Tuesday, May 12, 2015

God first, Fail Big

Well it is that time of the year again…graduations… end of school and the start of summer.

It is an oxymoronic time too.  We experience the joyful sadness of school ending and vacations starting. 

We enjoy the festive tranquility that this much needed break offers.    

Now instead of becoming redundant with my awfully good examples of oxymoronic phrases…

Speaking of oxymoron, who hear remembers the song Bitter Sweet Symphony by the Verve?  For some reason, this song always makes me think of graduation. 

This 1997 hit song really deals with something a think a lot of people deal with… being torn between taking a path you feel compelled to go down vs. a path you want to follow.

Whether this is about which college or school you want to go to, or what sport you want to play, what classes to take, what job to get… What drives us to make the decisions we make?

In today’s society, money seems to be a huge factor in the decisions we make.

This career will pay me more than that one.

This school is giving me more of a scholarship than that one.

But this makes me ask…is that right?!

When I was younger I KNEW what I wanted to do when I was older… 

For the longest time I just KNEW that I was going to the starting forward for the US National Soccer team.  I did the math and figured that by the age of 17 I would be able to play in 2006 World Cup in Germany.  Getting started so early would mean that I would then also be able to play in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.  And naturally, since I was going to have a long career because I would just never suffer an injuries, I would then be able to play in the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and would be able to retire in my mid 30’s.  I had my whole life figured out.

But of course, I had to have a back-up plan….you know, just in case.  So I was going to the next Frank Lloyd Wright.  Because becoming one of the most recognizable, famous architects in the world.  But I was going to do him one better.  I wasn’t just going to design the buildings…I was also going to be a carpenter and physically build the houses I designed myself.

So there I was… 12 years old and I had my whole life figured out.

I loved playing soccer… so I was going to do that for a living.

I loved drawing and designing things…so I was going to do that for a living.

I loved making things and watching as things came together… so I was going to do that for a living.

As I was thinking back to this…I realized something…

Never, not for a second did that little 12 year old version of myself ever factor in money into my decisions.  It was not something I cared about.  I simply wanted to do something that I loved.

This morning I stumbled across a commencement speech given at Dillard University by the one and only Denzel Washington.

You can watch the whole video here,

 but some of the things he said are great things to keep in mind.

1.        1.  Put God first.  Especially for our youth that are heading off to college, this is extremely difficult.  I have mentioned this stat many times in the past.  Typically speaking 70-75% of high school youth who are active in youth group at a church will leave after graduation.  To put this in perspective, we just celebrated about 15 of our high school seniors.  Statistics say that in 4 years, only 4 of them will still be involved with a church.  As Denzel says, “…I didn’t always stick with Him, but He stuck with me.”  You may wander, but God will always be there.  Put God first in everything you do and remember that everything we have is because of the grace of God.

      2.   Fail Big.  When I first started at Holy Communion, I am not going to lie…I had no idea what I was doing.  They do not really have many classes that prepare you exactly what it is going to be like to be a youth minister.  You instantly become a logistics professional, a hype man, a therapists, a teacher, a preacher, a leader, a follower, a role model, a friend, a mentor, a marketing and advertisement agency, a write, a scholar, a finance officer…but one thing I was told was to just fail forward.  Everything you do will not always work out.  But take a lesson from everything you do and keep moving forward.  Don’t be afraid to fail…especially if you are dreaming big.

       3.    You never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.   About 2000 BC, the Egyptians built pyramids as tombs for the pharaohs and their queens.  In the rooms that they were buried, all of the belongings and wealth was buried in the room with their bodies.  They believed that they need there riches to support themselves in the afterlife.  That is not what we believe today.  When asked what he needed to do to follow Jesus, the rich young ruler was told that he must first give up all his possessions.  “It’s not how much you have, it’s what you do with it.”


      4.   Say thank you.  Behind every great person…is a group of people who have been there to support you and be there for you through thick and then.  Never forget that.  One of the most amazing things I have seen this past year is the sense of community in this youth group.  There is so much love in this group.  That group is and will be there for.  When you are down, look to them to hold you up.  “When you get it, reach back, pull someone else up.”  In a society that strives to be independent, break the mold.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Farewell Dinner

This past Sunday, all the youth gathered in the Youth Room for its final EYC of the semester.  For 8 of those present, it was there last time to be at EYC as a youth.

We gathered at a large banquet table to eat and to do what this group does best...just be with each other. 

Over the years, there has been a shift in this youth group.  It has gone from a program that has loved the outdoors, high energy games to something different.  It was not long ago that following every youth group event, the youth would go into the gym to play games, run around, and attempt to play half court knock-out (a very tiring game, I might add).

This past year has not been that way.  The popular games are no longer the games and the sporty events...they are the ones that just allow them to be with each other. 

This year I have been blown away by how much each member of this group just enjoys the company of everyone else.
Instead of going to the gym, they stay in the Youth Room and talk and hang out.  After they leave this, most of them go to Starbucks and continue to hang out.
We honored our seniors this past Sunday and allowed them each to share some of their favorite memories and to pass along some advice to the younger ones in youth group.

The overriding theme to what all of them said...

Just come.  They all seemed to share how the friendships they made at EYC were the ones they knew they could count on.  That it was a place they felt welcome no matter what was going on in their lives.

I have had a blast this past year and wish nothing but the best to our graduating seniors!

And my advice for everyone else...  just come...

The friendships I made during my time at youth group are still the ones that are most important to me today...even after 10 years.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Change the World

About 2 years ago, the History channel released a 10 part mini-series that covered the Bible, cover to cover.  So we have this book that covers the creation of the world…so 4.54 billion years ago…  the birth of Jesus…which takes place roughly 400 years after the Old Testament ends…  and the History channel was able to cover ALL of that in about 10 hours.

Ok, to be honest, they kind of left some stuff out and used their creative licenses to make it ready for TV…for some reason I have a hard time believing that the angels who lead Lot out of Sodom were actually armor wearing, sword wielding, ninja angels that fought their way out of the city in what looked like a Tarantino directed battle royal…but I was not there, so I could be wrong.

While much of the story has been altered and changed, there is one part of the series that stuck out to me when I watched it for the first time 2 years ago and is something I pops into my head every now and the…today was one of those days.

As I read the news reports and watched videos of the riots in Baltimore, I can’t help but think about how terribly sad it that there is so much violence in the world.  What can we do?  What should we do?  As a Christian, how should we respond to these situations?  What is the proper course of action when everything is against you and the world is not fair?

What should we do?

My answer…I honestly don’t know.  But it is times like this that I think back to this one line from the History Channel’s take on the Bible.

In episode 5, Jesus is beginning his ministry and calls Peter to give up his job as a fisherman and become a fisher of men… When you are asked to do something, we typically have the same question, it is probably the same question that Peter asks Jesus…”What are we going to do?”

How does Jesus respond?

“We are going to change the world.”

In a time where his people are opposed and poor, and enslaved… in a time that he is surrounded by violence…Jesus begins his ministry with the goal of changing the world.
Is that what we are stilled called to do today as a follower of Christ?  Change the world?  But how do we go about doing that?

Over the past few weeks I have been a part of many conversations regarding violence and fighting verse the concept of doing the right thing.

So one of the conversations I had dealt with violence in movies and how can we find God in film.  One movie that was really focused on was the new Batman series.  Was Batman a good person?

I think at first thought, we would all agree that is good.  A person who is doing whatever they can for the betterment of those around him.  But, I don’t recall anywhere in the Bible that it says, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone…unless you are super rich and are doing stuff that you think is best for the city, then beat up anyone who gets in your way.”

So what is worse…doing bad for the greater good…or standing idly by while bad things happen?

This made me think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his works on Romans 13.  Through his works, you can see a transformation in Bonhoeffer.  In one work early on in his ministry, he wrote in full support of Romans 13, saying that people should follow the law and authority because it is all of God and it is what the Bible tells us.  However, growing up in Germany during the 1930’s, he began to question this view.  He published another paper on Romans 13.  He still supported his previous argument but it had some stipulations and was not as confident as his first writing.  There was questions about what laws should you follow.  Finally, Bonhoeffer wrote a third paper on Romans 13.  This time he claimed that you should only follow the law if it is in accordance with God and if your authority is not bringing about the kingdom of God then you should do anything within your power to stop it.  Not only did Bonhoeffer just write these papers, he lived out his beliefs.  You can see a transformation as he witnessed the terrors and horrors of Holocaust and what the Nazi party was doing to his home country.  Ultimately, Bonhoeffer was martyred after plotting and attempting to assassinate Hitler.  We celebrate Bonhoeffer as a brilliant scholar, a great person, and someone that just about every single person in the church references at one point or another.

But, if we take a look at this…we remember him not only for his works…but for attempted murder…

This was brought up during our conversation on this subject…when is it ok to respond in violence, if ever?

Is that a fair time?  Would killing a person, even if it is Hitler, help grow the kingdom of God?

But then I can’t help but think that the 6th commandment says to not murder…not do not murder, unless it is a really bad person.

I really struggle with wrapping my head around these concepts and wish I had an answer…I don’t.

While reflecting on this topic, I thought back to a sermon by Marcus Borg.  I wrote in this sermon before and have linked it below.  I recommend reading that post before continuing.    

So after thinking through all of this…I am still lost and confused…

As these conversations continued and got deeper, the clergy in the room was talking about responding in violence…they said they do not think murder is right or is ever yet and we should try to respond not in violence but in love…but if someone was harming their child they would not hesitate to shoot them if it meant saving their child.  I think that is something most people would agree with.

While trying to make sense of this all, I tried to relate it all to scripture.

The one story I thought of was when David became king and established the monarchy for the Israelites. 

The people build David, their new king, a huge house in honor of him.  His response was to offer to build a temple to God.  This man who God had told you can do ANYTHING!  Was tasked with establishing the kingdom on earth…this great warrior for God…but when he tries to build a temple to God…God says no…

God tells David….you cannot do that…


What was God’s reasoning?  David was a warrior king…God did not want his temple built under the terms of war and violence…
God waited until a time of peace and had his temple built by David’s son, Solomon.

So my question that followed this was…is violence sometimes necessary?

In thinking about Bonhoeffer, I don’t think he was wrong for attempting to assassinate Hitler…
Without the battles fought and won by David, would the Israelites have been able to establish their kingdom?
If Batman did not stand up and fight, then would the Joker and Bane or whoever wanted to do evil just have free reign over the city?

Is violence needed to help establish the kingdom of God?  Does violence help clear the way for the foundation of the kingdom?  Like David cleared the way for the temple to be built by Solomon?

I think if we go back and really look at the examples Borg brings up in my other post…we come to the answer of no…

Resist violence…resist evil….do what is right, but you can go about it without violence.  That was the message we receive from Jesus.

I leave you with a story I recently heard about responding to violence…

It was a Sunday morning at a church in downtown Memphis…as everyone was gathering and entering the church…a fight breaks out on the sidewalk just a little ways down the street.
How would you respond as a priest?  You are about to enter the church and lead your congregation in worship?  Yet, just outside your doors two people are in the middle of a violent fight that was beginning to attract a lot of attention…
What would you do?
Stop the fight?  Jump in and break it up?

Well, in this case, they chose to sing a hymn…
Just very loudly began singing a hymn just next to everyone who was at the fight…

You can imagine the response… lots of strange looks from people who are thinking “What is wrong with this person?”

Some people recognized the tune and actually began singing as well.  The other people simply walked away…

What if instead of responding to violence with violence…by physically trying to stop the bad things from happening…

We sing a hymn.  We literally praise God in the face of violence.

Respond to hate with love…
How different would the world be if we did that?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Optimism...Good for your Soul

As I sit here and reflect back n the events of this week, I am absolutely overwhelmed by the incredible ways that God has been present in just about everything that has happened.  From Youth Sunday to the Easter Vigil and everything in between…God presence was truly felt.

But if I had to say this at this same time exactly one week ago…It might have been a different story.

This past Sunday, one of our own youth, Baty, gave the sermon during Youth Sunday.  The second Sunday in Easter, the Gospel reading is usually the story of Doubting Thomas.  “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe…” exclaims Thomas in the Gospel of John.

“Blessed are those that have not seen yet still have believed…” was how Baty began his sermon, which really made me think.

He continued on reflecting on the common everyday saying of, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  But to him, that is a very pessimistic outlook. 

He used this cliché saying to faith.  Faith does not provide the luxury of certainty.  There is no proof…there are no nail holes.

Faith requires us to be optimistic.  We have look past the bad and the doubt and find belief within the uncertainty.

But sometimes, the bad can sometimes start to weigh on us… I experienced this just a week ago.

On Tuesday morning, I woke up and got ready for week just like any other day.  Took care of my dog, grabbed my stuff, and walked down the driveway to Fred (Fred is my car…yes I named my car). 

As I got closer to Fred, I noticed that there seemed to more a lot of stuff just thrown all over the seats.  At first I thought, “Wow, I really need to clean out my car!  It is even messier than I though.”

Which is generally true…my car is a mess most of the time.  However as I opened the door, I noticed that it was more than the usual mess…my glove box was hanging open, the center console was emptied, and everything that was once inside of them was strewn about the inside of my car.

It is not the first time I have had a car broken into, but that still doesn’t lessen that initial feeling you have when you realize that someone has invaded your property and gone through your belongings without regard for anything.   Luckily nothing major was missing, my cd’s, a bowling ball, all the change in the car…but still not the way I wanted to start my day.

I tried not to think about it during the day and go about my normal work.  I wanted to clear my head, so I went home about 30 minutes early and went for a bike ride.  Getting outside on a day when the weather is great always cheers me up.  Exercise helps relax me and clears my head.  It was turning out to be a pretty good day…until….

I took a trial I was unfamiliar with and thought connected to the road but instead dumped me out in the middle of a field….about a half mile from the road I needed to be on…

There was a muddy dirt trail I could take, but road bikes don’t handle muddy trials very well.  So I decided to walk it.

If you ever walked around wearing clipless bike shoes, then you know what I am talking about.  If you haven’t…imagine that bottom of your shoe is just a solid piece of wood…and right near the middle of your foot is a 1/2 inch chunk of metal that sticks straight down.

So there I am, trudging across this muddy field, carrying my bike, and I have time to think and reflect on the day…

I woke up and started my day with my car being broken into…bummer

And now I am walking uncomfortable through a corn field carrying a bike…bummer

What else could go wrong?

Right as I think this…POP!

The strap on my right shoe just snaps….the only thing that was holding the top part of the shoe down and keeping my foot in the shoe was no flapping in the air as I tried to take one more step…but failing…

I then stood there wearing one shoe, carrying my bike…with my broken shoe behind me in the mud, one sock slowly absorbing the moisture out of the mud that I was standing in, still a ways away from the road I needed to be on, thinking back to the events of that morning…

There was only one thing left to do…

I laughed.

This wasn’t a laugh to keep from crying kind of moment; I truly thought this moment was hilarious.

Even with all of that happening that day, looking back, I would still say I had a good day.

The more I thought about how and why I felt this way, I came back to a lesson I learned a long time ago.

There is always one thing you control in every situation…and that is how you respond to that situation. 

Things are going to happen…

Bad things, good things… you will fail a test one day, you won’t get that job you really wanted, the really cute guy will like someone else…

Everything will not always go your way… and you know what…that is ok.

If there is one thing you can learn from Thomas here it is that we ALL doubt!  We all have questions…we all want proof…we want to see the nail holes!

We think that is what it takes to keep our faith strong!  To see proof!

What if I argued the opposite…it is the doubt, the fear, the struggle that helps keep our faith strongest…

That those who never question their faith do not appreciate it as much as the one fights and struggles and works at it…

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar.
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of victory

As he defeated – dying –
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!
-Emily Dickinson

So what do we do during these times of doubt, loss, failure, questioning, confusion…

That is when we have to exactly what Baty said…be an optimist.  Find the good and respond positively even when doubt and darkness try to shut out the light.

Only thing you can always control is how you respond.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Place I am Content

As a teenager, it can be very difficult to find places where you feel completely safe, welcome, loved, and at peace.

Even as an adult it is very difficult to find these places.

Where do you go to find contentment?

Is it in nature?  

With some friends?

As an employee of the church, one thing that you want is for people to feel that the church can be that place too.

Church is and should be more than a place you go to worship once a week.  It should be a place you go to feel safe.

A place you are loved and welcomed.

A place you feel at home.

Recently one of our youth, Max,  wrote an essay for a college application answering the question of "A place that you are content".

Here is what he wrote.

Reclining in one of the several hundred mahogany chairs, I stare forward at the lengthy chancel and the extravagant sanctuary. The whole church is whispered conversations and relaxed postures, those in need of prayer filing off into the transepts. Praise songs and hymns are fingerpicked on acoustic guitars. The priest surveys the nave from his or her chosen position with a quiet countenance and a subtle smile. My fellows walk about the church in silence, the music echoing about the cavernous space providing enough sonic stimulation for anyone to converse in quiet tones without being heard. My gaze may shift when someone passes, but I stare off into myself as much as I can. I know no one will accost or speak to me. I indulge thoughts of my world, rethinking my recent observations and actions, hoping to assemble some phrase or fragment, one I can repeat in my head to make sense of some personal trouble. I am content in the midst of a large congregation of friends, allowed to sit alone and think with a clarity unattainable when conforming to the script of social interaction.

This place is All Saints Chapel of Sewanee, the University of the South.

Through Episcopal youth programs I attend a small service at All Saints twice a year. The congregation is consistent. Most of the same youth participate in the summer and in the winter sessions. The services always include a time for individual prayer and meditation. My fellows sit in thought, converse in whispers, walk the aisles of the beautiful church or kneel out of reverence to the triune deity. I utilize this period for personal reflection. I cherish the ability to be among so many people who I communicate with so often, and say nothing to them, exchange no ideas. Left to myself, I revert to an meditative state of mind in which I can analyze my universe with ease. I find the situation unique, the time precious, the experience transcendent.

Many of my peers ponder their relationship with the Lord, but I use the time to think in complete serenity. I find the halls and rituals of a peaceful religion pleasant, providing spaces of quietude and a sense of deep safety. Episcopalians rarely vocalize dogmas. They are accepting and maintain a healthy atmosphere of peace. The Episcopal church provides me with the opportunity to hear true silence and to feel true comfort. This culture of acceptance,tolerance, and serenity has become a major part of my identity over the last four years. Of the many experiences I gain through this community, the collective hour of each year in which I sit and stare into myself there is untouchable and magical. All Saints is a space in which I feel the subliminal, naked purity of my existence. The encroaching darkness, mellifluous acoustics, welcoming candlelight, sacred geometry, and Anglican architecture constitute an environment where my being truly belongs.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Treat Yo Self

Well it is that time of the year again…Spring Break…

Many of you have just returned from you week long break from school and the rest of you are in the middle of your vacations right now. 

Whether you are camping, skiing, beaching, or just enjoying a week off of school and having a nice staycation…one thing holds true…

It is never a bad thing to take care of yourself.

I have been thinking about this concept this past week all because of one reason…the Memphis Grizzlies.

Last week, Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger sat 4 key players to the Grizzlies line up.  Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, and Tony Allen would all be taking the night off when they played the Washington Wizards last Thursday.  Granted, Mike Conley was recovering from a sprained ankle he received the night before while playing the Boston Celtics.  Conley would return later that same game was seen limping and wearing a walking boot after the game.  Conley has continued to sit and rest up and make sure that he is 100% healthy before returning to playing.

This really made me think about something that I know I struggle with a lot….taking care of myself.

Sometimes I really struggle with doing things that I know I need to do because I get caught up in all the things that I think I need to get done.  I make those my priorities and work my butt off until the job is completed.  Then I pick a new task and start to work on that. 

The problem with this method is that you can quickly grow tired…and when you are tired…you are not working at your best.

In 1974, Herbert Freudenberger coined a term most people are familiar with these days…burnout. 

The problem when you focus so much on a task or a job or even school (yes, I said school) is that you burnout.  This can cause exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy, none of which sound like good things when it comes to anything related to how you work or perform in school.

Luckily, there is a way to prevent this from happening.  Just sit back and take a lesson from the Memphis Grizzlies…rest…take care of yourself.

In the famous words of Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle…Treat yo self!

Now, before toss your books off the desk and tell your teachers that you didn’t do your homework last night because you were treating yo’ self…

This excuse does not also work very well at work…if you did you may end up with a lot of free time on your hands, cause you would probably be fired.

But, there are still times that it is ok to treat yo’ self…let’s look a one example of a pretty awesome dude who lived about 2,000 years ago.

Jesus ate healthy, rested when he needed, and took time to relax…Matt 4:6-7; 26:18, 20; John 12:2).

He also would go off to be alone when he needed but then also would gather with his friends when that was what he needed.

Something else Jesus did a lot...he said no.

Not to everything but he said no to the things that were not good for him to do. 

Jesus did everything that he needed to do and did it passionately and whole heartedly.

This made me think...

As some of you know, I used to work as a carpenter before starting my job at the church.  I remember there was this one time I was working on a project and I just was not feeling it.  It was late in the work week, towards the end of the day and I had been working a lot of extra hours leading up to that day.  It was a relatively simple job.  It was an old jewelry cabinet that need some pieces replaced and to be touched up.  When it comes to wood working, they is so much going on that it can become mentally and physically exhausting and I had become burned out.  My work became sloppy.  I was not focused.  And I used any chance I could to work slower and take more breaks.  I was not very motivated to work hard on this project.  My heart was not into it.

I remember I took the following Friday off and spent the weekend relaxing and taking care of myself.  When I went back to work on Monday I started a new project.  We were working on refinishing an antique dresser.  They drawers were missing most of the knobs to open them.  Normally that is an easy fix, but since it was an antique, the pulls were these hand carved decorative knobs.

If you have ever carved anything out of wood, you may know that it is very tedious, time consuming, painful (finger cramps), and painful (chisels are very, very sharp!), and very frustrating.  One tiny mistake can ruin the whole thing and you have to start over.  Luckily, I was well rested and was feeling prepared to start my new project.  I didn’t make excuses this time... I just went right to work.

I was frustrated at the project a lot but that didnt keep me from losing my focus like I had done on my previous project.  The end result... well, I was pretty darn proud of myself.

I was able to really focus on my new project and was able to put more of myself into the project because I was more present thanks to the few days of rest.

Many times we may have to push ourselves pretty hard to get over the mountain of life.  It is a lot of work and it is tiring to make that uphill battle. 

When we encounter these challenges, make sure you take care of yourself afterwards. 

Pay attention to yourself and your own needs every now and then.  When you are starting to feel burned out and that you may need a break...

Treat Yo Self!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I had a rough day, but that's life...

What is your all time FAVORITE musical artist?  Favorite song?

I am not going to lie…this is one of my least favorite questions…like it might be safe to say that I hate this question and refuse to answer it. 

“That is a weird question to have so much anger towards, Mattthew” you may be thinking.

Well, I will tell you why I feel this way and how some of the music that I listen to has helped teach me a listen during this season of Lent.

I will start off with the easy answer…Why I hate this question.

Well, I like a lot of different kinds of music.  My Pandora station I use has about 30 different artists not even counting the tracks that I have thumbed-up.  These artists range from The Guess Who, to Avett Brothers, and Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears to Tokyo Police Club.  I am currently on a big Milky Chance kick but also like relax to some Lettuce but am not afraid to bust out my old Korn and Metallica albums…

How in the world do you expect me to choose ONE song…from that list…really?

What I listen to depends a lot on what I am doing, how I am feeling, and a plethora of other factors.

So the other I had some music playing in my room while I was trying to clean up a little bit when a song came on that caught my attention.  It was a song that I have heard a number of times before…but for some reason, this one particular time…it made me stop and think.

The song is called The Best Day by Atmosphere.  The song starts with the line, “I had a rough day, but that’s life, it happens…”

“Isn’t that the truth!” I thought as the song began to play, as I continued to try to get some work done around the house.

Later in the chorus the song goes “Every day can’t be the best day; Do what you can right now, don’t hesitate.”

For some reason this immediately made me think back to Matthew 6: 25-34...and back to my first youth minister, Paul Canady and the parable of the Prodigal Son, and finally Lent.

You may be very confused how I was able to quickly connect all of those things…but just keep reading and it will all make sense.

So, as I said, Paul was my first youth minister when I was a youngster at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Germantown, TN.  He is currently an Associate Rector at Christ Church in New Bern, North Carolina.  A while back I was listening to one of his sermons online…yes, sometimes in my spare time I like to listen to sermons…

This particular Sunday, Paul was preaching on the Prodigal Son.  He began by naming something that I am sure we have all thought before…

Sometimes, when we hear the reading on a particular Sunday, a reading that we may have heard a hundred times…once the sermon starts we go, well I already know what they are going to say…and we zone out and read the information in the service leaflet…  Don’t lie….we have all been there.

Instead of trying to come up with a whole new twist to put on this story, Paul just named the problem.  Yes, it is a story that we have all heard many times.  We are familiar with it.  We know how it ends.  We have already heard the lesson of the story and blah blah blah.  But, there is something that is different now.  Something is no longer the same as it was the last time you heard this story last…you.

You are not the same person you were the last time you heard this story.  Maybe you will relate to a different character in the story.  Maybe you will take a completely different lesson this time…so listen up.

That was what was going through my head as this song by Atmosphere was playing.  A song I had heard a hundred times…but for some reason…it stuck out to me this particular time.

Like a mentioned earlier, I immediately thought of this story from Matthew…
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
-Matthew 6:25-34

It was getting to be late…I was tired, worn out…it was just one of those days…nothing particularly bad happened but it was just one of those days where at the end of it you are just like…blah…

Then I hear…I had a rough day…(yup, sure did)  but that’s life, it happens…(Yes, it sure does…)

The whole first verse of the song goes with the singer, Slug, complaining about things going on in his life. 

He almost lost his job because he overslept, he is not enjoying work, he is poor and struggling to get by…

Then it gets to the chorus when he is like…you know, not every day is going to be great.  You just have to take the good with the bad.  Just do what you can.

This was when I thought back to the story from Matthew.

For some reason, the mood I was in that day, allowed me to hear that song in a completely different way.  It spoke to me in a way that made me reflect on a lesson I had learned before, but had forgotten to live.  A lesson I constantly try to teach and encourage our youth to do.

One thing I say a lot is that if you go into something expecting to have a bad time…you are going to have a bad time.  But go into it with an open mind…you just may have a great time.

Just like if you go through out your day focused on the bad…you may miss those countless number of times that God tried to make an appearance in your daily life.

Luckily for me, that one evening, God found a way to me through that song…

How is God making an appearance in your life even when you are not looking?

My challenge for you this week, at least one day, spend a day taking the good with the bad…keep an open mind and be on the lookout for how God is working around you in your everyday life.

It may be difficult but like I said earlier….if you go into something with an open mind…

One time, a friend of mine was giving the chapel talk at Mud Camp at St. Columba Conference Center.  They had all the kids at camp look around and point out every place that they saw a cross.  Whether it was two branches of a tree that crossed by each other, the supports of the pavilion, the veins on a leaf…once they started looking…they were spotting these cross shapes EVERYWHERE!

Every place you see one of these crosses…that is God at work…

Imagine if we started each day with that mindset.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Why do we Lent

As we enter into the second week of Lent, it’s starting to get hard. More and more people keep offering you soft drinks, you’re starting to crave sending that one Snapchat even though you gave it up, and you’re not even close to halfway there.

It’s at times like these that we wonder, why do we even Lent? What is the point of giving up something that you enjoy, or taking on something that seems like a chore?

The answer is simple: to better oneself. Okay…so what has that got to do with this 40 days and 40 nights stuff, or Good Friday, or Easter? Why should I better myself in this life, when according to the Bible, I technically am already guaranteed a spot in Heaven?

As I was asked these questions, I struggled to find an answer. Why did I give up procrastination for Lent? Because it’s how I wanted to better myself. But how does giving up procrastination prepare me for the day of Christ’s resurrection?

According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German priest and theologian, an avid believer against the Nazi ideology and died fighting the Nazi power, there are two types of graces in this life. There’s cheap grace, which is accepting that yea, Jesus is pretty awesome and died for OUR salvation, but as long as I truly believe that,  there’s really no reason to return the favor.  On the other side of the coin, just knowing that God loves us so much that he would send his son to be killed and resurrected FOR us isn’t enough; costly grace is returning the favor, and doing everything you can to be as deserving of God’s love and grace as possible.

And that is the answer I found in why I Lent. We reflect on our earthliness, our sinfulness, and our dustliness during Lent, and why? To figure out what steps we need to take in order to become as deserving  as possible of God’s love.

So why did you give up Diet Coke or Snapchat this Lent? Ultimately, doing so will make you a better person and make you less dusty and more holy. For me, getting work done on time and efficiently will make me a better student, which, in turn will make me deserving of good grades. That’s Lent. Reflecting on what it means to be good, so that maybe this dark world may know some of your Godly light and shine brighter. 

by: Mad Brad