Finding God’s Will: Will Jackson

This morning as the dawn’s sun peeks through the trees, I’m thinking about my last congregation where early on I quit going to the front door to shake hands with parishioners. You see it was the custom for whoever did the preaching to go to the front door and the other clergy to go to the side door. On my first trip to the side door and every Sunday after that the dear and challenged young man, Will Jackson, grabbed my hand and heart. He sat by the side door every Sunday with his beloved parents, Bill and Faye, and his big sister, Mary Katherine. Every time I walked by he reached out his hand – a touch of sacramental grace from a lad who couldn’t speak with words, but spoke with his heart. From that first time it happened I knew it was God’s will/Will for me to go to the side door because I didn’t have church that Sunday or any other until Will touched me.

Do you want to know God’s will/Will? What or who is God’s Will/will for your life? What’s your personal mission statement? What’s your church’s? I have enjoyed listening to churches share their mission statements and goals at charge conferences, and I agree with what someone once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” In my experience that lack of direction usually means a less than worthy destination. Proverbs 29:18 says, “Without a vision, the people perish.” Thoughtless doing without clear goals is busy-ness without fruitfulness. Doing lots of stuff without clarity of purpose is wearisome and lacks satisfaction. It leads to mediocrity, and describes much of what I see in our churches.

The churches that I’ve seen that are thriving know their goals. They can say them out loud, not like automatons or lemmings, but because they have a passion for a singular purpose. Someone said that mission statements need to be “long enough to be memorable, and short enough to be memorized.” I like that. The purpose of the church should have enough depth to challenge, but be clear enough to be immediately verbalized. I’ve heard some like “MD4C” which stands for “Making Disciples for Christ,” and “Together We Can Do More.” Clarity of direction is key for disciples. If leaders aren’t clear then the rest of the flock is left wandering in the wilderness!

In ­Alice in Wonderland, Alice encounters the Red Queen as she is trying to find her way through the fairy tale forest. Alice cried out, “Which way do I go?” The Red Queen was almost nonchalant in her reply, “Well, that all depends on where you want to go.” Alice continued her plea for directions with, “Well, to tell the truth, I really don’t know!” The Red Queen concluded, “Then it really doesn’t matter which direction you take, does it?” So we have churches, people, governments, and societies floundering around going in every direction imaginable like chickens with their heads lopped off because they have no clue where they want to go.

Where do you want to go? Better yet, where does God want you to go? How can you tell? I think sometimes our sense of call or direction begins with the opportunities around us. What’s the need? Other times I need to ask myself what are my passions, or as I ask the clergy who are coming in to see me for their consultation, “What lights you up?” That simple question gives me more than a hint as to what that person’s direction might need to be. What do valued and wise people in your life advise you to do? Sometimes others see more clearly than we do what our priorities should be! Of course and foremost, what has God said to us in prayer and in God’s Word? If I read the Scriptures and ask intently with undistracted focus, “What are you saying to me today, Lord?” – God usually speaks with a deep inward impression on my soul. Oh, for the courage to do what the Lord says! That’s direction!

Our Bishop, Jonathan Holston, is wonderful. He often says that we need to dream what he calls “God-sized dreams.” He’s so right! That’s a sure-fire way to avoid mediocrity. When Disney World opened south of Orlando the widow of the great entrepreneur Walt Disney stood with one of Disney’s engineers as they were both gazing at its magnificence and beauty. The engineer was sincerely trying to honor one of our country’s greatest innovators when he turned toward Mrs. Disney and said, “Boy, I wish Walt could have seen this!” Without lifting her gaze off the awesome sight of Disney World in all its splendor, she simply replied, “He did. That’s why it’s here.”

God wants us to have God-sized dreams and articulate them clearly enough to inspire others to catch them. Listen today to God’s voice and sense the Holy Spirit’s nudges; listen to your own heart and think about your passions, giftedness, and what lights you up. Listen to the wise counsel of Christian friends. Look at the needs around you that must be addressed. Knowing God’s will ain’t rocket science! Do something about it! Amid the din of all other voices and clamors for your attention, touch the “least of these” in Jesus’ name and you’ve met and done God’s Will/will. Give a listen to Martina McBride to know what I mean.

A 9/11 Memorial

This weekend’s commemoration of 9/11/2001 and a decade of heartache and wondering about the meaning of it all have me thinking about epitaphs and memorials. What did all those people die for? What have the soldiers and wounded warriors died or survived for? How do we sum it up? How do we capture what they went through and fittingly remember? What slogans or proverbs should we devise or utilize to help us frame the angst of a decade marred by fear and death?

Will simple proverbs or sayings do? No, of course, they won’t. That’s too easy, mercenary, or cheesy. Proverbs and the like are a dime a dozen in our culture. New ones are as fresh as the new television season with its Madison Avenue pitches. Slang words and phrases are quickly assimilated into our common vernacular at the speed of our web browser, email carrier, or twitter hash tag. How can we memorialize 9/11 with both poignancy and permanence? A bumper sticker won’t cut it, that’s for sure! That’s not enough. I’ve tried to come up with something catchy, theologically sound, and respectful but I can’t. Where I think I’m headed this weekend is in how we live as a fitting memorial. Our actions will either honor or dishonor the memories of those heroes from the past ten years.

This begs the question: How do we live? What are our life mottoes? We all make some sort of statement when we walk in and out of the house, wear an US flag-themed tie, or a Gamecock hat. Most of us have little mottoes and mantras that define who we are, what we stand for, or where we’re from. Decals on cars declare OIB (Ocean Isle Beach) or HI (Hilton Head) or an allegiance to a certain sports team. One of the best symbols of the fair state of South Carolina is the Palmetto and Crescent that grace everything from vehicles to t-shirts.

Symbols and life mottoes give us an identity. They provide us with instant affinity groups. They do have rules, though. They should pass the t-shirt test. If they can’t fit on a -shirt, then they’re too long. Before t-shirts we put them on tombstones and called them “epitaphs.” Someone once said that such epitaphs, life mottoes, or mission statements should be short enough to be memorized and long enough to be memorable. How appropriate! The one that fits the United Methodist Church is like that: “MD4C” – Making Disciples for Christ.

I’ve seen some remarkable life mottoes in recent years from comedians to poets. Lily Tomlin purportedly claimed, “We’re all in this together – alone,” as her motto. Poet John Gay’s epitaph reads: “Life is jest, and all things show it. I thought so once, but now I know it.” There’s the humorous and the sublime. You can decide which is which: “Some days you’re a pigeon. Some days you’re a statue.” Then there’s the one: “God give me work until my life shall end and life until my work is done.”

What sign or symbols will be on your memorial? Could it be that we’re writing them right now? Joanne Lynn and Joan Harrold in their book Handbook for Mortals give some guidance in writing life themes. They call them the “Four R’s for the Spirit.” First is remembering. They ask us to take time to reflect on life and all of its happenings – accomplishment, failures, triumphs and tragedies. Next comes reassessing. They suggest that we should ask what our lives have added up to, or who we really have been, then share these thoughts with the people who know and love us so that they can give us their take. The third “R” is reconciling where we try to be at peace with our own imperfections. Last they suggest that we try reuniting, being at peace with others, friends and foes. As they put it about reconciling, “It is important to come together with friends when you can have the chance to say farewells and it’s important with enemies to say forgive me and I forgive you.” All four “R’s” can aid us in getting our epitaph written before our death rather than afterwards. I think this process can really help us do justice to those touched by the 9/11 tragedy.

With all the death and destruction from 9/11 and the resulting wars, we need to be people intent on memorable mission statements and life mottoes, creating epitaphs worth remembering. After we’re dead and gone people won’t have to wonder what to put on our tombstone. Maybe we should go ahead now and ask them what they have in mind to use because it’s not too late for a revision. 9/11 has me thinking about memorials, both mine and the ones we erect in our day-to-day actions for the victims of the last ten years.

Focus and Mottoes

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Proverbs abound in our culture. New ones are as fresh as the new television season with their Madison Avenue’s pitches. Slang words and phrases are quickly assimilated into our common vernacular at the speed of our web browser or email carrier. Perhaps we all have statements that we make when we walk in and out of the house. We have little mottoes and mantras that define who we are or where we’re from. Decals on cars declare OIB (Ocean Isle Beach) or PI (Pawley’s Island). One of the best symbols of our fair state is the Palmetto and Crescent that graces everything from vehicles to t-shirts.
 
I have been watching the Olympics with great interest amazed at the dedication and determination that these athletes have exhibited. Of course Michael Phelps’ feat of 8 Gold medals is impressive, and so is 41-year-old Dara Torres’ Silver medal accomplishment. I have especially liked listening to their post-event interviews although I’m a little bored with Phelps’ standard line, “Once again, I’m at a loss for words.” He has said some remarkable things like, “If you you’re determined, you can accomplish your dreams.” Given his ADHD diagnosis, that says a lot to everyone. Focus is important, or how else do you explain Dara Torres’ ability to juggle motherhood, family, and swimming? Notice the focused beam of light in this morning’s webcam shot from Mt. Mitchell. Where this is going is what would I say in my post-life interview or, better yet, what would others say was my focus, my mission statement?
 
Life mottoes and symbols give us an identity. They provide us with instant affinity groups. They should all pass the t-shirt test. If they can’t fit on a t-shirt, then they’re too long. Before t-shirts we put them on tombstones and called them “epitaphs.” Someone once said that life mottoes or mission statements should be short enough to be memorized, but long enough to be memorable. How appropriate!
 
I’ve seen some remarkable life mottoes in recent years, from comedians to poets. Lily Tomlin purportedly claimed, “We’re all in this together ­– alone,” as her motto. Poet John Gay’s epitaph reads: “Life is jest, and all things show it, I thought so once, but now I know it.” There’s the humorous and the sublime. You decide which is which: “Some days you’re a pigeon. Some days you’re a statue,” and “God give me work until my life shall end and life until my work is done.”
 
What sign and symbols will be on your tombstone? Could it be we’re writing them right now whether we like it or not? Joanne Lynn and Joan Harrold in their Handbook for Mortals give some guidance in writing life themes. They call them the “Four R’s for the Spirit.” First is remembering. They ask us to take time to reflect on life and all of its happenings, both accomplishments and failures. Reassessing comes next. They suggest that we should ask what our lives have added up to, or who we really were, then share these thoughts with the people who know and love us. The third “R” is reconciling where we try to be at peace with our own imperfections. Last they suggest that we try reuniting, being at peace with others, especially those we love. As they put it about reconciling, “It is important to come together with family and friends, when you can, and to have the chance to say farewells.” All four “R’s” can aid us in getting our epitaph written before our death rather than after.
I want to be a person intent on memorable missions, creating an epitaph worth remembering. Then after I’m gone people won’t have to wonder about what to put on my tombstone. Maybe I should go ahead and ask them now what they have in mind. Better yet, it’s not too late for me to make a revision.