Don’t Forget to Play

My office has two big windows. I appreciate the light.

This morning I looked up from my work and saw the kids from the preschool running and playing on the playground. They reminded me that spring is here, and I’m very thankful for that.

But I also noticed one of the teachers running and playing, too. She was playing tag, going down the slide, and enjoying life like one of the kids. Her joy reminded me of what Jesus said in Matthew 18:1-5

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Then he called a little child over to sit among the disciples, and said, “I assure you that if you don’t turn your lives around and become like this little child, you will definitely not enter the kingdom of heaven. Those who humble themselves like this little child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

It just might be that we have forgotten how to play. We are stuck on the endless quest to make money, meet the expectations of others, keep up with the flow of society, and be “mature” adults. We all have responsibilities, but how many of them are self-imposed or put on his by society? There is time to play, but we have our priorities out of whack.

Like the pre-school teacher on the playground, we could choose to laugh more, learn new things, and enjoy life. Instead, we are attached to our phones and are way too scheduled with our time. What happened to card games, a movie night, or a walk around the block with the family?

“Pastor Brody, you are so naive. People are dealing with real life struggles and you are talking about playing?!” Yep.

Friends, I believe that play is important in the midst of the struggles, not in their absence. Life doesn’t go as we plan, but with faith in the grace of Jesus Christ we appeal to a hope that is much bigger than the things that tie us down. Our story is one of death AND resurrection. Hope.

We play because we have hope in Jesus.

Play is our way of answering Jesus’ call to become like children. Life, in all its complexities, doesn’t have to mean we lose our joy and hope. Bad experiences don’t have to turn us dark and full of anger. Pride doesn’t have to push out child-like humility and acceptance.

We play because we don’t take life so seriously.

We’ve been inside all winter and it’s time to get outside and play. Maybe you’ve been so focused on the next item on your agenda for so long you forgot to how to play. Well, it’s time to play again. Don’t wait until all the work is done. There is always more work. Don’t wait until you feel happy. There are always reasons to be sad. Don’t wait until you’ve got the time. There is always something to put ahead of fun. Play now.

So go for a walk. Take your kids or grandkids to the park. Invite a friend over and play cards on the porch. Light up the grill and share some food with friends. And no boring adult excuses. We are supposed to be like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. There’s your excuse to play!

I know Jesus didn’t specifically say to play. He said we are to humble ourselves like children. Guess what? The more humble we become the less serious we take our every move. Play is the result.

This weekend we are having a staff Christmas Party. I know, Christmas was a long time ago but we were all so busy…there’s another boring adult excuse! Anyway, we’re going bowling and I’m excited to make a fool of myself! We don’t have to be good at everything we do. We can learn, have fun, and laugh…like children!

Don’t take yourself so seriously. Go play.

Watch Out for Wofford!

I’m sitting here staring at my NCAA Men’s Basketball Bracket, and I have mixed emotions. On one hand, I’m excited to see buzzer beaters and amazing performances. There will be Cinderella stories and epic meltdowns. It will be March Madness!

On the other hand, I am completely conflicted on how to fill this bracket out. My head and heart get into quite the argument. Sure, we live 20 minutes from Carver Hawkeye Arena and my closet looks a bit like the inside of Ironside Apparel, but should that mean a 10 seed over a 7 seed? And for three years as a grad student I WAS a Cameron Crazie! But can Zion carry them all the way? My heart and my head don’t always agree.

Wait, I’m a dad of two year old twins. That means I don’t know anything about 90% of these teams. Come on, I watch Sesame Street and Frozen, not SportsCenter and late night PAC-12 basketball. So if I am supposed to trust my head over my heart, my head is admittedly not up to speed.

When I see Marquette I still think of Dwayne Wade and when I see Maryland I still think of Juan Dixon. I know more about Old Dominion the country band than the basketball team, and Colgate is a toothpaste!

I really can’t trust my head.

So I’ll probably listen to some person on ESPN tell me who is good and who might pull an upset. Either that or I’ll pick with an East Coast bias or Big Ten tilt. Something has to give, right?

This bracket will be busted by day two, no doubt.

At times, being a Christian and answering the call to be a part of a Christian community can feel sort of like picking a bracket. We try to use our hearts and our heads, but they don’t always agree. We aren’t sure who to take advice from and we know we have biases that affect it all. We are flawed.

But, our faith will not be broken and our unity doesn’t have to bust like our NCAA brackets.

Take a deep breath. Our faith is NOTHING like picking winners and losers. If it is, then we have become the Pharisees, and Jesus said “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees! Hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:13)

Faith in Jesus means following him the best we know how. It involves learning as much as we can alongside a variety of people; using our heads.

In Matthew 11:29 Jesus says, Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Don’t forget that it is important to learn from Jesus and discern how the Holy Spirit speaks to us through scripture.

But we can’t just rely on our minds. Ours is a faith that has everything to do with our hearts. In Romans 2 we are reminded that the laws of our Lord are written on our hearts. And 2 Corinthians 3:6 says that what is written kills but the Spirit gives life. We can’t separate our faith from our hearts.

By the grace of Christ, our head and our heart are guided on the path of righteousness.

And we sure need the Christian community to help us overcome the biases we carry. The more isolated we become, the more our particular viewpoint skews everything we do.

Your head and heart don’t have to be at odds when it comes to living in Christian community and following Jesus. Instead, we get to live in the wonderful continuing revelations of God’s grace and love, reconciling our hearts with the wisdom that the Spirit grants us.

Our beloved United Methodist Church is in the midst of what appears to be struggles between heads, hearts, and listening to only the people that appeal to our agendas/biases. But guess what? Hope abounds!

The only thing that will keep us separated from one another is pride. Pride comes before disaster, and arrogance before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18) But we boast only of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14).

At Shueyville UMC we are doing our best to love one another, listen to one another, learn from one another, and learn from God’s Word. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8:38-39)

By 11:15AM on Wednesday you’ll need to have your bracket complete. You can’t get a redo after one of your teams go down. Your bracket won’t be perfect and you have to live with it.

But when it comes to following Jesus, there is an abundance of forgiveness. That means at any time we can see the error of our ways, repent, and live into the love and grace of God. We get redoes and our imperfections are covered by the blood of Christ.

So, I’m going to fill this bracket out, take Duke to the finals, and then cheer for all kinds of underdogs. Why? Well, we know that our Lord is always standing on behalf of those who are overlooked. And just like Jesus, we all love a Cinderella story!

Watch out for Wofford!

Children of God

Genesis 3:1-5

The snake was the most intelligent of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden?” 2 The woman said to the snake, “We may eat the fruit of the garden’s trees 3 but not the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. God said, ‘Don’t eat from it, and don’t touch it, or you will die.’” 4 The snake said to the woman, “You won’t die! 5 God knows that on the day you eat from it, you will see clearly and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Friends, that snake is a liar! In this story the snake is slithering around, whispering lies to children of God. It is introducing doubt, fear, pride, and selfishness.

The result? Adam and Eve hid from God. Then they started the blame game. “It was her fault!” Adam said. I wonder what that did to Adam and Eve’s relationship with one another. Let’s be honest, Adam threw her under the bus without even hesitating. Oh, that snake is a liar and lies cause destruction.

Nice story, but what does it have to do with you and me? Everything.

There are still lies whispered in our ears each and every day.

        -“You are a self-made person. Everyone should just work as hard as you!” LIES  

         -“Keep working hard and you’ll have the house and the car and the happiness you think others have.” LIES

    -“Do your own thing when it comes to faith. You don’t need a church or other people. LIES

    -“You don’t matter. You aren’t pretty. No one loves you unless…” LIES

Did you know that you are first and foremost a child of God? Galatians 3:26 says, “You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus.” You and I are different in many ways, no doubt, but we share an identity in God’s family. Children. Loved. Saved by the blood of Christ.

The Good News is that God didn’t give that lying snake the last word. Jesus died for us, even in the midst of our sin. Over the whispered lies, God is shouting words of love and hope.

    -I knit you together in your mother’s womb…and I feel the same about your neighbor.

    -You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

    -You are part of the body of Christ, my Church.

    -You are loved. You are beautiful in my eyes, and what you have done doesn’t define you.

I need the love of God, sayings like you just read, on repeat. I constantly need reminded that God already loves me. I’m not defined by some metric that measures my effectiveness in ministry, Sunday’s attendance, how fast I can run a mile, the food I eat, the compliments I receive, or some accolade from years ago. I am a child of God and nothing I do can makes me more loved.

When I forget this love, it changes how I see others. I suddenly realize I’ve become hard-hearted. I find myself focusing on what others are saying about me. Their perceived ignorance fuels my actions. Then I imagine things are worse than they are. I’m short-tempered with my kids and forget to hug my wife as much. The problem? I’m listening to the lies instead of God’s love.

But when I realize I’m already loved, I am better able to love others. I forgive. I slow down. And I allow God to use me to let others know they are beloved children of God.

Friends, the snake is whispering lies but God is shouting how loved you already are. Listen to the love of God and don’t be defined by anything else.

I never liked snakes anyway.

Lenten Discipline? Say No to PDAwesomeness

Lent used to be my least favorite time of the Christian year. Traditionally, many Christians give something up or take something on in order to grow closer to God leading up to Easter. It seemed so forced to hurry and find something reasonable to give up. Sadly, what I gave up had specific criteria to fit into. It needed to be something that sounded hard to others, so I looked good, but something that actually wasn’t a big deal to me. For instance, I could give up chocolate and replace it with peanut butter. Sounds hard for many, but I really…like… peanut butter. Or I could log off of Facebook for 40 days. The world will think I’m amazing! In reality I’ll just use Instagram and Snapchat more often.

Do you see why I struggled with Lent?

Lent has nothing to do with our spotless public image. It has everything to do with remembering the sacrifice of Christ. Lent is about our humility and God’s grace.

This year, let’s not use Lent to gain likes. Can I tell you a pet-peeve of mine? I call them Public Displays of Awesomeness, or PDAwesomeness. I’m talking about the temptation to compliment or thank people so that EVERYONE else sees it. In today’s world, it seems as if the good deed didn’t happen if the world wasn’t alerted on social media.

Facebook is probably guilty of broadcasting the most PDAwesomeness infractions. We tell people how great they are, which is kind, but why not say it in a private message and not a wall post. Our public thank-yous are often an attempt to gain favor with someone in the sight of many more. We try to look good. PDAwesomeness. Thank-yous are wonderful, but don’t make them the reward. In Matthew 6:1-6 Jesus says,

“Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.

 “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.”

The homeless were still served without a public thank you to the three people who went with me. I still got the surprise tickets to the Hawkeye game in the mail, even if I don’t post on the giver’s wall about it. And I still went to support my neighbor’s children at their basketball game without dropping the line of how good they did…so everyone knew I was there.

(Disclaimer: I’m as guilty of this as anyone. Right now, my Facebook “memories” are putting me to shame as to how often I’ve done this.)

Let me be clear, I’m not talking about thanking entire groups/communities or updating people who supported a fundraiser or something. That’s a great way to keep people informed, celebrate with groups, or remind them how they can get involved. In short, if it could be in a private message, keep it there. PDAwesomeness becomes a reward of its own.

This has EVERYTHING to do with Lent. If we aren’t careful, Lent becomes about looking good to people instead of presenting ourselves, broken, to God.

We can remind everyone that we are giving up pop and how painful it is. We can tell everyone that we are reading scripture every day and how hard it is to make time. Or we can go off social media and make sure we remind our friends every day how much better off we are. We have probably received our reward when we announce such things. PDAwesomeness.

This year can be different. Let’s give up Public Displays of Awesomeness and exchange them for personal displays of God’s love. This Lent can be truly transformative as God works in and through us. People will notice what God is doing and God will get the glory, not us.

Let’s be clear, saying thank-you more often is a great undertaking for Lent. Go buy some cards at the dollar store and get busy writing! The warmth of a personal thank you is refreshing to the reader’s soul. The Facebook audience just rolls their eyes, anyway…then hits “Like.”  

Maybe Lent isn’t so bad after all.

Choose Faith Over Forecasting

I check the weather…often. Lately, that has not been a very encouraging activity, but I bet you check it often, too. At this point, being a meteorologist is an “easy” job; cold and snow on repeat! Anyway, we really want to know what is going to happen so we can plan ahead, dress accordingly, or at least have something to talk about when we run into an acquaintance at Target.

Our deep desire for forecasts makes me realize how much we long to know what’s coming in all aspects of life. We want to know where our loved ones are at all times and how many minutes they are from home. There’s an app for that. We want to know markers for possible health complications and when they might affect us. There are tests for many of those things. When we have a baby on the way, most of us can’t wait to find out if we are having a boy or a girl. There is imaging for that!

In our lives of faith, we often want to know the future, too. We want to know when our marriages will be healed when our hearts will embrace forgiveness, when our sicknesses will be healed, and when our children will return to the church. We long to forecast the growth of our congregation, its financial security, and even how long our pastors will be at our church.

Friends, most of our attempts to forecast the future comes from a place of love and care and sometimes an attempt to be further devoted to God. But despite good intentions, our forecasting is also an attempt for us to control our lives. That control belongs to God. The more we try to control, the more anxiety and stress we create.

We are meant to exercise faith over forecasting. Faith is found by trusting in what we can’t see. The Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts and lives. The healing we seek and the heart-change we long for are in the hands of the one who sent Jesus to save us. Are we confident enough in Christ to believe that our Lord is at work?

1 Corinthians 15 is the Resurrection chapter. The believers at Corinth were really confused about Christ’s resurrection and if it even happened. They hadn’t seen it, but many others had. They longed to know exactly what would happen after they died and what resurrection had to do with them.

Paul isn’t usually into forecasting things, but when it comes to resurrection, he was confident. We can be, too. “But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He’s the first crop of the harvest of those who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Paul reminded the people in Corinth that Jesus did rise from the dead and since he did, by faith we will, too. Resurrection is our hope for now and eternity. “If we have a hope in Christ only in this life, then we deserve to be pitied more than anyone else.” (1 Corinthians 15:19) No pity necessary. We believe in the Resurrection!

I think that’s all the forecasting of our lives that we need, isn’t it? We can live by faith. We trust that the Holy Spirit is working and we look forward to seeing what God will do. Today. Tomorrow. Always. 

Oh, and don’t be surprised when resurrection throws you a curve ball. The relationship that was dead can be brought back to life. The person that was hopeless can be made new. Friendships that have no future can suddenly lift you up in an unexpected way. And the job that fired you might lead to the biggest blessing of all.

Resurrection wrecks our plans with things that are better than we imagined.

So plan for retirement, but realize God is our real security. Check the weather, but we can’t control it anyway. Be mindful of family health trends, but worrying never changed a thing. And find out if you’re having a boy or girl, but sometimes even the doctors are wrong!

The worst thing about checking the weather is you know in advance that your future plans are going to get ruined. It’s happened to us multiple times this winter. The truth is, forecasts can result in some rotten moods. Faith is much more fun!

So instead of longing for control, opt for faith. It gives us the best forecast we can receive; Resurrection through Christ.

Christians Run to Win

Competition creates self-discipline and discipline is vital for accomplishing goals

My brother taught me how to compete. We’d play one-on-one in the driveway for hours on end. In the winter we’d scoop the snow off the court and keep an extra ball inside. When one got cold and flat, we’d switch. I’m the younger brother by two years, but that didn’t elicit any mercy.

He would stand on my right side and dare me to go left, which was my weak hand. It didn’t seem like he was trying to make me better. No, he wanted to beat me…badly. By the time it mattered in high school if a defender gave me a two way go, I’d go left. My weakness had become my strength.

That competition sharpened me. It kept me on my toes and never let me become complacent. Competition, when unchecked, can result in destroyed relationships, but the right about of competition can develop you into a stronger person. I quickly learned that if I wanted to compete to win, I had to become self-disciplined. Practice. Practice. Practice. That is how we work toward accomplishing goals. 

 Self-discipline is part of the Christian life and key to sharing God’s love. That might seem surprising because we often prefer to cast the Christian life in an “it’s-all-good-all-the-time” light. That’s rarely the case, but we fake like it is. We get afraid that prospective disciples might realize that following Jesus isn’t always easy and requires something of them. They might not come back! The result: our churches are closer to empty than full. 

Remember, competition creates self-discipline and discipline is vital for accomplishing goals.

Truth is, as followers of Jesus, self-discipline is central to who we are. For example, we have to discipline the desire to gossip, or the tendency to brag, or the unchecked ego that longs to be a know-it-all. (Just look at 1 Corinthians 8) And that discipline helps us toward the goal of growing in holiness or Christ-likeness. 

But this discipline isn’t without help and isn’t without a purpose. The Holy Spirit coaches us along the way and brings us aid when we get tired. Our successes are made possible by the death and resurrection of Christ, whose Spirit is our strength. 

Our self-discipline may not accomplish the goals we set out to achieve, but we will see God at work in powerful ways. 

You might be thinking, “Isn’t this a horrible message to new Christians? No one wants to join something that takes effort and discipline!”

Wrong. Ask a person who has walked away from organized faith (commonly referred to as a “done”) why they left the church and they’ll probably say something about how the church was full of hypocrites or was unwilling to live the message Jesus preached. That should remind us that discipline isn’t a turnoff and competition isn’t unhealthy. We can’t forget that we are called to die to our selfish desires and live for Christ (Galatians 2:20). That truth actually doesn’t scare people away. It helps people realize the power found in Christ! 

When we avoid training/discipline/an all-in faith, we aren’t helping others feel welcome but we actually water down the Good News. 

The love of Christ transforms.

 Don’t be afraid of a healthy dose of competition! It helps us be disciplined and ready to be used by God. My brother taught me how to compete, and Jesus taught me how to love. Come to think of it, maybe those two things work together. Let’s compete against hate and a complacent faith so that love and our purpose of living for Jesus win the day. 

I never hated my brother for being hard on me. Sure, there were some bloody noses, but that competition can serve a greater purpose; unity and love found in self-discipline. Maybe destroying me in one-on-one had a purpose. The competition and self-discipline had prepared me for the years we would play together in high school. And that same self-discipline helps me in being a disciple of Jesus today. 

 I will always remember the look on my brother’s face when we won the sub-state final to secure a birth in the state tournament. I hope to see a similar look on Jesus’ face when I finish this race and arrive in eternity. So let’s be unafraid to compete, be disciplined in our attempts to love, and “run to win.” (1 Corinthians 9:24b)

Blog #1

I remember sitting on the edge of what would be my bed for the summer, in the lake house of a pastor who would mentor me, wondering what I’d gotten myself into. I was 21 years old, a college graduate, and was headed to graduate school to be a pastor. It was a blessing to have choices in grad schools, but choices also make things confusing. I had accepted a pre-enrollment field education placement in a two-point charge in northern North Carolina, which would lead me into three years at Duke Divinity School. But I was beginning to wonder if I should have gone to Garrett Evangelical Seminary (affiliated with Northwestern) in Chicago. I could go home, spend the summer in the comfort of my hometown and try the Chicago gig, which would be much closer to home.

When we start new journeys we often second guess ourselves. Can we actually do what we set out to accomplish? What if we made the wrong decision? And if we fail, will people pick us up or say, “I told you so?”

Why do we do that to ourselves? We tend to forget that as followers of Jesus we don’t believe we are in control of it all anyway. We set out on journeys and let God guide our steps. And we know full well that if we are in the wrong place, God will do something powerful anyway.

At Shueyville UMC, we have started a journey together. And I’m not just talking about you all embracing a young pastor! We have 130+ people reading scripture each day in text groups. We have made it through Matthew and are on to 1 Corinthians. Nothing makes me happier than when people engage with God’s Word and one another, at the same time!

But as I was reading 1 Corinthians 3-4, I realized that our scripture journey might seem somewhat strange and foolish. It might seem ridiculous to read scripture with people you don’t know very well. And what if they don’t hold the same theological opinions you do? It is safer, by worldly standards, to read it alone or with people like you. There is a chance people might figure out you have questions or don’t know hardly anything about the Bible.

And suddenly, we are second guessing ourselves and looking for the first bus back to the comforts of our old ways.

Usually, we find an excuse for why it’s okay to quit something. “I just didn’t have time.” “No one understands me.” Or, in this case, “I got tired of daily text messages.” (Seriously, what’s a couple more?!) Or we flex our Bible muscles until everyone wants out of our group, which is self-sabotage by the way.

Excuses are easier to make than quitting is to accept.

But there is another way. Take a deep breath and remember what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3-4. It is really easy to divide ourselves in this world. It is easier to stay with what we are comfortable with and not try something new. And it’s even easier to pad our lives with people who want the same exact things.

Sounds wise, according to worldly standards.

But “this world’s wisdom is foolishness to God” (1 Corinthians 3:19a). The church is Corinth was busy dividing themselves by which apostle they learned from or thought was the best. It was an ancient example of the temptation we face in churches and life today. We tend to find ways to accentuate our differences instead of journeying together in the midst of them.

We go on journeys together because God created us to listen, learn, and love. We don’t have to define ourselves by who we vote for, by what we drive, or by the families we were born into. No, it’s foolishness to the world to say we belong to God and let that unite us, but we are going to do it.

Back to my graduate school decision: I called Duke Divinity School and said I was going home for the summer and wasn’t coming back. The lady I talked to told me to reconsider. She told me that if I started ending journeys early now, it might become a habit. She was right. I stayed and it was not easy, but God showed me all kinds of grace along the way.

Stay the course, Shueyville UMC or whatever church you find yourself in. Journey alongside people in God’s Word, even if it’s for the first time. And remember that “you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God” (1 Corinthians 3:23)

*Note: If you’d like to join a scripture text group, let Pastor Brody know. And if you are curious how to set these up at your church, we can help you out!