Three-legged Chickens and Enthusiam

As a preacher I have found myself trying to drum up enthusiasm for all kinds of things. Stewardship campaigns are aptly named because it carries a military connotation. If it takes a “campaign” to get people to give then the war is already lost. We clergy-types want people to sing with gusto, give cheerfully, and serve faithfully. We want to pay off that building loan. We want the numbers in attendance to stay up without a slump, rain or shine. We like enthusiasm.

Not too much or it’s distracting, but we rather have a few smiles while we’re preaching, if not a few people saying “Amen!”  But, “Happy Clappy” people can turn a good worship service into a free-for-all with little decorum even though there’s evidence in the Bible to promote clapping in worship and even dancing! The bottom line is that everything that we do is to glorify God, not anyone else. Unless it brings honor to God, we’ve failed in our worship! I think we know when to clap at a worshipful rousing anthem by the choir. The joy just rises up from the congregation and spills over into overt enthusiasm.

You’ve heard the story of the circuit-riding preacher who needed a new horse. He went to someone who told him that he had the perfect horse for him. He said that the horse understood religious language. If you wanted him to stop, you said, “Amen.” If you wanted the horse to go, you said, “Praise the Lord!” The preacher bought the horse and started on his way when he came to a steep cliff. He couldn’t remember how to stop. Finally, as he was about to go over the edge, he remembered that you had to say “Amen” to stop the horse. With great relief, he then said, “Praise the Lord!” and both horse and rider plunged over the edge. Some people are too reluctant to say “Amen” and others are too quick to yell “Praise the Lord.” Enthusiasm does not need to be blind emotionalism. We’ve all seen people go off the religious deep end, and are so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good.

That being said, most of us preachers do like feedback on how the sermon went. Often we subject ourselves to the brutal honesty of our spouses and children. Humor us and tell us how it went, gently and with courtesy, and show enough enthusiasm to let us know you got the point. I think that’s the purpose of enthusiasm. It shows the Good Lord that we’re on the same page with Him. We want to be enthusiastic disciples!

Have you ever been to a football game and sat beside someone who either acts like they have no interest in the game or knows nothing about it? It’s annoying at best. They stand at the wrong time, clap in the wrong places, and they don’t usually look at the field! You wonder what in the world caused them to be there. Maybe it was a free ticket or something, but, at least, you wish that they had researched the game – something! There are a lot of people in church and outside the church who profess faith, but act like they don’t know a blooming thing about the Lord. God help when these folks get put on a committee. It’s usually a disaster.

We need enthusiasm! We need people who want to REALLY know Jesus and make Him known! Lent is our church season to wake us up. It should be a time when we rise every day to an ever higher crescendo of discipleship. I’m not talking about somber dull faith. We need folks who are on fire for Jesus with enthusiasm overflowing. John Wesley, our Methodist founder, said of our movement’s success and its cause, “Set yourself on fire with passion & people will come for miles to watch you burn.” Amen to that.

The story is told about a city man who was riding along at 55 mph when he looked out the window and couldn’t believe his eyes. He saw a three-legged chicken running beside the car. He accelerated to 60 mph and the three-legged chicken kept up with him! At 70 the chicken took off and left him in the dust. The man pulled over dumbfounded, and stopped in a farmer’s yard.

He rolled down his window and asked the farmer if he had seen the chicken dash by. The farmer said, “Sure, I saw it. I’ve seen plenty of them.” “What was it?” asked the man.  “The farmer said, “That was one of our three-legged chickens.” “Three-legged chickens! What do you mean, three-legged chickens?” “Well,” said the farmer, “there are three of us in the family: my wife, my boy, and myself. We all like drumsticks so we decided to breed three-legged chickens. That way we all can get a drumstick.” “Well do they taste good?” asked the city fellow. The farmer shook his head and replied, “I don’t know. We’ve never been able to catch one.”

May our enthusiasm keep us from being caught by laziness or a lack of faithfulness. Let’s outpace the world and outrun the Devil! Run on!

Three-legged chicken

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Thinking Three-Deep & Finding Jesus

I listened this week to good friend and authentic Christ-follower, Jorge Acevedo, speak about discipleship. It started me thinking, “What does discipleship look like?” Gosh, we know it when we see it, don’t we? There’s fruit like love, peace, joy, wisdom, a rich devotional life, high morality, generosity, and a gentle spirit. There’s more to it, of course, but the question ringing in my ears is more personal, “Am I a follower of Jesus ­– sold out, all in, the real deal?”

What I want to know and need to know is whether or not my being and doing are pleasing to God. Forget self satisfaction.  That lasts nanoseconds in the long-term pursuit of joy. Am I pleasing God? That’s the important question of discipleship that should be the thought behind the thought behind the thought behind the thought in my mind! Where does your mind go when you think three-deep?

I want my thoughts to go to Jesus, guiding everything I do and think. As United Methodists we believe that this life in Christ is a work of grace from start to finish. In this process God woos us through prevenient grace, saves us by justifying grace, and redeems our innermost thoughts and outward actions through sanctifying grace. It is not full salvation to single out common or prevenient grace as if it, in and of itself, guarantees universal salvation. Full salvation doesn’t even come, as some would propose, when Jesus justifies us and makes us right with God. That is imputed righteousness. No, full salvation is imparted righteousness as we become more and more like Jesus.

I have been reading about Oscar Romero, a reluctant hero of Liberation Theology and a witness for full salvation. When he was made archbishop of San Salvador in 1977 he was frowned upon by those who had been bucking the government’s co-opting of the church. He was apolitical at best. The government thought he was “safe,” an adjective that can’t describe a real disciple of the Lion of Judah.

Romero wasn’t interested in social holiness and regime change. His passion since his ordination was personal holiness. Romero wrote in his diary as a young priest, “In recent days the Lord has inspired in me a great desire for holiness…. I have been thinking of how far a soul can ascend if it lets itself be possessed entirely by God.”

On the personal holiness scale, Romero was great. However, Jesus’ call for his followers is greater than just on a personal level. Individual piety has to produce tangible fruit! Things changed for Oscar Romero when he saw how right-wing murder squads cannibalized El Salvador’s own people. He spoke out. He took a stand. He quit being safe. He aligned himself with the priests who were ministering to the poor, and he paid a price for his shift from being a follower of the status quo to being a follower of Jesus.

On March 24, 1980 Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated. As he celebrated Jesus’ sacrament using the words, “This is my body given for you… this is my blood shed for you,” a single bullet turned Romero’s own body and blood into communion elements. His body and blood became the body and blood of Jesus. That’s consummate discipleship, the dangerous merger of personal piety and social holiness.

This begs me to ask if I’m willing to do the same thing and take up the cross daily, deny myself, and follow Jesus. I want my life to be like Jesus and Oscar Romero. I want to fulfill the words of Rev. Wesley D. Taylor, United Methodist clergyperson in Tigard, Oregon, “In my discipleship I will be–like David, lifting up mine eyes unto the hills from whence comes my help; like Paul, forgetting those things which are behind and pressing on forward; like Abraham, trusting completely in our God; like Sarah, laughing for joy at God’s great promise; like Enoch, walking in daily fellowship with our Creator; like Moses, choosing life over death; like Jehoshaphat, preparing my heart to seek God; like Mary, loving God so much she birthed our Lord and Savior; like Daniel, able to commune with God all the time; like Job, patient under all circumstances; like Ruth, loyal above all to family; like Caleb and Joshua, refusing to be discouraged even in the face of greater numbers; like Joseph, able to turn away from all evil advances; like Gideon, advancing even though friends be few; like Aaron and Hur, constantly upholding the hands of our spiritual leaders; like Isaiah, consecrated to always do God’s work; like John, leaning upon the example of the Master Teacher; like Andrew, ever striving to lead my family to a closer walk with Christ; like Priscilla, a pioneer for growing churches; like Stephen, manifesting a forgiving spirit toward all people; like the angels, proclaiming the message of peace and good will to all. In my discipleship, I will be such!”

It’s easy to say and hard to do – thinking three-deep and finding Jesus; looking at communion and seeing not just Christ’s body but my own. I want a life that will never ever be the same, in Jesus’ name. Amen.