Scrubbing In

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Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
    Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart… Psalm 24:3-4a

A few weeks back, Hulu made all 15 seasons of ER available for streaming.  I had never watched the show, so I thought I’d give it a try.  Wow. I feel like I should get credit for a year of med school for every season I complete.

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They’re always washing their hands.  I’m talking deep, lathered scrubbing.  More than any “employees must wash their hands” sign ever dreamed of.  Working at the fingernails, all the way up the arms.   And then they hold their hands up to avoid contact with any germs.

You’d think they wouldn’t need to be that careful, with all the unclean people that come into the Emergency Room.  Drug addicts trying to scam some pills, Seniors suffering from confusion or neglect, folks with every kind of disease imaginable.  People covered in blood, or dirt, or something equally filthy.  It’s one of the messiest places you can find, and yet, there is this deliberate cleansing to avoid contamination.

Do I do that?  I mean, as a pastor.  As a Christian.  Do I need to scrub in before I try to help someone in need?  For some people, the church can be like an emergency room — a place to go when all hope is lost, when the suffering is too great, when confusion and neglect overwhelm.  When being unclean becomes unbearable.

If ER is any sort of correlation, I really shouldn’t engage in helping, or ministry, until I’m sure I’m not contaminated.  I need to be made clean.

The first of John Wesley’s General Rules was “Do no harm.”  Absolutely.  In the helping of somebody else’s spiritual germs, we can cause contamination if we haven’t monitored our own issues.  We can act selfishly, or impatiently.  We can avoid listening, or practice messy theology.

Can you imagine the cast of ER treating serious wounds while covered in dirt?  It would be dangerous.  The same is true for us, but for Christians in service, more is needed than soap and water.  We need to be in constant prayer, turning to the scriptures, connected in community. We need to remember our baptisms — that cleansing Grace of the Holy Spirit that is with us our whole lives.  We need to know the power of Jesus Christ to forgive sins.

This is how we scrub in.  Not just as pastors, or lay leaders.   Every Christian is called to do a rotation in the ER.  Every one of us is on call to be the hands and feet of Christ at a moment’s notice.

We may never be perfectly clean as we prepare for the mission field, but we must be ready to follow in the steps of the Great Physician.

(And I don’t mean Noah Wyle)

Have a good week,

Mitch

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I am giving up for Lent.

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Chocolate. Smoking. Facebook.
Soda.  Pizza.  Swearing.
Smart Phone. Complaining. TV.

What are you giving up for Lent?

Alcohol. Procrastinating. Fast food.
Shopping.   Salt.  Red Meat.
Caffeine.  Gossip.  Selfishness.

There are so many things people give up for Lent.  You could choose any one of them to help you focus spiritually this season, or…

You could just give up.

As in, “I give up!”

As in, “My hands are raised in the air, God.  This is me giving up!”

As in, “I surrender”.

This is not an easy thing to do.  Remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane?  He says, “My Father if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) , and then,  My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” Matthew 26:42

That passage is not about Jesus wanting to give up drinking for Lent! It’s about Jesus putting his life in God’s hands.  He gives up his own human desire for self-preservation, and surrenders himself into God’s will.

This is what I want to do, this year.  I want to try.  I want to give up for Lent.  For me, giving up means consciously resisting the urges I have to resist God.  I want to avail myself of God’s will as much as I can.

That means trying, at least, to give up some of my worst habits.  My overwhelming desire for comfort. My fear of speaking and acting in faith.  The pain that has me looking at the world through jaded eyes.

I want to give all that up!  Release it into the cosmos.  Then I want to listen obediently.

I do not expect God will lead me to a cross.  But I expect God will lead me.  And giving up is my sign of willingness to follow.

Along the way I may eat a little chocolate.  I may complain a bit.  I may stumble and fall, for the journey to the cross is not always easy.

But I will rest in the knowledge of the One…

Who never gives up on me.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Candy Dust to Dust

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You’ll never believe what happened when Valentines Day and Ash Wednesday fell on the same day, back in 2018.

Here’s what happened:

I had left the house in a rush, grabbing my stuff and wishing my wife an “I love you!” as I ran for the door.  I had to make it to church in time for the come-and-go imposition of ashes. We decided not to have a service this year, opting instead for a couple hour-long spans when people could come to the church, receive ashes and a devotion booklet, and be invited to pray in silence.

There were already a couple people sitting in pews waiting when I got to the sanctuary.  I dropped my stuff in the front pew and reached in my satchel for my vial of ashes—and it wasn’t there!  Instead I found a bag of Valentines candy.  Little candy hearts I was going to pass out to my staff and family that evening.

I stood there, paralyzed, as another person came into the sanctuary.  The man walked down the aisle right to me, brushing away his hair so I could impose the ashes that I didn’t have.

Panicking, and not knowing what else to do, I ripped open the bag of hearts, grabbed one, and placed it in the man’s palm.  Looking down, we read together what it said:  “Be Mine”.

He looked at me, startled.  Straight-faced, I muttered, “Repent and believe the Gospel.” He slowly turned away, as if trying to decide if he was supposed to eat it or not.

There was a line now.  The woman behind him stepped forward, and tentatively held out her hand.  I pulled another one out.  It said, “Hot Stuff”.  Obviously that wouldn’t do, so I popped it in my mouth, said a silent prayer, and pulled out another.  “True Love.”  That was more like it.

“Repent and believe the Gospel,” I said, placing it in her hand.  She smiled.  That was a good sign. The line was all the way down the aisle, now.  Would I have enough appropriate hearts to pass out?  I said another silent prayer.

The next one surprised me: “Have Faith”.  The one after that said, “I Forgive.”  Amazed, I pulled another and gasped.  It said, “Died 4 U”.  People were leaving with tears in their eyes now.  I had to wipe a few away myself.  In later days people would tell me it was the most moving Ash Wednesday they could remember.  Believe me, I gave God all the credit.

As the last person left the sanctuary, I looked down in the bag.  One heart left.  Bracing, I pulled it out.  It said “Dust 2 Dust”.

Indeed.  Wiping the candy dust from my hands, I sank down into the pew and began my own Lenten journey.  I tried to quiet my mind, but the thought wouldn’t leave me…

If God could make Valentines Day into a meaningful observance of Ash Wednesday,

What might God do with April Fool’s Day and Easter?

Have a good week,

Mitch

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It’s Hip To Be Square

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It’s not just some fad.  It’s not just a Huey Lewis song either.  But let me tell you…

Square is where it’s at.

Quadrilateral, actually.  A 4-sided box that contains a method for making sense of the world.  This is a United Methodist method, in fact, and one you can put to use immediately.

We call it the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral”, although Dr. Albert Outler coined the term centuries after John Wesley’s time.  Outler studied Wesley extensively, and the Quadrilateral isn’t just what Wesley taught but what Wesley did.

It’s a method for strengthening your faith, based on four sources John Wesley drew upon time and again.  Here they are:

SOURCE #1:  Scripture.  This is the big one.  Scripture contains everything sufficient for us as believers, and so we look to it to inform our faith more than the others.  However, we Methodists want to confirm and enhance our understanding as we interpret the Word.  Which brings us to…

SOURCE #2.  Tradition.  For thousands of years now, people have written about God.  Speculated about Jesus.  Tried to interpret the work of the Holy Spirit.  Those writings form the basis of our tradition–and we use them to help us peel back the layers of scripture and yield new understanding.  Tradition can also refer to the activities of different faith groups — including our own — as they’ve passed down through the centuries.

SOURCE #3.  Reason.  Wesley was a strong proponent of logic, reason, and science.  God gave us these intricate minds — it’s only appropriate for us to use them as we try to wrestle with difficult subjects and complicated ideas.

SOURCE #4.  Experience.  This one’s kind of tricky, because experience can be so subjective from one person to the next.  It refers to the experience of the Holy Spirit within and around us–how it has warmed our hearts and confirmed our faith.

Maybe you knew all that and this was just a reminder.  Maybe you’ve never explored such ideas before.  Regardless, let me make it clear:  It’s hip to be square.

It’s incredibly cool to use these four sources to strengthen your faith!  People who embrace the Quadrilateral as part of their daily faith walk will find greater depth, greater balance, and greater meaning in their lives.

Now, you might have noticed — it’s actually possible for two people to use these sources and come out with entirely different notions!  One person could weigh out scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, and decide they are pro-life, and another could do the same thing and identify as pro-choice.   Your faith could point you against gay marriage, and your best friend could believe the opposite.  Faithful people can come to very different faith conclusions.

If we don’t all believe the same way, what good is the Quadrilateral in the first place?

Ah, but that’s the hippest part of the whole thing.   If we carefully, faithfully use these four sources — we may come to different conclusions, but we ARE believing the same way.  We’re holding fast to a process that produces Christians with integrity.

It doesn’t create complete agreement.  It creates creative people.  People who are willing to investigate and ask questions, to delve into the traditions of the church, to read scripture vigorously, and to seek the Holy Spirit’s blessing.

If we can commit to doing all of that, then there is hope for us to learn and grow together.  (Wesley called that Christian Conferencing, a really cool concept for another day).

Do you get it?  Those four sources form a STREngth that cannot be ignored.  The more people choose to be this deliberate and methodical, the stronger we become as God’s family, even when we don’t always agree.

So spread the word.  It’s hip to be square.  Let’s make this precious process popular…

Until everybody’s doing it.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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