In My Name

In John 14, Jesus promises that we can have anything if we ask it in his name. But what does that really mean? Can I ask for a new car? Can I get a loved one healed?

We have a lot of misconceptions about what praying “in Jesus’ name” means. Has it become just a habitual tag onto the end of a prayer? Or does is mean something deeper? My sermon this past weekend dealt with what praying in Jesus’ name really means, and what it means to invoke a name in the Bible. Give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Love Like That

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders.  When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’  In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” (Luke 15:4-7)

Our new neighbor spent the better part of six hours today trying to coax her new rescued puppy back into her house after the puppy snuck out…twice.

Mary and I spent awhile this evening trying to help corral the puppy, who had been a rescue from an abusive situation about two weeks ago and was in no mood to trust anyone, never getting within 20 feet of us. We tried leaving out treats, and sitting calmly, and so on, but the dog wasn’t having anything to do with us. (We’re told that the puppy isn’t fond of men, so I felt doubly helpless.)

Her new owner, though, was marvelous at trying to build trust. She scampered around her yard like an eight-year-old, trying to get the puppy to play with her. She lay down for a good half hour in the dew of the evening on her front lawn, trying to get the puppy to come close enough. She got some steak and offered the puppy bits of it to try to draw her near, with only partial success.

It occurs to me that her love is part of what Jesus taught about in the Parable of the Lost Sheep. Just as Jesus does, she patiently was calling to the puppy, trying to be open and warm and receptive, not angry, not yelling at the dog. She showed what grace is about: the neverending call to come home, to turn back. And through it all, the rebellious puppy was mistrusting of that grace, skeptical that it could really be safe, and absolutely determined to do whatever it wanted to do.

In the same way, we’re rebellious puppies who refuse to believe it could possibly be any better with Jesus than on our own. We’re all cavorting, running free, oblivious to the fact that it’s getting dark and there are foxes in the woods nearby who would love to have a go at us in the night. And we disdain the steak that’s offered in favor of staying (spiritually) hungry, if it means accepting anything that comes with it.

The good news is, there are no strings attached, no hidden agendas. God’s grace and love are freely given, just as our neighbor’s love was freely given, and despite our (or the puppy’s) obstinacy about taking the offer. It’s a valuable reminder that grace shows up in random moments in our days, and that we’re called to love like that: to offer grace to everyone we see, loving the rebellious puppy in each of us, and patiently extending grace until she comes home.

PS: Eventually the neighbor went inside and left the front door propped open. And after another half hour, something got the better of the puppy (curiosity? hunger? desire for warmth?) and she wandered back inside. And there was great rejoicing.

The Emptying Nest

I’ve previously written about a sense that despite the struggles my daughter had in high school, she was about to launch, and launch spectacularly.

We may be at T-minus-ten…nine…eight…seven…

This week we learned that three months out of high school, she has been accepted for a position at James Madison University down at Harrisonburg, Virginia, where she will be working on the staff of the Forbes Performing Arts Center. Working with her supervisor, she will manage two of the campus’s auditoriums: one frequently used for dance and other recitals, the other often used for guest speakers and diversity events. She will be meeting with potential clients–groups wanting to use the space–and helping them prepare their event, then helping run the technical side of the event (lights, sound), for about 30 hours a week on average. She starts in just ten days–so we’re in the midst of trying to find her a place down there and planning a move for next week.

She is super excited about it, and we are super excited for her. She had said her goal for this year was to get a job in the technical side of theatre, to learn more about whether this is what she truly wants to do. Now she has a chance to do that, to learn more about theatre management in the process, and to do so on a college campus–so she can also get experience with that world, and consider whether that’s something she actually wants to do, as well. There are so, so many potentially great things that can come from this, I can’t even begin to list them all.

Of course, we will worry. A little. She’s a fiercely independent young woman, so I’m sure she can take care of herself two hours from home. She will figure things out, she will adapt to what comes up. And I know she will face setbacks along the way, and I pray she brings the resilience to handle them all.

But most of all, I will miss her. I will miss having her around, I will miss being able to share a laugh about something that we both, in our twisted senses of humor, find funny. I will miss hearing her and her friends laughing in some corner of the house, and I will miss hearing the front door chime when she gets home late from visiting them. I will miss sharing Ultreyas with her, and seeing her on the mountain for Chrysalis.

The house is about to become much, much emptier: just me, Mary, and the dog (who will be beside herself–what, all y’all keep leaving!). There’s going to be a little less life around here, a little less of what made this home special.

The nest is well and truly emptying, and while there is that touch of melancholy, I couldn’t be prouder of my kids.

Alex

Alex the kitten went home about ten days ago, and I miss him.

At the end of June, Sarah came to us with the news that a friend of hers needed help. I’ve written about this friend before and his struggles to live independently; apparently he had gotten himself a little kitten, barely 12 weeks old. Well, the landlord got wind of it and said, You can’t have a kitten here; the response was, Fine, we’ll move at the beginning of August then to a place that will allow kitty to live there. But then there was the problem of what to do with kitty until then. Which led him to Sarah, which led her to us.

I love cats, I grew up with them, so it was real easy for me to say Yes! But Mary and David are allergic, so we had to discuss it a little first. We decided to put Alex in the media room downstairs, and keep him corraled there so he didn’t get cat dander everywhere (and also kept him away from our dog, Fergie).

Sarah brought Alex home at the end of June, and of course he was adorable. Dainty little “mew!” sounds, and a purr motor that just would not quit. He’s entirely black, and, as you can see in the picture, has no compunction about curling up on my homework and demanding attention.

Alex is one of those kittens that make people fall in love with cats. He loved being with me, even by the end of the time with us curling up on my lap a bit. He would play, he would purr, he would be appropriate with his razor claws and kitten teeth. He didn’t fear us, he didn’t run and hide under the furniture, he accepted us totally and looked to us for love and attention, just as it should be.

I’ve written before about how our pets can teach us about faith: they are totally dependent on us for food, love, and care, and are perfectly happy in that state. In that regard, they teach us what we should look like in our faith with God–recognizing that God alone is the source of all that we are and all that we have, and turning to him for our source of love and fulfillment. Alex reminded me, once again, what that relationship can look like: playful, joyous, and forthright.

Sarah took Alex home in early August, where he will be one of a menagerie of pets in her friend’s new apartment with his other roommates and their puppy, snake, and turtle. I pray we put Alex on a good path, of trusting humans and being able to love. And that’s not a bad month’s work.

“If God is God, then Why do Bad Things Happen?”

This past Sunday, Pastor Don continued his vacation (first time in f-o-r-e-v-e-r he had more than a week off, so good for him!), and I led worship once again. This was the culmination of our sermon series on Questions–the ones that people ask, about God and about faith. And this week was the mother of them all: if God is God, then why do bad things happen?

Here’s the link to the sermon itself; below is the picture that was displayed at the beginning of the sermon (so you can see who these people are), and here’s the link the Switch’s song, Symphony, that I reference at the end.

Let me know what you think!

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What Mark Has To Say About Followership

When we think about what Jesus did on earth, we come up with a pretty good list: healed the sick, fed the hungry, healed the blind…but on that last one, interestingly, in Mark’s Gospel, there are only two occasions in which Jesus is shown healing a blind man. What does each of those episodes teach us about Jesus, and about how we’re supposed to follow him as disciples?

That was the topic of my second sermon as Associate Pastor at Sydenstricker UMC. This weekend coming up, I’ll also be on duty–and addressing the tough questions that get asked in the aftermath of an El Paso or any of a host of other situations: if God is God, then why does this happen?

Anyway, that’s for next week. Here’s this week’s sermon: click here to listen and then leave a comment–what do you think?

“Who, Me?” My Debut Sermon As Pastor

This weekend marked my debut weekend leading worship at Sydenstricker UMC as its newest Associate Pastor. I was thrilled and honored to share the story of how it is I come to be in the ranks of the clergy now, and what Jesus meant in the Great Commission, with everyone at SUMC. Click here to give it a listen and let me know what you think.