Pleasing Aroma of Christ

14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.

2 Corinthians 2:14-15

At the McDonald’s this morning, where I bowed my head over the fruit and maple oatmeal to give thanks for it. With my eyes closed, my nose was my most prominent sense as the smell of maple, apples, cinnamon, and raisins wafted up from the paper bowl. Man, you pull the lid of that bowl and you know that you’re not holding any ordinary bowl of oatmeal. Then I started thinking about the fragrance of a man or woman who loves God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and loves their neighbor as they love themselves. As you start your day think about whether you’re giving off the pleasing aroma of Christ or whether you stink to high heaven.

(originally written August 10, 2013 as a Facebook post. I decided to share it to my blog)

September 11th 2001 and My Personal Faith Journey

I was required to write a 5-7 minute message about my personal faith journey for a class I’m taking for the Lay Servant Academy in the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. As the 20th anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 attack approaches, it felt appropriate to share how this event shaped my faith.

The crisp September air stings whatever skin is left exposed as I ride my motorcycle for the 25 minute commute to my office in Greensboro, North Carolina.  I got a late start this particular morning, I had worked past midnight troubleshooting a problem with a server.  I gulped coffee as I gathered my laptop case and bike gear, listening to the radio.  Really I was only half-listening – the radio provided some background noise to wake my brain up for the coming day. 

But wait, what was that I heard?  A plane crashed into a New York skyscraper?  Yes, the announcer just repeated it!  I thought maybe it was a stray Cessna trying to get altitude from takeoff and lost its way.  But then right as I’m about to shut the radio off the voice on the radio says it was a large plane – maybe even a commercial airliner.

As I rode to the office, I was wondering how an airliner could accidentally crash into a skyscraper.  It was something odd, for sure.  When I arrived at the office, staff was huddled around a tiny 13” tv in the coffee room.  A receptionist had tears in her eyes.  I had never seen her without a smile and a bubbly greeting.  She asked “Did you hear?” as she held back sobs and wiped back tears with a well-used tissue.

As the day wore on I saw many images of frightened people fleeing the dust-strewn streets of New York City.  I saw clips of desperate people flinging themselves out of smoldering buildings, and of abandoned fire trucks and police cars that would never be driven again.

I felt useless.  People were hurting, lives were upended as loved ones were unable to communicate with each other.  Many lives were lost that day, all in an instant. 

Papers from financial offices flew from thousands of feet in the sky where they were once protected in a file cabinet in a building that was now ripped open.  You couldn’t tell what the papers were.  Maybe it was a 401(k) statement that summarized 30 years of putting back for someone’s future.  Did that person have a future?  Were those years of work in vain?

It seemed silly, but I wished I could give each one of those New Yorkers a big hug.  And I wasn’t even a hugger.  No, it wasn’t so much as a hug as I wished I could give something that showed them that God loves them.  I didn’t know what to do.

The people I saw on my television were from many different backgrounds.  Not all of them spoke my language.  Many were from other countries, coming to the United States hoping to find peace and prosperity.  They were attorneys, bankers, window washers, cooks, and taxi drivers.  And they all were equally terrified, and equally in need of God’s comfort.

I prayed that night for the people caught up in the horror of that day.  I prayed that somehow, the God of all creation and the Prince of Peace and the Constant Counselor would dwell in their hearts, and soothe their souls.

I prayed for God to show me a new path.  I asked God to guide my feet so that I may be of more use to spread His love to the hurting.  I prayed that I would have an opportunity to share the Gospel message of love and the promise of everlasting life.

What a scary prayer!  After all, only a few years prior to that event someone had to get married or die in order for me to show up in church.  My parents stopped regularly attending church when I was 12.  I felt a strange call to go to church when I was on my own in my late teens and early twenties, but it felt weird when I’d visit alone.

It wasn’t until a pastor opened my eyes to the power of Grace that I felt at home.  I finally felt I belonged – not just to a church, but I finally felt like I belonged to God, and I belonged with God.  No matter where my feet had taken me in the past, no matter what I said or did before, God’s Grace is without end and Rev. Floyd Berrier taught me that God had plans for my life.

And so it was on that frightful day of September 11th, 2001 that my heart burned with desire and passion to share the love of Jesus Christ. Yes, I was a little afraid of where that prayer would take me, but it has been a life of blessing. 

My life has taken some unexpected turns.  I’ve been down roads that frankly I don’t ever want to travel again. Yet even in those detours I’ve found blessings.  Some people I’ve met on those detours I’ve been able to share a message of God’s love and hope with them.  Others I’ve met have shown me God’s love and hope, edifying me for further journeying.

I still ride a motorcycle.  Some of the best bike trips are ones where I take a turn down an unknown road.  It’s the same with my journey of faith.  I don’t always find myself where I had planned.  But I always find myself in a place where I can serve, and I always find God’s presence.  May it always be so.

God’s Patience is for Everyone!

I was reading Matthew 11:20-24 — a passage that seems to be about God losing His patience. Right there in verse 20 it seems that Jesus is losing patience with several communities: “Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.”

This is some uncomfortable stuff.  After all, isn’t this kind of negativity that cause people to flee Old Testament scriptures?  This is the New Testament, we’re supposed to be through with all the smiting and destruction, right?

Fire and brimstone

Image by Nick Halliwell — used by permission via creative commons license

Yet Jesus has some really strong words.  He tells the people of Chorazin “it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.” (Matthew 11:22b NIV)  And in case that is too vague Jesus tells the people of Capernaum ” you will go down to Hades.” (Mathew 11:23b)

This is one of those passages that you wouldn’t include in a “seeker-sensitive” selection.  It’s a little uncomfortable to start off with the judgment of God in an era where we believe anything is okay, and “after all, God wants us happy” is a preamble to doing things we know are against God’s will — or at least we should know.

Despite the harsh tone, reading this last week I saw this passage for the first time as a real passage of love, compassion, and patience.  Wait, what?  Yes, I said it, this bears witness to a loving and patient God.  God loved the people of Chorazin and Capernaum and was patient with them.  In verse 20 we were told that these towns Jesus was denouncing were ones “in which most of his miracles had been performed.”  Jesus worked very hard to change their hearts.  But they didn’t change.

God loves everyone.  Every One.  We are all sinners, and we all fall short.  This passage (or any passage) should NOT be used as a battering ram against people or lifestyles we disagree with.  Rather we should use this ourselves as a reminder that God is patient with us, but he requires we meet him part-way.  We cannot expect to be able to keep one foot in church and the other foot in sinful habits and inherit the kingdom of God.  We must accept the grace that we are given, and in that grace find forgiveness for those shortcomings that we repent.

I believe another lesson buried in this brief passage is that God expects more from those of us who have had opportunities to learn God’s teachings.  Those of us who call ourselves “Christian” are expected to seek God’s will in our lives, and while God will patiently love us when we stumble, we ultimately are charged with allowing our lives to be changed by God and submitting our lives to Christ.  It’s a matter of attitude.

What are your thoughts on this passage?  I want to know what this passage means to you.

Why Go To Church?

http://bible.com/111/col.3.16.niv Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

“Why go to church?” some ask, pointing out that God is everywhere,  and our worship should go with us wherever we may be.   This is especially common among millennials who don’t  place the same importance on worship in community as the older generation.

I understand why the millenials come to this conclusion.  They grew up seeing the older generation placing so much importance on church buildings and religious programming while neglecting the mandate to take the love of Christ into the world around them.

Many churches get into heated arguments and put so much passion into what color the carpets are in the sanctuary, or what type of pavers to use in the walkway in front of the church all while shirking their responsibility to take the message of love into the world. Some of these same churches want pastors to lead them into the next new building campaign rather than leading them out into the streets with arms reaching out to the very people that need the message of Christ the most.

So I can understand why some of the younger generation have come to such a conclusion. Many of these younger people have had very moving experiences — life changing experiences where perhaps they truly felt the presence of God in a very strong way for the first time of their lives in places that did not look like church sanctuaries.  These places may have been in an arena during a concert, or it may have been in an old building run by campus ministry. And so with these experiences that differ from that of their elders,  it’s no wonder that they see things differently.

Paul’s epistle to the church in Colossae was not a letter to teach the church to choose red or burgundy carpet in case Timothy got clumsy with the elements during communion.  And it wasn’t about putting up “no skateboarding” signs to keep long haired kids with baggie pants at a safe distance.  It was about community.

We as Christians have a responsibility to be in community with one another.  To pray for and with others.  To teach others, and to learn from others. And yes, to admonish each other and to be in accountability to others.

It is for this sense of community, this powerful witness of other Christ followers that we go to church.  And it us so we can be there for our brothers and sisters that we go to church.

There was a time in my life when I don’t know I could have made it without the help from community.  Some of you may not even realize what others are going through, yet can be a comfort to them just being in their presence.  Maybe your “joyful noise” today may give them comfort, helping them find their voice to sing praises beside you.   And one day they will return that favor.

Now I’d better get ready for church.  Will I see you there?