Monday, March 26, 2007

Obedience School

I've been thinking a lot about obedience.

Yesterday one of my children defied a direct order from me. I know, I know, my family is not the military and I am certainly no drill sergeant. But outright defiance? From my precious progeny? Shocking!

I ended up having to threaten the whippersnapper to get their cooperation in doing what they had been asked to do. Which made me very upset. After all, I have provided much for this child of late, in terms of money spent, transportation to and from extracurricular activities, special clothing needs, etc. You would think there would be some acknowledgment and appreciation for what they have received. You might even think that this child would jump right up off the comfortable couch immediately because of their love for their father. Surely obeying my request to complete a simple task that would not take much time is not too much to ask.

The task? To walk our dog, Daisy. A 5 minute chore at best. After all I've done, was it too much to ask?

Then God spoke to me. After all I've done for you, is your obedience too much to ask for?

God asks us to be obedient. Simple. Uncomplicated. Easy to understand. Yet so difficult for us to do!

Most of the time we would rather (as my child did) sit on our 'couches' and
a) ignore the request or
b) argue with God or
c) whine about our circumstances or
d) all of the above

I am astounded at the obedience of Jesus. In the garden of Gethsemane he prays for the 'cup' to be passed by, that he might not have to drink deeply the suffering that he knows is coming. But finally Jesus has the courage to say, "Not my will but yours be done." Obedience to his Father was of ultimate importance.

Jesus' greatest gift to God comes through his obedience. His greatest gift to us came through his obedience. Jesus was willing to obey God even when he knew that his obedience was going to result in the sacrifice of personal suffering.

Perhaps what we need most to learn in our spiritual lives is to obey. In John 14:15 Jesus says, "If you love me, obey my commandments," and in verse 23 follows up by saying, "All who love me will do what I say" (NLT). Obedience is the one of the greatest ways for us to show how much we love the Lord.

May we all learn from Jesus that our love for God is not really love at all unless we are willing to learn to be obedient.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Straining Gnats and Swallowing Camels

In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 22 verse 14, at the end of the parable of the great feast, Jesus says 'Many are called but few are chosen.' I have reflected on Jesus' words a lot during the past week after returning from a time set aside for evaluating those who wish to become United Methodist clergy.

I spent Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday interviewing people who were at various stages of trying to become clergy members of the Tennessee Annual Conference. The interviews were done under the guidelines and auspices of the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, a group consisting of mainly clergy but also some laity who are charged with making sure the conference receives a called and well-trained group of clergy. The candidates submit references, written work, videotaped sermons and Bible studies, are examined by a physician and a psychologist, and present evaluation forms from churches, former employers, colleges and seminaries for review.

After four years of doing these evaluations and interviews, I can truly say it is the most gut-wrenching work I have ever been involved with. It seems that each year there are a few candidates who end up being deferred, learning that instead of being commissioned or ordained they will instead have to come back before the board at a later date, with hopes of their using the additional time to strengthen weaknesses or reflect on their call. Most of those deferred are heartbroken and angry, though many come back again and are affirmed in their call after they have done the required work.

I am troubled by all the requirements placed on ministerial candidates. On one hand, I see their necessity in helping to bring qualified and professional clergy to the church for ordination. But I also see that our system is unable to appreciate those whose gifts, talents, education, and call lie beyond what are considered the 'norms.' Too often it seems we get caught up in what Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing--'straining gnats and swallowing camels.'

Perhaps we as a board and as a church need to reread the book of Numbers, chapter 11. Seventy Israelite leaders are supposed to gather under a tent to receive the spirit of God in order to be able to assist Moses. Two men, Eldad and Medad, somehow don't end up under the tent. Remarkably, the spirit of God falls on them anyway! Someone sees this and reports it to Moses. Joshua, Moses' right hand man, gets in a huff and wants Moses to stop Eldad and Medad. Moses' answer is enlightening--“Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them all!” (Numbers 11:29 NLT).


Thursday, March 1, 2007

What Would Jesus Build?

This week I have been in class in Montgomery, Alabama. The title of this class is "Mobilizing the Laity." We heard two rousing presentations this morning from Jim Garlow, pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, formerly pastored by leadership guru John Maxwell.

In his presentation, Garlow referred to the many obstacles the church has faced in building on the land they own. Most of the problems were caused when environmentalists sued because there was a certain rare type of bird that made its home on the property. The long and short of it is that the church has paid about $37 million dollars worth of legal fees and such trying to build.

While I admire their perseverance, I wonder--would Jesus spend $37 million dollars just for the privilege of having a church building in San Diego? While the church there has interpreted these obstacles as a call to persevere, one might consider if perhaps God was not calling the church to go in a different direction. It can be a difficult proposition indeed to determine when to persevere and when God might have something else in mind.

Pricey California real estate aside, $37 million is a lot of money for a church to spend for the mere opportunity to have their own place.