Unity

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.  I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  – Messiah Jesus, John 17:17-23

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My daughter Maddie’s picture under The Cloud Gate Sculpture in Chicago – surrounded by people from across the globe.

Unity.  What does it even mean? The dictionary says, “the quality or state of not being multiple; a condition of harmony; the quality or state of being made one.” But for United Methodist Christians the word is laden with different meanings.  As the United Methodist Church struggles with actual unity, the word ‘unity’ has been co-opted.  Some refer to it as a ‘totem’, a ‘code word for mushy moderates’, ‘an idol’, ‘selling out full justice’, and ‘a holy-sounding argument for those who want to avoid the issue altogether’.

I have a different perspective on unity.  It is rooted in my understanding of scripture and the experience in the context I serve.  Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas is unique.  It is actually a collection of diverse worship communities (churches) who live out their faith as ONE church.  The Sanctuary, Mercy Street, Contemplative, Upper Room, The Branch, Fair Haven, and Holy Family are each very different.  Most people who spend a weekend with us and visit our differing services realize this is not their parent’s church.  Different lead pastors, different contexts, and really diverse people.

Our worship community pastors, the lead pastors of each community, are a tight-knit group.  We really love each other, we spend a lot of time together, and we are very different:  Male, female, white, black, hispanic, asian, young, old, married, and single.  We come from different parts of the country and we’ve been educated in different schools.  We have all been formed by different experiences.  There is very little ‘uniformity’.  But there is a deep unity.

Last week, we met to discuss how we want the Holy Spirit to help us lead Chapelwood through the next few years as the UMC struggles with the issues before us.  We started with our own stories.  We shared our personal beliefs on the issues surrounding scripture, the life of Christ, marriage, sexuality, gender, and many other issues.  We’ve had these conversations before, but we were very intentional this time to press each other to go as deep as possible with our struggles, beliefs, and dreams for our church.  When we finished, a few things were clear to me:

  • We do not all see the issues the same way and we do not all long for the same outcomes…
  • We are currently wrestling with many of the issues…
  • We love the people we serve and we grieve knowing there are people on all sides of these issues in our communities – some who may find staying in the UMC difficult…

And, with all the differences we shared, we left our time together with more commitment and love toward each other than when we started.  The power of the Holy Spirit actually pulled us together – not apart – as we shared our different stories and our different dreams for the church.  I left more focused on Christ.  Jesus was glorified in our sharing.

And this is just one reason why I wholeheartedly disagree with people who say unity is some type of totem, excuse to avoid conflict, or excuse to exclude others.  Unity is not the end…the glory of Christ is the end…unity is the means by which we get there.  Unity is very challenging.  People who claim unity is an excuse to avoid conflict have never actually contended for honest unity in a diverse community.  It is far easier to draw bold lines in the sand, state what you believe, and then stand far removed on one side of the issue.

I do not fear schism and separation in our denomination.  Why?  Because it’s easy.  It is intellectually and spiritually lazy.  And it relieves the tension of the day (until the next issue arises).  Schism is definitely messy, but it’s not horrifying.

You want to know what I fear?  Unity.  I fear, revere, dread, cherish, dismay, exalt, and esteem unity.  Why?  Because unity means I have to give and take, live and die, learn and be taught.  It requires deep humility, love, and grace – things I don’t always do well with.  I am blessed to live in a community that seeks to live into the prayer Jesus prayed.  And my prayer is that ‘we also may be sanctified in truth…that we may all be one…so that the world may believe that God sent Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.’

God’s Will and Messy Faith

Colossians 1:9-10
9For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.

This past Sunday, I announced that our family will be moving this summer to serve as the next Senior Pastor of Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas.  It was an emotionally difficult day announcing we are leaving Wesley at Frederica.  We love Wesley.  We love the people of the church.  We love the community.  Ministry together over the past five years has been deeply rewarding, encouraging, and powerful.  As I shared with the congregation, I am better because I have served Wesley.  Wesley made me better than I ever thought I could be.

I shared Sunday the difficulty of the decision.  How do we discern God’s Will when confronted with two wonderful opportunities?  Deciding between the clearly right and the wrong things should be easy (although, I recognize sometimes it can be a hard decision as well), but how do you go through the process of discerning between two great choices?  Is there only one right path?  Will God only bless the one and not the other?  I didn’t do as good a job explaining Sunday as I hoped to due to the nature of the day.  But let me explain a little more how I believe discernment between two good choices works.

As Wesleyan Methodists, we don’t believe in “determinism” – that God scripts every action, every step, and every move of our lives.  Determinism says we don’t really have choice, we just have the perception that we choose, but God scripts everything.  We see this in language when we say, “It’s all God’s Will,” or “God knows what He’s doing,” or “it’s all in God’s plan.”  This understanding is rooted in a different strand of theological thought than Wesley’s theology.

Others believe God creates the world, sets it in motion and stands back never involved in the creation.  It just operates like a clock that has been wound up and let loose.  Called deists by some, they understand God to be the great Clock Maker.  God is not involved in our lives.  We have total freedom and we can choose any path we want.

A more balanced approach is rooted in our Wesleyan theology.  We believe God is actively involved in our lives.  But we also believe give gives us the freedom to choose.  Freedom of choice can sometimes disrupt God’s purposes for us, but choice also allows us to love God more perfectly.  After all, how can it really be love if have no choice?

Thomas Merton wrote, “A [person] who is afraid to settle their future by a good act of their own free choice does not understand the love of God.  For our freedom is a gift of God given us in order that He may be able to love us more perfectly, and be loved by us more perfectly in return….He Who loves us means to leave us room for our own freedom so that we may dare to choose for ourselves, with no other certainty than that His love will be pleased by our intention to please Him.”

And that is the key…when confronted by two great choices; we are given the freedom to choose.  I truly believe God is involved and can work with us in either choice.  I believe God is pleased by either choice as long as it is our desire to please God.  We use a lot of factors to make our decisions…meditating on scripture, prayer, contemplative listening, listening to wise counsel, watching for opportunities, and sometimes miraculous signs!

The hard part in my decision to leave Wesley and serve Chapelwood is that I had to choose.  That can cause anger and hurt.  This is why in the Methodist Church we Methodist preachers like to have the Bishop simply appoint us.  That way we don’t have to accept any responsibility for moving.  We can let all the anger project on the Bishop and Cabinet.  It is also easier to talk with “deterministic” language about this decision.  God desires this and God led me and it is God’s will.  After all, you can’t be mad at me if God is the one pulling all the strings!

The complexity of discerning God’s will when we face good choices is evident.  My counsel to you is to spend time in prayer, spend time in God’s scriptures, talk to those you look up to and admire spiritually (seek those who are on both sides of the choice), spend time listening to God, and listen to your family.  Then, when time comes…make a decision, know God can work in and bless either choice.

This has been a difficult decision, but I truly see God in it.  I am excited about going to Texas to serve with the wonderful people of Chapelwood, but I am also grieving at the thought of leaving behind the wonderful people of Wesley.

This is a part of the journey, my friends.  As my friend Samuel Ghartey used to say, “I am struggling peacefully, my friend.  I am struggling peacefully.”

In a New Church…Now What?

Today (June 12, to be exact), clergy across South Georgia are moving to their new appointments (churches).  I am blessed to be reappointed to Wesley United Methodist Church at Frederica for my fifth year!  I am looking forward to many more years together with the great people in this wonderful church, but alas, the purpose of this post is not to praise Wesley.  This post is to help those who may be moving to a new appointment.  While I haven’t moved as often as others, I have moved to two churches that were in difficult transition periods.  In each of those, we experienced success.  The most important thing I learned is get started well and manage expectations.  Hopefully, these two lessons will be helpful for you.

First, be careful what you change.  I do not subscribe to the school of thought that you don’t change anything the first year.  I do not believe that is a good strategy or shows good leadership.  The better course is to find the things that need to be changed that produce small wins for you and the congregation.  These changes should be needed changes that help you gain support among the stakeholders.  You may see some things YOU want to change, but they may strike at the identity of the congregation (whether healthy or not).  You need time and trust to deal with larger, more complex changes.  How do you know which is which?  Conduct a series of home meetings and invite every member of your church (active and inactive).  Set the groups up by neighborhoods or based on convenient time slots.  Break up the advocacy groups (a Sunday school class, or interest group).  Let them meet with those outside their regular group.  If you serve a small congregation, you can do this one on one.  Ask them the following:  “What are the strengths of this church?”  “What are the areas of growth?” (Notice I didn’t say weakness).  And, “If money were no object and we could not fail, what one thing would you like to see our church do?”  Collect all the answers, pray, listen, discern, read context…only then target areas where change is needed.  The complex stuff can wait until you show you are one of them and not just some outsider or hired hand.  One piece of advice I always heeded…don’t let worship be one of the first things you change.  The worship service is a key formative part of their identity…to change that before you understand the meaning of why they do what they do is…well, not very smart.

Second, let the leadership of the church assist you in determining your priorities as pastor.  News flash…you can’t do everything.  And you certainly can’t do everything well (even though some of us think we can).  You need to determine your priorities each year and you need input from the church leadership as you determine them.  I was given this list by my mentor Dr. Jim Jackson, Senior Minister of Chapelwood UMC in Houston, Texas.  I have used it regularly and found it very helpful.  There are 12 categories.  Produce a sheet with the 12 and hand out to your Staff Parish Committee, or other leadership groups, and ask them to rank them 1 to 12 according to the way they think their pastor should use their time – 1 is most important, 12 least important.  The list is (in no particular order).

  1. Worship Planning and Preaching – planning and leading worship, sermons, etc.
  2. Teaching and Discipling – teaching bible studies, confirmation, new member classes, study courses, Sunday school, etc.
  3. Counseling – provide guidance for individuals, couples, families, be involved in their lives, decisions, and crises
  4. Visiting and Care Giving – visiting from house to house, calling on members, hospital visitation, shut in visitation
  5. Evangelizing/Church Growth – reaching new people in community for Christ, bring them into church, introduce them to discipleship,
  6. Consensus Building/Fundraising – resolve conflict in church, build harmony, focus on stewardship and raising budget, paying off debt
  7. Administration & Communication – working with staff and key laity to develop plans and programs that reach members and the community, programming of church
  8. Staff Supervision & Mentoring – serving as “head of staff”, being point person in developing staff responsibilities, select, supervise, and develop staff
  9. Family Leader – cultivate a model family life, inspire church and community
  10. Personal Spiritual Development – engage in spiritual disciplines, prayer, bible study, spiritual leadership
  11. Community Leader – serve as church’s representative in the community, face of church, civic involvement
  12. Denominational Leader – participate in United Methodism beyond local church, district, conference, jurisdictional and general level

After your leadership ranks the categories, determine the top five.  After a time of prayer and discernment, try your best to make the top five your top priorities for time and energy during the first year.  The others areas should not be neglected, but you need to remember that what you like to do and what the people of the church feel you need to do should be balanced together.  All of these things are worthy and good.  This is all about managing expectations.

Remember, if you want to conduct deeper change in any congregation, you have to earn trust and that takes time…along with making good decisions.  These things simply help you get started well.  My prayer is that all the new pastors will be blessed in their new appointments and that God will work in wonderful ways through you and through the church!

South Georgia Annual Conference Recap

I just returned from the South Georgia Annual Conference in Macon, Georgia.  Each year, almost 1,000 delegates of the United Methodist Churches in South Georgia gather to worship, study, and order the work of the conference.  Conference begins with opening worship on Sunday night and concludes with a time of worship and sending forth on Tuesday afternoon as the Bishop “fixes” the appointments of all clergy.

One of the most sacred times of conference is the service of commissioning and ordination on Monday night.  During this service, the candidates for ordained ministry are commissioned (the first step toward ordination after the completion of seminary) or ordained (the final step, which occurs two years after seminary graduation, completion of probationary time, and passing written/oral exams).  This year was special for Wesley United Methodist Church at Frederica because one of our own, the Rev. Bill Culpepper (you may officially call him Rev.!) was commissioned during the service.  His family was present and many from Wesley watched the live streaming online.

The biggest item of business was the discussion on whether or not to reduce the number of districts in our conference.  We currently have 9 districts with a district superintendent in each district.  A study committee brought information to look at the possibility of 9, 7, or 6 districts in South Georgia.  After debate, the Annual Conference voted to reduce to 6 districts beginning June 2014.  What does this mean?  Why make this decision?  In my opinion, there are two major rationales.

First, the biggest reason most people cited was the cost savings.  By reducing to 6 districts, the grand total of savings in the conference budget will be $550,291 (see page 22 of district study report, corrected from $537,529).  This savings will reduce the conference budget approximately $225,000 in 2014, and the full $550,000 in 2015.  For the local church, this MAY mean less apportionments.  For me, its not so much about the local church’s share of apportionments as it is about the big picture conference budget…which consistently finishes in the red each year, dipping into conference reserves each year.

Second, and the most important reason for me, is that moving to 6 districts will (hopefully!) force us to do things differently.  We’ve had 9 districts since the South Georgia Conference received our own Bishop in 1988.  Bishop King reminds us that since 1988 we have lost membership every year.  Our connectionalism has deteriorated, membership has dropped, and apportionment payment has declined.  The current system of 9 districts do not hurt us, but it is obviously not helping.  By reducing, as many other conferences have done, we are now forced to think more strategically about how to engage in mission at a conference, district and local level.  My hope is to see an effective Conference Core Leadership Team working with a District Leadership Team to assist the local churches in mission and ministry. Our best and brightest clergy and laity need to be a part of this.  Our strongest churches need to step up and participate. Churches, clergy, and laity should take an active leadership role within their districts and the conference.  Unfortunately, we have a very “top-down” structure in South Georgia which disenfranchises the voices and the leadership at the district and local level.  This must change if we are to be successful.

Let’s pray that some innovative steps are taken. I talked with a lot of clergy and laity in Macon who are ready and willing to help in this new direction.  I hope they are called upon.

 

Here for a Reason…

Read Acts 16:9-15

As Luke tells the story of the birth of the Christian church, he wants to make two things clear. The sharing of the Gospel to the Gentiles is something approved by the Spirit and by the Jerusalem Church. The vision we read about today is God’s approval for mission to Macedonia.

There are two great lessons here:

First, God Calls Us to Listen to the Spirit……
What do you do when you are stymied in life? When things just seem shut to you? How you answer this question tells us a lot about you. I think the general advice we receive from the culture is to press forward with determination and break through on our own. After all, we can’t let little obstacles get in our path, can we? We know that those who achieve most are often the most determined and focused, and so the “lesson” seems to be that when obstacles arise, keep going. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard TV preachers say, “You’ve got to turn those stumbling blocks into stepping stones!!”

But that’s not the message God gives Paul. When Paul was blocked, he stopped and listened. When you get blocked or stymied, you might try one more time to see what’s what, but if blocked again, then it’s time to listen. We are so busy trying to overcome everything that we never stop, pray and listen.  A lot of the time we don’t listen because we are afraid. We think, ‘if I really took some time to listen to where God is leading me, what kind of life would I be led to?’ Take Paul here as a guide and spend more time listening than proclaiming; more time in developing ears that hear.

Second, God Calls Us to Look for Opportunities….
Paul went into Macedonia and sought out the people who would be receptive. Paul’s experience in mission illustrates for us how useful it is not only to be spiritually attuned to the world around us but also to be practically-minded.  In the passage, Paul goes to where the seekers gather.  He was strategic.  And we find, as in this case, that God opens a way where we only thought there may have been opposition.

I will tell you that since I arrived at Wesley United Methodist Church at Frederica in 2009, we’ve accomplished a lot.  But all along the way I have to tell you that I have  done a lot of prayerful listening. I have been listening to the Spirit and waiting for the clear, unifying vision God has for us. What I have found as I talk to so many of you is this:  Some of us have a clear vision for God’s work in the world around you and you have been at work. Others of us know Wesley should be engaged in mission, but it hasn’t always been clear enough to motivate at an organizational level. Others of you, as you have shared with me honestly, are having a hard time listening to the Spirit and seeing the opportunities because of the debt of the church. I can understand all three of these responses.

Retiring the debt has been a top priority for us since 2009, which is why we have made such wonderful progress. What gives me great hope and excitement is this: If we can rally to pay down our debt by $3.3 million in 4 years, just image what this church can do out of debt with a clear and compelling vision from God for this community and world?

I am excited for our future. I hope you can see that God is working among us. When this debt is no longer a limitation, I truly believe God will open the floodgates toward transforming our community.

The Big Three: Money, Sex, and Power

I Corinthians 9:24-27
24Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. 26So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; 27but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified

Most of us are overwhelmingly focused on the tasks we have to accomplish each and every day. Last week on Tuesday morning with a bunch of guys at breakfast, I was sharing with them an app I have on my iPad where I keep all my notebooks. The first one I go to every do is the To Do book. I create my To Do list. If I don’t, I will forget something (in addition to the many things I forget to put on my list.) But you see, part of the problem with our out of control lives is this To Do list. We are more focused in our lives on what we have TO DO, then who we are working TO BE. A friend of mine recently asked me if I have ever made a TO BE list instead of a TO DO list. He told me, if you let the TO BE list guide you, you will find your life transformed.  Why is it we spend more time focusing on what we need to do instead of focusing on who we are? Thomas Merton once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” This is so true.

Three human needs have the capacity to destroy any one of us if we don’t spend time in examining our lives: money, sex, and power. It is no wonder early monastic communities established three vows for those called to religious leadership: poverty, chastity (celibacy), and obedience. These vows were severe protective measures to guard against the fatal compulsion of these three needs. While the early monastics approached these three human needs with vows of denial, that is not the only way to bring them under control.  During the Reformation in the 16th century, the leaders of the church stressed a more positive response to deal with the Big Three: faithful stewardship, covenantal love, and self-giving service as healthy responses to these three temptations. Rather than deny the needs, they sought to control, direct, and redeem them. This new understanding in Christian faith saw money, sex, and power not as evil in and of themselves, what matters is how they are used in our lives. This is why self-examination is so important in managing our out of control lives. Instead of just going, we need to figure out what makes us go.  Over time the church’s view toward money, sex, and power shifted as the role of each in society was changing.

The modern era has sought to make peace with money, sex, and power. It seems that many of us believe we are immune to the dangers of each one. But the truth is, they still have the power to destroy families and lives if they remain unchecked.
I’ve shared stories before of how the BIG THREE can destroy lives. We’ve seen it in our own families. Most of the time, I have found that what leads us to fall to their power is that we never really spent time examining what makes us tick. We never spent time on our TO BE list.

Paul talks here about bringing his body under control and how important it is. We must know that money, sex, and power have the ability to cloud our judgment, corrode our values, and capture our will leading us to behave in ways that are irresponsible.

Where does the search for begin? You and I need to look for individuals who have demonstrated the inner capacity to deal creatively with money, sex, and power in their lives. In Christian tradition, we have called these people spiritual guides, mentors, abbas, or ammas (fathers or mothers).  They come alongside us, with our permission, and become “ruthlessly compassionate truthtellers”.  We can’t overcome the power of the Big Three alone.  We need someone to help us – to guide us.  Will you find someone to come alongside you?  To help you TO BE the person God created you to be?

Rule Number 6

Exodus 18:13-26
13 The next day Moses sat as judge for the people, while the people stood around him from morning until evening. 14When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?’ 15Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God.16When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God.’ 17Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘What you are doing is not good. 18You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. 19Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God; 20teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do. 21You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace.’
24 So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said.25Moses chose able men from all Israel and appointed them as heads over the people, as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.26And they judged the people at all times; hard cases they brought to Moses, but any minor case they decided themselves.

Luke 10:25-37
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.* ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 27He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’28And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ 30Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii,* gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ 37He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

Rosamund and Benjamin Zander, in their book The Art of Possibility, tell the story of two prime ministers who were sitting in one’s office discussing affairs of state. Suddenly an aide burst in, shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk. The host prime minister quietly said, “Peter, kindly remember Rule Number Six.” Peter was instantly restored to complete calm, apologized for the interruption, and left the room. The prime ministers resumed their discussion. Several minutes later, another aide rushed in, shouting and stamping. Again the host prime minister quietly said, “Marie, please remember Rule Number Six.” Marie calmed down immediately, apologized, and left the room.  The visiting prime minister said “I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Tell me, what is this Rule Number Six?” The host prime minister said, “It’s really very simple. Rule Number Six is ‘Don’t take yourself so seriously.’” After a moment of pondering, the visiting prime minister inquired, “And what, may I ask, are the other rules?”
The host replied, “There aren’t any.”

One of the biggest problems we face day to day in our “uncontrollable” lives is that we take ourselves way too seriously. You have no idea how this affects your ability to be free, enjoy life, and live fully for God as God intended, which draws others to a living and loving faith in Christ.  The truth is, life is uncontrollable. But the height of pride and vainglory is to think that we can control it. And because we think this way, we are often frustrated and disappointed. This is tied to our expectations, but it is more than that. This is about how we view ourselves in the midst of the life we live. Most things in life we can’t control, rather than let the uncontrollable disturb us; we need to remember Rule Number 6 and how we can learn to view life, and ourselves, differently.

I do a lot of weddings here. And if you are involved in weddings often, one thing you can count on – something will go wrong. It could be a big thing or a small thing. It may be something you see or something you never see. There are just too many details over months and months for something not to go wrong. Whether the pants don’t show up in the best man’s tux, or the candle just won’t light, or a groomsman falls out, or maybe just after the bride declares her love to the groom and kisses him, the soloist sings “I’d rather have Jesus.” Something is going to happen!
I remember the father of one wedding recently who was so serious and so nervous about his one line. When I ask, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” his reply had to be perfect. All night at the rehearsal he kept looking at me, “Her mother and I do…Her mother and I do…Her mother and I do.” I kept telling him, it’s okay. Next day, I ask the question, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” and he replies emphatically, “My mother and I do.” He was terribly upset as people began to laugh, but his daughter, with a huge smile on her face said to him, “That’s perfect. We will never forget that!”

A few years ago, I was doing a wedding on a golf course in Columbus, Georgia. It was a beautiful setting on a walking bridge across a beautiful shallow stream next to the green. Everything was perfect. I handed the groom a beautiful diamond wedding ring which he took in his hand…took her hand in his…and as I asked him to place it on her finger and repeat after me…he dropped it, bouncing off the walking bridge into the ankle high, flowing stream. He began to freak out, the bride laughed, and two bridesmaids and a few guest took off their shoes and proceeded to make their way into the stream.

The reason Rule Number 6 is so important is because when things like this happens, it is not a tragedy! It is not a disaster!! It is a disclosure of our humanity! When we have a right understanding of who we are in Christ, we practice not taking ourselves so seriously – Rule Number 6. It is one of the best ways to remind us of our humanity – our need to rely on a power greater than ourselves.

Today, in both our passages of scripture, we see Rule Number 6 at work.

First, Moses is leading God’s people in a very inefficient way. He is dealing with everything and it is killing him, but he feels he must do it! After all, he’s Moses and he is God’s chosen leader! It takes a reality check from his father in law to say, “Look at what you are doing! This is not good!” Moses listened to his father in law, but the temptation and reveals a great lesson – we can’t do it all and we are not the center of the universe. Even Moses needed help and he understood it.

In the second passage today, a lawyer is trying to justify himself by asking Jesus what must be done to inherit eternal life. As Jesus answers, he apparently doesn’t remember Rule Number 6, because he feels the need to justify himself. Jesus tells a story that digs deep into issues of identity and worth by making the neighbor, the one who helps the man in the ditch, a Samaritan – one of the most reviled groups of the people the Jews had in their day.

There are two selves doing battle in us all the time. Paul talked about this when he wrote, “what I want to do I don’t do, and the things I don’t want to do, I do.” We see it today in the scripture about Moses as he struggles to lead God’s people and is able to receive help from his father in law. And we see it in the interchange between the lawyer and Jesus in Luke 10 as he tells the story of the Good Samaritan.  If you want to understand Rule Number 6 and how to use it, you have to understand the Calculating Self and the Centering Self.

THE CALCULATING SELF
This Calculating Self is the part of ourselves concerned with our own survival in a world of scarcity. This is the part of ourselves that not only thinks we are the center of the world, but causes us to act like we are the center of the world. The Calculating Self is always measuring, always evaluating how we are perceived and is always calling out, “Take note of me.”  The Calculating Self is a part of who we are, but the power of SIN has really distorted how it works in us. The Calculating Self develops when we are children – we are the center of the world, demanding, measuring our worth on what we accomplish and what others think of us. As we grow up, some of us are able to harness the Calculating Self and we gain some sense of control over it, we mature – but it’s not easy. Unfortunately, no matter how confident or self-aware we are as adults, underneath the surface we see ourselves as marginal, at risk for losing everything.  The Calculating Self without proper control is always trying to climb higher, get more control, displace others, and find a way in. The Calculating Self must be brought under control through the work of God’s spirit, love and humility and one of the best ways to do this is to learn to “not take ourselves so seriously”. As we peel away layers of opinion, entitlement, pride, and inflated views of ourselves, others instantly feel the connection. As we have the grace to practice Rule Number 6, then the other part of ourselves begins to work through, the Centering Self. And this is where we need to grow.

THE CENTERING SELF
Inscribed on five of the six pillars in the Holocaust Memorial at Quincy Market in Boston are stories that speak of the cruelty and suffering in the camps. The sixth pillar presents a tale of a different sort, about a little girl named Ilse, a childhood friend of Guerda Weissman Kline, in Auschwitz. Guerda remembers that Ilse, who was about six years old at the time, found one morning a single raspberry somewhere in the camp. Ilse carried it all day long in a protected place in her pocket, and in the evening, her eyes shining with happiness, she presented it to her friend Guerda on a leaf. “Imagine a world,” writes Guerda, “in which your entire possession is one raspberry, and you give it to your friend.”

Such is the nature of the Centering Self, the part of ourselves that embraces God’s image in us and lives centered on Christ’s principles of love and humility. Since the calculating self is designed to look out for Number One, it rears its head when we find ourselves at an impasse, whenever we are threatened – whether in politics or personal relationships or in the business world.  We are able to gain control of the Calculating Self through prayer, humility, love and self-discipline which allows the Centering Self to take over. When this happens, we find that childish demands and entitlements are not important for us anymore. Something changes in us. We die to self and live to Christ. We love more. We are less concerned with how others view us. We grow confident in our Christian identity, rather than a constructed identity based on what we do, what we know, or what we earn.

Today’s lesson is this: Practice Rule Number 6 – Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously
Keep alive and well your ability to laugh. Laugh with – never at – others. Laugh loudest at yourself. Poke holes in pomposity. Keep smiling – people will wonder what you’re up to!