Friday, January 25, 2013

Nobody . . . but nobody . . . can make it on their own . . .

I received a facebook message from someone last week, who said in light of recent news stories that I consider sharing my own experience with depression. I've shared it in a number of places and in a number of ways, but I felt this sermon was the most appropriate expression at this time. I preached it at Trinity and it was part of a sermon series on Spiritual Friends.

[Note: This sermon was preached during Lent after Katrina and while the roof was being replaced at Trinity.}


Spiritual Friends – The Need

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that [Jesus] was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, "Stand up and take your mat and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" he said to the paralytic, "I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home." And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"
Mark 2:1-12

Nobody, but nobody, can make it out here alone . . .

Perhaps people have always thought they could make it on their own. But somehow I think the idea seems like a pretty modern concept. In years gone by, people had to rely on one another. If you wanted a barn built, you didn’t have a contractor to call. Instead you called your neighbors and you built it together. When there was a death in the family, you didn’t have a professional funeral home down the street. Your friends and family came to you and they not only brought food and solace, but they helped prepare the body, welcome the guests and even dig the grave. If you were cold, you invited your friends over and made a quilt.

Until very recently, the majority of humans knew instinctively that nobody but nobody can make it out here alone. In fact, sociologists tell us that the fact that we needed each other to survive is why societies were created in the first place. Without self-help books, counselors, sociologists or public service ads, people knew that they had to rely on each other to ensure that they had the very basics of life: food, shelter, security, and even spiritual strength.

Only in the last few hundred years as we became more and more specialized and trades became more and more professionalized did we begin to get this odd notion that we could make it on our own. As we began to be able to earn money to hire professionals to build our houses, raise our crops, teach our children, and even pray our prayers, we began to feel that we were self-made men and women. And what makes that so very strange is that in many ways we are more dependent on others than we have ever been in the history of humankind. We think we are independent but let the grocery stores close, the electricity go out, the hospital lock its doors, or a fire engulf our home and we find out just how much we have to rely on others.

We saw this need in action after Katrina and we have seen it this week as people reach out to the people in Enterprise who have lost their homes and their loved ones.

Nobody, but nobody, can make it out here alone . . .

Our need to rely on each other is no less true for our spiritual life than it is for any other aspect of our lives. In order to be fully who God created us to be, we need community. We need spiritual friends. We need folks to journey with us, to study with us, to pray with and for us. We need each other.

I mentioned on Ash Wednesday that many of us think that the Bible says that “God helps those who help themselves,” but you won’t find that anywhere in the Bible. The quote is actually from Aesop’s fables and is more appropriately stated, “The gods help those who help themselves.” And as wise as Aesop may have been, he wasn’t a Jew or a Christian and those words are, in fact, unbiblical and wrong.

The Bible is clear! From the beginning, God created us to help one another.
Remember Genesis and the creation of Adam? From nothing God created a paradise. And God looked over everything—the glistening rivers, the blooming flowers, the peaceful dogs and mooing cows—and God said it was good. But then he saw Adam standing alone in the midst of all that beauty and God said, “It is not good that man should be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” So God created another human, Eve, and then and only then did God say that it was very good.

If you think about it, it makes sense that God could not conceive of a world without community. After all, God himself has always existed in community. The idea of the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three yet one—is a very difficult concept to teach and yet at its core is a very simple idea that God has never been alone. From the beginning—before our beginning, God existed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a cooperative creative relationship. I suspect before Jesus hung on the cross, God had no idea what it meant to be alone. When we say we are created in God’s image, we are reminded that we are created to exist in community with one another.

So God created us to be in community with one another. In fact, we are most truly human when we are in relationship with one another. I believe that is why God created marriage and families and societies and the church! We were created as social beings who need the support and care of others.

Nobody, but nobody, can make it out here alone . . . Not even Jesus!

The first thing Jesus did when he started his ministry was to call disciples. Now I suppose that some would say that Jesus didn’t need his disciples, but if you spend any time at all reading the gospels it is hard not to notice all the people that Jesus depended upon in order to fulfill his mission. He trained the disciples to continue his teaching and his actions after he was gone. Then there were the women who provided for him out of their resources-who apparently cooked and cleaned for him as well as bankrolled his three year ministry. Then there were some folks who apparently were simply friends—Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. One of the most touching stories in the bible to me is Jesus’ visit to his friends in Bethany before his final entry into Jerusalem. A few moments with friends to give him the strength to do what needed to done. Even Jesus needed spiritual friends!
And nowhere in the entire bible does the power of spiritual friendship show so strongly as in our gospel lesson today.

Actually, this is one of those Bible stories that our bishop says are “thick.” These twelve verses have much to teach us about sin, about forgiveness, about the mission of Jesus, and about healing. We could preach a different sermon every week for a long time before we exhausted all the meaning in this passage. But today, I want us to concentrate on a less mentioned aspect of this story—the importance and power of spiritual friends.

We really don’t know much about the paralyzed man except the obvious. We don’t know what paralyzed him. We don’t know what his life was like before this encounter with Jesus and we don’t know what his life was like after this encounter. But I suspect that despite his physical condition and despite his need for forgiveness, he must have been a very special man. I believe this because he had a group of really special friends!

Look at what they did for him! Hearing the word that Jesus, who was known to perform some really great miracles, was in town, his friends went and to great lengths to take him to Jesus. Some carried him. Others simply came with him.

And when they got to the house, they couldn’t get anywhere near Jesus. In fact, they couldn’t even see Jesus for the crowds surrounding the house. At this point, many folks might have given up and said, “Sorry, friend, it looks like this is not the day for a miracle,” these people did not give up. Instead they did a very odd thing; they climbed to the top of the roof, made a hole and lowered him down into the room where Jesus was teaching.

Can you imagine how odd it must have looked? Archeologists tell us that the homes in those days had flat roofs made of mud. On really hot nights, people would climb a ladder on the side on their home and sleep under the stars. So what the friends must have done was somehow climb up the ladder and then haul their friend up to the top of the roof on his pallet—all while the crowds must have looked on laughing. Then once they got him on top of the roof, they began to dig into the roof to create a hole large enough for him to fit through. And then they lowered him into the presence of Jesus.

Can you imagine what Jesus and his friends must have thought as they heard the thumping of feet above them and then began to feel bits of mud falling down upon them? We’ve been somewhat roof obsessed around here for the past two years. Can you just imagine how Peter must have felt as he watched his roof get demolished?!

All in all, it must have been quite a sight. If the crowds didn’t know anything about the paralyzed man, they must have wondered about what kind of man would inspire his friends to go to such lengths. They were persistent. They were courageous. And they must have really really believed that Jesus could help their friend.

And as the man was lowered into Jesus presence, Mark tells us that Jesus saw their faith and Jesus said to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” and later “Take up your mat and go home.”

Jesus saw their faith.

We don’t really know much about the faith of the paralyzed man. Some scholars think that when Jesus referred to their faith, he meant the paralyzed man. Other scholars dispute that claim. In either case, one thing is for sure, the faith of the paralyzed man’s friends was instrumental in his spiritual and physical healing.

You see—nobody can make it out here on their own!

We need each other. We not only need a large community of faith to support us but we need close spiritual friends who pray for us, challenge us, and walk with us in our journey of faith. We need friends that we trust enough that we can honestly admit the sins we struggle with, the questions that we have about God, the moments that we feel closest to God and the moments we feel farthest away. We need spiritual friends who can listen to the stories of our lives and point to us the places that God was at work even when we couldn’t see it.

And sometimes we simply need spiritual friends to have faith for us when our faith is weakest, to pray for us when we can’t find the words, to believe for us when we doubt. We need spiritual friends who will carry us in to the presence of Christ even when we are unable to find our way to Christ ourselves!

It took me over thirty years to learn this lesson. For the vast majority of my life, I thought I was suppose to be on a spiritual journey all my own. Sure, I knew I was supposed to go to church and worship. But I guess I thought of church as the place where we all came together on our individual journeys—sort of like the shelters on the Appalachian Trail where hikers meet other hikers when the weather is bad or they are in need of shower and then leave the shelter to continue on their individual and unique journeys.

Then in the middle of my thirtieth decade of life, I learned that nobody—not even me—could make it out here on their own. And being hard-headed, I had to learn the lesson the hard way.

The doctors call it depression. And we suspect I had been slowly falling deeper and deeper into it all my life. And when I hit rock bottom, I truly felt paralyzed. I couldn’t pray—well I prayed but I was sure that my prayers hit the ceiling and fell back down. I couldn’t believe. I considered leaving church because I wasn’t sure I believed anymore in a God who acted on our behalf. I didn’t feel like I was a good wife, a good mother, a good daughter, a good friend. I felt useless. And as awful as it sounds, my wish was that I would go to sleep one night and not wake up.

But I was blessed with some wonderful friends. They prayed for me. They supported me. They let me cry on their shoulders. They listened as I told them my doubts about God. And when I could not see God in my life, they kept assuring me that God was there even if I couldn’t see or feel him.

They lifted me as I lay paralyzed by doubt and fear and they lowered me into the presence of Christ and I was healed. To this day, I am sure that my healing was the result, not of my faith, but of God seeing the faith of my friends!

It was a hard lesson but an important one. And while I learned that I couldn’t make it out here alone, that was okay because I also learned that I didn’t have to make it on my own.

Since then spiritual friendships are an important part of my faith journey. Just this past Friday, I drove to Decatur to meet a spiritual friend who had driven down from Nashville. We studied together, prayed for each other, and supported each other through seminary, our first churches, her brother’s suicide, and so much more. And we continue to pray and support each other. She is the one person I can count on to ask me regularly “How is your soul?” And because she claims I tend to overwork and then neglect my spiritual disciplines, she says she keeps a board to knock me about the head when I get so busy doing that I don’t stop to spend time with God. And she is only one of many spiritual friends that God has blessed me with.

The truth is that God helps those who help each other. He created us to help each other, to challenge each other, to pray for each other. And so while it may sound like bad news to hear the hard truth that none of us can make it on our own, the good news is that we don’t have to make it on our own. We aren’t even supposed to be able to make it on our own. We were created with the need for spiritual friendships and our lives are most abundant when we live in close relationship with spiritual friends who pray, encourage, challenge and support us.

We are now in the season of Lent, when we prepare our hearts to experience the joy of Easter. And we often think of this as a solitary time. But Lent was originally a time of preparation for baptism when believers came together to prepare to make a commitment to Christ. In other words, Lent was originally a time in which spiritual friendships were made and nurtured. So I want to invite you to make a Lenten commitment to be here for the next three week as Charles shares some specific ways you can find and nurture spiritual friendships so that you will grow closer to Christ.

You see . . .Nobody, but nobody, can make it out here alone . . .but thanks be to God we don’t have to!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Bringing Tidings of Comfort and Joy

(This is an old sermon from my Vanderbilt and Epworth days, but it seemed appropriate to share it again.)

40Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

3A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 6A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. 7The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

9Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep. Isaiah 40:1-11


Christmas time is here. Christmas decorations have been hanging throughout the mall every since Halloween. The trees are up in our homes. And everywhere we go—the mall, the car, the elevator, the grocery story—Christmas music envelopes us. And everyone it seems, even those of us in the South who know little of snow, dream along with Bing Crosby of a white Christmas just like the ones we used to know.

On National Public Radio, a few weeks ago, they had a special report on the enduring popularity of the song White Christmas. The song first became a hit during World War II because it reminded soldiers of the comfort of home. Even soldiers who had never experienced a white Christmas could relate to the longing expressed in the song to be back home in the arms of family and friends celebrating a merry, bright, white Christmas.

And while many, many artists—including Elvis—have recorded White Christmas, we really associate the song with only one voice—Bing Crosby—who sang it with such a melancholy longing. He sang it like a man who might be near despair but has yet to give up hope so that soldiers living in the midst of the hell of war cold relate to the longing for something that seemed somehow out of their reach while holding tight to the hope that they might yet experience comfort and joy again.

So perhaps it is fitting to realize that the song that seems to encapsulate the meaning of Christmas for Americans was written by Irving Berlin, a poor Jewish Russian immigrant. The words are all the more poignant when we think of Irving Berlin writing about Christmas as an outsider looking into one those glass balls that you shake and the snow falls on the perfect American home. And despite the fact, that we revere Irving Berlin for being the composer of White Christmas and God Bless America and despite his great popularity and wealth, Irving Berlin became known as the “Howard Hughes of the music Industry” and died at age 101 still feeling very much like an outsider.

In the movie, Citizen Kane, Orson Wells also dreamed of a White Christmas. Throughout the movie, the main character, Charles Foster Kane, played by Hughes, would continually look at a glass ball with a beautiful snow scene and remember his childhood and dream of a simpler and happier time in his life.

Irving Berlin stood outside the dream of Christmas as an outsider, an immigrant, and a religious minority. Charles Foster Kane stood outside the dream of Christmas because the more he had filled his life with money, things, and women, the less room he had for the things that truly mattered. And some people stand outside the dream because no one has ever told them that Christmas can be more than snow, shopping malls, dinner parties, and a mad rush to get things done.

In the book, Life After God, Douglas Copeland shares how his baby boomer parents had avoided anything to do with religion and had raised him with no religious beliefs. So when he found himself in the midst of the desert of life, he had nothing to give him hope or to help him cope. He said, “For me there was nothing—not even the seed of a religious experience to grow from—and I found that I had to build (and continue to) try to build some sort of faith for myself using the components taken from disposable West Coast suburban culture. Malls and nature and fast food places.”

In his essay, 1,000 Years, he tells of the time he embarked on his own search for a “white Christmas.” And how one he found himself day riding in his four-wheel drive vehicle and had to admit, “My secret is that I need God—that I’m sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give because I no longer seem capable of giving; too help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.”

All too many folks stand outside staring into a cold glass globe and despairing that the dream is beyond their grasp. There are homeless families living in run down hotel rooms in dangerous neighborhoods, who don’t have a tree, let alone presents to put under it. And they no longer even allow themselves to dream.

There are people who are grieving the loss of someone they love. They dread the holiday meal when they will sit at a table with that empty chair. And the dream merely reminds them of what they have lost.

There are people in the midst of divorce or estranged from those they love, who feel like the dream is beyond them because they no longer have the perfect Christian family. The dream taunts them rather than comforts them.

And then there are people who have experienced so much betrayal and disappointment in their lives that their only dreams are nightmares full of pain and so they can’t even dream of hope anymore.

And it is for the sake of these lonely, despairing people, that the word of the Lord comes to us saying, “Comfort, comfort my people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for. . . .Go up on a high mountain, You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, . . . say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’ See the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

In this passage from the book of Isaiah, the word of the Lord comes through the prophet to the people of Israel at a time when they were beginning to lose hope. They were in exile in Babylon. Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed and they were finding it hard to sing the Lord’s songs in a foreign land. They dreamed of returning, but the dream was growing dim. Yet just as their hope begin to die, the word of the Lord came to them and it was a word of comfort and of joy. Despite their sinfulness and despite their inconsistency, God forgave them and God provided a way for them to return home.

But before they could return home, the road had to be prepared for the coming of the Lord. And the purpose of this season that we call Advent is to remind us as God’s called out people that it is our job to prepare the way for the Lord.
How do we prepare the way for the Lord?

We only need to look outside the doors of this church to see that preparing a road is not an easy job. We’ve felt the booms and saw the falling rock as the construction workers blasted away leveling the hills. We’ve watched as rock has been placed in the valleys to build them up and as dirt has been spread to make a level road bed. They’ve been working for how long now? Two years and they still seem to have a long way to go.

So it is for us the church. We are called to help prepare the way for the Lord and the prophet makes it clear it won’t be an easy job. There are mountains of troubles to be brought low and there are valleys of despair that need to be filled. The rough spots of people’s lives have to be smoothed out and in order to do that we have to be willing to go where there the hurting people are to be found—in the wilderness!

In book, Hope For the World, theologians and pastors from all over the world sound the continual refrain that the church must rethink what we mean by the word mission. And they suggest that the rule for Christian churches for the 21st century must be “In the church tell the story, in the world live the story.”

To bring comfort to a lost and hurting world, we have to do a whole lot more than erect nativity scenes on court house squares or say prayers in school. Telling the story is important and we should never cease to tell the world what we believe, but the best way to tell our story is to live as if we believe the story is true. And if it is true that the God whose way we are preparing is the sovereign Lord whose mighty power is revealed in tender care for the flock and who gathers lambs into his arms and gently leads us, then as God’s people we need to tenderly care for the lost and the hurting and gently lead them back to God.

Now, we aren’t talking cold comfort here. We aren’t talking about feeling sorry for folks from a distance. We aren’t talking about writing a check and sending it to needy folks far far away. We aren’t talking about the kind of comfort that comes with strings attached. We are talking about gentle, warm, comfort that is given simply because the giver loves.

You’ve experienced that kind of comfort. Remember what it felt like to held safely in the arms of someone who loves you. Or what it felt like on that cold, gloomy day when you were handed a warm cup of your favorite homemade soup loving made especially for you.

And remember the transformation of the pitiful Christmas tree in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special when Linus took his blanket and wrapped it around that poor Christmas tree and suddenly the tree takes on a kind of dignity simply because someone loved it and treated it with respect. Remember the first time you truly heard the words, “In the name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven” and believed them.

No, we aren’t talking about the kind of cold comfort that we send from a distance. We are talking about the warm, living comfort that comes from a presence in the midst of the pain and despair. We are talking about the comfort that comes from a hand reaching out to pick you up when you have fallen, to lead you when you are lost, to hug you when you feel unlovable.

But in order for the church to provide that kind of comfort, we have to empty our mind of our own plans and dreams so that God can plant God’s plans and dreams in our hearts and minds. We have to be willing to empty our hands of the fruits of our own success so that we can reach out and touch those who need comforting. Then we have to be willing to go out in the wilderness of our lost and hurting world and be God’s heralds by declaring tidings of comfort and joy.

Simply put, comfort is the work of God’s church. And while we may call this a worship service, the real service begins the moment we walk out those doors and back into the world. Here in this place and this time, we tell the story. We tell it in music, in liturgy, and in words, but out there we truly worship and serve God by shouting God’s story through our actions on behalf of the world God so loves.

You can shout the good news by taking time to listen to those who are grieving. Let them tell you their stories. Invite them to celebrate the holidays with you and your family. Give them a Christmas hug.

You can shout the good news by visiting the sick and the lonely. Spend 30 minutes in a nursing home hearing the stories of Christmases past. Hold the hand of someone who is sick or dying. Quit worrying about having the right words to say. Just be present for someone who needs to know someone cares.

You can shout the good news by treating everyone with dignity due a beloved child of God. Be patient with that overworked and overwhelmed department store cashier that can’t seem to do anything right. Let that that harried young mom whose grocery cart is full of food and kids get in the grocery line ahead of you. Give food, clothing and toys to the poor but due it out of a sense of love rather than of obligation. Vote, write letters, and work for the institutions of public policies that bring both comfort and dignity to those on the margins of our society.

You can shout the good news by working with other communities of faith to end hunger, to educate the poor, to rehabilitate criminals, and to protect the environment.

You can shout the good news by praying for and with those who do not have a community of faith and then live as if you believe those prayers will come true.

Irving Berlin made his last public appearance in 1968 and then retreated to his home. But in the late 1970’s a group of his fans began a ritual of going to his home on Christmas and serenading him with their rendition of White Christmas. The maid invited them in and served them hot cocoa. Irving Berlin entered the kitchen in his pajamas hugged all the men and kissed all the women and told them that their singing was the loveliest Christmas present he had ever received. That night, those fans brought not cold comfort but a warm presence and that proclaims comfort much louder than any words ever could.

Let us also go now into God’s world, not to bring cold comfort but to be a warm presence, as we proclaim tidings of Comfort and Joy to a world that may not have truly heard the good news.

1 Quoted by Leonard Sweet in his sermon Don’t Keep the Faith—Share It!, Preaching Plus,
2 Brueggemann, Walter, ed., Hope For the World: Mission in a Global Context (Westminister John Knox Press, 2001), pg. 19

Friday, September 14, 2012

Spirituality and Personality Types

This is something I pulled together for the Heart, Mind and Soul Sunday School class at Epworth. Recently someone asked me for a copy of it, so I decided to post it here.

If you don't know your Myers-Briggs Type, you can find a test here.

This information is based on Prayer and Temperament by Michael and Norrisey)

WARNING: These are tendencies—how you tend to act. No one style is “better” or “worse” than another. This is a tool to help you understand yourself and others. Most of the types are inclined toward one type of prayer or another; however, a balanced prayer life will incorporate many different types of prayer and like a balanced diet you need to have some of all of them for your spiritual health. But always remember that Jesus is in the business of transforming us into new people and one of the joys of Christian growth and living is learning to act out of different tendencies/preferences. —Sherill

ESTP
ESTPs are people of action, unpredictable, yet resourceful promoters, pragmatists. They in truth can say that their work is their prayer provided it is done for the glory of God and the welfare of their neighbor.
• Don’t need as much formal prayer as others
• Often find it difficult to make a deep commitment
• Tend to avoid stress
• Need practical regime of regular self-discipline and self-sacrifice
• Tend to pray while doing other things, but need to find at least a half hour a day for formal prayer and meditation. Suggestions for types of prayer:
o Lectio Divino (Meditating on Scripture)
o Centering Prayer
o Spontaneous prayers and songs of praise throughout the day
o When alone, prayers and songs can be said aloud.
• Communal religious experiences are especially meaningful. Therefore, helpful religious experiences include:
o Emmaus Walk
o Group Spiritual Retreats
• Books of the Bible:
o Psalms of Praises
o Gospel of John
o Gospel of Mark

ISTP
ISTPs are very practical, precise, efficient, quiet, reserved, objective, factual. They are artisans and craftsmen. They are good at exploration and usually possess tireless energy in pursing the object of their search.
• Prefer action over prayer, so need to find ways of prayer that can be used while working
o Prayer of the Practice of the Presence of God
o Breathe Prayer
o Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.)
o Lectio Divino
o Use of imagination in bible study –“What might I say to Jesus and what might Jesus say to me?”
o Free and spontaneous exploration of scripture
• Thrive on deep thinking and concentration
o Need to spend at least 30 minutes in the practice of formal prayer
o Need orderly structure and self-discipline
o Quiet, reflective services may be nurturing (such as Taize)
• Need communal worship experiences among a spirit-filled community in which they feel at home
o Emmaus
o Need trustworthy spiritual friends
o Need well conducted, orderly prayer groups
• Try not to get stuck in one style of prayer

ESTJ
ESTJs are responsible, orderly, realistic, matter-of-fact, conservative and consistent. ESTJs like Standard Operating Procedures and seek to preserve the established order.
• Prefer traditional prayers
• Need to do one thing at a time
• Become distracted with monotonous repetition
• Prefer set liturgy (prefer the sameness of worship from week to week)
• Law and order folks who follow the rules of the church even when they disagree
• Resist abrupt changes
• Need at least 30 minutes of solitary prayer
o Spontaneous prayer
o Lectio Divino
o Use of imagination in bible study –“What might I say to Jesus and what might Jesus say to me?”
• Need supportive spiritual community
o Prayer and discipleship groups
o Emmaus Walk
o Congregational participation

ISTJ
ISTJs are serious, quiet, thorough, orderly, logical, matter-of-fact. They are duty-oriented and no-nonsense persons who like everything organized, proper, straight-forward. They are guardians of time-honored institutions, resistant to change, and conservative by nature. They find it difficult to handle strong feelings and emotions and may give the impression of having ice in their veins when a decision has to be made. They can be pillars of strength for any institution and, with their strong convictions, can be charismatic leaders.
• Need to spend substantial time alone with God each day
• Suggested practices
o Lectio Divino
o Directed Spiritual retreats
o Set traditional prayers are helpful but might need to be changed from time to time
o Keeping of a spiritual journal
• Prayer groups may or may not be helpful but Spiritual support groups, such as Emmaus reunion groups will be very helpful.

ESFP
ESFPs are born leaders, good entertainers, very attractive personalities, and easily attract a large following. People enjoy having them around. Wherever they go, they bring warmth, excitement, optimism. ESFPs are the life of the party and love excitement. They are impulsive, frequently, putting their foot in the wrong place.
• Need to be a part of the group and part of the action
o Prayer groups are helpful
o Emmaus Walk
• Externals of religion—candles, symbols, incense—are helpful
• Need opportunities for spontaneous response to worship
• Need at least 30 minutes of solitary prayer time each day
o Lectio Divino
• May also be able to experience God in nature.

ISFP
ISFPs are free spirits, who desire to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit and impulse of the moment. They are capable of great intensity of feeling and have an eye for detail. Endowed with artistic ability, they are lovers of nature. The beauties of nature speak to them of God, God’s power, God’s presence, God’s beauty, God’s goodness, and God’s loving care.
• Love congregational singing
• Emmaus Walk and prayer groups are helpful experiences for them.
• Need flexible prayer types which allow them to speak to God from the heart
o Spontaneous prayer and worship
o Lectio Divino
o Worship through music, painting, dance, flower arranging, and sculpture
• Journaling would be a helpful spiritual discipline
• Need to spend at least 30 minutes a day in prayerful reflection to allow real contact with the Holy Spirit
• Need assurances of God’s personal love for them
• Scripture
o Philippians 4:4-7

ESFJ
The ESFJ person is the most sociable of all types. They find it easy to make friends with even total strangers. Sympathetic, their emotions are very close to the surface at all times. Out-going, soft-hearted, sentimental, they need to be loved and noticed and appreciated. They are very giving, caring, comforting. They need and seek harmony and are strongly affected by the opinion of others.
• Praying in groups is helpful for the ESFJ
o Prayer Groups
o Emmaus reunion groups
o Do not mind long charismatic prayers
• Need to learn to talk to God as if God were a friend
o Intercessory prayers for others should be a substantial part of their prayer life.
o Praise, gratitude, humility and petitions
o Spiritual journaling is also recommended
• Tend to do all the talking so they need to learn and practice the skill of listening to God.
• Helpful spiritual disciplines
o Lectio Divino
o Breath prayers
• Helpful Scriptures
o Psalms
o Historical books of the Old Testament
o Gospels
o Acts
o Epistle of James
o 1 John
• Experience both feelings of closeness to God with feelings of emptiness.

ISFJ
ISFJs are super-dependable, have a strong sense of duty, and usually relate well to people. They have a good sense of history and continuity and therefore may be conservative by nature. They love to minister to the needs of others and so are often overworked, imposed upon, and taken for granted. Because of their introverted tendency to avoid the limelight, they are often undervalued. Therefore, they are frequently taken advantage of by selfish, unthinking people and not appreciated for what they do. ISFJs show an intense seriousness of purpose and a great generosity in pursuing whatever goal or idea they choose.
• Solitary and silent prayer is helpful
o Lectio Divino
o Spontaneous prayer from the heart
o Need to realize it isn’t necessary to verbalize prayers
o Use of prayer books and prayers written by others
• Need to spend 30 to 60 minutes a day in prayer.
• Need to develop technique of listening to God
• Reluctant to express emotions in public
• Helpful disciplines
o Emmaus
• Not necessarily aware of mystical experiences.

ENFP
Usually optimistic, ENFPs are warmly enthusiastic, imaginative, non-conformist. Their intuitive powers are quite strong. Warm and sympathetic, they are usually skilled in handling people. Their extraversion tends to be well-developed, as in their attraction to the novel and dramatic.
• Need at least an hour of prayer a day
o Lectio Divino
o Prayers of petition, praise and gratitude, or contrition
o Contemplation of the beauties of God.
o Prayers from Scripture
• Helpful scripture include
o Isaiah
o Song of Songs
o Psalms
o Gospels (particularly Luke and John)
o Paul’s letters
• Need to pray alone as well as with a community of faith
• Because of tendency to want to talk, they need to spend at least half of their prayer time in “Listening” – “Be Still and Listen” should be their motto.
• Tend to dislike repetitive prayer
• Often have mystical experiences
• Good at applying scripture to real situations of life.
• Need structure in prayer life but not too much.
• Try to not to overload self with activities.

INFP
• INFPS have a great desire to pray alone and silently.
• Need an hour of formal prayer each day.
• Helpful disciplines
o Lectio Divino
o Prayer Group but find them somewhat frustrating because of their desire to try new things
o Quiet time
o Silent retreats
o Use of short passages of Scripture (as opposed to long) for prayerful study
o Prefer Spontaneous prayers
o Spiritual journaling—to track dreams and record new ideas or insights
o Spiritual direction
• Constantly searching for new and better ways of prayer
• Helpful scripture
o Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55)
o Psalms
o Gospels
o Paul’s letters
• Dislike set forms of prayer
• Take seriously any hunch, intuition, or inspiration that comes—especially dreams
• Danger of becoming too self-centered so they must make a special effort to reach out to others—“What can I do today to make other happier and better for having met me?”

ENFJ
• ENFJ needs at least 60 minutes a day to pray alone.
o Spend half time listening
o Half trying to discern God’s will
• Helpful spiritual disciplines
o Lectio Divino
o Public worship
o Good congregational singing and liturgy
o Emmaus Walk
o Emmaus Reunion Group or prayer group
• Natural leader—takes charge even when someone else is nominally the head of the group.
• Repetitive prayer is not helpful.
• Trust intuitions, hunches, and sudden ideas
• How can I do the most good for the most people?

INFJ
• Strong dislike for formal prayer and repetitive prayer
• Great need for silence
• Helpful disciplines
o Centering and contemplative prayer
o Conversational prayer
o Study of scripture is especially helpful to INFJs
o Lectio Divino
o Journaling
• Should tithe their waking hours in order to give 10% of their waking time to God and prayer. A minimum of an hour.
• Good at applying the scripture to everyday life.
• Good at seeing the signs of the times
• Must overcome a tendency to discouragement (which comes from their ability to see problems and dangers clearly) through trust in God.
• Helpful Scripture
o Second and Third Isaiah (Chapters 40-66)
o Hosea
o Psalms
o Gospels
o Paul’s letters
• Symbolic and poetic images are especially important
• Make good counselors and spiritual directors because of the4ir spiritual vision and discernment.
• Need time for leisure and as well as prayer—physical exercise and well as spiritual discipline
• Need to develop spiritual imagination.

ENTP
ENTPS need challenges to bring out the best in them. Non-conformists, they love to out-wit the system. ENTPS are ingenious, always sensitive to new possibilities, resourceful, optimistic, enthusiastic, and are often inventors and innovators. Seldom critical, with a good sense of humor that laughs easily and often, they are gregarious.
• Enjoy new forms of prayer—especially complex types
• Love novelty and originality and have a strong dislike for traditional, standardized, normal ways of doing things
• Enjoy new ways of worship
• Easily bored without novelty or challenge.
• Helpful spiritual disciplines
o Spontaneous, improvised prayers
o Need some form of formal prayer
o Lectio Divino
o Prayers of petition, gratitude, praise, humility, resolution, or commitment
o Quiet contemplation
o Emmaus Walk
o Prayer groups
o Study of the history of spirituality
o Contemplative prayer
o Centering prayer
• Helpful scripture
o Psalms
o Gospel of John
o 1 John
o Ephesians
o Colossians
o Hebrews

INTP
With great power of concentration, good memory retention, INTPs prize intelligence and may be somewhat of intellectual snobs. Having a great dislike of small talk, they quickly spot inconsistency in self or in others. This temperament is the architect, the programmer, the philosopher, the mathematician.
• Prefer solitary prayer
o Need good, logical, coherent prayer that is in accord with truth.
• Able to concentrate deeply for long periods of time and needs time and quiet to do so.
• Helpful disciplines
o Centering prayer
o Contemplative prayer
o Formal meditation
o Lectio Divino
• Has difficulty using imagination
• Prefer to work with impersonal ideas and thus is tempted to become too impersonal with God.
o Need to work on intimate relationship with God
o Need to work on expressing emotions
• Good at words, they are often good at writing prayers.

ENTJ
The ENTJ person is known as the commandant, one who is born to lead and one who needs to lead others in order to feel fulfilled. The ENTJ seeks power and competency and is impatient with inefficiency and incompetence. Usually a very good organizer, very outgoing with people, with good intuitions, logical and rational in approach to a problem, the ENTJ wants everything planned, scheduled, structured. They enjoy working with one-two- or five-year plans for themselves and the organizations to which they belong.
• Needs good experience of community at worship
• Prefers congregational singing
• Enjoy leading prayer and worship
• Love being with people and celebrating
• Recommended spiritual disciplines
o Charismatic prayer groups
o Structured prayer
o Need to develop regular habits of praying alone
o Centering prayer
o Lectio Divino
o Use of inspirational tapes and music while doing other things
• Need help of community to activate feelings and emotions in prayer.
• Tend to be impersonal in prayer life
• Need lots of sleep to allow time for dreaming

INTJ
The INTJ is the most self-confident of all types. Quite decisive, pragmatic, single-minded, INTJs do not like to be told what to do since they are usually fiercely independent. They are very introspective, dislike small-talk, always in a hurry, stubborn, determined. In their desire to control nature and people, they see themselves as human engineers and are usually very high achievers. They love to brainstorm for new insights, inspirations, ideas. They may appear to be cold, unemotional, reserved, and unable to express or feel emotions. Actually their emotions are both deep and powerful. Their reluctance to express their emotions comes from fear of their inability to control them.
• Need time for private prayer. Prayer tends to be introspective.
• Recommended spiritual disciplines
o Spiritual journaling
o Lectio Divino
o Service to others
• Favorite Scriptures
o Gospels, especially Gospel of John
o Psalms
o Isaiah
• Tend to inner loneliness and narcissistic concern about him/herself so need to cultivate disciplines that make them more God-centered.
• Tempted to theoretical study of scripture; INTJs need to be careful to not to treat God as an object.

And you can find prayers for each type here.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Search for a New Bishop


On Monday, July 16th, Linda Holland, Director of Connectional Ministries, and Nancy Cole, Natural Church Development Coordinator and Conference Disaster Relief Coordinator, and I arrived in at Lake Junaluska Assembly in North Carolina for the meeting of the Southeastern Jurisdiction Conference of the United Methodist Church. The Conference, which meets once every four years, has the primary task to elect Bishops. (If you are unfamiliar with the process of electing Bishops in the UMC, you can learn more here.) Linda, Nancy and I had been asked to serve as at-large pages for the conference and were not voting members of the conference still time and time again, we were told to "bring back a good one!" So we decided we should keep our eyes out for North Alabama's next bishop and posted our discoveries on our facebook pages. Below is what we discovered.

Here is our first possibility--but he is definitely not the Bishop! However he is cute and he giggles when you poke him.

(with Nancy's husband, Steve Cole)
Sweet . . . but not the Bishop!

(Statue of the Honorable Chief Junaluska outside Stuart Auditorium)
Honorable . . . but not the Bishop!

(outside Open Door Mission in Waynesville)
Fully Human and Fully Divine . . . but not the Bishop!

Candidates but not the Bishop

(with bust of Susanna Wesley at the World Methodist Museum)
Formidable Mama . . . but not the Bishop

(with John Wesley doll at World Methodist Museum)
Strangely warmed . . . but not a Bishop

Uncanny . . . but not a Bishop!

A bit stuffy so luckily not the Bishop!

Very Patriotic . . . but not the Bishop!

Makes a mean casserole . . . but not a Bishop

On Wednesday morning, voting began!

(Jonathon Holston)
Bishop Elect 1 . . . possibly the Bishop!

(Ken Carter)
Bishop Elect 2 . . . possibly the Bishop!

(with Dale Cohen)
Looks like Lyle Holland . . . but not the Bishop

Lunch with Ken Carter (while he waits to be interviewed by the Episcopacy Committee) . . . still possibly the Bishop

(Bill McAlilly)
Bishop Elect 3 . . . possibly the Bishop!

(Debbie Wallace-Padgett)
Bishop Elect 4 . . . possibly the Bishop!

By Thursday morning, we had elected 4 bishops with one more to go. We expected a short day of voting but we were wrong! The fourth Bishop was elected on the 11th ballot but the fifth would not be elected until the 28th ballot!

(Gloria Holt)
A Doctor . . . but not the Bishop

(with Bill Brunson)
Funny . . . but not the Bishop!

(Young Jin Cho)
Bishop Elect 5 . . . possibly the Bishop! (and the first Korean-American to be elected as Bishop in the Southeastern Jurisdiction!)

(Ron Schultz, Bill Brunson, Bob Alford, Hughey Reynolds, and Roger Thompson)
A lot of them . . . but none of them are the Bishop!

Not sure what it is . . . but it isn't a Bishop! And our search for a Bishop is nearing a close.

Tube Dude but not a Bishop Dude

The Search is Over!! Here is the Bishop--Debbie Wallace-Padgett, the first woman Bishop to be assigned to the North Alabama Conference!

The five new Bishops in all their great diversity after their consecration on Friday morning.

Serving at the conference was a blessing and a joy. Our delegation worked long hard hours as they prayerfully discerned their votes. And the Committee on the Episcopacy did a wonderful job of assigning bishops to the Annual Conferences and provided each of the Bishops with a rationale for their assignment.

I'm excited about our new Bishop and look forward to working with Bishop Wallace-Padgett! I pray God's blessings on her and her family as they saw goodbye to their congregation at St. Luke and prepare to come to North Alabama. I pray for the leadership, pastors and laity of the North Alabama Conference that we will be ready to follow her lead. And I look forward to seeing where God takes us next!

The Search Team! Nancy Cole, me and Linda Holland

Friday, May 11, 2012

Eclectic Echoes -- Let the Wild Rumpus Start Edition


The best thing about Tuesday was listening to the many interviews with Maurice Sendak--what an interesting man! And I am very thankful for his quirky look at life shared in such an enjoyable manner!

THOUGHTS ON FAITH AND LIFE
The Benefits of Daydreaming
Bad Religion
It's Okay to Be Bored
The Secret Power of Naps
Congregants Want Pastors to Understand Their Work Life
The Spiritual Practice of Saying Yes and No
Adjusting to Me
When A Parent Cries for Their Child
More Ways Social Issues and Religion Will Shape 2012 Election (besides same-sex marriage)

REFLECTIONS ON CHURCH
Five Challenges for Pastors
Remember Infertility on Mother's Day
Sunday Morning Quarterbacks
Traditional Churches (I think he is a bit testy but makes some good points.)
Some Advice from the Master Carpenter
NT Wright and Those Pesky Creeds
Where Have All The Leaders Gone
Ok Guys, I'm looking for some sharp dressed men at Annual Conference! Texas Pastor Launches Website for Clergy Fashionistas: Pastor Fashion

REFLECTIONS ON THE CHURCH AND HOMOSEXUALITY
The Bible and Homosexuality--13 Propositions
Andy Stanley Right and Good
Andy Stanley and Homosexuality
Why UM Canceled Votes on Same-Sex Marriage and Gay Clergy
How to Win a Culture War and Lose a Generation

I'm An Evangelical Christian and I Think Same-Sex Marriage Should Be Legal
Same Bible Different Verdict (Not terribly deep but it makes the point)
The defeated Hamilton/Slaughter Amendment
Amid Division Only One View Can Hold Us Together

FROM NORTH ALABAMA
Lost and Found Loving the Lost

REFLECTIONS ON LEADERSHIP
4 Characteristics of Effective Communicators


OTHER INTERESTING STUFF
Stephen Colbert's Interview with Maurice Sendak
The Bible App Holiness Guide
This Week I Love Adele
Employing Underthings Great advice on "foundations" for women!

JUST FOR FUN