I don’t always agree with me

Tom Wright, I believe, said something like, “I believe I’m right 2/3 of the time. The challenge is that I am never sure exactly which 2/3 that is.”

I’m pretty sure I agree with him about this. What I mean by that is that I recognize I am not right about everything.

On the other hand, everything I think I understand or believe, I also believe I am right (or correct) about. One can’t affirm that one is right about something and at the same time claim to be wrong about that, after all.

Global DisasterBut, then, I’d also have to admit that I don’t always agree with me.

That is, when I consider the way I understand and believe some things now, I can see how my perspectives have changed over the years.

This may be news to some of you, but I do not see the world, understand the world, believe exactly the same things about the world, as I did when I was, say, 25.

I don’t always agree with me.

Thankfully, I have learned to give myself some grace in this, because sometimes it is hard to grasp. On some things I’ve changed quite a bit.

The biggest challenge I feel in all of this is I often wonder how the 54 year old me would communicate with the 25 year old me. This is a challenge because the way I remember the 25 year old me, I wouldn’t (then) have wanted much to do with me (now).

Many of the changes I have experienced as growth would have seemed, to the 25 year old me, as compromising my faith. Or maybe even abandoning it.

So, as I have aged, I have changed in these two ways:

  1. some of my beliefs have changed
  2. I have more grace for understanding, or at least remaining in relationship with, those with whom I disagree.

I would really, really like to think I’ve always extended such grace to others. But since I’m not so sure the younger me would have extended it to the older me, I really can’t say.

Do you always agree with you?  Do you have grace for those with whom you disagree? Do you have grace for yourself on things (beliefs, perspectives, opinions) on which you have changed?

Not to compete with the movie franchise…

I am writing this to be read on Friday, April 13th.  We’ll have another Friday the 13th in July of this year.

What do you think about Friday the 13th?  The Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina estimated in 2012 that between 17 and 21 million Americans struggle to some degree or other with stress related to Friday the 13th. The same group estimates that people changing their behavior because of Friday the 13th costs between $800 and $900 million in business.

Symptoms range from mild anxiety to full-on panic attacks.
And, of course, a new movie in the Friday the 13th series debuts nearly every time one occurs.

Though many connect anxiety related to Friday the 13th to Jesus plus his 12 disciples making 13, there is no historical evidence of the day actually causing anxiety before the 19th century.

While I don’t suffer stress related to this particular day, I have to admit I have some of my own superstitions. For example, though I know Jesus tells us that God makes the rain fall on the just and unjust, I still sometimes imagine God as trying to send me messages through difficulty or trial.

All of which reminds me of a phrase I learned when I served in small-town churches. The phrase was “don’t borrow worry.”

Which reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 6:25-34.

In teaching the disciples (and everyone else in the crowd that day) not to worry, but, rather, to seek God first. Peter advises us all to, “Throw all your anxiety onto him [Jesus], because he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

So, if you are anxious today, or any day, take a deep breath. Hold it for a 5 count, and release it slowly. Do it again. As you breathe slowly, try a breath prayer.

Here is a traditional breath prayer: As you inhale, think, “Jesus Christ, Son of God.” Imagine yourself actually breathing God’s presence in. Then, as you exhale, think, “have mercy on me a sinner.” Again, as you exhale, imagine yourself actually breathing your sins out, away from you.

Just slowing your breathing will reduce anxiety. Coupling it with such a prayer helps us to “seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness.”

Which is a good thing to do whether it is Friday the 13th or not!

Peace,
Pastor Steve Heyduck

Are we in Sync?

I saw and re-tweeted a request for prayer for Belize this morning. Our Church is sending a team on mission there in April, so it caught my attention.

That I was invited to pray for Belize wasn’t blog-worthy. The other point the tweet shared was. Apparently much of Belize has been evangelized, but there is much religious syncretism there. Syncretism is, simply put, the blending of practices and/or beliefs of at least 2 different religions.

So today Belize and the challenges of religious syncretism are in my prayers today. But I cannot prayer for such a thing in one area without it raising my awareness in others.

Which brings me to the tour of the U.S. Capitol last July. We had a great time on the tour provided by the office of Senator Jerry Moran (we were with my in-laws who live in Kansas).  Near the end of this tour, our group huddled in the rotunda so we could hear our tour guide. She invited us all to look up and see the impressive painting inside the dome itself. Painted by Italian Constantino Brumidi in 1865, she explained that the painting is called “The Apotheosis of Washington.” She translated this for us as “George Washington goes to heaven.”usa-us_capitol3.jpg

Which is, I explained later, so as not to embarrass her, technically true. But apotheosis carries much more meaning than simply “goes to heaven.”

Apotheosis was a term used by Roman Emperors in the early days of Christianity. Specifically, apotheosis was the word for the claim that after a Caesar died, he became a god.

I have never heard anyone claim that George Washington became a god. I have, however, heard the founding era in our history glorified in ways that, frankly, concern me that religious syncretism is not a danger only in other countries and for other people.

While we pray for the challenges of religious syncretism in other nations, let us also be wary of the danger of religious syncretism in our own.

Thoughts and Prayers

ringing-icon-on-a-mobile-phone-showing-smartphone-call_fkJ4m7vd.jpgOver the years, I have gotten to the place where I don’t blog in a reactionary way as I once did. But the school shooting in Florida last week has gotten me thinking.

Ok, that’s not exactly right. The Parkland High school shooting has gotten me praying and thinking – trying to find something to do besides praying and thinking. yes, I have been praying and thinking about what do to beyond praying and thinking.

And then, wouldn’t you know it, I hear a cell phone notification tone during Young Disciples Time at our 8:30 am worship service. It wasn’t too loud; actually, not really loud enough to be distracting.

But loud enough to get me thinking.

You see, I was already determined to focus the pastoral prayer that morning on inviting God to challenge us, God’s people, followers of Jesus, to do something as a response to the incredible rise of school shootings.

We need to pray, this is beyond question. But it seems that at times like this – especially as there are SO MANY times like this! – to say we should pray can become a cop out.

“Well, I’ve prayed, I don’t know what else I can do!” we might be tempted to say.

And then the notification tone. Which, of course, made me check my phone. It wasn’t on silent!  I quickly, simply, silently, switched it to silent.

I did not pray and ask God to silence my phone.

That would have been missing the point entirely of God having created us in God’s own image and calling us into partnership for stewarding creation.

I can, of course, pray and ask God to help me remember to silence my phone. But it makes little sense to leave such a thing to making a request of God when there is something I can do.

So: I don’t know exactly what we are going to do as Americans about the tragedy of school shootings, but I know prayer can’t be all we do.

We must at least remember, as we pray, that prayer is communication between us and God.

We talk, God listens.

God talks, we listen.

Not always necessarily in this order.  ( we who recognize prevenient grace would likely have to admit that some of the times we pray we pray in response to the Holy Spirit’s urging.)

When we dare pray about school shootings, I feel pretty confident God is going to answer us.

Are we ready to hear what God has to say? I don’t know for sure. But I do know that if by “praying” I mean “tell God how bothered you are about ______ and leave it up to God to fix it,” I’ve not actually come to grips with what prayer is.

AnticipATE to DedicATE

Empty wishlist for Santa Claus laid on a wooden table

Don’t let it escape your notice, dear friends, that with the Lord a single day is like 1000 years and a 1000 years are like a single day. The Lord isn’t slow to keep his promise,a s some think of slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives.

What does that mean?

If God doesn’t want anyone to perish, can’t God make it so no one will perish?

If God doesn’t want anyone to perish, why do some people persist in making God out to be mean, bloodthirsty, or eager to condemn some people to hell?

If God doesn’t want anyone to perish, Don’t you suppose that guilt you carry around, that voice that whispers to you that you haven’t done enough, or you aren’t good enough, is NOT coming from God?

I hope you’ll listen for the voice of God; especially this time of year. It is hard, because we want to anticipate. What we don’t know we make up and plan accordingly, sometimes with leaving us with deep despair, frustration, and even anger.

Today’s reading in 2 Peter joins Jesus’ teaching in Mark 13 from last week, and fills our over-graphic-induced brains with imaginations based more on Hal Lindsey, Tim Lahaye, and Jerry Jenkins than on scripture.

Sure; there is the fear-invoking, imagination-inducing language of ”But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. On that day the heavens will pass away with a dreadful noise, the elements will be consumed by fire, and the earth and all the works done on it will be exposed.”

But, I hope you noticed, Peter follows immediately with this question: “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be?

Great question, Peter!

“You must live holy and godly lives, waiting for and hastening the coming day of God. He continues in v. 14: Therefore, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found by him in peace – pure and faultless.”

There we go: live holy and godly lives, make every effort to be found by him in peace, pure, and faultless. I think a reasonable shorthand for that is “trying to follow Jesus better today than yesterday.”

As we approached Y2K (remember that?), sales in Christian bookstores (that was, for all practical purposes, before Amazon), sales of books and videos about the end of the world boomed.

They rose precipitously again immediately after 9-11.

Now, here’s an interesting thing I hope you’ll help me figure out. Immediately after 9-11, crime rates and suicide rates plummeted. The number of new prescriptions for antidepressants dropped.

Why? The country pulled together to counteract and resist evil.

And what did Christians do? Well, hopefully most of us joined with everyone else and prayed and worked and hugged a little extra.

But we also suddenly bought more books about prophecy and the end of the world.

Why? I believe because we have an anticipation problem. We passively anticipate what God’s going to do, and sit on our hands.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, God’s people had been anticipating the coming of the Messiah for quite some time. and they did so with varying amounts of energy and intensity. Sime nearly paralyzed by anticipation and expectation, others going on with life almost as if Messiah would never come.

But there was this strong stream in Judaism of the day which taught that God’s people were to practice living as if Messiah was coming tomorrow.

Can you imagine Mary and Joseph trekking to Bethlehem – she very pregnant, he likely uncertain exactly what was going on. Yet they proceeded.

Anticipation can paralyze. If I just sit and wait, and make up stuff in my head about what’s going to happen and what isn’t.  But Anticipation doesn’t have to paralyze. Mary and Joseph responded to the good and great news they had been given with a dedication to do what they needed to do.

Anticipation of Christmas expectations can paralyze us. Or they can send us into a downward,darkward spiral. Or Anticipation can draw us toward the wonderful event that we recognize at Christmas. The event that HAS happened, and that can happen again in us and among us.

Today, we want to make sure that anticipation propels us to action. We don’t want anticipation to paralyze us.

For example, like it did me when I was a teenager. And I presume I’m not the only one this happened to. Working up the courage to ask a girl out. Or even just to call her. I’ve heard that kind of anticipation works both ways – that it isn’t gender specific.

I got to re-live all that about 15 years ago, when I found myself single again at around 40.

To my surprise, it hadn’t changed much. Dial all but the last digit of her phone number, and pace my parsonage. Was  I ready for this? Ok, what would I say? “Hi, it’s Steve.” No, too obvious. Everyone had caller id, she’d know it was me!  How about a joke?  Will she like a joke?  Not too funny. Not too corny, either.

Dial the number. Hang up quickly.

Dial the number, actually listen to it ring. Get voicemail, hang up. Realize 2.3 seconds later that she has caller id. Now she’ll get home, see that you called, and that you hung up on her answering machine!

How does this end well?

I don’t know about for you, but for me all that ended well ‘cause I married Rachel.

But has it really ended?

Sure, the anticipation of will she answer the phone, will she go out with me, will she say yes, etc., may be behind us, but oh, the anticipation doesn’t die so easily.

And you know what I’m talking about, whether or not you are married or ever have been or ever want to be. You know because you also anticipate. Make up scenarios in your mind about how things will or won’t work out. Many of us not only run these scenarios, almost constantly, through our minds, but also bring God into the equation.

We make up what we are going to do, what other people are going to do, and what God is going to do. Or what God will think. Or how God will be disappointed.

I don’t know about you, but I had a much easier time on my wedding day picturing an awesome future with Rachel than I did when I was holding my phone, one number away from dialing, wondering what might happen.

Yet, some of us enter marriage with a very similar plan as when we’re summoning the courage to make that first call. Or text. Or WhatsApp, or whatever.

Some of us enter marriage with an expectation that we’ve done this, now it will just happen. We’ll live “happily ever after.” Everything will be awesome. Maybe we watch videos or read stories about the “perfect” marriages and think that’ll just happen to us.

You don’t have to be married more than maybe a week before you see life doesn’t work that way.

A good life, a good relationship, doesn’t just happen. You can’t anticipate your way into it.

It takes work. It takes effort. It requires patience with yourself and with the other.

You have to dedicate yourself to it, to others.

Let’s walk away from anticipation this morning, and move toward dedication.

You see, while 2 people may actually DECIDE to get married, being married isn’t a decision; it is a commitment. A dedication.

A good, healthy marriage requires numerous decisions – thousands over the years, and multiple decisions a day.

Kinda like baptism.

Which brings us to the Gospel reading for the day. Jesus is baptized. Baptism isn’t a decision to get wet. Baptism is a commitment, a dedication, to a way of life. That’s why when we baptize babies, we all commit to doing all we can to

“Surround that child with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in their service to others.” We agree – we commit – to “pray for them that they may be true disciples.”

They can’t possibly follow Jesus on their own. Not now, not when they’re grown up, either. Because when they grow up, they start to anticipate, rather than dedicate.

Remember what Peter calls us to do? Live holy and godly lives, make every effort to be found by him in peace, pure, and faultless.

This will take dedication! Which might start with a decision, but one decision is never enough.

John Wesley was challenged by some free-church traditioned people on his support of infant baptism. These were people who practiced “believer’s baptism’ – that people were baptized only after their own profession of faith, not as infants or small children. They asked Wesley: “Do you think they can rely on that experience as a baby so many years later when they are an adult?” they asked.

“No more,” Wesley answered, “than I would say that someone baptized at age 21, who arrives at the age of 30 with no other evidence of God in his or her life, ought to count on that singular experience.”

One decision does not a dedication make. But one decision can be a first step to a commitment, to a dedication. To thousands more decisions along the same way. Eugene Peterson has a magnificent book titled, “A long obedience in the same direction.” The subtitle is “Discipleship in an instant age.” And that was written in 1980.

Instant has only gotten instanter. We need a long obedience in the same direction. We need dedication, not just decision. We need to let go of our anticipation, and follow Jesus.

So I’m going to invite you to do something. Yes, I know, this is just one decision, one action, but it can be the start of a long obedience in the same direction. It can be the start of a dedication replacing a decision. It can be taking up the commitment you made, or that was made for you, at your baptism. It can also be a jump-start. Maybe you’ve been dedicated before, but that’s grown cold. Or distant.

I invite you simply to mark on your connection card that you are interested in moving from anticipATE to dedicATE; from decision to dedication.

We are going to start a process in the new year, an historic, Wesleyan process, that will give everyone who is interested the opportunity to dedicate themselves – their lives – to trying to follow Jesus better today than yesterday.

I hope you’ll consider it.

Yes, Caesar, whatever you say, Caesar

veterans-dayWithin limits, of course.

If you know me at all, you can imagine how confused I was to hear this yesterday at our church’s Veteran’s Day Luncheon:

Note the order here: the nation was telling the churches to celebrate this day.

I reacted, but controlled it. Someone else had the floor. This gave me time to figure my response.

The State doesn’t tell the church what to do!  How dare they? Who do they think they are. The wheels of thought spun inside me, measured by the knowledge that I was surrounded by people, many of whom had served in war, and at least some of whom don’t have exactly the same ecclesiology I do.

As the speaker concluded, she shared that this description of the history of Veteran’s Day came from The United Methodist Church.

My thoughts took an abrupt turn, but not full 180.

Promoting and enduring peace and honoring those who offered themselves to the cause of freedom and justice were certainly worthy values that I could encourage, even lead, my church to uphold.

I’m still nonconstantinian, but I have realized that maybe there is more left to render to Caesar than I thought before yesterday.