Sunday, July 25, 2010


"Everyone Needs Their Own Garden"

I remember where I was the Sunday morning in 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa, after 27 years of imprisonment. I was standing in the fellowship hall of my church in Atlanta watching on TV as the live pictures came out of South Africa of his release.

The whole world was watching. I remember thinking: how does someone not go crazy after 27 years as a political prisoner? He was fighting for justice, and an end to the racist system of apartheid which kept the black people, who were in the majority, enslaved, by the white people who were the minority, the ruling class.

When I think of Mandela I always think of that calm peaceful smile on his face. But I cannot imagine what 27 years in prison, and all those years of living under that un-just system would have done to me.

I've been reading a book called Mandela's Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage . The book tells us some of the ways in which he held fast to his values and to his faith through those 27 years. There is one thing I learned in that book that I had never known.

Nelson Mandela had a garden in prison, both of them. A vegetable garden, do you believe it. Somehow he convinced them to let him plant a garden. He had to cut through a mountain of red tape, write lot of letters, but he convinced them the prisoners needed fresh vegetables. He says it quieted his mind. . . while so much was withering outside, his nation, his family, his garden was thriving. He needed something to keep him connected to God's creative action; something renewing, something alive; to remind him God was still present; Even a person of such intellect and resolve needed a distraction; away from his work of changing a broken world - when the work became overwhelming - something to restore his soul.

Mandela said to the writer of this book, "You have to find your own garden." We each have to find our own garden. That something we have that sustains us through the hard times. And, no, it doesn’t have to be a garden. Both Kurt & I have brown thumbs. But we all need our distractions. We all have hard times and no one knew hard times more than Nelson Mandela. He freed a nation!

Strong leaders, strong people need time away. I’ve read article after article of CEO’s and ministers burning out. The pace we are trying to keep in this country, all in the name of acquiring wealth and power, is literally killing us, destroying our families. When I was a preacher’s kid, my friends were also preacher’s kids. Back then, preachers bragged about how they worked through their days off, didn’t take vacation, etc. And today, the children of these folks hate church. It was thing that took Dad, back then it was always Dad, away from the family.

And when we turn to Jesus, he shows us another way every time. When the work of preaching and healing with the crowds drained him too much, and he knew that he needed to refuel, he'd go out on the boat with his disciples and cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Now, sure, that was their means of transportation. But they could also relax on the boat, and take a nap. And get away. And he could go to another location and find some peace and quiet. It's a Jesus thing. - to rest and renew

My coach tells me all the time It’s a Jesus thing to rest and renew. That's why I take my vacation days. Going to the beach. In a couple of weeks I will go to the beach. While I am there I am going to:
" Sit on the beach and read
" Sit in the shallow water feel the sand
" Stare at the ocean waves
" Restores my soul
It's why we invited you to plant some flowers today at The Village- to touch some dirt and connect with God's beautiful creation.

Nelson Mandela's invitation is a good one for us: "You have to find your own garden."
What is your garden? Do you have one? What is the thing you do that is different from your work? Even your work for God? What is your play - or your relaxation that feeds your soul? Or restores your soul?

There is a difference between an escape - running away - and something that restores us.
Here at the Village we want to "Follow Jesus and Change the World." But we also have to connect to God, and allow God to restore our souls. Balancing our lives properly is a value here at The Village. Let's don't forget that important step.

Today's message is this: We each have to find our own garden - that place where we go to connect with God, to be restored and renewed - to connect with God's creativity. Jesus went out in the boat on the water. Mandela planted a garden in a prison yard. What is your garden?

If you need help finding your garden, come join us on Sunday at The Village, now at 10:30, later we’ll be adding a second service this fall. We’ll help you find what you “garden” is.


My niece Jessica is getting married today. Often when I counsel young folks, (and not so young folks) who are getting married, I encourage them to be sure they are getting into a partnership of two whole people. Two adults. When two immature people, two broken, or half developed people get together and try to form a union, you come out with something not really healthy and not really whole. It’s much better when two whole healthy people come together who complement one another. It’s better when the one helps the other be more of who that one was created to be, rather than each one trying to change into who they think their partner wants them to be.

I think the same thing goes on, in our relationship with God. We can twist and contort and try to pretend be the good Christian. Or, we can take a more organic, a more holistic approach. We can give our whole selves to God. You see, I believe each of us, is more whole, more spiritually healthy, when we are living in tune with that ONE LOVE, with the God who created us. When our lives are focused on living for God, and with God and along the purposes of God. . . well. . . it’s just better for everyone. In my own life, this practice of living in tune with God’s desire for my life, is what keeps me on track.

You see it’s easy for me to get off balance – and pulled in so many different directions. I have lots of interests. There are lots of people and causes and issues that can get my attention. I can get pulled in a thousand different directions. The ONLY way I keep from being pulled apart, and pulled to pieces, is by having some regular practices of listening to God and lining up my life, with God’s desires for my life.

Let me give you a couple of illustrations of what happens when we don’t do that. They come from our two stories from Luke 9 for today.
In the first one, a man asks Jesus to heal his son. He had asked the disciples to do it but that had not been able to. Now we don’t know what the background is here, but for some reason, this particular day, Jesus seems to have lost his patience with the crowd and with his disciples. Even Jesus had a bad day now and them. He kind of “loses it” and says: 41 Jesus said, "What a generation! No sense of God! No focus to your lives! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this? Bring your son here."
42-43 While he was coming, the demon slammed him to the ground and threw him into convulsions. Jesus stepped in, ordered the vile spirit gone, healed the boy, and handed him back to his father. They all shook their heads in wonder, astonished at God's greatness, God's majestic greatness.
I think what Jesus is saying is this: you folks are not living in tune with God. You
are distracted by too many things. You have no focus. You are not praying – you are not worshiping. You are not teaching your children the stories of God. You are not putting your trust in God. You have gotten off track. And so now look at you, your son has been taken over by evil. And my disciples, they are not doing much better. Jesus must have been so discouraged that day.
And then we go right into another story. When a series of folks SAY they want to
follow Jesus. That’s what we say, right? That’s our mission: Follow Jesus and change the world.
57 On the road someone asked if he could go along. "I'll go with you, wherever," he said.
58 Jesus was curt: "Are you ready to rough it? We're not staying in the best inns, you know."
Jesus said to another, "Follow me."
59 He said, "Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father's funeral."
60 Jesus refused. "First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God's kingdom!"
61 Then another said, "I'm ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home."
62 Jesus said, "No procrastination. No backward looks. You can't put God's kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day."
“No procrastination,” Jesus says.
“No backward looks.” “Now is the time.”
How often do we make excuses? Well, I know Jesus would probably want me to do “this” but I’ve gotta get my kids through college first, or pay off my credit card debt. I’ll give some volunteer time once things slow down at work. I’m unhappy at my job and want to do something more meaningful, but I can’t make a change yet, because. . .
But here is the thing. When Jesus says: “Follow me.” The invitation is NOW. And when we get into the practice of asking Jesus to guide every corner of our lives, it really is easier to find our focus, and keep our priorities in line.
But one of the important lessons I think we have to learn is this: Jesus invites us to focus. We can each do ONE THING for Jesus, and do it well. We can do the ONE THING God put us on this earth to do – and we can leave all the other things to someone else – because there are a lot of folks here. We don’t have to do everything. God has lots of folks who can help God achieve God’s purposes.
Here at The Village, we have been watching this film: “Lord Save us From Your Followers” for the past couple of weeks. In it, the film maker, Dan Merchant, talks to folks across America about why the Gospel of love has us so divided. Towards the end of the film, he begins to lift up some positive examples of people who are following Jesus and making a positive impact in the world. One of them is the musician and activist Bono. We showed a clip about the One Campaign that Bono and some others have worked on, to end extreme poverty and preventable disease from the movie.
What I love about Bono and the One Campaign is the clear focus. He has lined himself up with one purpose – mobilizing people to end poverty and preventable disease. Bono managed to gather a coalition of people from George W. Bush and Pat Robertson on the right to himself and George Clooney on the left. In the clip, Bono speaks about changing the world saying:
“Stop asking God to bless what you are doing; get involved in what God is doing
because it’s already blessed.”
“God is with the vulnerable and the poor
God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house
God is in silence of the mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives
God is in the cries heard under the ruble of war
God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives
God is with us if we are with them.”

So what about you? What is your one thing right now? It can be one thing per season of your life. What is the one thing God is calling you to do, to make a difference in the world? To share the message of God’s love and compassion?
It’s so easy for me to get distracted by someone else’s one thing for me. Every day people are calling me with something they want me to do. And that’s cool. They have their focus. And maybe God is using them to speak to me – you never know. But that’s why I need to have a strong prayer life – so that I can be in tune with God and discern – whether someone is working on their ONE thing – or whether they are speaking for God TO me about my ONE thing too.
For example, you know I care about justice. So it’s really easy for me to get excited about working for justice – and getting caught up in this cause or that one. Let’s go march on city hall. Let’s organize a campaign for this or that. But that’s not really my one thing. My one thing is to help you find your one thing.
My one thing is to help you find your place to work in the world with God. I like what Bono said. Let’s not ask God to bless what we are doing; let’s get involved in what God is doing because it is already blessed. Read that again. Let’s not ask God to bless what we are doing; let’s get involved in what God is doing because it is already blessed.
My calling is to help you see that God loves you and that God needs you to help change the world. And that God has that ONE THING for you to do, something that only you can do. Some place for you to serve. I LOVE it when I see someone find their God-given passion and get to live it out. That’s my one thing.
What is yours? Bono’s passion is to use his influence to eliminate extreme poverty and preventable disease. What’s yours? The Village Church is here to help you find your one thing.
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to have a worship series where we highlight some examples of Jesus’ Followers who are worth following. We’re going to show you some people, famous & unknown alike, who have found their passion. Some people live out their one thing through their work. And some people have a job they do for pay, and they live out their calling on their time off work.
Peg, a member of our congregation talked about how she has gone through a time of discernment through the Servant Leadership Program. Several more of us at the Village, including myself, Kurt, Pat Groves, and Cindy Dean have gone through this ten month program and even visited the Servant Leadership School at Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC.
During this class, you go through a process that begins with reclaiming the fact that are a child of a God. You then learn ways to center yourself in your spiritual journey. You then learn about other children of God and what they are facing. Then you try to focus on how you are going to change the world.
We can all change the world, when we have focus, and when we live in tune with God’s focus for our lives. One love. One thing. What is yours? If you know, I would love to hear about it. If you don’t yet know, then I would love to talk with you about it. We are here at the Village to help you discover it.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


In worship July 4th we read Romans 12:9-21. If you don’t have your Bible out, we used the New Revised Standard Version, here’s the story. It’s advice from one of Jesus’ greatest followers, Paul to a young church like ours in Rome. Here’s the quote:

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The short version, again and again in this letter, and everywhere else is love, love and love. So why is the Gospel of love dividing America?

Dan Merchant, an author & film maker, set out to have a conversation with people across America about one simple question, how can people who follow Jesus, bring so much hatred and judgment upon the world, when Jesus came to bring God's message of love? It just doesn't make sense. Why is the Gospel of love dividing America? And so he went across the country talking to people, engaging in conversation, in a variety of ways, and making this film about his conversations. The film is called "Lord Save Us From Your Followers.", and we’ll be showing it at the Village July 10th @ 7PM. And here is why. People all over, including dozens of Cheri & my friends, are saying this, people who have given up on ever being part of organized religion. They say, they like Jesus. They think he's great and had some great ideas and had it all right. But they don't SEE Jesus in his followers.

Several years ago, a friend, we’ll call her Laurie, who is a government official I regularly deal with, called me into her office very urgently. She was visibly upset & perplexed. It turns out a colleague, call him John, had decided to give his witness to her. He told her how he was praying for her as she was currently going to Hell as she was a non-believer. I was floored.

Never mind that John regularly put his client’s wishes in the hand of Laurie, a person he had just told that she was going to Hell. How was this supposed to work? How do you degrade someone and say “now, join me in a faith which will have you doing this to others”. Join us in this spreading of judgement and intolerance.

She asked me, flabbergasted, as she knew I was a follower of Jesus, “how can you be in the same faith as that man?” She said she knew me as a person of love and peace and

acceptance. I paused for a second, said a quick prayer asking for God to give me wisdom in my words and wait for a response to come. How in the world do I respond to this? How do I leave even a chance of the door to a life of faith open for this person.

The answer I was given was to talk about love. I did not attack John. I said that he came from a tradition where he was taught that he needed to judge and correct those who are living wrongly. We worship the same God and read the same book, but come at it from different angles. John wants everyone to live the way he and others live or interrupt the scripture. My way, which I believe is more true to Christ’s way, is to love: Laurie, John, everyone.

Jesus did not preach legalism, but love. Jesus stopped a stoning, he helped those others rejected, he healed people on the Sabbath, and hung out with those society would not dine with. I told Laurie I respected John’s belief, but I disagreed with John. I told her that if I’m getting into heaven, she was likely going to be there and we would both blow John’s mind by being there.

Laurie laughed and went back to her day. I’m not convinced Laurie will ever step foot in a church, let alone The Village. But Laurie feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, gives shelter to the homeless, both in her “day job” and in her volunteer activities. And she did so long before meeting John or me. But that’s the problem.

A recent study by research firm The Barna Group, the experts in demographics for churches, (documented in Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity. . . And Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons), shows these were the three most common responses to the question, "How do you describe people in the Christian faith?" 1) anti-homosexual; 2) judgmental; 3) hypocritical. This is what we are known for. Not for feeding the poor; caring for the sick; building schools in third world countries; helping lead the charge to end slavery; or taking the lead in the Civil Rights Movement.

As Cheri said in her sermon “Friends, I gotta tell you, I take the information from this study and then I take the words from our scripture for today and from the song Ashley sang for us and it feels like when you take two magnets and you have them turned so that the poles don't match up and they push against each other. We have a serious problem. The Gospel message of love that we have to offer - it's not getting through out there”.

Well Dan Merchant took one small step to get it through. We showed it in worship. He did it at a Pride Festival. He got this crazy idea to set up a confessional booth. The confessions were not attendees to Dan, but Dan confessing and asking for absolution from those attending the event. He confessed our sins as a faith community, as followers of Christ in showing hatred and violence and discrimination and fear and anger and resentment, especially during the early stages of the AIDS crisis, rather than the love and comfort and acceptance Jesus called us to show. He even got former Senator Rick Santorum, you know the guy who compared homosexuality to bestiality and being a pedofile, to confess to that sin.

Now here is the challenge for us today friends. Many of us in this conversation, have been on the side of this conflict where you have been the one that some Christian has used the Bible to beat you up. Some misguided Christian has said, because you are ____ you are a sinner and you are going to hell. Back in West Texas Cher was told because she wanted to be a pastor she was a sinner and going to Hell. But she read scripture, and had some good Christian mentors who showed her there was another way to interpret the scripture. And she prayed and she carefully discerned that God was saying something else to her.

Now we are all sinners. But we are not all sinners for the reasons that some folks have tried to tell us we are sinners. So let's go back and read that scripture again. Because here is the thing. I think it's easy to read this and think about those mean people that have judged us - and been mean and hateful to us - those misguided folks that hold up signs that say God hates ___ (you fill in the blank).

But friends, we all have someone that we hate. Or at least, we all have someone whose actions we see as evil, and so it makes it very hard for us to separate that person from their evil action. But when we act out of hate we are no better than those folks that have been hateful toward us. And Jesus calls us to do better. Jesus is about love. Love never fails.

We can get angry when people aren’t loving. But needs to work on us. We can hate, well hate, but not the “hater”. We have to love. God has made this clear, LOVE. The leaders of the Reconciling Ministries Network (churches, like The Village, who believe in welcoming all in full inclusion, including Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender persons), have taken this message to heart. Despite vicious attacks, they show love and hospitality. At Methodist events, they often do acts of welcome, opening doors, etc.

Cheri closed her message and I’ll close my blog with using the Bible passage above as a prayer: “Let us love genuinely; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; Let us love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not let us lag in zeal, but be ardent in spirit, Let us serve the Lord. Let us rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Lord, let us contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Help us bless those who persecute us; bless then and do not curse them. Help us rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Help us to live in harmony with one another; May we not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; not claim to be wiser than you are. Let us not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on us, let us live peaceably with all. May we never avenge ourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. Help us to act like this, if our enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not let us be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”. Amen.