Sunday, July 24, 2016

First Sunday in Girdwood

So, life has been a bit hectic and I have not posted nearly as often as I have thought about it.  I thought for a fresh start I could post my sermon from this morning.  It was a memorable day and I am thankful for the thoughtful minds and open hearts of the Girdwood community.

Girdwood UMC Sermon - 24 July 2016

“The Journey”

Psalm 119: 105

2 Peter 1:19

Matthew 13: 18-23

My family and I began a physical journey exactly two weeks ago.  It is roughly 4300 miles from Charleston SC to Girdwood AK, but just for fun, we figured we would go cross country first then fly to Alaska. So, that added about a thousand miles.  I mean, it seemed like the right thing to do with a family of five, a dog, and a daring brother-in-law.  This was going to be an adventure and we needed to start it out as such.  We all loaded into the trusty Suburban, Bertha (as we had named her), and started our exciting journey.  Simple enough, right?

As we pulled away from Alicia’s parents house, who really knew what we would encounter?  Who knew what we would see or experience along the way?  Really, all we could say is that it would be new to us and that it would be different than our normal days.  It took a couple of days but we were soon into new territory.  The terrain was different and the places we were seeing, though having that hint of common flare (I mean everyplace has a Wal-Mart, right?), were starting to look more foreign and becoming more sparse.  The kids, at first, nestled into their DVD players failing to notice the subtle changes going on outside and around them.  But we sped down the highway continuously moving through change.  I am not even sure the adults in the car noticed it until we reflected on the trip and talked about the diversity we had seen.

By the time we arrived at Mount Rushmore, we had soaked in the beauty of South Dakota and pondered how the Native Americans had lived off of the land.  We imagined how small and insignificant the lone person must have felt among the rolling and expansive landscape.  Mount Rushmore, allowed us to experience the beauty of human creation and God’s creation in tandem.   Proving the two could coexist.  From there, we followed the path to the Grand Tetons.  Breathtaking beauty abounded in the green landscape and tall snow-capped mountains.  Yellowstone offered a hidden beauty as we waited for Old Faithful to let off some steam.  Such a forceful eruption from the geyser every hour demonstrated the power of the unseen.  Surprisingly, it was farm fields and various growing crops that lined our pathway to Seattle.  We eventually experienced the tall evergreens synonymous with the State as we neared the coast.

Then, for the first time, we hit traffic. After 3000 miles in the car and less than 20 miles to go, we came to a dead stop.  It took us a couple of hours to go that last 20 miles, so we really rejoiced when we saw the Space Needle.  We had made it!  We had successfully accomplished the cross country trip and we were going to celebrate by going to the top of Seattle’s most notorious landmark.  We parked the car in a parking garage near the Space Needle and left to cap off our travels with a memorable photograph, or perhaps, to reenact a scene or two from Sleepless in Seattle.  There was no wait in the line for tickets and we rushed ahead excited for our trip to the top.  But, we had not secured reservations and the next available ticket was 3 hours away from the time we arrived.  No problem.  We had time.  We would go back in the morning.

When we returned to Bertha, however, things changed.  She had been broken into and shattered glass lay on the ground and on the seats inside.  My heart sank and anger and fear rose in my emotions.  All of the beauty we had seen, all of the wonderful sites we had visited, at the moment were forgotten and were overshadowed by this sense of violation and this dose of reality that the world, so beautiful, can also be ugly.  On the road we had heard the news of the various events going on in the world.  But, we kept them in the periphery of our discussions and we sought to shield the kids from the sad acts of hatred that were occurring.  But, in that moment, the brokenness of the window signified the brokenness of the world and my thoughts were consumed with the darkness which surrounds us each and every day.  It was only through prayer that I was able to recenter my focus and take status of the situation in total.  Alicia, the girls, PJ, and Mojo, were okay.  The things that had been lost stung a bit.  But, we were all okay.
The next 24 hours were incredibly difficult as we raced against time to get many things accomplished and to make our plane flight to Anchorage.  P.J. was the only one who had lost a physical belonging in the break-in, but for him, the things he lost were significant for his work and his private journeys in life.  We were all more tired then we should have been.  We were all deflated and off kilter from the events of the day before and, perhaps, uncertain about the day ahead.  

Going the rate we were going and running into the obstacles we were running into, I had serious concerns about making the flight on time.  Such physical obstacles, led to mental obstacles.  Why are we doing this?  Do they really want or need us there?  Is my family going to be able to adjust?  Am I expecting too much from my girls?  Doubt and insecurity sought to join the invading darkness that crept into our hearts the day before.  Again, it was prayer that helped me to allay these doubts and hang on to the truth that had started us on this journey.

We made it to the airport in time.  When we landed, we had a truck waiting on us at the airport (Thank you Sam and Loretta).  All of our luggage and our dog arrived in the terminal safely.  However, they have seemed to replace Mojo mid-air with a similar, yet more neurotic, dog.  The following day we were escorted by our new friends into Girdwood.  But, we were delayed by the forest fire burning on the mountainside and limiting the road access.  It was not impassable, however, just a bit more difficult.  We arrived to a home stocked with the necessities for family living and a stocked pantry.  Seriously, you all have no idea how important was to have stocked toilet paper in a house with three little girls!  Meals waited for us and were delivered in person over the next two days.  The invading darkness the creeping doubt, soon subsided and the light again began to take over.  It wasn’t just because the sun doesn’t go down here either!

The story I share is not just my family’s journey.  It is all of our journeys in this life.  For a journey does not have to just be the physical movement from one place to another.  It can also be the movement from one station in life to another.  In both cases the journey will contain terrain that changes and ugliness amongst beauty; darkness amongst light.  Obstacles will have to be conquered as forward progress and growth is achieved.  Arriving at the destination will take help from others, but most of all dependence on prayer and in the Word of God.

In our gospel reading today Jesus reveals His explanation for the parable of the seed sower.  There are four types of foundations in which the seeds are sown; the path, the rocky ground, amongst thorny plants, and on fertile soil.  One of the things we must realize is the importance that evil is present in all of these conditions.  It is the intention of Satan to reduce our understanding and trust in the Word which has been sown in our hearts.  It is the desire of evil that light should be reduced and that darkness shadow our faith in God.  Interestingly, we see that Jesus understood that the journey would be more difficult for those who held fast to the Word as they would be tested more intensely.  It is the worry and strife of the world that can choke out the glory and hope of the Word.  For this reason, even the seed sown on the fertile soil is not without obstacles.  The difference is that the fertile soil allows for other seeds to grow in close proximity and together they work to bear fruit and overcome adverse events.

Everyone in this room is on a journey.  We are moving through life at warp speed and some of us might know our destination, while others of us do not.  There is no denying that we are the seeds that have been planted.  There is no denying that at this moment we have the opportunity to grow in the same soil.  But, what type of soil is it?

I have found over the last year that when the seed is planted in fertile soil, the obstacles to growth actually can make you stronger when you rely on the true source of your strength.  I have also found that when the growth taking place is building your faith and you are bearing fruit, then the obstacles can become quite challenging and more frequent.  The last thing the enemy wants is for us to grow closer to Christ and more understanding of His Word.  Peter tells us, “we have a most reliable prophetic Word, and you would do well to pay attention to it, just as you would to a lamp shining in a dark place.”  

The fertile soil is nourished by the Word of God and backed by the Grace God has given each one of us.  The places, people, and heart that fuels the flame of the lamp by helping us to see and feel and hear the glory of the Word and the grace of God is the fertile soil.  I believe Girdwood United Methodist Church is fertile soil and I look forward to tending the garden with each of you.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Road Rules: Big Bertha Edition

Isaiah 43:18-19

"Remember not the former things, nor consider things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and springs in the desert."

So, what happens when a family of five, the adventurous brother-in-law (brother, uncle), and the trusty pup, pile in the urban adventure wagon and set out across the US?  How hard will it be to get along?  What smells will emanate from the back seat?  How many times will someone ask, "Are we there yet?"  Will all seven make the final destination?  These are the questions that must be considered in this week's installment of Road Rules: Big Bertha Edition...where the pleasantries may go away as the family must become real.

Yes, we all piled in the silver Suburban, outfitted with a roof bag and a rear carrier.  My kids and my wife have affectionately dubbed the family car, Big Bertha.  It is fitting I must say.  Surprisingly, we all fit into this monster of a car leaving only three boxes of to be mailed later items at  my in-laws. (Thanks Phil and Marge!)  Then we started on the first leg of our cross-country journey.

That is kind of a simplistic assessment though.  Sure, we started our physical trip yesterday, but we have been on this journey for a long time.  As I drove Bertha down the interstate yesterday I could not help but wonder how we will all change because of this trip we are taking.  I looked in the rear view mirror and saw my wife and three girls smiling and laughing as we pulled out of the drive way and turned into the afternoon sun.  How will these people be impacted by changing everything they know and all they are familiar with?  Will they be stronger?  Will they be more caring?  More loving?  More patient?  Or, could this possibly be a disaster through and through?

The last few weeks have helped me to formulate some answers to those questions. (Isn't is wonderful how God works!)  Prior to heading to the beach we stopped by Wingate University, our Alma Mater.  It was a wonderful trip down memory lane.  The school and I have a lot in common.  Although both of us our recognizable we have both gone through many changes.  Some of the core elements remain steadfast, but there is growth in areas of expertise and in the capacity to let more people in.  Construction abounds at the University and it is not lacking in me.  Some of the changes at the school,  I didn't like, and some of the things I previously found displeasing still remain.  And, it would be remiss, to not mention that both of us are a bit bigger than when we last saw one another.

Looking back, I find it hard not to consider how different of a person I am now then I was in those years.  Better?  Not sure.  Different?  Totally.  I have a better grasp of the importance of faith and the strength of hope found in the person of Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross for humanity.  But, how does that make me different?  I can still focus the flaws of others more readily than I am willing to tackle my own weaknesses.  I still say things and do things that most would consider out of place for a minister.  I am still growing.  I am still under construction.

Perhaps, the fortunate opportunity to stroll through the memories of my past were not as much for the opportunity to remember them as much as it was for the ability to let them go.  This journey, this path we have taken, is decidedly, to invoke change in each of us.  It is a path God has made clear and a road that we trust He leads us on.  There is a new idea of who we are to become and it is rooted in the Creator of heaven and earth and made possible in us through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  We cannot forget who we once were, for that is part of the journey, but we must let it go to be renewed in the glory and righteousness of God.   There are going to be bumps in the road and, even with GPS, we are going to get lost.  Also, I am positive that something funky is spoiling in the car.  But, it is life.  It is the path to renewal.  It is the stretching of who we know ourselves to be to form into the person God has created us to become.

Over the last three weeks we have spent time with family.  We all know each other very well and there are very few secrets that exist (unless we have some really good secret keepers!).  But, the point is, these people know me now and they knew me then.  They have seen the growth, the slips and falls, and have been there to dust me off and get me back on the path.  There is no denial that I am often times not the friend, brother, son, father, and in-law I am supposed to be.  But, in part of this renewal and in part of this growth into the service of God, we have been placed into a family of understanding, support, and love that accepts those inadequacies.  They have loved me no matter what.  It is hard moving so far away, but the bonds we share are unbreakable by distance.

I feel the new thing God is doing.  I feel the pull taking us through the wilderness and into the springs of the desert.