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.

I (h)ate Christmas Sermon 3

Empty wishlist for Santa Claus laid on a wooden table
 Advent 2017.3: DesperATE to ImmediATE

I don’t know if this is true, but rumor had it, when I was a college student, federal regulations said you couldn’t call something a hamburger that wasn’t pure beef.

You couldn’t just google it back then.

We began to wonder when the campus dining hall would post the day’s menu with things like “beef patty on bun.”

What’s the difference between a “hamburger” and a “beef patty on bun”?

We weren’t sure, so we figured naming rights were somehow involved. You couldn’t call it a hamburger unless it was all hanburger. Sure, “beef patty on bun” implies some beef, but that word “patty” leaves a lot of wiggle room.

Like, I learned this week, peanut butter has to be a minimum of 90% actual peanuts. That’s why, you’ll notice, there are jars of product on the shelves in the “peanut butter” section of your grocery store that say “peanut butter spread.” “Spread” is the wiggle room.

And, you probably knew this, but Pringles are not actually potato chips. They are less than 50% potato! And I don’t know about you, but I’ll probably go on eating pringles, even though I know this!

I think we’d all agree, wouldn’t we, that transparency is important.

When Jif Peanut butter first entered the market, they didn’t want to have to admit to the public – to peanut butter buyers, that it was 20% crisco, but I’d want to know if what I thought was peanut butter was ⅕ crisco!

Jiff has long since raised their peanut butter content to at least 90% peanuts. So don’t worry.

What’s in a name?

In Bible times, names had significance.”Israel” means “to struggle with God and men and win.” “Jesus” means “Yahweh is salvation,” and is the same name in Hebrew as Joshua – in the bible we get one directly from Hebrew, the other through the Greek.

The name “John” comes from Hebrew for “Yahweh is gracious.”

That wasn’t enough for Jewish leaders in John chapter 1. They wanted to know more because of what John was doing and how many people were seeking him for what he was doing.

John the Baptist had gotten their attention, so they wanted to know more.

John confessed (and didn’t deny) that he was not the Christ. Serious clarification there, huh? That wasn’t enough.

They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

John said, “I’m not.”

“Are you the prophet?”

John answered, “No.”

They asked, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

John replied,
“‘I am a voice crying out in the wilderness,
   Make the Lord’s path straight,’
just as the prophet Isaiah said.”

Sometimes when we want clarification and details and transparency, what we really want is control.

In Genesis 32, when God and Jacob are wrestling, and Jacob won’t give up, God asks for his name. There was an understanding that knowing someone’s name could give you some power over them.

We want to know names, and we want answers – often because we, too, think that knowing gives us control.

In the early days of social media and internet gaming and chat rooms, almost no one used their real name. Many of us still have email addresses that hide our actual identity.

We want to know, and to control, and we don’t want others to know too much, or to control us.

Too much desire for knowledge and control, though, leads to desperation.

Especially in this information age, we can never know enough or control enough to guarantee our own safety or security. Focussing too much doing so leaves one feeling nothing but desperate.

This is not the time of year when anyone wants to feel desperate, but, can we admit, we do?

I tend to feel desperate when, usually on December 23rd or so, I realize that the shopping I have to do isn’t just going to happen. I have to do something!

And, full disclosure, Rachel takes responsibility for almost all of “our” christmas shopping. All that’s left for me to do is “my” christmas shopping.

And I have been slow to learn that it won’t just happen. I have to decide to make it happen, and then I have to act.let

So, I don’t know how desperate you feel right now, but I want to offer you an alternative for the day.

This won’t take care of the shopping you have left to do, but it will help you face it.

For right now, give up a little need for knowledge and control. If you need knowledge, get out your Advent book and open to today’s order. There’s the song order.

That’s all you’ll need. Other than that, receive it. Accept it. Let being here replace your frustration. Let the immediate, the now, the right here, the presence of God, melt your desperation away.

Because what we really want is for you to receive this cantata. Receive it, accept it. Now.

Jesus warned us (in the Sermon on the Mount)  not to borrow worry. Not about tomorrow, our about clothing, or food, or any of the other issues that tempt us to desperation.

Words cannot grasp or define or limit God, though we may try. So let them go.

Trade the desperate for the Immediate. And receive our choir’s cantata. Let it bless you, and bring you into the very presence of God!

Not aimed at you

young-girl-cryingOnce I noticed the little girl crying, I could not not think about it.

Being at an elementary school to meet with a 4th grader I mentor, I was sensitive to the little girl’s privacy and space. Had this happened at the church I pastor, I wouldn’t have felt the same nudge to maintain my distance.

After all, at least two teachers had stopped to talk with her.

Her situation wasn’t desperate or an emergency, but I still could not really focus on anything else. After all, I’d just preached on our “participating in Christ’s suffering” in Philippians 3. Part of what Paul is writing about, I argued, is that we must be willing to feel.

And, oh, was I feeling. So I was praying.  But I wasn’t willing only to pray, so I decided I would ask a teacher.

I caught one of the teachers on lunch duty and asked. Of course, I started with, “I realize this may be none of my business….”

“She’s homesick.”  Then the teacher added, “and she sees these tables (where I was sitting) other parents come to see their kids, and it doesn’t help.”

I was an adult there to visit a child. Not my child. Yet, my actions, to a homesick little girl, could add to her feelings of homesickness. But my visit wasn’t aimed at her.

Almost every time there is a disaster somewhere, and someone gives thanks for being spared, someone else replies with some version of “Why are you thankful? Are you saying God struck down the people who weren’t spared?”

To be fair, with almost every disaster, it is a matter of minutes before someone somewhere casts judgment, and claims God sent the disaster.

But most of us, in expressing thanks, or in simply trying to do something good (like visit a child at lunch), aren’t aiming our intentions at you.

And I’ll try to remember this next time I’m the hurt or grieving one and I observe someone experiencing joy.

Because we all get to live both sides of this one.

 

#UMCGC and moving on to perfection

perfection meme

Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?

For at least the last 25 years, I have answered this question, “Yes, by the grace of God.”

The other seven members of my ordination class in the Texas Annual Conference in 1991 answered the same. As far as I know, every ordained United Methodist has answered the same way.

I was pretty sure that the eight of us didn’t have exactly the same understanding of what this question meant. No one asked. No explanation, no dissertation was required

I can tell you that I full on loved that question!  Fresh out of Asbury Seminary, I was deeply committed to living into Christian Perfection. Wesley’s teaching on perfection played an essential role in my choice of seminary.

When I was 27 I fully expected, by the grace of God, to be made perfect in love in this life.

Today, at 52 I still fully expect, by the grace of God, to be made perfect in love in this life.

My understanding of what it means, and towards what, particularly, I am moving, has changed. If it hadn’t, I would have serious reservations about my fitness for effective ministry.

I haven’t talked to anyone from my ordination class in at least 20 years.  This is partly because I have changed conferences; I am now a clergy member of the Central Texas Conference.

Occasionally I wonder what the 27 year old Steve Heyduck would think of the 52 year old version. There would be some serious disagreements. And yet, we are together. I wouldn’t be the me I am today had I not been him then.

I wouldn’t be committed today to being made perfect in love in this life were it not for my original commitment then. With 25+ years on this path, then, I have to think I’m closer now than I was then.  If I didn’t believe this, I would owe it to the Church to surrender my credentials and find another vocation.

 

W’s Q’s #4

wesleys questionsPart of John Wesley’s genius, as the founder of the Methodist Movement, was the way he organized to make disciples. He established small groups everywhere he went. When these small groups met, they would go through a list of questions at each meeting. The questions were designed to guide the group members into a deeper walk with God.

Here is the fourth question:

  1. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work , or habits?

 

Wesley knew better than to think that spirituality, or following Jesus, was simply a matter of spending time each day in prayer and bible study. He knew that following Jesus would affect every area of our lives: including the way we dress, our choice of friends, where and how we work, and habits we hold on to.

But the wording of this question reminds us that neither is following Jesus only about shopping at different stores, befriending a different group of people, etc.  The beginning of the question is as important to the disciple of Jesus as the ending: “Am I a slave…?”

In John 8:31-32 Jesus said “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teaching. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Following Jesus sets us free from all matters of bondage, including things like clothing, friends, work, and habits.

Perhaps the most basic way this question challenges us to grow is in facing the truth that everyone who follows Jesus doesn’t look exactly like us. They won’t all dress the same, have the same friends, work the same jobs, or have exactly the same habits.

I’m reminded of a story told by a deeply faithful Free Methodist college Professor.  His young adult daugther was in a relationship with a young man of the Dutch Reformed tradion.  Unlike the Free Methodists, Dutch Reformed do not carry the same social taboos on alcohol and tobacco.

Knowing the young man to be a committed Christian nevertheless, this professor told me how he and his wife sought to reach out across such different practices. If their daughter was serious about him, they would make every effort. They invited him to join them at the symphony.

The young man graciously declined. “While I very much appreciate the invitation, I would never dream of doing such a thing on the sabbath,” he told them.

When we find ourselves enslaved to some social particulars, we might set up barriers that keep us from fellowship, and that can poorly represent our Lord.

Dress, friends, work, and habits matter. They matter deeply.  But they are not lord of our lives. That place is reserved for Jesus.