – Rome, New York, Washington DC, yet he chose Bethlehem, a Hebrew word that translates as “House of Bread.”  He could have had the best Tempurpedic, double down, plush bed for his crib, yet mother Mary laid him in a manger – fancy word for a “feeding trough” for animals.

We didn’t come here for a little snack or a bit of fast food.  We came here for the whole experience of who Jesus is.  Tonight we celebrate his coming to us.  Tonight we are invited to experience the whole of who God is in a little child laid in a manger.  Tonight we are invited to experience the whole of who God is in a candle light dinner of a little bread and a little wine.  Thank God some traditions won’t die.  Amen.

I want to see God from Colossians 1:11-20

I was sitting in the dentist chair when I found him.  I don’t really like going to the Dentist.  I have a fear of anything that spins or twists going into my mouth.  The high pitched mechanical sound makes me want to bolt out of the chair and run to the ice cream shoppe.  Even the fancy toothbrush makes me squirm in my seat, foaming at the mouth as the dental hygienist stops to ask, “Mr. Decker are you ok?”

“No, I’m not ok!  Yes, my fears are not rational.  I don’t like getting my teeth cleaned.”

This last time I went to the Dentist the hygienist pointed out that they had posters on the ceiling to help me focus on something other than the “pain” or “even though you’re not really in pain but you feel like you’re in pain, pay attention to the posters please so I can do my job.”

So, I tried it.  The first poster was this beautiful beach scene.   Surf.  Sand.  Sun.  The whining mechanical high speed tooth brush that sounds like a drill coming at my incisors.  Images of my gums bleeding as she flosses my teeth.  Focus, come on now, look at the other poster.

The other one actually got me going. It was obviously for children.  It was a poster of “Where’s Waldo.”  Waldo – glasses, stocking cap, trademark red and white shirt – I was going to find that bugger.

Where’s Waldo?  Is he there in the car? No, that’s just a sweater on a dog.  Is he over there in the bushes, no, that’s the oddest colors for a mushroom I’ve ever seen.  Maybe over there by the ice cream truck?   Those have to be the weirdest flavors of ice cream I’ve ever seen.

When I finally did find him, it was as if a bell had gone off and I had awoken from some surreal pseudo sleep in the dentist chair.  “There, Mr. Decker, all done. That wasn’t so bad was it?”  I wanted to say yes, but something dawned on me.  With all of my concentration focused on looking for Waldo, I didn’t realize the peace he had given me while I was seeking him out.  With all our concentration focused on looking for God, we don’t realize the peace he has given us while we are seeking him out.

 Our world often asks where is God in all of this?  He can’t stand the fighting any more. He goes to his room and shuts the door, cause somewhere a father and a mother talk about divorce again.  She’s been missing since last May. She would have turned thirteen today.  And somewhere a father prays for his missing little girl.  Why doesn’t God do something about the pain and the hurt?  Why isn’t God at work in the world?  Doesn’t God care?

Maybe God’s at church?

Recently a Marketing Expert was hired by a church to find out why their attendance, participation, and offering where consistently going down each year.  He came to their church worship services.  He got involved in their Bible Studies and mission programs.  He studied their figures from years and years of stewardship campaigns and budgets.  He did surveys in the community asking about the church, asking about the reputation, asking about what the community knew about the church ministries.  He came back to the pastor and the church with some bad news.

“You all have really got it going on. You have the best show in town.  You offer education and volunteer opportunities better than anyone else.  You even have done your research on non-profits and how to best present giving and offering plans.  But you are guilty of false advertisement. Your sign says you are a church, a house of God, a place where folks can experience God.   I’ve been with you all month, and I haven’t seen God show up at all.”

Paul, writing to the Church at Colossae must have had the same marketing expert show up.  Here was a group of people who have great hope.  They worship God.  They study about God.  They volunteer for God.  They give of themselves.  And they ask, “Where are you, God?”

As Christians, it is important for us to experience Christ as what Paul calls the “image of the invisible God.”  Chrisitanity isn’t the study of God; it is the relational experience with God.  In Worship, we are called to experience God’s Word and Love.  It’s not enough to come to church, we have to be church.  In Study, we should experience God’s grace and guidance deeper.  It’s not enough to know about God, we have to know God.  In missions, we should feel the power of God working and flowing through us.  It’s not enough to be good people helping others, we are called to be God’s hands and feet in action.  In giving, we should feel the joy of self-sacrifice, joining Christ in becoming a part of something larger than we will ever catch a glimpse.  It’s not our sacrifice but Christ’s giving though us.

Where’s Waldo?  Where’s Jesus?  Christ is in you.  God is at work in our world through you.  We are the Body of Christ.  On social media recently I saw a “Coffee with Jesus” Comic.  In the comic, humanity asks, “Jesus, why do you allow all this injustice, hurt, and suffering go on and on?”

Jesus answers, “It’s great that you bring that up, I was going to ask you the same question.”

When we seek the extraordinary in the ordinary…

When we look for the supernatural among the natural…

When we find the Spirit among the Flesh…

That’s where God is – the image of the invisible God – Jesus Christ.

  • When God’s people gather for prayer – God is here.
  • When God’s people gather for study – God is here.
  • When we feed the hungry,
  • When we provide hugs and a kind heart listening to those in despair,
  • When we reach out to those that everyone else has given up on,
  • God is here.

God gives us a choice in life.  We can see the negative or the positive. 

Fred Craddock tells a story from his home town.  “There was this kid in my hometown who would believe anything.  Tell him the school burned down. “Really, no school tomorrow!  Awesome!”  Tell him they were handing out free watermelon downtown. Off he would run.  Tell him the President of the US was coming to give a speech. “Really!  Whoopee!”  Funny thing is that one summer an evangelist came to town. He told that kid, “God loves you and cares for you and comes to you in Jesus Christ.”  And do you know what, that kid believed.  He actually believes it.”

We are called to believe and because of our belief, to be Christians.  Christ is the image of the “invisible God” according to Colossians.  We are the image of the invisible God.  We are the helpers.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

 – Fred Rogers

 We can see God in and through what we see in Christ.  When we do, the journey of seeking Christ makes the rest of life come into clearer focus. By looking for God, we find ourselves – our true selves.  With all of our essence focused on looking for God, we realize the peace Jesus has given us while we were seeking him out.  

 Where have we seen God lately?

Blessing of the Backpacks

God who teaches us every day how to make Earth a little more like Heaven, we lift to you today, these students.

Give them your patience to understand the problems on paper and in the hallways.

Help them commit themselves to study and learning in the school year ahead.

Bless each of them.

Lord, put your hands on these backpacks.   Fill them with school work and reminders of the love and care of this church.  Surround them each school day with your Spirit.

Look after the teachers and workers in our schools. Sustain them with your peace, patience and perseverance. Help them know how appreciated they are and that this congregation embraces their call to teaching and learning and surrounds them with love and care as well.

We pray in the name of Jesus who we seek to follow day by day. Amen.

 

adapted from http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/a-blessing-of-the-backpacks-and-the-school-year

God Calls Us to Fish

God calls us to fish.

But I don’t know how!

God calls us to fish.

But I don’t have any bait,

How am I supposed to talk to a stranger?

God calls us to fish.

My life is like a rat nest of fishing line.

Choose someone else.

God calls us to fish.

God calls us to fish.

“So they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net.”

-(C)2016, Nathan Decker, Worshipswake.wordpress.com

Love is Particular

 

Jesus never said “Love everybody.”  I’ve checked.  It’s not in the Bible.  Now before you begin writing letters to the editor or perhaps to my Bishop, hear me out.  I’m glad Jesus never told me I had to love everybody.  I can’t.  It’s not humanly possible.  Loving the whole world is something divine, and even God struggled to do it on the cross.  Instead of commanding us to love everyone, Jesus commanded us to “love God,” “love your neighbor,” and “love one another.”  I’m glad he said it this way.  Loving our neighbor is much more particular and scandalous than loving everyone.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus describes our neighbor by telling the story of the “Good Samaritan.”  Neighbors are not simply the people who sleep in houses in close proximity to our homes.  Jesus defined neighbors as the people we encounter on the way.  At first this may seem like an easy command, but what if we loved each person we interact with along the way?  Sure, family and friends are pretty much assumed, but what about the others?  The cashier at the store who was slower than grandma’s two step shuffle?  The coworker that tells the annoying overused joke for the thousandth insult?  That loud-mouth who disagrees with us about politics?

And what about the people we interact with through our purchasing power?  We are a global economy.  Each swipe of our plastic is impacting someone’s life.  The child sweating in the factory putting buttons on our shirts?  The underpaid and overworked woman sewing brand names into our tagless underwear?  And let’s not forget closer to home – migrant workers picking vegetables amid the fog of carcinogenic insecticide.  God, this is difficult!

Loving everyone actually might be simpler.  Why not reword the command into the golden rule?  Instead of “Love thy neighbor” let’s use “Love everyone the same way you want to be loved”?  Some people don’t have self-love, self-respect, etc.  Using the golden rule, I could mistreat and disrespect everyone equally in the same manner I expected to be mistreated and disrespected.  God is smart.  Even the Lord ‘chose’ a people to be particularly loved among all humanity through whom the rest of the world would encounter the divine love.  This is the scandal of the particular in the universal.

God doesn’t simply love everyone; God loves you.  All of the you’s who there are out there in the cosmos.  You are a unique human who has very particular needs; your experience of God’s universal love will be particular.  I think this is why the Bible uses Father as a metaphor for God and God’s love.  I love my two children.  I do not love them equally.  They know it, too.  They’ve asked.  I’ve told them each and every time that they ask the same answer.  I love them as much as they need me to love them.  I love them equitably.  I love them particularly.  The Lord’s love is enough.  God doesn’t love one more or less than the other.  God loves us as much as we need to be loved.

Jesus taught us to love like he loved.  When we encounter one another in any way we become neighbors.  We’re called to love our neighbors in the same way that God loves us.  Love is particular.  Don’t try to love everybody.  You’ll fail.  Instead of going global, go local.  Love your neighbor.  After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

 

Originally published in the Tidewater News, July 2016.