What seeds do we plant?

 

The parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23) directs our attention to the soil in which seeds are planted and why some seeds never produce growth and why others may flourish.  The foundation of the story is that the sower is spreading good seed.  The seeds spread over the soil have the potential to produce good fruit.  But what about seed that does not produce good fruit?  Is there such a thing?

On Sunday afternoon/evening I was watching the 116th US Open at Oakmont.  There was a slight disruption in the broadcast as a rules official made his way over to Dustin Johnson (the leader at the time) on the 12th green.  The official notified Dustin that he may, or may not, be assessed a penalty from a slight oscillation of the ball on the 5th green.  Keep in mind that when the ball moved Dustin notified the official at that moment and it was determined that he had not done anything to cause to ball to move, so no penalty was assessed.

Something happened between when the original ruling was made and the approach of the rules official later in the round. The notification of a possible penalty planted a seed in the back of Dustin’s mind.  That seed took root and followed him for the next 6 holes.  In the end Dustin won the US Open even after being assessed a penalty stroke.

I am not entering into the dialogue about whether or not he should have been penalized.  However, I am wondering what affect that notification, that seed, had on the final six holes.  Dustin made some poor shots along the way.  There seemed to be a different demeanor to his normal long stride.  His expression transformed.  Without knowing for certain, I would say that the seed planted changed his game, it got to him, but he was able to overcome it.  His ability to overcome that voice of doubt and question took a lot of energy.

It made me think about how we, as church folk, plant seeds.  And further what kinds of seeds do we plant?

Imagine for a moment that something new is started at the church.  There will always be voices of doubt.  When those voices are raised and planted into the minds of folks trying to accomplish the new ministry it “changes the game”.  It takes the workers more energy to overcome the growth of the seed of doubt that it does to accomplish the ministry.  Seeds of doubt have the power to end the ministry before it even starts.  My word of advice is this, “Before we go planting seeds of doubt, ask yourself why you don’t want to change or don’t want the ministry to succeed.”  Often times those seeds of doubt have more to say about us than they ever do about what is changing.

Imagine for a moment that the denomination is divided on an issue, any issue.  Searching for a way to stay united is an extremely challenging task.  As if it isn’t challenging enough there are voices being raised saying “It can’t be done,” “we are already divided,” or “I don’t have anything to say to ‘those’ people that disagree with me.”  These are seeds being planted that render the work toward unified ministry even harder to accomplish.  They have the potential to create a mindset of “why bother.”  My word of advice is this, “If you want the church to be divided, and thus weaker, plant these seeds.  If you truly want unity and to find a way forward, then ask yourself why you would plant such negative seeds.”

I wonder why there is such a propensity to plant negative seeds than to offer an encouraging word, a positive seed.  On Sunday I was upset that Dustin’s dream could have been taken away from the planting of doubt in his mind.  And that is just a round of golf!  Imagine what God sees when the church plants seeds of doubt and negativity in one another’s mind.  If our goal is to transform the world, then let’s speak as if everything we do, everything we attempt, and everything way we seek to find is from God and speak of it in a positive way.

I believe in you!  I know that when empowered by the Holy Spirit and working hand in hand, God is going to accomplish something great!

Walk Complete

Today we completed The Walk. I am sure that tomorrow morning when I wake, I am going to have a sense of longing for the experiences we have had along the way. 

But. 

Tomorrow will bring its own special adveture, discovery and beauty. What I need to do is to be open, be engaged, and to connect with others. 

Along the way we have passed through over 100 communities served by United Methidist Churches.  We have been joined in walking by clergy and laity, we have had clergy come to our aid, folks who have caught up to us to offer a cold water, friends who have driven long distances for a chance to catch up and share a moment, we have been sheltered and fed, we have been cheered on, and we have prayed for and been prayed for. We have experienced ther body of Christ in an amazing way. 

We have only been able to be in about 12% of the UMC communities within our Conferenece. We have shared time together with only a small portion of our clergy, and even smaller group of the people who make our church’s ministry possible. After all of these days and miles we have travelled, I am in awe of how much more there is to experience. We have not even scratched the surface of the communities we are called to serve…there are simply thousands upon thousands of experiences and people for us to touch. 

The reality is this…we cannot encounter every community in Western PA alone. 

But if each and every one of us took a little time, took a little walk and shared a moment with folks in our community (even folks from our church on a day other than at a meeting or worship), God will do great things. 

Maybe you don’t have a place you can imagine walking. Maybe you have other obstacles to overcome. But, we can all connect with the people God places in our life. People in the store, the doctors office, at work, at school and at church. The list could go on and on. 

The sense of community that we seem to miss is right in front of us.  All we need to do is open ourselves up to engage and be connected with others. 

Thank you all for being with us and helping make the walk possible in so many ways! 

Grace and peace,

Scott

Day 22 Complete

The Walk is quickly coming to a close. Tomorrow will be our last day. This will be my final blog about the Walk.
I thank God for the chance to walk around the Conference. This has been a great experience. It hasn’t always been fun or easy. But it has been very insightful. I have learned much about myself, God, and the Conference.
We could not have completed the walk if it weren’t for all the help and prayers we received along the way.
The connectional structure of the UM Church has allowed us to walk around western Pennsylvania. We were supplied with breakfast and dinner, a place to sleep, do laundry, shower, and other things.
After getting permission from the Bishop and cabinet to do the walk. We then gave the first draft of the route to them. The District Superintendents contacted the churches for us and in some cases suggested different churches to stay with. This is the connectional system at work.
But I learned very quickly that we are connected by more than the Bishop, DS, or the Book of Discipline. Throughout the walk I got to see mercy, kindness, hospitality, service, prayer and love. I was comforted and humbled many times to see God’s love and Spirit active through the members of the United Methodist Church.
It’s the Holy Spirit that connects each of us, that drives us to love our neighbor, that directs us to pray for one another, and that nudges us to grow in fellowship to God and community.
I have been greatly encouraged by God through the people of the United Methodist Church. I pray that we continue to love the communities we find ourselves in with the love of Jesus, today, tomorrow, and as often as we have opportunity.
PTL
Justin

Day 20 Complete

Our journey is now down to its final 38 miles set for Monday and Tuesday, after enjoying our Sabbath. 

It is hard to believe everything we have experienced along this journey.  God changed not only our plan, but has changed us along the way. 

I am in awe of the beauty that exists in the diversity of the Body of Christ in WPA. Each community has different specific needs, but an overarching need for the Church to be the manifestation of the active love of God. 

As we search for ways to manifest that love and to move together in harmony, I have gained a newfound appreciation of itinerancy and the work of appointment setting. 

Maybe it is because we are about to enter into Annual Conferenece that my mind is drawn to this thought…in any case…here it is. 

Congregations, communities, and clergy are a spectacularly diverse. There is an incredible amount of work, prayer, and discernment that has to happen to make one correct match. Sometimes it works  beautifully and sometimes a little extra care needs to be given. There is no scientific formula for this ministry…although it is often dissected and examined as if there is a formula. 

What there is though is a desire to do God’s work and to transform the world. When we set out to do this walk we had a plan and goal, God had another plan, we needed to change to meet what God required of us. 

So, whether we find ourselves moving this appointment season or not…whether you are receiving a new pastor or not, there is one thing we need to be…Open. 

Open to the direction of the Holy Spirit. Open to being changed to enter into or receive something/someone new. And Open to the plans that God has, even if we think we know better. 

Grace and Peace,

Scott

Day 19 Complete

Every year since I was six, my family would go to Myrtle Beach for vacation. The water, trees, beach houses, even the air all advertised that this was a place of relaxation.
Today we walked from Albion to Trinity UMC in Conneaut Lake. As soon I crossed on to 618 toward the lake I felt like I was back in Myrtle Beach. It was beautiful and peaceful. I found myself thinking, “What a relaxing place to serve!”
In the evening we sat at a table overlooking the lake and listened to the pastor tell us about the town. It is beautiful, but also has some serious challenges. Its much more than a vacation spot. It’s a place that has difficult struggles that the church is continually praying for.
It easy for me to make snap judgements based on first impressions. When I do this, I find that not only am I usually wrong but I keep myself from great beauty or awesome opportunity.
The truth of a town or a person is often far more complex or richer than we are willing to go. To get beneath the surface of something takes time, effort, and the willingness to journey into their “neck of the woods”.
It’s when we find ourselves out of our safe area and into uncharted waters that God’s love really leads us to some awesome places.
I prayer that we are willing to go beyond what is before us and love others for the long haul.
PTL
Justin

Day 18 Complete

It is hard to express the thankfulness we are filled with as we continue to be blessed at every stop along the journey. 

Today we travelled from Union City to Albion (32 miles along the route we had plotted). After passing through Edinboro, we continued along 6N.

My portion of the walk began at the intersection with 79. There before me was a straight section of road.  I was able to see ahead for miles. 

It was an incredible site. 

As I walked along I wanted to keep looking far down the road to where the sky met the pavement.  But, I needed to be cautious with each next step. 

Up ahead was that beautiful place where it seems the road ends. It is similar to the horizon line that sailors saw and were convinced if you sailed to that point you would fall off the dave of the earth. 

Beyond that point I could see nothing. For all I new the road would end. As I travelled into Elk Township the line became more distinct. So, I began to set goals to reach “the end of the road”.

I picked out a landmark to the right or left of the horizon line. Before I new it I had reached the landmark and that horizon line had moved forward. I would pick another point.  Again and again the same thing happened. 

Too often I think we want to look too far ahead. When we can’t see what is beyond the horizon, we make up an idea of what will lie ahead. 

When it doesn’t turn out the way we expected, we can be disappointed. 

There are things that are in the distance, along the road the Lord has prepared for us, that we do not need to know yet. They are purposefully kept beyond the horizon. 

Our focus needs to be on the more immediate need. The very next step and what is being revealed to us in that moment. When we do that we can set achievable goals and celebrate the achievements we have made. 

What is we only looked ahead to what we can see…

If we can let our future be revealed to us by the Lord, and not our design.

If we could let our children’s lives develop along God’s plan and not our expectations. 

If we could let the ministries of our churches be administered by the Holy  Spirit and not our finite concepts. 

If we could…if we could…then God will prepare the way and we can celebrate the revelations along the way. 

Grace and peace,

Scott

Day 17 Complete

It comes as no surprise that we have seen many different artistic depictions of Jesus in the churches we have visited. My personal favorite has been “laser hands” Jesus from Grace Church in Warren. Each painting shares a different story of Jesus that the artist is trying to tell.
I have found this to be very similar to the people I have met. Each person has a different story to share, a different experience of life, and ultimately a different way of seeing God’s love.
It may be how God’s love is given to others through them, experienced by them, yearned for, or despised. Everytime I encounter a person I get to see God’s love shown in new ways.
If I limit who I talk to and encounter I limit the many different ways of experiencing God and being used by God.
I know that not every encounter is good, but each one gives me a chance to see a different side of God and trust God all the more.
I pray we, as a church, can open our lives to more and varied people so that we can trust God more fully and love others more completely.
PTL
Justin