Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Year Later: Settling Down... Planting Gardens

I just completed my flower gardens for 2013.  I always like to have it done by around July 4.  It is especially important this year as we will be on vacation during the first half of July.

I enjoy gardening; it's wonderful introvert time, and a chance to create a thing of beauty. Once I finish, I find myself liking to just look at the finished product—and subjecting others to photos they might not care about in the least :).

Surely, I could have planted these flowers earlier, but every year I procrastinate.  Why is that?  I know it will be hard, that's why.  (This weekend alone, I spent about 10 hours working in the yard.) It's hard work to create the garden and it takes work to maintain it:  weeding, raking, chopping, digging, planting, mulching, watering, etc.  And, of course,  plants grow during summer; so it tends to be hot, sweaty, grimy work.  If you're going to garden you gotta be willing to get your hands (and for that, matter most of your body) dirty; there's really no getting around it.

Much as I would prefer to simply walk in the back yard one morning and have the flower garden waiting, in 42 years I've never seen it happen—I keep waiting. The potential is part of the property but until I put forth effort to "activate" that potential, it will not become reality.

What is true for my garden also was true for the people of Israel.  Much as they might have preferred it, they didn't simply walk into to Canaan unopposed.  Yes, God led them to the new place and was giving them a new home that was brimming with potential, but they would have to work hard to start turning that potential into reality.  Israel still had to overcome considerable obstacles before the land would be truly theirs.  In fact,  they literally had to fight to take possession of their new home.

Tomorrow (July 1) is the one-year anniversary of our first Sunday at Good Shepherd.  Like Israel entering Canaan, for the past year, we've been taking possession of this place we now call home—Waldorf, MD. Along the way, we encountered obstacles, not the least of which was mold in our basement (again), but God has been with us and has given us what we need to respond to each challenge.  God often uses our difficult experiences to stretch us and, if we let them, make us better people.

Last year, so much of our time was spent moving in that there wasn't much time for gardening.  I did plant flowers, but they were kind of an afterthought.  A year later,  it seems that we are settling down (for what we hope will be a long stay) and planting vineyards (or in our case, Vinca and Impatiens). We feel  thankful that we are part of a church community where our gifts are appreciated and can be put to good use for the Kingdom of God.  We are thankful for the welcome we have received and looking forward to what lies ahead for our family in this place.  We pray more of the potential planted in this place can become radiant reality on our watch.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Share Your Spark

I got a new grill for Father's Day—a very nice gift from my family.  Even better for a guy like me, who is not the most handy of men, most of the "set up" was done for me. They pretty much put the grill together; I just had to hook up the propane and fire it up.

Or so I thought... As they say: The best laid plans. Our plan was to barbeque on Father’s Day, so that morning I went out to make sure everything was working right.  I hit the ignition button—nothing happened.  DOH! I was supposed to hear clicking sounds; I heard nothing. Double-DOH!

I knew it was not a lack of fuel for the flame; we had a full container of propane that we moved over from our old grill, and I could hear it flowing when I turned on the burner. All that potential for grilling was at my fingertips, but something was missing. There was no spark to start the fire.

Frustration. You can't have a Father's Day barbecue on potential alone; you need real flames to cook! But for longer than I would like to admit I couldn't figure out why the burner wasn't igniting.

It only takes a spark...
It turns out the fix was simple.  The igniter switch unscrews to reveal the housing for a tiny AAA battery.  Once I figured that out, and put a fresh battery in, the potential that was there all along roared into reality. The burners ignited and the power of my grill was available for cooking. Barbeque saved!  Relief.

This got me to thinking. The flame on my grill hinged on a tiny spark. Without it, the fuel could flow indefinitely, but (barring a the imposition of a match or a freak lightning strike) we would never see a flame. The battery seems like a small insignificant piece—so much so that the instruction manual doesn't even say where it's located—and yet without it the potential of my grill would never be realized.

It only takes a spark
To get a fire going
And soon all those around
Can warm up in its glowing...
Pass it On, verse 1

 I think there is an analogy to our spiritual life to be drawn here.  
You and I are like that battery on my grill.  We seem very small in life’s grand scheme, and yet we play a crucial role.  We are the means—the spark—that God uses to turn Kingdom-potential into radiant reality on Earth.

Creation pulses with God-given Kingdom-potential.  Every life form lives outs its purpose in its own unique way but all Creation ultimately exists to glorify its Creator[1].  Human beings represent the crowning achievement of creation—and Jesus was the ultimate revelation what human beings have the potential of becoming.  Humanity had strayed far off course, but the coming of Jesus puts us back on track.  We now have the possibility of fulfilling God’s original intent for our lives. 

But potential alone won’t produce a thriving spiritual life. The abundant life remains elusive until we make an intentional effort to connect to Jesus and “share our spark” so God’s Kingdom-potential can flow through our lives.

We see a dramatic display of the power of a “sharing a spark” on Pentecost. While we can debate if the "tongues of flame" Luke describes in Acts 2:1-11 were literal, we cannot deny their lasting impact on the world.

God's Spirit was, is, and always will be the fuel for our spiritual lives. God has always been with God's people, reaching out to relate to them in different ways throughout history. After Christ’s ascension, God was ready to be with us in a new way, but like the propane in my grill, God needed a spark before all that Kingdom-potential could start to become reality in our world. The Pentecost experience seems to have provided that spark for the followers of Jesus. Whatever happened in that room, it had a dramatic impact on all those who had gathered there that day. They went away changed, and then went forth to change the world!

Before Pentecost, the Way of Jesus was a local movement, but like a spark on dry brush, the flames of Pentecost unleashed a time of rapid expansion for the fledgling Church.

From that time on, "the Church" was launched into the world. Sometimes willingly, other times as a result of persecution, the apostles went forth from Jerusalem.  As they travelled, they "shared the spark" of Pentecost with the world[2].  

Within a few short decades what began in and around Jerusalem had become a worldwide force for transformation. The book of Acts tells the story of how the Message of Jesus spread from Jerusalem, to Judaea and Samaria, and to “the ends of the Earth”—which in that day was Rome.  Since then, the Church has literally circled the globe and, despite its very real struggles, continues to be a force for change in our world.

Along the way, a man named Saul became part of proclaiming that message.  He had his own “Pentecost” that converted him from one of the Movement’s greatest threats to its greatest evangelist—Acts 9; Galatians 1:11-12.  He even changed his name after it—to Paul.  The Scriptures record many of Paul’s letters.  In 2 Timothy, Paul (or more likely a later follower using Paul's name) encourages his young apprentice to "share his spark" with the world.  Using the parlance of his day, Paul urges Timothy to "fan the flame" and activate the gifts God has given him—2 Timothy 1:6. The elder Paul knows of young Timothy's potential having served with him for a period of time.  The student has clearly left a good impression on his teacher—and friend.

Now, however, Paul knows that his time is passing—2 Timothy 4:6. It is time for the young apprentice to, as it were, become the master. Timothy must increase as Paul decreasesWhat God wants to accomplish next relies on Timothy "sharing his spark" with the world.

We too are called to "share our spark." Though not always as obvious as on the day of Pentecost or on the “Damascus Road,”  Kingdom-potential is present with us everyday.  Our job is to train our “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” so we will able to “share our spark” when and where it can be most effective.

I am happy to be part of a congregation that has learned to hear God’s call—and respond.  Over the past year, I have experienced this place to be filled with disciplined and mature disciples of Jesus—people who see what needs to be done and then come up with a plan for action.  Every day at Good Shepherd, dedicated individuals and groups love God and love their neighbors in a multitude of practical and tangible ways that are making a difference in our church, our community, and our world.  Perhaps most important, we seem to be a people who are open to learning new things, changing things that aren’t working, and “trying something different.”  Maintaining that spirit of humility in Christ will carry us far! I believe God is pleased with our efforts to date to “fan our flame” and make good use of the gifts God has entrusted to us. 

And God promises us the best is yet to come! Just as was the case for the early apostles, as we continue to “share our spark,” others along our way will surely take notice.  As pulsing Kingdom-potential becomes radiant God-reality in the places where we live, work, and gather together, people will be drawn to the Spirit’s flame.  I pray that the light of that flame will guide Good Shepherd forward into the good and prosperous future that God has planned for us, a future that enables us to continue to be a beacon of Christ’s love for many years to come—for Waldorf… and for the world.

[1] In Orthodox theology, a creature’s logos—or its reason for existence—can only be fully realized within the proper skopos—or correct goal—of experiencing deeper intimacy with God.  Thus, every creature lives out its unique logos but all Creation ultimately moves toward the same skopos.
[2] While this is a general statement, here are in fact, two more “Pentecost” stories in Acts: the Samaritan Pentecost in Acts 8:14-17 and the Gentile Pentecost in Acts 10:44-47.

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