top3 for September 11, 2020

The week’s top3 is in honor of September 11 and the many who lost their lives and the many more who are struggling with life after the trauma caused by that day. This week is also about remembering those who missed their train or their plane and struggle with survivors guilt. This week the top3 is a call to action and a voice for comfort. It is also a reminder that the day is coming when there will be no more September 11’s. Until then we live in this uncomfortable place called the in-between. The victory is assured but not fully realized. And finally, today is also in honor of my friend Mike Gobb. I will be forever grateful for what he taught me about the difficult work of redemption.

#1

America had, I believe, a divine founding. Call it American exceptionalism if you like. But that makes America all the more vulnerable to God’s judgment if we become accustomed to glamorizing war, excusing lies, and parading our might and dominance. Who is going to be the counter-voice? Who is going to remind the powerful and the great that God loves the poor and the small? Who will defend the homeless people and the veterans languishing in hospitals and the prisoners at Guantanamo?” Who is going to be the unpopular voice that says God loves justice for all people everywhere, not just America’s allies of the moment? Who is going to protest that God requires mercy? Who if not the church?

from And God Spoke to Abraham by Fleming Rutledge

 

#2

Fear and trauma can prevent our growth in the Micah 6:8 themes of justice, mercy (forgiveness), and humility.

from Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott

#3

Isaiah 11:5–9 (NRSV)

5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,

and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,

the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

and a little child shall lead them.

7 The cow and the bear shall graze,

their young shall lie down together;

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,

and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

9 They will not hurt or destroy

on all my holy mountain;

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD

as the waters cover the sea.

September is Suicide Prevention Month

Let me be so bold as to say that we all have a name. We all have a story. We all have a hole in our heart. We all have some confusion in our soul.

Doug

We graduated from High School together. Talented in a lot of areas including being the lead in the school musical Oklahoma. Youth group buddy. First year in college we grew even closer. And then he was gone. Details fade but the hole does not. The hurt has calmed but the questions persist. Why? is the big one. Is there anything I could have done? is another. My guess is that an overwhelming majority of us could describe details just like I have about someone we’ve lost without having to think too hard.

September is suicide prevention month (for more information or help click here) and unlike so many of the issues du jour, this is an important one. I don’t want to take anything away from National Coffee or Ice Cream day – but this focus addresses a growing epidemic not named Covid but has been made worse by it for certain.

A recent study by the CDC (link here) shows that 1 out of 4 young adults have thought about suicide in the recents months. It also shows 3 out of 10 unpaid caregivers and 2 out of 10 essential workers have done the same. Just let that sink in for a moment. Suicide is not something that happens over in some corner of the world no one knows about but in the middle of main street in plain sight for everyone.

I am grateful that we are becoming more aware as a society to our mental health. But we have a long way to go. Just like our heart or lungs, our mental state is vital for us to take seriously and seek help for. Particularly in this time of Covid, when our normal patterns of life are disrupted, it is even more important to pay attention to state of our mental health.

Here is what I do know –

You are not alone. Help is available. Your life is important.

Here is what else I know –

I want those who have lost someone and are struggling with questions to have peace about one at least – Suicide does not prevent an entrance into heaven. It does, however, cut short the opportunities for heavenly joys on earth.

My prayers are for God to provide healing for our entire self (body, mind and soul) and comfort for any grief we may be experiencing. Would you join me in praying these prayers with urgency?

Christian Community Emphasis

Yesterday, at our Downtown community, marked the beginning of a new sermon series and small groups emphasizing the Christian community. And I have to honestly say I get concerned when teaching about community. For starters, the goal for the month of September isn’t to learn about Christian community but to experience it and make a commitment to engage in it. While it may begin in our heads, if it stays only as an idea, the gift of Christian community will never be the force for transformation in our lives or the world. Let’s face it, we often become satisfied with simply learning about something. The learning itself gives off enough of a dopamine hit that it satiates our desire by making us feel good about ourselves. It is sort of like when telling someone you are going to run a marathon is enough of a fulfillment that you do not need to run the 26.2 miles (not that I would know about this…or at least for a decade or so before I finally ran one!)

Secondly, Covid…

How do you do community when much of the normal patterns of life have been disrupted?

Great question.

Please let me know if you have any good answers!

That is why Dietrich Bonhoeffer maintains that Christian community is a divine reality. It is not about some Hallmark postcard vague sentimentality. It is also resistant to our selfish idealization of it meeting all of our felt needs. If that is our definition of community, we will find ourselves moving from this experience to that experience only to find that they end the same way – being disappointed and having the impulse to look for greener grass.

Therefore, the best way to understand community is not as a group to meet all of our idealized felt needs, but rather community is a reality of the divine we find ourselves committing to.

Jesus, in Matthew 18, describes that this divine reality (ie. community) will be built –

By an almighty and loving God working through the humble, the child-like, the understudy, the 2nd chair, the overlooked, the never mentioned, the unappreciated, the kinds of folks who will do the heavy lifting for others when there is no chance for thanks.

But that doesn’t mean individuals are unimportant!

By caring for the 1. The 99, they are important. The 1, she or he is important too. The goal of Christian community is not for the 99 exclusively, it’s really for the 1 also. In fact, in God’s economy, 99 and 1 are equal in terms of importance and value and the willingness to be sacrificed for. Jesus died on a cross for the 99 and the 1.

 

By doing the difficult work of reconciling. This is where Jesus spends a great deal of energy and gives the greatest detail in terms of ‘how to’. And it is fascinating to me that Jesus doesn’t begin with how to reconcile all people in the world, but rather focuses on reconciling the one. And a particular one in that…The one who has offended you. The one who has hurt you. The one who has, in so doing, cut themselves off from the church itself.

And so Jesus says …

Go to them directly. If that doesn’t work, gather one, two or three others and go back. If that doesn’t work then go tell a larger group. If that doesn’t work, then treat them as you would anyone else outside the fold of faith. And that is with grace and great concern, but without expectations that any of it will be reciprocated.

Three direct contacts and then a lifetime of prayer and concern and openness to being reconciled. Here we see God’s heart so clearly. Jesus ends this section by saying God wants no one to be disconnected.

And that is the invitation for us as well.

Community is one of the great responsibilities and cherished opportunities of Christians. It is also impossible without the power of God in the big middle of it.

Tim Keller in his book Center Church says that community is best understood as the way we are to do all that Christ told us to do in the world.

So, I pray you’ll not just learn about community this September but embrace and practice it. It’s not easy nor without risk, It is messy at times. But if we want to participate in God’s plan – there is no other choice nor better alternative.

It’s not too late to begin with a small group reading and discussing Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together book. Many of the classes are virtual so you don’t even have to live in Lexington or Kentucky to participate! Drop me a line in the comments section or an email at todd@1stumc.org.

top3 for September 4, 2020

Here are a few things I’ve read and been thinking about this past week (or month as the case maybe!)

#1

Certainly the Scriptures teach – as I have insisted – that there is no knowledge of God apart from doing of God’s will.

– from The Open Secret by Lesslie Newbigin

The Apostle Paul says that knowledge puffs up (1 Cor 8.1). Newbigin gets at the point that it is only as we do God’s will do we truly have knowledge. This begins to help us understand why Jesus said in Matthew 28 to make disciples and not students. Setting the bar at doing and not simply knowing is surely a high one. It makes us realize that the more we learn the more we are responsible for putting it into action. Do not merely listen to the Word of God, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says (James 1:22 NLT).

#2

With Handshakes Barred and a Bad Economy These Car Salesmen Try to Seal the Deal

From the Washington Post –

What a great story about a group of people who refused to let the pandemic define what was possible. The same principles are put into action but the delivery system is radically different. It is all about building trust, meeting needs, and being responsive. Any sales team will tell you these are the keys to success. But how they went about doing it changed. And rather than wait around hoping for the day to return to normal, these car salesmen (and women) were humble and hungry enough to pivot. And they aren’t simply getting by, they are setting new sales records.

#3

Sabbath is not simply the pause that refreshes. It is the pause that transforms.

from Sabbath as Resistance by Walter Brueggemann

The pause that transforms. I read this before vacation and it helped me to see that I didn’t only need to be refreshed, I needed some change in my life as well. Time away is not only about rest but reform. In order to lead well (others as well as yourself) you need perspective.