Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Be Thankful!

Tuesday greetings!

In the season of Thanksgiving, we are all reminded of how blessed we are in our lives, but what does it mean to be truly thankful?

What are you thankful for? Personally, I am thankful for the Vols, good food, Ellen, Carter, Alex, and Mac. I am thankful for my family, friends, and neighbors.
                                                                                    (this section was written by Ellen C.)
As always, I think the first place you need to start when you are trying to figure out the true meaning of something is to look at the word itself.

The word thankfulness, as used in the New Testament of the Bible, come from the use of two Greek words.  The first word being charizomai, which comes from charis meaning “grace.”  The second word is homologeo meaning “to confess or acknowledge.”  Therefore, thankfulness is a mental and or verbal expression of one’s acknowledgement and appreciation of God’s person, God’s grace, blessings, and sovereign work in one’s life and the world.

That may sound a bit confusing and hard to understand but it does bring up some very good points.  The key point being that we should be thankful. 

How important is it to be thankful?  Important enough that the word Eucharist or communion, the name from which our church gets it wonderful name from, actual means The Great Thanksgiving.

Did you know that?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time that reminds us how important it is to give thanks.  We are able to verbally show our gratitude to others and share how grateful we are for all the blessings in this life.

But why do we only fully celebrate the act of giving thanks one day out of the year?

This Sunday, as you sit in the pews, I want you to listen during the Prayers of the People.  There is a spot where there is a pause and we asked to give thanks and add our own petitions that we are thankful for…

This is one of those times that we are asked to speak, given the chance to acknowledge and be thankful!  Yet, I promise you that during this time all you will hear is silence.

Why do we struggle to give thanks!

Why is it that in today’s society we find it so difficult to acknowledge and give credit to others?  Is being independent so engrained in our culture that we lack the capability to truly give thanks at all times?

This Thanksgiving, I propose a challenge.

Break the mold.

As you gather for your big feast on Thanksgiving Day, share all your thanks with those around as you normally would.

But then, the day after thanksgiving…do it again.

Then again…

And again…

Imagine what type of place the world would be if we truly gave thanks for everything all the time, everyday?

When you hear that, how many of you first think….Hmm, that would be weird!!!

I don’t think it is.  I think it is weirder to not be thankful. 

As we go through the holidays, remember how the different people have been there for you.  Remember all of those who have helped you out or maybe even just listened when you needed to vent.

Remember them.  Not just one day of the year.  Always be thankful!

Thanks be to God!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Church and the Holy Spirit

One topic that is always difficult to explain in the church is the Trinity.  It isn’t always the easiest concept to grasp.   

Three in one and one in three. 

How is that not the least bit confusing?

The joke about Trinity Sunday is that you make the young fresh out of seminary priest preach on that Sunday because the more experienced priests know how difficult it is to write those sermons.

When it comes to the Trinity, I think it is the Holy Spirit that is the most difficult to explain.  Historically, this is one of the hot topic issues of the church.  The concept of the Holy Spirit was one of the big reasons that the Roman Catholic and the Greek Orthodox Churches split!

Well, now I am going to take a stab at speaking about the presence of the Holy Spirit.  I am a good one to do so because of one very good reason.

I have seen the Holy Spirit.

This past weekend I was one of 58 youth and adults who act like youth that attended the yearly Diocesan Youth retreat known as Bishop’s Bash.  Talk about an amazing time!

Over the years, this has not been the strongest program offered dropping down to as little as 23 people present at the event last year. This year…58.

When I look back at my experiences in youth group, it is very difficult to put my finger on exactly what it was that kept me coming back.  There was never really one amazing outstanding moment or epiphany that I had that opened my eyes to what the church was or helped me continually try to strengthen my faith.  There wasn’t one single moment because I believe that all the moments did that. 

I will admit that in high school, sitting in a pew for church did not mean much to me.  Again, I will be honest and say that even to this day, sometimes I struggle with that same thing.  Finding church in the church.

One lesson I learned was that you don’t have to be in church to learn about the church or to find the church.  A church is much more than a building with a cross on it.  Yes, that is the physical place that we call a church.  However, the church is so much more.

It is the people that make the church.  If you love running and you find peace while out on a run and experience something special, then why can’t that be the church for you?  If you love playing sports and you truly enjoy it! Why can’t that be worship if you are celebrating the gifts that God has blessed you with!

A few years ago, Bishop Curry of the Diocese of North Carolina came to the Calvary Lenten Preaching series.  In his sermon he spoke on the subject of why the numbers of people going to church or steadily declining.  His answer, the church as we know it is dying. 

Well, what can we do about that? 

Simple, take the church to them!

If it is a struggle to get someone to church to worship, go to them and show them that the church is so much more than simply a building.

I have seen the church at work in so many wonderful places this past year.  On the soccer field watching the team I coach celebrate after scoring their first goal of the season that they forgot they had to line up for a kick off.

At the Corn Maze at the agricenter when I watched 75 youth come out and play and explore and work together to find their way through the brain shaped maze cut into the corn.

In the youth room when one youth offers to tutor another who is struggling in a certain subject.

If you take the church to the people and show them what it really means to be a Christian then you will accomplish so much more than if you just invite them to church.

Live the life, take the church to the people, and see what happens.

Want an example?

So as I said, this past weekend was Bishop’s Bash.  After the weekend was over, we send everyone home.  Do they leave?


We look out on the porch and see everyone one of them outside playing a game called “Couches”.  No one wanted to leave. 

Finally, after getting them to leave one question was asked, “Matt, what’s EYC tonight!?”

Really?  We just spent the past 45 hours together on this retreat.  The one thing they wanted to do was spend more time together.

About 3 hours later as we gathered in the youth room, about 15 youth just sat and hung out for over 2 hours. 

When you take the church to others, the response can be amazing.  Show them what the church really is, what it can really mean, and then they will choose to go on their own.

Now what does this have anything to do with the Holy Spirit?

You know that feeling you get when you should leave but don’t want to.

When you try to leave church but stop in the Parish Hall to talk to one person.  Then another.  And another…before you know it another hour has passed.

That is the same feeling I experienced when I was a youth.  I never wanted to leave the church.  Not because I was at the church, but because the people I was with was the church for me.  That is what happened this weekend.  This group of youth, that just wants to spend time together.  They are the church for each other.  That feeling you get when you start to walk away to go home but hesitate….stop and keep talking…

That, my friend, is the Holy Spirit.  That is the church.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Street

Ok, so why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed cross the road?

Now I must admit this is not a joke that I came up with while sitting here in my office.  It is actually a book by Brian McLaren in which the title of the book poses this question.

There is no punch line but it does pose a pretty interesting question.  Imagine that group of people all together, just strolling across the street.  How would that conversation go?  What would they talk about?

Here we have figureheads from four of the major religions in the world.  Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam.  How do you think they would treat each other?

Compare that to how do we treat each other in today’s society?

If we take a look at the teachings of each of these religions, I wonder what we can learn from how each of us should treat each other.

Let’s start with Moses.

Now the teachings of Moses are sometimes difficult to track down but he did teach that if you would obey God, "He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will multiply the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land -- the corn, wine, oil, and your flocks. You shall be prospered above all people, and the Lord your God will take away from you all sickness and will put none of the evil diseases of Egypt upon you." He even said: "Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the power to get wealth." "You shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. You shall reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over you."

What are the laws that he says to obey?  Well, those are well documented in the Bible as the Ten Commandments.  When these commandments were given to Moses, the people celebrated because it was an outline of how the people could show to love God. 

So here we have the basic premise of these Divine Laws being love.

Moving on…the Buddha.

Once the Dali Lama claimed that his religion was kindness.  Looking back at the teachings of the Buddha, love was essential to a life of spiritual liberation.  Loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and a particular form of equanimity are the four kinds of love taught and encouraged in classic Buddhist teachings.

Again, we have love as a basic premise to the teachings of the Buddha.

Next, lets look at Mohammed.

Did you know that when Mohammed first founded Islam that it was designed with the intention of taking aspects of the major religions of the world and combining them into a religion that could be widely accepted by all.

When thinking of tolerance and love, Mohammed had this to say,”Once the Prophet was seated at some place in Madinah, along with his Companions. During this time a funeral procession passed by. On seeing this, the Prophet stood up. One of his companions remarked that the funeral was that of a Jew. The Prophet replied, "Was he not a human being?" (Sahîh Bukhârî, Sahîh Muslim, Sunan An-Nasâ'î)

So, the basic premise of Islam was unity and caring for all people, regardless of faith.  Again, another religion where love for all people is at the root of the religion.

Which finally brings me to Jesus.

Whenever I think of what the teachings of Jesus were I always think of Matthew 22:37-39.

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

Last year, I worked at a retreat where we focused on this verse with the theme of the week being “Walk in Love”.

So if these are the greatest to commandments given to us by Jesus, again we love at the center of it all.

This past weekend I was lucky enough to return to my Alma Mater, the University of Tennessee, to watch Auburn run all over my beloved Vols.

While the game itself was not what I was hoping for, the experience I had will not soon forget.

I was able to reunite with many of friends from school and catch up.  In my lifetime I have seen many friendships struggle when the topic of religion is introduced.  It can tear people apart. 

Luckily for me, this has not been the case.  While I have many friends that all fall in the category of the “Episco-posse”, I also have many that do not fall under that category.

My friend group from school included me, a Christian, an atheist, a Muslim, and a Catholic.  Religion never got in the way of our friendship.  We all knew where each other stood, discussed it and all got along anyway.

This weekend reminded me of this book by Brian McLaren.  So imagine that Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed were crossing the street…

Four people whose foundation of their teachings were love and compassion.

Imagine if we lived in a world where we were all so accepting and tolerant of everyone else, regardless of religion or any differences we may have.

How are we doing in our lives at living out the teachings of love that is at the very premise of the religion that we claim to follow?

So, Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed were crossing the street…

How different would the world be if we all lived that way?  Imagine how different it would be if just one person showed love to someone who may be a little different that you.

Do you think it would catch on? 

Isn’t that worth a try?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

God...Our Number one Fan!

Tuesday greetings! 

It is no surprise to anyone that knows me but I am a huge Tennessee fan.  More often than not I am wearing something that has orange on it and someone will always point out that I wear orange every single day.

It is also not really a secret that right now, Tennessee really isn’t that great at football.

Tennessee Football, which is suppose to be an outstanding program, hasn’t had a winning season since 2007 and has a 20-26 win-lose record since that season.  One of those loses coming at the hands of Kentucky.  A lose that ended a 26 year old win streak for UT. 

My favorite pro team is of course the Tennessee Titans.  Who have not really had an outstanding season since the likes of Steve McNair, Eddie George, Kevin Dyson, and Blaine Bishop were on the field.  There was that one 11-0 start but let’s be honest.  That may have just been a fluke because they started the next season 0-6.

Now, you may be thinking...why on earth are you just sharing facts about how bad these teams are...

What does this have anything to do about church?

Well, it’s the south...so everything can relate to football, right?

Many times in our lives as Christians, we are faced with challenges and difficult decisions.  We have obstacles set in our way and they make it difficult for us.

It can be any number of things that burden us.  You may experience a death in the family, or you may have had a falling out with a friend.  Someone close to you may be sick and you are worried for them.  School may really be kicking your butt right now and you are really worried about your grades.  Or maybe you just aren’t happy with something in your life and you feel far from God.

Now over these past few years, I have never strayed from my fandom towards my Tennessee teams.  I have rejoiced during the glorious upsets and may have shed a few tears during the lows.  I have laughed at some situations because I didn’t know how else to respond and I have become so angry that I have had to close the window so my neighbors couldn’t hear me yelling at the TV. 

Some may be thinking, that’s a little cray cray.  Also a lot of you are probably thinking, yup, I know what you mean.

Being a die hard fan for a team is not easy.  You have to endure the ups and downs, the bad trades, and the guarantee draft pick that will turn your team around that ends up being a complete bust.  You see the program be built up, torn apart, rebuilt, suffer injuries, coaches come and go, but in the end, you remember that history and stay loyal to that team. 

It is hard to be a fan.  It is also hard to be a Christian.

In our lives we have our ups and downs.  We have those times that we have everything together and things are going great.  Then something happens and we feel completely broken.  We build ourselves back up.  Things happen in our lives that hurt us and leave scars.  We forgive and move on but we don’t forget the lessons we learn.  We may have one person that you look up to for years and years and even if they are not there anymore you can still think back to the lessons they taught you.  You can be hurt so bad that you want to turn away from God because you don’t understand why!  Why would, why could this happen!? 

In my life I have learned that, yes, sometimes bad things may happen to me but does that mean give up?

I look back and rejoice.  I am who I am today because of what has happened in my life.  The good and the bad.  The ups and the downs.  They make up the story of my life.  They make me who I am.  We are called to love ourselves.  The good and the bad.  The good decisions and the mistakes. 

Even if you don’t see it in the moment or are not even looking for it, God has not and will not give up on you.  God will always be searching and trying to stay with you through thick and thin.  God is loyal to you because you were created in God’s image.  You were God’s favorite creation.  God loves you and will always stand by your side.  God is you loyal die hard fan.

If we can have so much love for a sports team that not only gives us reason to celebrate but also hurts us, why can we have that same relationship with God?  Why is it easier to turn our backs to God than it is to a football team?