Monday, June 19, 2017

Onward, Christian Soldiers

John Maxwell, the best-selling author of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, says, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

Bob Pruitt knew the way. He was a career officer in the US Army Field Artillery. He served in Vietnam and rose to the rank of colonel. He knew how to lead. After his retirement from the military, Bob worked in real estate and was active in Kiwanis. In fact, he served as president. Bob was a problem solver, and he led by example. When the Kiwanis group needed something to hold snow cones, Bob made it. And he made it right. That was the only way he knew how to do it.

Bob Pruitt
He could be rather particular about things. Some might even say demanding, but Bob believed in doing your best. So he was the best dad he knew how to be. He always attended his son’s ball games. When they beat the #1 team in the state, Bob praised Tom saying, “You played a good game….” Then Bob proceeded to tell Tom how he could improve. Bob knew the way.

He knew what needed to be done when St. Mark’s was just getting started and meeting in a community center. And he knew what needed to be done when his son wanted to get permission from the city of Germantown to use a trail for dirt bikes. He knew what needed to be done to stop a water tower from being built near the middle school. Bob knew the way.

And he wasn’t shy about offering advice. But he was always there to help when someone was in need. And if there was a job to do, Bob was there to do it.

Bob was a true leader. He knew the way of Jesus the Good Shepherd. He went the way of the Good Shepherd. And he showed others the way.

The same could be said of Joshua. He knew the way of servant leadership. And that way began with faith. He had faith in God. And, boy, did he need it!

If anyone was ever put to the test it was the newly appointed leader of the Israelite people. Joshua had some mighty big shoes to fill. Moses had guided the people for decades. In fact, it was Moses who led the people out of captivity in Egypt and through the Red Sea. It was Moses who drew water from a rock and brought down manna from heaven. It was Moses who received the 10 Commandments and built the Ark of the Covenant. It was Moses who had led the people to the Promised Land. But Moses was gone. He had died on Mount Nebo, looking down into the fertile valley of Canaan. Moses saw the land that God had promised to give the people of Israel, but Joshua would claim the prize.

Joshua had earned God’s favor. He had proven himself to be reliable. Strong. And faithful. Back when the Israelites first made their way to the edge of the Promised Land, Moses had sent 12 leaders to scout out the land. Joshua was one of them.

“See what the land is like,” Moses told the scouts. “Are the people strong? How many people live there? Are the towns well protected? Is the soil fertile? What kind of food grows there?” (Numbers 13:18-21) That’s the kind of thing you need to know before you attempt a takeover.

So the 12 scouts spent 40 days getting the lay of the land. When they returned, they told Moses that the land was very rich. It flowed with milk and honey! But the people who lived there were powerful, which just makes sense, right? If the land is fruitful, then the people who live there will be strong and healthy and rich, and the cities will be full of people and well protected.

Ten of the scouts discouraged Moses from even trying to enter the land, but Caleb said they should go and take possession of it. And Joshua reminded them that the Lord was with them so there was no reason for the people of Israel to be afraid. “The Lord will lead us, and the Lord will give the land to us.”

 But the people rebelled. They lost faith in God. They did not believe that the Lord would keep the promise to Abraham. They did not believe that God would give them the land. So they refused to go. In fact, they even talked about replacing Moses as their leader and heading back to Egypt! They were so afraid of what was ahead of them that they were ready to go back into SLAVERY.

And that made God very angry. “How long will these people treat me with contempt?” God fumed. “How long will they refuse to believe in me? In spite of all that I have done for them! I should strike them down.”

But Moses pleaded for mercy. And the Lord relented. God vowed to keep the promise made to Abraham. God would be faithful, even though the people were not. The Lord would give the Israelites the land that had been promised. But, first, they would have to wander in the desert for 40 years. Long enough for them to learn to trust God. And long enough for the unfaithful spies to die. The unfaithful ones would not enter the Promised Land, but their children would. God would show them the way. (Numbers 13-14)

Sure enough, four decades had passed. The disbelieving had fallen away. And the time had come, finally, for the Israelites to claim the land that had been promised to their ancestors. God would defeat their enemies. And Joshua would lead them to victory.

But it would not be easy. Leading others into battle never is. The Lord encourages Joshua, “Be strong and courageous. Follow my commands. Do what I tell you to do. Do not waver from my instructions, and you will succeed.” (Joshua 1:6-9)

So Joshua does exactly what the Lord tells him to do. He gathers up the people and tells them to get ready. In three days, you will take possession of the land that the Lord is giving you.

He does not doubt or waver or change the plans one iota. Joshua is faithful. He believes in God. He trusts that the Lord will do what God has promised to do. In fact, Joshua has so much faith in God, so much confidence in the Lord, that it inspires the people. They vow to follow Joshua and to obey his commands fully. “Just as we fully obeyed Moses,” they say, “we will obey you.”

Huh? Ae you paying attention? That right there is some revisionist history! Because the people were always rebelling against Moses and against God. That’s how they ended up wandering in a desert for 40 years, remember? But maybe they have learned a thing or two. Maybe all those days trusting God for food and water and life itself have taught them the wisdom of obedience. Maybe they truly have come to believe that God is good. Maybe they truly have come to believe that God is faithful. Maybe they really believe that God is trustworthy. Because Joshua tells them it is time to go and they go. They follow Joshua, and they follow the Lord. They follow even though the way forward is difficult.

The first hurdle they face is the Jordan River, which is at flood stage, but they line up behind the Ark of the Covenant and walk straight into it. And the water dries up! They walk right across a dry river bed, and, after 40 long years, they finally enter the Promised Land! The first thing they do is worship and recommit themselves to the Lord.

It appears that the Israelites have learned finally to trust the Lord. The faith of their leader has inspired them to believe. So they march together. Bravely into battle.

Before the battle begins, Joshua sees a warrior outside of the city. Joshua wants to know, “Are you for us or against us?” “Neither,” the man replies. “I am the commander of the army of the Lord.” Joshua fell face down on the ground in reverence and asks, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

Now THAT is humility! And obedience. Joshua has been chosen by the Lord God Almighty to lead a great nation, but he is not arrogant. Or boastful. Or domineering. Joshua does not believe that he is too great to bow down before the Lord. He does not believe he is too great to serve. Joshua is humble. Joshua is obedient. Joshua is respectful. Joshua does not act as if he is better than everybody else. He seems to know that it is his service to God that makes him great.

The commander tells Joshua to take off his shoes because he is standing on holy ground, and Joshua does what he is told. Again, Joshua is obedient. And faithful. He follows God’s commands.

The people of Jericho had heard that the Lord had dried up the mighty Jordan River so that the Israelites could cross it safely. They knew that Joshua and his army were coming for them, so they were shut up tight, ready to ward off an assault. They were bigger. They were stronger. And they were prepared for battle.

But the Lord had told Joshua, “I have delivered Jericho into your hands.” God promises victory to Joshua. “Just do what I tell you to do. March around the city once a day for six days. Have 7 priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. Then on the 7th day, march around the city 7 times with the priests blowing the trumpets. When they hit one long note, have all the people shout out loud. Then the wall of the city will collapse, and your people can walk right in.”

Sounds crazy, right? That is not how you win a war against a well-fortified city. Jericho was a spring-fed oasis. It dominated the lower Jordan plain, and it had for 6000 years or more. Its people were protected by a high wall and tower. Enemy invaders trying to take such a city must penetrate the walls and gates. To do that, you generally had three options. Use some sort of ruse like Trojan horse. Break through some weak place in the wall, or go over or under it. Or you can lay siege to the fortress, cutting off supply lines until residents are forced to surrender.[i] You want to take a well-fortified city, you go in with guns blazing. You don’t march around it and blow a few horns. What kind of military tactic is that? Foolishness like that could get everybody killed!

But Joshua does not waver. He does exactly as God had instructed. He gives the priests and the people and the armed guards their instructions. And they follow his lead. They line up and march around the city while 7 priests blow trumpets. But they don’t say a word. Not one cry. For six straight days. They follow God’s commands exactly. On the seventh day, they line up again and march around the city. But this time they circle the city 7 times, and when the priests finally hit one long blast on the trumpets, the people cry out, just as Joshua had told them to do. And the walls of the city collapsed! Just like that. Just as God had promised. Imagine that!

The Israelites were victorious. Even though they were small and weak and vulnerable. They defeated a much more powerful enemy. Because they trusted their leader, and they had faith in God.

[i] Jerome F.D. Creach. Joshua: Interpretation Commentary. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2003. 61-62.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Jesus Loves the Little Children

Dianne Hudnall, a founding member of Blue Bucket Books, reads to 3-year-olds at LaPetite Academy.

Best-selling author Robert Fulghum says all he really needs to know he learned in kindergarten. That’s where he learned the really important lessons of life, things like: share everything, play fair, wash your hands before you eat, say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody, flush, and warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.[i]

And Karl Barth, the famous theologian who opposed both liberalism and Adolf Hitler, wrote four volumes in 12 parts. Each was 500 to 700 pages long.[ii] But, when a student asked him to summarize what he believed, Barth replied, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”[iii]

Sometimes the deepest truths are expressed in the simplest of ways.

It’s been said that the Bible is a love story. It is the story of God’s amazing love for all of humanity. That message has been summed up in another great song that many of us learned in Sunday School: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.”

We see that clearly at the end of Matthew’s gospel. The way Matthew tells the story, the eleven have HEARD about the resurrection of Jesus, but they have not yet SEEN him. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had gone to the tomb, but instead of tending to the dead body of our Lord, they encountered an angel who told them the most amazing story. “Jesus has risen from the dead! Look and see for yourself. He’s not there. Now go tell the others. Tell them to go to Galilee. Jesus will meet them there.”

So the two women hurried away. They were afraid, but they were also filled with joy! Could it be true? Was Jesus really alive? If so, what did it mean? They ran to tell the others, but, all of a sudden, Jesus was right there with them! The women went to him, and they bowed down to worship him, grabbing at his feet, as if they were afraid he might leave them again! But Jesus tells them not to be afraid. “Go!” he says. “Go and tell the others. Tell them to go to Galilee. They will see me there.”

So the women swallowed their fear, and they went and told the 11 exactly what Jesus had told them to say.

And, sure enough, the 11 go to Galilee, and Jesus is there! As soon as they see him, the 11 begin to worship, even though some of them aren’t quite sure what to believe about this resurrection story. And who can blame them? It is quite a tale! But they could not deny the truth that Jesus was right there in front of their very eyes. And that was all the reason they needed to worship!

I imagine the temptation would have been great for them to just stay there. With Jesus. Up on that mountain. Praying and praising God. Up there where it was safe. Just the 11 and Jesus. Just the way it used to be. But Jesus had other plans. “Go!” he said. “Go and make disciples.” And not just there in Galilee. At home with the folks they knew and liked and trusted. Jesus sent the 11 out into the world! To EVERY nation.

“Teach everyone,” he said. Young and old. Rich and poor. Male and female. Jew and Gentile. Teach your friends and your enemies. Teach those who are like you and those who are nothing like you. Teach those who believe what you believe and those who don’t believe ANYTHING you believe. Teach everyone. ALL nations. Everyone.

Truly, Jesus loves ALL the little children of the world! And you know what? Dianne Hudnall does, too.

Dee taught young children for about 39 years! Can you imagine 39 years in a classroom full of 20 little wiggly, giggly livewires? I can’t! I’d go nuts! But Dee says, “I found my niche. I knew that’s where I needed to be.”

She began her career as a first-grade teacher in Arkansas, but, when her family moved to Memphis, Dee focused her attention on pre-schoolers. She had a real gift for working with children from other nations.

Over the course of her career, Dee taught children from 26 different countries. When she would find out that a new child was coming, Dee would get material from the child’s native land so that, when he walked into the classroom, he felt like he was home. For instance, if a child was coming from China, Dee displayed Chinese newspapers and chopsticks and books about pandas. One year, Dee was assigned a child from Korea, so she got someone to come read to the class in Korean. What Dee created for her students was not a classroom in America. It was their classroom.

As a result of her efforts, Dee received the Diversity Teacher of the Year Award from Nick Jr. The following year, she was chosen from a group of 2000 teachers to receive the Diversity Champion Award.

But more important than accolades is the impact that Dee had on each child’s life. Most of her students did not speak English. Many had not even HEARD English, but, after one month in Dianne’s classroom, they would jump in her arms and say, “My Dee!” She loved them, and they loved her. She earned their trust and respect and their hearts.

Dee taught them many things. She taught them to be patient and respect each other. She taught them to FOLLOW rules and to APPRECIATE rules. She even taught them that learning can be fun!

But, most importantly, Dee taught them about God. It was a secular school, so Dee could not teach Bible stories, but she taught them about the Creator when she helped them see the beauty and power of creation. Together, they raised butterflies from caterpillars and petted a lynx and admired a boa constrictor and played with a big box turtle and hopped around like frogs! They hugged trees and picked up litter because Miss Dee told them that, if we want the earth to be happy, it’s up to us to take care of it.

Dee taught them about Jesus when she loved them and took care of them and helped them find ways to love and care for others. Every child in Dee’s class was paired with a buddy, and they helped each other. And Dee taught her students about logical consequences. If you stack big boxes on top of little boxes, they will all fall down. Likewise, if a student was in a play center and argued with other kids in that area, he had to leave the center until he could play well with others. Dee also taught her students to recognize other people’s feelings, which is the first step in meeting people’s needs.

So Dee taught her students about God and about Jesus, and, though they may not have known it at the time, Dee also taught her kids about the Holy Spirit. She was not allowed to talk about religion, but she always wore a big cross necklace, and, any time a child asked about it, Dee knew the Holy Spirit had given her an opportunity to talk about God, and she took it!

Dee’s openness to the Spirit encouraged others to follow God’s leading. One year, the classroom mouse died, and one of the students led a funeral for it. Then on 9-11, that same girl went into the playhouse and started praying for everyone who was hurt. Many of the other children heard the girl praying, and they climbed into the playhouse and joined in.

Go! Jesus says. Go and make disciples of ALL nations. Make disciples of them. Teach them about Jesus. Lead them to commit their lives to Christ. Train them to follow the teachings of Jesus. Give them the tools they need to grow in faith. Teach them about all about God. Help them see God at work in the world. Teach them to love and serve others, especially those with special needs. And, when you see the Holy Spirit at work, call it to the attention of others so they can learn to sense God’s presence, too. Go, Jesus says! Go! Don’t be afraid. You can do it.

But we aren’t all called to be teachers. Some of us are not very good with kids at all! And that’s okay. There are lots of different ways to make disciples.

Pamela Lappen makes disciples in Las Vegas by leading dance classes for people with Parkinson’s disease.[iv]

And the people of Northwoods UM Church in Jacksonville, North Carolina, are making disciples by hosting a monthly dinner for men and women whose spouses are deployed in the armed forces.[v]

And, during hot summer months, members of City on a Hill UM Church in Woodstock, GA, make disciples by placing bottles of cold water and a note of thanks for their mail carriers every Monday.[vi]

We make disciples whenever we share the love of God with others. And there are as many ways to share God’s love as there are people in the world who need it.

Go, Jesus says! Go and make disciples! Don’t be afraid. You can do it. I will be with you. Always.

“Go, make of all disciples.” We hear the call, O Lord,

That comes from thee, our Father, in thy eternal Word.

Inspire our ways of learning through earnest, fervent prayer,

And let our daily living reveal thee everywhere.[vii]

[i] Robert Fulghum. “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things.” New York: Ballantine Books, 1986.
[ii] “Karl Barth: Courageous theologian.” Written by the staff of Christianity Today. Published at Copyrighted 2017 by Christianity Today. Accessed June 10, 2017.
[iii] Trevin Wax. “Top 5 Christian Theologians: Karl Barth.” Published August 22, 2008 at https://blogs/ Accessed June 10, 2017.
[iv] Christine Kumar. “Dancing with Parkinson’s.” Interpreter Magazine. January-February 2017. Published online at Accessed June 10, 2017.
[v] Christine Kumar. “Military families support one another. Interpreter Magazine. November-December 2016. Published online at Accessed June 10, 2017.
[vi] “Cold water for mail carriers” published on The Interpreter Magazine website at Copyright 2017 United Methodist Church. Accessed June 10, 2017.
[vii] Leon M. Adkins and Henry T. Smart. “Go Make of All Disciples.” The United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville: The United Methodist Church, 1989. 571.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Tongues on Fire

He was a little guy with a big Afro, but, other than that, there was really nothing remarkable about his appearance at all. In fact, he looked like most of the other kids in school. And he was shy, so you might walk right past him in the hallway. If you did happen to look his way, he might smile and nod. He was a polite kid. Quiet. Low key. He was smart and a decent student, but he just wasn’t the kind of kid who attracted attention. Except when he played music.[i] And then everybody noticed. He had a rare talent, the kind that would lead to 7 Grammy awards and 19 top 10 hits.

So what was it? What turned a shy, quiet kid from Minneapolis into the world-renowned pop star known as Prince? He found his voice, and miraculous things happen when people find their voice.

For Jesus, that moment was his baptism. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was praying when the Holy Spirit descended upon him, and it was the Spirit who gave Jesus the power to speak with authority. It’s as if his tongue were on fire! Jesus was God’s spokesman here on earth. And he came preaching freedom!

Throughout Luke’s Gospel, voice or speech is linked with issues of authority and power and truth. People realized that Jesus was a prophet sent by God by listening to his voice. And Jesus had plenty to say! But, throughout the story, the disciples really don’t say much … until Pentecost.

On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were gathered to pray, which is EXACTLY what Jesus had been doing when the Spirit came upon him. And, sure enough, while they worshipped, they were filled with the Spirit! They received the same gift that Jesus had been given. The gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a gift of power. A gift of inspiration. A gift of speech. It’s as if their tongues were on fire!

For years, the disciples had seen God’s power at work in Jesus, but after Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven, they were given the power and authority to speak for God. They had almost nothing to say until they were filled with the Holy Spirit. And that Spirit came upon them as they worshipped. The Spirit came upon them as they joined together to lift up the name of the Lord. The Spirit came upon them as they spent time in God’s presence. The Spirit came upon them as they sought to deepen their relationship with the Creator.

It is almost as if the gift of the Spirit was a reward because the disciples had been faithful. They had kept the covenant. They had kept open the doors of communication. They were open to receive God. They were open to receive instruction. They were open to receive God’s word. They were open to God. And their openness pleased God, so they were given the very essence of God. The Lord came to them as Spirit, and when the disciples embraced that Spirit, they found their own voices. Their tongues were on fire!

Each of them was filled with power from on high. They were given the power to speak God’s Word. They were given the freedom to speak for God. In fact, they were instructed to speak. And sing. And shout. They were sent out to tell the whole world all that they had seen and heard and experienced as they followed Jesus.

Miraculous things happen when people find their voice. And it sure happened that day in Jerusalem. It started with a group of about 120 people. Men and women. People who had followed Jesus. But there were hundreds of Jewish people in town that day. They had come from every nation under heaven. And they spoke hundreds of different languages. But they all heard the wind that blew through the house where the 120 were gathered. And it got their attention. What’s going on there? They wondered, so they went to investigate. And they were amazed by what they heard.

Those 120 disciples who had been filled with the Holy Spirit were all talking at once. Their tongues were on fire! Each one spoke a different language, even though they all came from the same place. They were all Judeans! They had all grown up speaking Hebrew. But their tongues were on fire! The Spirit of God had given them the power to speak in other languages. Languages they couldn’t possibly have known on their own. But God gave them the power to speak in other languages so that everyone who came that day could hear God’s Word and understand.

Parthians, Medes, and Elamites. Residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappodocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and parts of Libya. Visitors from Rome. Jews, proselytes, Cretans and Arabs. Everyone. Everyone could hear. Everyone could understand. Everyone had the opportunity to hear the gospel that day.

The 120 were filled with the Spirit. Their tongues were on fire! So everyone got to hear about Jesus. There wasn’t just one person speaking for God anymore. The Holy Spirit had been set loose upon the earth. And anyone who embraced that Spirit could be God’s prophet.

See, I told you. Miraculous things happen when people find their voice.

Sons and daughters prophesy. Young men see visions. Old men dream dreams. Slaves and free, men and women – they all become vessels for the Spirit of the Lord. Their tongues are on fire! They become prophets, proclaiming good news to the poor, release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind! They become prophets who cry out for God, “Let the oppressed go free!” They become prophets, singing, “Jesus loves all the little children of the world.” They become prophets so that everyone, everyone, everyone in every time and place can hear the good news of God’s saving love and be set free from sin!

Miraculous things like THAT happen when people find their voice.

So, come, Holy Spirit, come! Pour out that Pentecostal Power on us today!

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.

Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.[ii]

[i] The story of Prince is told in “The quiet one: A high school classmate recalls the Artist as a young man” by Jon Tevlin, which was published by The Star Tribute on March 13, 2004. It was posted on their website at Accessed June 2, 2017.
[ii] Daniel Iverson. “Spirit of the Living God.” The United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989. 393.