Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Getting Fit

Last week she was climbing a rope to the top of the ceiling in record time. The next day she was pushing a tire down the length of a gym. Yesterday she was in the midst of a rotation that included the stair master, rowing machine and free weights. She spends a lot of time at the gym. She's one of the trainers, an employee who works with several clients in an effort to help them achieve their goals. But I see her working out - I watch her working hard to improve her own body - just as much as I see her training and encouraging other clients. She has ripples in her arms and across her back. She's incredibly lean and strong. She has a body that I'd like to try on for a while. But she's also provided an example of the changes I want to make in my life as a result of this summer.

We all had to memorize and teach a story as part of Godly Play training two weeks ago. I was given the story called, "Ten Best Ways to Live." When using Godly Play, you don't just tell the story with your words. You use objects - a desert box filled with sand, a large rock upon which Moses receives the Ten Commandments, small people who you move across the sand, and pieces of a puzzle in the shape of a heart that inform all your listeners about the ten best ways we can live. The teaching method is captivating, and I had so much fun telling the story, putting my hands in the sand and saying "The desert is a dangerous place." I cannot wait to tell more stories.

After we told our assigned story, our classmates took time to share their observations - the things that worked well in our storytelling and the things we might want to consider changing the next time. Several questions were asked. One is still penetrating my mind, "At what point did you find yourself in the story?"

And that's my very problem.

I am so tempted to do ministry, to memorize the most important parts of a sermon, to get through my visitations, to write what needs to be written, to report what needs to be reported, that I often fail to allow myself - ME! - to get caught up in the story. I regularly forget that I am in the midst of the very same story I'm encouraging others to be part of - that God is at work in my life just as much as I am telling you God is at work in your life.

The trainer at the gym does not let me forget how important fitness is to her - not just to her clients. She regularly demonstrates what it takes to be physically fit. She's taught me this - and she does not even know my name or the impact her example has had on me.

I want to be like that. I want others to not just hear the story from my lips but to see the story through the very life I live. I want people to observe God at work in real and tangible ways in my life. I want people to watch me loving God and neighbor as I love myself. I long for people to see me seeking first the kingdom - and not just the things that have to be done at the church.

I went to worship recently and noticed what it looks like when one is going through the motions instead of getting caught and tangled by the story. The sermon was preached by his colleague and was an incredible sermon on prayer. But when it came time to pray, the words were so formal that one knew the prayer was written and read instead of coming from the heart. When it came time for the announcements, there were enough funerals announced that you knew the pastoral team had to be exhausted. But this exhaustion came through - this lack of energy was tangible. The beauty and gift of prayer that was described in the sermon was hard to see practiced. The awesome power, grace and mercy of God may have appeared in the liturgy - but it was hard to see in some of the living examples around me.

I believe with my whole heart that a relationship with Jesus can and should be the most life-giving relationship we have. I believe that Jesus is passionately pursuing us at all times like a woman who turns her house upside down to find a missing coin or a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep behind to find one who is missing. I believe Jesus is far more ready to hear from us than we are prepared to turn to him in prayer. I believe Jesus loves us so much that there is absolutely nothing we can do to make him love us less. And I believe Jesus expects much from us - that he regularly calls us to work for a different kind of kingdom to emerge on earth as it is in heaven. But I don't want you to simply read these words on my blog or hear them preached from the pulpit. I want you to see me live them through the things I do, the choices I make, the people I love, the things I let go of, the very life I live.

And that's exactly why I'm working hard to get fit - not just physically but spiritually, too.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Guest Post from My Niece Kayla - Ready for Departure

My niece, Kayla, and I depart for South Africa tomorrow. Kayla's 18-years-old, just graduated from high school, and is wondering what's next in her life. She's always had an amazing heart. Here she allows you to look inside before we depart for a three week pilgrimage of pain and hope.

After pondering the thought many times, it’s taken so long for reality to set in that I’m actually going to find myself standing on the grounds of South Africa. I have been trying so hard to tell myself that I’m ready, I’ve been questioning whether I really deserve this trip, and I’ve been worried about leaving my family when I have so many duties at home. I had been preparing, questioning, and worrying so much that I had given myself anxiety and extremely heavy burdens. So I prayed, and I prayed, and I prayed. God had given me three questions to answer on my own: What is “ready”? Is there a difference between what we deserve and what we don’t deserve? And finally, what is your life long duty? I had to come up with the answers.

So, what is “ready?” Well, you can look it up in the dictionary and it says ready: completely prepared or in fit condition for immediate action or use. However, to me, all I could read was the word “prepared” and as far as preparation all I could think of were materialistic things. My suitcase is packed, our snacks are all laid out, and the books and electronics are all set for our flight. So I read the definition again and the next words that stood out were “fit condition.” This time all I could think of was my physical condition. A couple weeks ago I went to the Children’s Hospital for my annual check up and received wonderful news that I’m currently beating my Muscular Dystrophy. I remembered that blessing and I thought maybe I was about to hit the nail on the head. But no, I still couldn’t get to what God was trying to tell me. Finally, the last words “immediate action or use” hit me. Our heads, our hearts, and our emotions act immediately and are used on the spot. We can’t prepare for when our heart races or when our stomach drops. We can’t fight emotions because they happen on the spot. We can’t control thoughts that instantly pop up. That was it. You can’t be ready for the next day until the next day is here. It’s when that very moment comes, when your heart races, you may cry you may smile, and your thoughts run wild. You have no choice other than to accept yourself in the situation mentally, physically and emotionally. I finally came to the conclusion. We can’t be ready until it’s time to face a situation and we as a whole are ready.

Well that was one piece to the puzzle. The next question was such a blur. Is there a difference between what we deserve and what we don’t deserve? Well of course there is. I don’t think good things just happen to good people and bad things happen to just bad people. However, I do believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe that when you choose an action you choose a consequence. So we get what we deserve but often times we forget something. Just because something bad or painful happens doesn’t mean it wasn’t God’s plan and it doesn’t mean he’s punishing us. We forget that he always knows the outcome and he always has something better in store. When I first told my friends about this trip, all anyone had to say is that I was lucky. I don’t even like the word lucky but it got me thinking. It had me thinking about how top notch this trip really was. I had to be honest with myself, my choices, the mistakes I made in the past couple of months, none of it added up to deserving this getaway. Only three days ago, a day before my flight, had I decided that I needed to clean up my lifestyle and build back up my relationship with Christ. I don’t deserve to get on a big fancy airplane and watch movies the whole time and eat nice dinner. I don’t deserve to stay on a game reserve where not many people get to go. The list went on and on. Sure we’re all sinners, but I’m so hard on myself when I mess up. When I reach out to God all I ask is simply that this trip change my life. That’s all I’ve prayed for. Once I got to Washington, D.C. my Aunt Donna really start putting it in my head that this wasn’t for vacation. She talked about how it was to work on our hearts. All I could say to myself was finally! Someone else saw it in the perspective I did. It was no longer about the actual trip it became clear to me that what I deserved was the experience. I realized that the experience also wasn’t going to be so easy. It’s going to be brutal on my eyes, I’m going to have many empty thoughts, my heart is going to break, my emotions are going to be heavy, and I am going to feel some of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. It’s going to hurt but this is not the Lord’s punishment, and he most definitely hasn’t forgot about me. He is giving me the desires of my heart. That is what I deserve.

I know when I’ll be ready, and I know what I deserve. The last question revealed such a fulfilling answer for me. What is my life long duty? When I think of duty, for some reason the only thing that crosses my mind is the military. Then, I realized how much I had fought for in my life and I realized why I was so worried to leave home. I’ve fought for relationships, I’ve fought for my rights, I’ve fought school systems, I’ve fought to keep a roof over my head, I’ve fought to keep money in my wallet. Finally, I put it together Sunday morning during church when the kids’ choir came up and I remembered singing in church when I was younger. The song “I’m In The Lord’s Army” immediately popped into my head and played over and over and over again. I may never march in the infantry, ride in the cavalry, shoot the artillery. I may never fly o’er the enemy, but I’m in the Lord’s army. Yes sir. My life long duty is to be a better soldier of faith.

I searched in and out to find the answers before I left for South Africa. I no longer ask myself if I’m ready but am now anxiously awaiting every moment from when I board the plane to my first steps on the ground. God never gives up on me so I will never give up on his plan, I pray that he turns me inside out over the next few weeks. My duties at home will be there when I get back, but my duty every day is to be a better soldier of faith. I plan to march right through South Africa, I’ll say it loud and I’ll say it proud, Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Crossing the Threshold

It's incredibly hard to walk into a church as a visitor. I've visited more than a half a dozen churches this summer, and each visit starts with a familiar routine. I look at the website to double check the time of worship. I look for instructions on parking. I leave my house extra early. I park as close to the church as possible, often with at least 20 minutes remaining before worship starts. I then watch as people are going in, making mental notes of what doors they are using and how they are dressed to make sure I'll fit in upon my entry. I then take deep breaths and start to make my way to the entrance.

When I finally get to the door of the church, I often discover that churches are very lonely places. It is a place one goes with the belief that instant welcome will be offered. The church is the location in the city that is to be the friendliest of all. Churches have specific people assigned to stand at the door and welcome people. But I've learned this summer that Wal-Mart has a clear leg up on the church when it comes to welcoming guests.

I've waited for the greeter to welcome me and hand me a bulletin in one place only to finally walk around her conversation with another church member and pick up my own bulletin.

I've walked through a long hallway at another church where one person looked up to see who was passing by while nine others kept their heads focused somewhere else.

I've journeyed through a church building in search of a bathroom before worship, passing several open offices in my route and discovering that none of the staff members inside said a word to me.

And I've entered another place where the pastor immediately introduced me to someone who gave me a tour of their church while another person showed me exactly where to go and yet another made a point to tell me how grateful she was that I came that day. This Sunday is the Sunday I remember the most this summer. I don't remember exactly what was preached but I remember the welcome - the authentic hospitality given by several people.

I think we mean well. We regulars cannot imagine anyone not being able to find their way inside our doors and have a harder time imagining someone walking in and not feeling welcome when we sit amongst familiar friends and faces. We are so comfortable on Sundays.

And that's the greatest challenge.

We forget what it's like to be a person going to church for the first time.

"In Godly Play, we have learned that children need two central things. They need to be noticed, and they need to be blessed." These words provided the foundational teaching of a three-day course in becoming a Godly Play teacher last weekend. The words were then immediately put to practice as we lined up in a hallway before entering a room. Someone at the door greeted us by name and told us how glad she was to see us. Another person was waiting inside the classroom to welcome us and learn our names. And when the lesson was over and the meal was shared, we all were called up one by one for a blessing - for twenty seconds of someone looking us in the eye, calling us by name, and telling us how glad they were to see us and how they hoped we would have a good week.

We all need to be noticed and blessed. Not just our children.

What would it mean for every church member or regular attendee to arrive on Sunday mornings not just to worship God and be fed with a bit of spiritual food but to also give the gift of noticing others and blessing them? How can we become congregations of greeters and givers of hospitality - not leaving this task to the people at the door? As a visitor, I've found that the pew is sometimes more lonely than walking in the door - especially if everyone around me seems to know each other and carry on their conversations without noticing me. How could we make the space that separates people sitting in the pews smaller than a great divide?

The folks at Godly Play call it crossing the threshold - moving from that space where you are with your parents or playing in order to enter another space where you'll soon turn to wonder at the power and presence of God. God shows up at the front door through the ways we welcome a stranger. And sometimes God is so visibly absent at the front door that I wonder if I'll ever be able to find God on the inside. I literally wanted to leave a church recently because of the lack of hospitality between the main entrance of the church and the sanctuary.

Sundays can be very lonely days. Churches are some of the hardest spaces to enter when you are alone or coming for the first time. Will you please do your part in helping people cross the threshold and find a different kind of community where God is visibly seen? I believe with my whole heart that we all need to be noticed and we all need to be blessed.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Look Ahead!!

As part of my renewal, I'm taking time this month to visit the three places where God has spoken to me most clearly. One of them is a church to which I belonged when I first experienced my call to ministry. It is from their pulpit where I preached some of my first sermons and had my gifts named and claimed. It is this congregation that sent me off to seminary with dozens of cards, some cake and lots of prayers. It is this church that had a pastor who saw gifts in me that I thought were fit for political service but he deemed fit for the church and kept opening doors for these gifts to be put to use.

This morning I'll board a bus to Manhattan just as I did as a chaperone of a high school youth trip to the United Nations in 1996. I'll go to this city not surrounded by youth but as a solo traveler with eyes wide open and a heart that is excited to experience lots of theatre and good friends. The first time my eyes saw New York, something happened within me. My journey through the city opened me to new possibilities in life. It was on a bus departing New York after a wonderful weekend with youth in 1996 where I knew God was calling me to ministry. It was on a bus coming home where I spent four hours talking with people about seminary and the process to ordination. I've met God in New York.

Two weeks from tonight I'll board a plane for a long journey to South Africa. It is in this land where I have sensed a God who asks hard things of us. It was on a Pilgrimage of Pain and Hope to South Africa in 2004 where I met a God who reshaped a prayer on my lips, "God, take me out of my place of comfort and success. Help me be more prophetic. Give me a heart for hurting and broken people." I came home from that journey and told the Dean of Duke Divinity School that I would finish that year with joy but would then resign from my position as the Director of Admissions in order to return to the local church. It was in South Africa where God gave me the courage to embrace all the challenges that first came with being appointed to Mount Vernon Place and the city of Washington.

Perhaps I was romanticizing these return visits. Maybe I thought I would see and hear God as powerfully as I have before in these very places. I'm not sure what I was expecting but I did not find it when I walked back into my old church as a visitor who had not been there in years. The place has changed as every church should change in the course of a decade. Only a handful of faces were familiar. I left with the knowledge of how lonely it can be to walk into a sanctuary as a visitor.

But perhaps I needed exactly what I got that morning - a fresh reminder that so often we go looking for Jesus where we have last found him just as the women did on Easter morning. They assumed that Jesus' body would be exactly where they laid it. They then hear a voice asking, "Why look for the living amongst the dead?"Jesus has been on the move ever since - just as he was before.

We are tempted to believe God dwells in sanctuaries and holy temples. We so often limit the movement of Jesus to the places we have experienced him before. But our God is not bound by memories or church walls. Our God is always on the move. The winds of the Spirit blow throughout the world - touching our lips and anointing us with new words, speaking fresh challenges into our hearts, showing up just when we need to be reminded that God is Emmanuel - God with us, and causing us to go to places we once never imagined only to find that God is also there just as much as God was back there.

It's a wonderful gift to go back - to see places that have shaped and formed you. I'm incredibly grateful for these opportunities to journey. But I go now not expecting to find God exactly as I found God last. Rather, I go into each day longing to hear the voice of God and see God's hands at work. In God we live and move and have our being. That means God is everywhere - as close as your next breath and as dynamic as someone who will be kind or thoughtful to you today - showing up just when you need someone to show up.

There is fullness of joy in the presence of the Lord - and that presence is everywhere. Thank you, God.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Come and See

Reviewing the call accounts of the disciples this morning, I realize again how remarkable it is that Jesus' invitation to "Follow me" was so compelling that Peter and Andrew immediately left their nets to follow him before encountering James and John who leave their nets, their boat and their father behind in order to follow Jesus. This call is the one recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke. There is little dialogue between Jesus and the disciples - just a leaving behind.

 I've found that my call is a bit more like the one recorded in the Gospel of John where Jesus has to keep encouraging the prospective disciples to "come and see." Each step leads to a closer bond between Jesus and the men. They keep questioning but Jesus keeps saying, "Come and see." It is one step at a time, with something left at each step.

I'm spending my summer in response to this invitation of "come and see" as I seek to engage more deeply with Jesus. We started on the Isle of Iona, a place George MacLeod, the founder of the Iona Community described as being a "thin place" where "only a tissue paper" separated the spiritual from the material. Our journey to Iona took a plane ride to Glasgow, a three-hour train ride to Oban, a 45 minute ferry to Mull, a one hour bus ride across Mull and then a 10 minute ferry ride. The journey was a response to "come and see" in and of itself!

We then continued to "come and see" as we made our way around the isle. We climbed mountains to watch the sunset, clung to the side of a cliff to make it into a cave, wandered until we found Puffins, gathered rocks near the sea, gazed at cattle and sheep eating their fill of food, sat in the ancient abbey for morning and evening prayer, and marveled at the dozens of pilgrims getting off the ferry each day. It was a journey that stretched us physically as well as spiritually. Craig and I did things we don't normally do, stepping out of our comfort zones.

While on Iona, I picked up a book, "Around a Thin Place." It is a guide for those wanting to take a pilgrimage around the isle, something that is offered by the community weekly. The book starts by describing what it means to set out in the first place. Dom Helder Camara writes,

"Setting out is first of all getting out of oneself. Breaking through the shell of selfishness hardening us within our own ego. 

To stop revolving round ourself as if we were the centre of everything. 

Refusing to be ringed in by the problems of our own small world. However important these may be, humanity is more important and our task is to serve humanity.

Setting out is not covering miles of land or sea, or travelling faster than the speed of sound. It is first and foremost opening ourselves to other people, trying to get to know them."

Camara then described how this task also means getting to know people who disagree with you, "Happy are they who understand the words: 'If you disagree with me, you have something to give me.'"

He then continues, "If those who are with you always agree with you before you open your mouth, they are not companions but shadows.

When disagreement is not a form of systematic blocking, when it rises from a different vision, it can only enrich us."

Camara next writes how one can journey alone but how a good traveller always understands that the journey is "human life and life needs company...Happy are they who feel they are always on the road and everyone they meet is their chosen companion."

I believe Jesus knew the gift of pilgrimage - that he is the first author and teacher of what is written in this essay. Jesus found a companion in most people on the road. He was rarely bothered by a disruption even when he was on his way. He saw the gift of disagreement and kept on extending an invitation whether it was a woman at the well who could not figure out why he was talking to her or an encounter with Zacchaeus who wondered the same thing. Jesus knew that we rarely grow when we are surrounded by people who are just like us.

And Jesus always knew that life is better when spent in community. While he took time to be alone and get away from the crowds to recenter himself on God, he knew that his best work was done with the company of twelve ordinary men who were willing to leave behind their past and embrace the future with Jesus.

What would it look like for us to reclaim these teachings and embody them daily - to see each person as a gift, to embrace community whether we have chosen it or not, to let go of ourselves - what we hold most deeply (our agendas, our schedules, our time, our stuff, our success, our failure, our goals, our power, our prestige) in order to see the new thing God might be doing in our lives?

What would it look like to be so selfless that we can always see the needs of others in our midst?

What do we need to leave behind in order to more faithfully follow this day?

Towards the end of his writing, Camara states "To travel for the sake of travelling is not the true journey. We must seek a goal, envision an end to the journey, an arrival."

The goal of my journey is more of God in my life. I want to be formed and reformed, shaped and reshaped. I want to let go of me so I can accept more of Jesus' life within me. I want to step out into familiar and unfamiliar territory - to "come and see" what God is doing in my life and especially in the lives of others near and far. I want to be more ready to serve all with needs in my midst - those who I know and those who are waiting to be known.

I'm ready to go deeper - stepping out in unfamiliar territory.

Friday, July 05, 2013

(Re)Finding My Way

I spent last night on the balcony of the home of a member of our church where our visiting preacher in residence is currently staying. The home is located one block from our church and provides an outstanding view of the building created through the sale of church property in 2005.

It was my first year as the pastor of Mount Vernon Place, and I spent just as much time in meetings with architects, developers and city officials in those first two years as I did visiting people, writing sermons, preparing for worship and doing other typical pastor duties. There were many weeks when I used my hard hat more than I used my Bible.

Last evening, when the sun began to go deeper into the night, I found myself being captivated by the building in the background. I could not stop looking at it. My gaze last night provided tangible evidence of some of my labor. I looked upon the building and remembered tough negotiations that sometimes left me in tears, sleepless nights when our developer was changing, and lots of decisions that had to be made (some of which I'd like to do all over again). I could see the fruit of my labor in the background - a gift.

I know how to do a property redevelopment. I'm a rather fierce negotiator. I can pick out furniture and carpet and hold people accountable. I got a tough New York city developer to let go of our project when we discovered quickly how we were not the perfect match for each other. There are moments when I dream about a vocation in real estate.

But if the truth were told, I'm struggling a bit with what it really means to be a pastor.

So much of my time and energy during my first eight years at MVP has been focused on building - building a physical structure and rebuilding a congregation that had been in decline for 50 years. The words "maintain" and "sustain" were not part of the vocabulary of my call when I accepted the invitation to move from North Carolina eight years ago and be appointed to MVP (and I don't think these are words that should be part of any pastor's vocabulary for that matter). There's little about me that can put up with the status quo, and so I've spent a lot of time strategizing, thinking about catchy sermon series, and trying to figure out how to get people in Washington to see how much God loves them and longs to be in relationship with them. And my efforts to build the church have come at the expense of building my own relationship with Christ.

The building is finished, and we now have a critical mass of people each Sunday morning, the majority of whom are young adults. We've come a long way. I do not take anything for granted, and I am more than grateful for the privilege of serving in this place. There is no doubt in my mind that my call to Mount Vernon Place is as clear today as it was eight years ago.

But, if I've learned anything in the first month of my sabbatical, I've learned that I need to relearn some of what it means to be a pastor who is not a developer of property but one who is a developer of lives. I need to find my way back to being a shepherd who leads one to still waters and fullness of joy by helping others find the presence of the true Shepherd in their lives. I need to find more moments to be in God's presence. I need to come back to my creator, redeemer and sustainer.

I've stocked my Kindle with books by Eugene Peterson this morning. I'm using this precious gift of time to rediscover what God is up to in my life and how to make more room for the sweet Spirit who longs to make more of me. What a blessing.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

A Place for Doubters

 This picture was taken just outside the Museum of London and is known as "The Aldersgate Flame Memorial." The date at the top reads "Wednesday, May 24, 1738," and the inscription continues, allowing one to read the words printed in John Wesley's journal on this particular day.

Mr. Wesley is the founder of Methodism - the one whose image is reproduced in stained glass windows in our sanctuary and whose bust appears throughout the world as a man of deep faith. His mark is felt in churches of all shapes and sizes. His teachings have had and continue to have a profound impact on countless people learning about the way of salvation or experiencing grace that comes to us long before we hear the name of God spoken aloud.

But Mr. Wesley was not always filled with faith. In fact, he wrestled with doubt for a significant portion of his life.

In his journal, Mr. Wesley wrote how he opened his Testament to 2 Peter and then walked to St. Paul's where he heard an anthem, "Out of the Deep have I called unto thee...If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amif's, O Lord, who may abide it? But there is Mercy with thee." After printing the words of the hymn, Mr. Wesley continued to write:

In the Evening I went very unwillingly to a Society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a Quarter before nine, while he was describing the Change which God works in my Heart thro' Faith in Christ, I felt my Heart strangely warm'd. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my Salvation: And an Assurance was given to me, That He had taken away my Sins, even mine, and saved me from the Law of Sin and Death.

Mr. Wesley was an ordained clergyman who was preaching regularly and leading people to have faith in Christ. He was born into the church, the child of a pastor who could be found on the front pew. And yet, he did not have faith. He was 35 years old when he wrote these words. He could have easily given up and left the church but he kept heeding to the advice of a friend who suggested that he "preach faith until you have it."

We in the church regularly speak of faith as something that is easy to find. We talk about God with words that can lead others to believe that we have seen God with our very own eyes, never mind the belief that even Moses could only see God through a burning bush.

But what if faith is a gift - a present that some of us are given at an early age while others have to wait decades to receive?

What if our seasons of doubt can lead to the richest seasons of faith imaginable?

What if you are not the only one who is doubting? What if the person preaching in the pulpit is preaching until she or he has faith again?

What if the best thing to do when we are doubting is to keep showing up - keep going to church - keep searching the scriptures - keep trying to pray even if we do these things "very unwillingly" like Mr. Wesley did?

Perhaps we in the church need to make as much room as possible for doubt, believing that God is still at work whether our picture of God is clear or blurry - whether we know God to be alive or believe God is dead - whether we have experienced the gift of a heart strangely warmed or have determined that we can live without faith in God?

It takes a long time for some of us to get to the Amen Corner. That's why we keep going - even unwillingly - to places like the Society at Aldersgate.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Tell Him I Believe in Him

I could not stay away from Mount Vernon Place last night even though I'm on sabbatical. I noticed a tweet at 5:32 p.m. informing me that my mentor and hero Peter Storey would be using the Sunday evening session to talk about Nelson Mandela. With a pilgrimage to South Africa just four weeks away, I knew hearing Peter talk about former President Mandela was something I did not want to miss - something that would make my heart sing.

Peter spent an hour telling us about Mandela's place of birth, early years of life and his time as a political prisoner on Robben Island before sharing more about Mandela's mark on South Africa. There are dozens of stories written down in my journal told by Peter last evening - stories I don't want to forget.

One story that keeps surfacing in my heart provoked tears in the eyes of many who listened last night. Peter shared how it was once discovered that one of Mandela's bodyguards was a member of a racist Nazi group. People went to the President with fear for his life, advising him to please fire the young man or at least remove him from such close detail. Peter shared how the President thought for a few moments before responding. "You know, I was once a hot-headed young man, too. Give the young guard a chance. Tell him I believe in him. Tell him I trust him."

Tell him I believe in him. Tell him I trust him.

No doubt these words changed the life and heart of the young guard. Can you imagine your dirt being aired - the feelings of hatred within you being exposed - only to discover that the one you were taught to hate actually believed in you - trusted you - wanted you as part of his team?

I wonder how often God seeks to say the same thing to us?

How often are we allowed to be part of something that we do not deserve?

When have we been given a second chance in spite of ourselves or the hatred and revenge burning within us?

When does God see our very best and expose it to all around us even when we're rather ugly on the inside?

What an amazing life Nelson Mandela has shared with the world.

And what an amazing God we have who calls us, claims us and names us...in spite of ourselves.