My plans aren’t your plans,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
Just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my plans than your plans. (CEB)
Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?
For at least the last 25 years, I have answered this question, “Yes, by the grace of God.”
The other seven members of my ordination class in the Texas Annual Conference in 1991 answered the same. As far as I know, every ordained United Methodist has answered the same way.
I was pretty sure that the eight of us didn’t have exactly the same understanding of what this question meant. No one asked. No explanation, no dissertation was required
I can tell you that I full on loved that question! Fresh out of Asbury Seminary, I was deeply committed to living into Christian Perfection. Wesley’s teaching on perfection played an essential role in my choice of seminary.
When I was 27 I fully expected, by the grace of God, to be made perfect in love in this life.
Today, at 52 I still fully expect, by the grace of God, to be made perfect in love in this life.
My understanding of what it means, and towards what, particularly, I am moving, has changed. If it hadn’t, I would have serious reservations about my fitness for effective ministry.
I haven’t talked to anyone from my ordination class in at least 20 years. This is partly because I have changed conferences; I am now a clergy member of the Central Texas Conference.
Occasionally I wonder what the 27 year old Steve Heyduck would think of the 52 year old version. There would be some serious disagreements. And yet, we are together. I wouldn’t be the me I am today had I not been him then.
I wouldn’t be committed today to being made perfect in love in this life were it not for my original commitment then. With 25+ years on this path, then, I have to think I’m closer now than I was then. If I didn’t believe this, I would owe it to the Church to surrender my credentials and find another vocation.
This picture did it. Threw me across the line I’ve been toeing for several days, if not weeks.
Seems pretty harmless, right? Maybe even encouraging? Even if you realize, as I did the moment I saw it, that this is a picture of Barry Gibb, one of the Bee Gees.
Today we celebrate the Ascension. The story is told in Acts 1:1-11. 40 days after the resurrection, Jesus “was lifted up,” (ascended) into heaven. Today is that day this year – 40 days after Easter.
Immediately after the ascension, Luke, the author of Acts, tells us,
While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.” -Acts 1:10-11
This is the part of the Ascension story I want to focus on today. And, maybe, every day.
Today I echo the words of those two men in white robes:
STOP looking at Jesus!
Barry Gibbs/Jesus helped me grasp this, so now I share it with you. We do too much looking at Jesus.
I think all these images of Jesus we surround ourselves with distract us from actually following Jesus. To be fair, it’s not Barry Gibbs’ fault. Here is a collage of many of the images of Jesus found around our church, Euless First United Methodist Church
When we make Jesus look like a first century person, we are distracted from the realities of 21st century life. However heart warming it is to see a picture of a bearded, robed guy, most of us don’t look at actually, living, bearded guys in robes with any such positive thoughts. This kind of removing Jesus from our current context too easily leads to nostaglic dreaming of all kinds of days-gone-by. I’m pretty sure Jesus would rather we live today.
When we insert a image of Jesus into a current situation, we create space for us to back out of the challenging part of following Jesus. Are you tired, stressing out, even depressed? Facing tough times? Grieving the loss of a loved one or poor choices your children (or parents) are making? Here’s a picture of Jesus to tide you over to get you through. No! The picture of Jesus that Jesus wants you and me to share with the hurting is the Imago Dei (image of God) that we carry in our beings!
May you experience all the joy of the Ascension: knowing that Jesus is in heaven, and that he didn’t leave us here to stare up at heaven, or at pictures, looking at Jesus. He left us, commissioned us, is counting on us, to continue his work.
So, STOP looking at Jesus and follow him!
I’m a terrible person. Or so I am tempted to believe as a result of a phone conversation that ended a few minutes ago.
Of course, I can think of all kinds of reasons he was wrong, but all of these reasons are playing less loudly right now than the reminder of his voice.
“So, you hate veterans?” He hung up before I could answer.
Of course I don’t hate veterans! But, while I could have shot this simple statement out before he disconnected, I didn’t even mutter these words because that wasn’t an answer to what was actually happening.
He didn’t really care if I cared about veterans. He cared if I cared about him. Making things even more difficult than that, the only way I could prove to him that I cared about him was if I gave him exactly what he was asking for.
He did what he was supposed to do, right? His best play was the card he had that could most likely win; his best card was the “veteran” card. He had already played the “my grandfather was a pastor” card, and that hadn’t worked.
In that moment, he wanted me to play favorites. More accurately, he was hoping I would both play favorites and that he, in one category or another he had presented to me, was in my list of favorites.
At this point it would be easiest for me to call up the “God is no respecter of persons,” which is how the King James version translated it. The Common English Bible renders it “God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another.” (Acts 10:34)
So was I playing favorites by choosing that verse?
Are we are always choosing to play favorites, one way or another? Is it really a matter of being honest with ourselves and with others about how we choose favorites?
I am left with the story of the starfish.
However it is that we play favorites, may we realize that in helping one, any one, we at least offer help to that one. Whether or not we change the world in doing so, we might hope to be part of the change in that one’s world.
Part of John Wesley’s genius, as the founder of the Methodist Movement, was the way he organized to make disciples. He established small groups everywhere he went. When these small groups met, they would go through a list of questions at each meeting. The questions were designed to guide the group members into a deeper walk with God.
Here is the second question:
- Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
Many congregations have at least one of these people, but in one church I served her name was Esther. Esther believed that she should always speak her mind, no matter who it hurt along the way.
I read in a Chuck Swindoll book of that same era that “honesty is a virtue, but it is not the highest virtue.”
I think this misconception of honesty – sharing my opinion no matter the personal or relational cost – is exactly what this second question of Wesley’s small groups intends to address.
Notice it asks, “Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?” (emphasis added) I think honesty in our actions will sometimes cause us to limit the words we use. Honest actions make us choose our words more wisely.
So, “Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?” Is a great question for any of us who would follow Jesus to consider regularly. Additionally, we are most likely to grow more honest in acts and words when we hold ourselves accountable to someone else.
I believe that, at its best, honesty in acts and words means consideration for one’s own worth and that of others.