Fearfully and Wonderfully Made (Guest Post) - Cory Moese

A few posts ago, I put links to other clergy in the Central Texas Conference who are doing some blogging. I have invited these folks to be a guest contributor on this blog. This blog is not a huge platform but large enough to share and so over the course of the next few weeks I invite you to hear (and even follow) other clergy voices around this Conference. Here is a guest post from Cory Moses - Fearfully and Wonderfully Made.

After a very enlightening visit to the dentist a few months ago, we were overjoyed to discover that Caroline (6 yrs) has a few of her baby teeth that are hosting a nasty cavity or 2 and it was going to mean fillings. So, a few weeks ago, we decided to up the anteof tooth care and add mouthwash to the girls’ nightly bed time ritual of homework, showers, and brushing teeth.  

For Cadence (8 yrs), it was pretty easy going….for those of you that know Caroline, you know that very little with her is easy going.  We tell people that our girls’ personalities match their hair.  Cadence has straight brown hair, which means she is fairly laid back.  She really likes to be in bed by 8:30, and by 9:00 she begins to get very anxious about it being so late and then proceeds to go to sleep pretty quick.  Caroline, on the other had has curly blonde hair, and I’m pretty sure if we had had her first, we would have stopped there.  I’m reminded of an episode of her getting ready for preschool a few years ago.  After being told she couldn’t wear her special, ruby red, Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, church shoes to school, it resulted in a rolling on the floor, you’ve ripped my arms off catastrophe with repeated shouts of “I won’t be beautiful.”  So, needless to say, introducing something new like mouthwash, something you and I might find commonplace, for Caroline was in fact the end of the world.  

What started out as a small conflict of want vs. need, quickly shifted to a titan battle of wills that I refused to lose…but of course so did she.  She was hysterically terrified of this idea of mouthwash.  We explained how to do it, we both demonstrated how you take a little in your mouth, swash it around to wash all of your teeth, and then spit it out.  We even bought children’s bubble gum flavor! She was not having.  Caroline could not in any way move beyond the crippling fear that she could accidentally swallow the mouthwash and then it would make her sick or even worse.  

After a couple of hours of my wife and I tag teaming the grudge match, we finally decided the levelof Caroline’s hysteria had moved far beyond any chance of this being a fruitful venture and decided to let her calm down.  Then we tried to discussed with her in detail about the alleged poison and let her go to bed with the promise we would try again the next night.  (Which we did by the way and she was surprisingly immune to the arsenic laced substance.)

As she was beginning to calm down, I went into her room to try to console her and have a more rational conversation about the nights events.  I scooped her upand held her in my lap amidst the sobs and whimpers and asked her, “Caroline, don’t you know that mommy and daddy love you?”  Yes.  “Don’t you know that mommy and daddy would never do any thing, or ask you to do anything that would ever hurt you?”  Yes.  “Then what are you afraid of?”  “I might swallow it.”  

Caroline’s fear of the the unknown, of taking the step to follow what Katie and I were asking her to do (which was undoubtedly for her own good, and for the health of her teeth) had nothing to do with her questioning our love for her.  She in no way thought that we would ever intentionally harm her or ask her to do something that would harm her.  Her fear stemmed from a lack of trust in herself.  She was terrified that her own body would somehow betray her and inadvertently swallow this substance that in her mind could harm her.  

Caroline didn’t trust herself or her body.  For example, when a bird lands on a tree branch I wonder if the little bird lands on the tree branch trusting that the branch is not going to break, or does the bird have trust that the wings that carried him to branch can carry him to safety if the branch does break?

Many times, our God calls us into the unknown, and many times our fear cripples us from answering the call.  Our typical indictment is that we simply do not trust that God can carry us through that which we are called.  However, in this line of thinking, we sell ourselves (and that which our Sovereign has created) short.  Our God created us, and our bodies.  These shells, mortal as they may be host a myriad of complex and fascinating systems and mechanics; not to mention the amazing gifts and graces that God has bestowed out of love for us.  I tend to believe that if God is calling us to something it is because God has gifted and graced us with the skills and abilities to achieve that call.  Does that mean that we can always see that?  No, and that is why often times with don’t answer the call.  We don’t trust ourselves, and all that God has created in us.  

So, today is a word of encouragement.  Ephesians chapter 2, verse 10 states that we are God’s craftsmanship.  Other translations use the word, “masterpiece.”  Now this particular verse is in a much longer discord with the Church at Ephesus where the Author is proclaiming a great message of hope to the readers.  Because of their response to the Gospel, they are now experiencing a radical transformation of their personal and social identity.  For the Author,  they are in a way, being resocialized into God’s purposes and family.   But, I think it can also speak to this same notion.  God created us…. God knows us, and if God is calling us to it, then it must be because God has already created or is creating the tools needed.  

The Psalmist echoes this idea in celebration of God’s work in them.   So, I close with the words of Psalm 139:   “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful…

Thanks be to God!

MY Ever Changing Bio (Guest Post) - Matt Ybañez

A few posts ago, I put links to other clergy in the Central Texas Conference who are doing some blogging. I have invited these folks to be a guest contributor on this blog. This blog is not a huge platform but large enough to share and so over the course of the next few weeks I invite you to hear (and even follow) other clergy voices around this Conference. Here is a guest post from Matt Ybañez - My Ever Changing Bio.

In the midst of a career change from Youth Ministries to Missions and Evangelism here at the church, I find myself rewriting my bio on the church website. Hopefully by the time you’re reading this, the new bio is up and the old one is gone . . . because as more and more time passed, and as I continually put off updating it, it continued to grow more and more outdated. It was so out of date that the last line originally read that I was in a Christian fraternity in college until at some point in the last 6 years, someone went in and added to my bio, “They have two daughters.”

Since I wrote it in 2006, Aimee and I have had two children, and I’ve packed away a lot of life experience, both personally and professionally. While the story of who I am hasn’t changed much, my understanding of who I am and what are the most significant, life-shaping events that are church-website-bio-worthy has changed a lot. My experience as a Schlitterbahn lifeguard is not as relevant as it used to be. My identity as a father was non-existent, but now fatherhood is a lens through which I see almost everything.

There was a time when I thought I’d be a youth minister for all of my working life. My experience of youth was so formative that I wanted to give back and serve in the same place that had shaped me, yet as my own life continued to take shape, my strengths and passions emerged with more clarity and I felt God’s call on my life evolve and take shape into something different.

God’s call on our lives is not a singular, static assignment. Fred Buechner writes that vocation, from the latin vocare, literally means “that which you are called by God to do.” He asserts that our vocation, our calling, lies at the intersection of our greatest passions and the world’s deepest hungers. Over our lives, our strengths and passions may not shift dramatically (not to say that they can’t). The needs of the world are always changing and evolving and I believe that God continually meets us where we are, which means that the way God calls us can’t be a static singular call, but a dynamic, moving target. Sure, the words may never change–”Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself,” but my heart and mind have grown. My neighbors, our neighbors, are not the same neighbors we had 10 or 50 years ago, and as God draws the world ever closer towards the kingdom of God, we too are called to deepen the ways we live as followers of Jesus.

The keyword there is “follower.” To follow, necessarily incites movement and change. The church (both universally and we specifically) is not always the best at navigating change. The very purpose of an institution is to preserve the structures that have served us well in the past, but the great pitfall in the life of the church is that we tend to want to live in the past. We stand at a unique point in Christian history: the onset of post-Christendom.  All that means is that most of the people in our community are not going to church like they did 50 or 100 years ago, and we cannot stand on the steps of the church shouting out to the world, “Come in here to meet God!” because God is already present and working in the lives of the people around us. We, the church, must follow Jesus out into the world lest we become outdated.

As I embrace my new journey, I’m excited to see how God will continue to invite us into new ways of being the church.

Dunkirk and the Power of Story (Guest Post) - Mark Winter

A few posts ago, I put links to other clergy in the Central Texas Conference who are doing some blogging. I have invited these folks to be a guest contributor on this blog. This blog is not a huge platform but large enough to share and so over the course of the next few weeks I invite you to hear (and even follow) other clergy voices around this Conference. Here is a guest post from Mark Winter - Dunkirk and the Power of Story

I recently caught Dunkirk, the Christopher Nolan movie that tells the story of the daring rescue of Allied soldiers in the early days of World War II. When Nazi Germany invaded France in May 1940, they began to push English, Belgian and French forces to the sea. The British Expeditionary Force made the decision to evacuate the troops near Dunkirk, on the northern shore of France. Some naval ships were dispatched, but officers were not willing to risk the entire fleet to marauding German bombers and prowling U-boats. The evacuation began at a painfully slow pace, but when the word got out of the dire situation, civilian sailors came to the rescue.

A flotilla of yachts, fishing boats, motorcraft and merchant marine ships braved the mine-infested waters of the English Channel to make the 30-mile voyage to Dunkirk. When the evacuation began, Churchill was hoping that 30,000 men could be ferried back to safety. By June 4, 1940, over 338,000 soldiers had been evacuated. The prime minister hailed the operation as a “miracle of deliverance.”

I grew up hearing war stories from my dad, who was a B-17 copilot. When he told me about the Dunkirk evacuation, I remember how impressed I was. It was a personal lesson in bravery: ordinary men risking their property and lives to save soldiers whom they didn’t know.

Of course, I knew the outcome of the story before I sat down in the theater to watch the movie. Still, the masterful storytelling of Nolan grabbed me from the start. As my oldest son, who caught the flick before me, remarked, “I paid for my entire seat, but only used the edge of it.”

Once again I am reminded of the power of story to stir mind and soul. I would venture to say that most Westerners know the story of Jesus. They know that He taught ethics in the Sermon the Mount. They have heard that He gathered 12 disciples, who were to carry out His mission. And most everyone knows the most crucial elements of this story, that Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and raised on Easter Sunday.

Yet even the Greatest Story Ever Told can be told as “old hat.” How many preachers drone in the pulpit every week as if this tale were as exciting as a shopping list? How many folks turn off the story in their heads when it starts to be repeated, unconsciously believing that it has nothing new or powerful to say?

The Gospel must be told in fresh, dynamic, heart-gripping ways. That’s why I do what I do: embody the story in dramatic fashion. It seems to grab attention, including that of children and the hard-to-impress teenager. Drama is not the only way to tell the Gospel story, of course. The church has many creative channels at its disposal, including poetry, sculpture, dance, art, music, photography and film. Jesus Himself used creative arts when He taught spiritual truth in parable form.

Perhaps the greatest tool at our disposal is our own passion for the Story. Do you believe the Gospel is the “power of God unto salvation”? (Romans 1:16). Then tell or show it in your own way – but do it compellingly, remembering that this Story has changed (and is still changing) you.

There are an estimated 2.2 billion Christians in the world. That’s over two billion stories reflecting the One Story that binds us together. And that leaves over 5 billion who need to hear, see and experience the Story for themselves.

It’s up to us.

It’s up to you.

How will you tell the Story today?

The Parable of the Good Terrorist (Guest Post) - Vince Gonzales

A few posts ago, I put links to other clergy in the Central Texas Conference who are doing some blogging. I have invited these folks to be a guest contributor on this blog. This blog is not a huge platform but large enough to share and so over the course of the next few weeks I invite you to hear (and even follow) other clergy voices around this Conference. Here is a guest post from Vince Gonzales, "The Parable of the Good Terrorist"

The original was posted February 22, 2017:

Yesterday, I delivered the devotional to open our daily work of The General Commission on Religion and Race’s CORR Action Fund.  I had intended to talk about Christian Unity but, early in the morning, the blueprint  to the new Presidential Executive Order was released.  That took me back to this blog posting that touched upon how I feel as someone whose family includes Native Americans.  The Executive Order begs the Church Universal to ask the question “Who are our neighbors?”

I’m fairly confident that much of the discussion around welcoming our neighbor will deal with the numerous selections of scripture dealing with immigrants.  I am always drawn to Luke 10: 25-37, the story of the Good Samaritan.  I have been reading Dr. King’s draft “On Being a Good Neighbor” located in the archives of Stanford University’s The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Center.  Dr. King’s words are as timely today as they were in 1962 when he first started penning them.

In Dr. King’s retelling of this parable, he reminds us that the story “begins with a theological discussion on the meaning of eternal life and ends with a concrete expression of compassion.”  In this well-known story, a lawyer answers the most basic question of the law, a test not worthy of his knowledge and experience.  Perhaps sensing that his answer leaves the perception upon those around the scene that he could only answer the most basic questions, he counters by challenging Jesus asking the question “And who is my neighbor?”

As a GCORR Board member representing the General Commission at this event, I want to state the three aspects of the GCORR Ministry Model in addressing the question “And who is my neighbor?” They are:

1)      Intercultural Competence;

2)      Institutional Equity; and

3)      Vital Conversations.

Intercultural competence requires “GCORR be the catalyst and partner with other leaders in the UMC supporting the development of interculturally competent leaders who are engaged in ministry that promotes intentional diversity and equity.”[1]

Institutional Equity envisions that “GCORR will critically examine examples of racial and cultural injustice in local and global contexts: setting goals for overcoming them, intentionally measuring progress, and resourcing culturally competent leaders (lay and clergy) to promote and sustain institutional equity.”[2]

Vital Conversations, the area that I hope to focus in this paper, suggests ” GCORR will initiate and model holy conversations throughout the Church about race, cultural diversity and institutional equity.  We will gather and share learnings from these conversations that will help grow a movement that honors all of God’s creations.”[3]

In this parable, or morality play, there is only one speaking part, that of the Samaritan.  Theologians and Biblical scholars, Midrashim and laity, have sought to explain the actions, or rather, inactions of the Levite and priest.  We feel we know the actions of the Samaritan well, through his actions and his words.

Today I ask you to place yourself in the role of the other two characters in this tableau; that of the Jew in the ditch and the innkeeper in Jericho.  There is a long history to the enmity between these two groups and we must go back to 2 Chronicles 28: 6-15 to see this:

6 Pekah son of Remaliah killed one hundred twenty thousand in Judah in one day, all of them valiant warriors, because they had abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors. 7 And Zichri, a mighty warrior of Ephraim, killed the king’s son Maaseiah, Azrikam the commander of the palace, and Elkanah the next in authority to the king.

Intervention of Oded

8 The people of Israel took captive two hundred thousand of their kin, women, sons, and daughters; they also took much booty from them and brought the booty to Samaria. 9 But a prophet of the Lord was there, whose name was Oded; he went out to meet the army that came to Samaria, and said to them, “Because the Lord, the God of your ancestors, was angry with Judah, he gave them into your hand, but you have killed them in a rage that has reached up to heaven. 10 Now you intend to subjugate the people of Judah and Jerusalem, male and female, as your slaves. But what have you except sins against the Lord your God? 11 Now hear me, and send back the captives whom you have taken from your kindred, for the fierce wrath of the Lord is upon you.” 12 Moreover, certain chiefs of the Ephraimites, Azariah son of Johanan, Berechiah son of Meshillemoth, Jehizkiah son of Shallum, and Amasa son of Hadlai, stood up against those who were coming from the war, 13 and said to them, “You shall not bring the captives in here, for you propose to bring on us guilt against the Lord in addition to our present sins and guilt. For our guilt is already great, and there is fierce wrath against Israel.” 14 So the warriors left the captives and the booty before the officials and all the assembly. 15 Then those who were mentioned by name got up and took the captives, and with the booty they clothed all that were naked among them; they clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them; and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kindred at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Samaria.[4]

What a surprise this is!  An Old Testament story reflects that of the New Testament parable.  We have the dreaded Samaritans; we have the downtrodden Jews from Jericho; we have the Samaritans taking care of the Jews, treating their wounds, feeding them, clothing them, giving them shoes, placing them on their donkeys and escorting them to Jericho.  And then the Samaritans return to Samaria.  Sound familiar?  This history affords us a window from which to view how the Samaritan was viewed.  This would not have been a vision of a “good” person.

At some point, we have changed how society sees the Samaritan.  Today, the connotation of the “Good Samaritan” is someone we want to emulate.  We use the term to describe someone who helps others.  However, 2000 years ago, using today’s vernacular, this parable might have been better entitled “The Parable of the Good Terrorist.”  It is a true reflection of how the Samaritan would have been viewed within the cultural context of when Jesus walked.  Let’s keep that in mind.

In the context of the New Testament parable and the GCORR concept of vital conversations, imagine what was going through the mind of the injured Jew in the ditch.  Near death, beaten severely, and passed by those the tossed-aside man would have expected to help him, he is approached by the Samaritan, someone of another race.  Despised because of the Samaritan history of killing 200,000 of the residents of Jericho, the injured man must have been in great fear for his life from this Samaritan.

What could the Samaritan have possibly said that would allow him to approach the man in the ditch?  On the road, in a ditch, infamous for thieves and murderers hiding behind curves, rocks and trees, the hurt, tossed-aside man allowed a despised outcast to approach him.  Whatever it was, it had to carry great impact to bring down the defenses of both parties.

Now we turn to the innkeeper.  First, Samaritan and the Jew, an unusual duo, arrive at the khan, located on the road to Jericho.  They check in; the Samaritan treats the wounds on his new acquaintance and then, the next day gives the innkeeper 2 denarii, about 28 cents, and asks the innkeeper to “take care of him, and whatever you expend more, when I return I will pay you.”[5]  The innkeeper accepts this.

One has to ask “What is it this Samaritan says or does that makes folks do what he asks and let their defenses down?”  What is it that develops the trust that quickly forms between these three parties?

Trust is the key in these relationships.  Without trust, it is difficult, if not impossible to develop a relationship.  The Samaritan’s success is grounded in his ability to develop trust immediately.  How does he do it?  The Samaritan sees, hears and responds to the needs of the injured person in the ditch.  His spirit is open to loving the stranger.  He gives of himself with no expectation of recompense.  His actions are unconditional upon anything the Jew might say or do.  He epitomizes altruism.

As far as developing trust with the innkeeper, the formula is simple.  The Samaritan says what he’ll do, and he does what he says.

With regard to where the United Methodist Church is today, the need for Samaritan-type conversations is great.  If we are to make neighbors, be neighbors and love our neighbors, we must emulate the Samaritan.  Not only must these vital conversations incorporate our ears, eyes and hands, they demand our response in a compassionate, meaningful manner. We must engage our neighbor without expectations of accolades for our actions, without the intent of meeting some metric of church growth, and most importantly, without question of whether our neighbor is deserving of our goodness and grace.

What Jesus does in the parable of the Good Samaritan is the perfect reversal of fortune.  If we were to revise the story to reflect the mindset of most of United Methodism today, we would have the Christian walking the road and rushing to the aid of a non-believer laying in the ditch.  Christ intentionally placed the despised, heretical Samaritan as the savior of the Jew in this parable.  The person we are inclined to identify ourselves with is the person who is despised.  The person we are instructed to love is the one we look down on.

When I read Luke’s account, I often see myself as each of the characters in the parable.  I have been the Priest, I have been the Levite.  I have been the person in the ditch and I have been the innkeeper.  With the vitriol around immigration, more time than note, I feel like the “Good Terrorist.”  Who are you in the parable?  Who have you been and who do you hope to be?  Regardless of what character you are at this point in your Christian walk, you have a talking part.  You must speak out against the hate and vitriol of xenophobia, racism and fear-mongering.

There is Latin phrase that I scroll across my computer screen.  It reads: “Proprium humani ingenii est odisse quem laeseris” which means it is human nature to hate a person whom you have injured.

Who is the neighbor we are charged to love?  The one we despise, the one we hate, the ones who fail to act, and the one we have injured.  And it is also ourselves.

[1] What We Do | GCORR, http://www.gcorr.org/what-we-do/_br (accessed January 11, 2014).

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] New Standard Revised Edition

[5] Ibid