Sunday, May 03, 2009

Flowers first

Plenty of afternoon sunshine provided the perfect backdrop for reading and relaxing, as usual. We decided we would finish a book we've been reading together for well over a month called An Unstoppable Force. I've quoted it here before and plan to do so again today. Of course, I should have worked on my novel, so my patient mother who is waiting read it (it's the 4th in a series we've been enjoying together) can read it.

Before we settled down on a blanket to begin, I walked along the edge of my experimental garden. I pointed out to my husband that I had planted the two Easter lilies we had gotten from church a few weeks earlier. I checked the progress on the other vines, plants and bushes that are coming back to life. Since I insisted on narrating my walk down the garden's edge, my husband got up to see what I was talking about.

I was remarking that the bloom on the Easter lilly I had planted years earlier seemed a much brighter white than the ones we got in church. My commentary continued ... "And see this? This is that fig-like plant I keep chopping back. It used to be a house plant... and this is called a Durant, I think, see how lush it is? It will bloom soon. ... I'm surprised my variegated hibiscus hasn't bloomed yet, but see how pretty the leaves are? I want to plant a couple of these in the front and see how they do ... I think the irises are done blooming now ... Look, though, the day lillies are about to open up. ... Hey, what happened to the flower on that hibiscus? I'll bet the dog ate it. No, you're right, it wilted and fell to the ground."

The biggest surprise in my weekly inspection was my Bleeding Heart Vine. (The photo here is not my actual vine, but this is what the blooms it produces look like.)

I thought for sure it was a goner. Several weeks ago, I had wound its empty, stick-like branches through the trellis it grows against. The branches looked pretty pitiful and I could see no signs of life or rebirth. But I fertilized it anyway and determined time would tell...

Today, I saw that the vines were budding nicely. Yet they were not putting out foliage first, as all the other plants and vines in the garden. They cut to the chase and were actually blooming. I could see the buds of the white flowers that make up this spectacular bloom and knew the shocking splash of red would eventually follow.

Flowers first, who would have thunk? Yet one of the concepts discussed in the epilogue of Unstoppable Force was that of establishing a radical minimum standard. Within this "standard" is the idea that those who are new to the faith are the best candidates for sharing that faith and the love of Jesus Christ with others. The author compared it to newborn babies. They aren't born with just a head with the expectation that eventually they will sprout a neck and body and arms and legs. No, they are born with every body part they will ever have. And the same is true of new believers. When we embrace the truth of Christ, we are ready to go.

Did you know that babies are born with a sucking and swallowing reflex? Yet if they don't use it within the first 3 months of their lives, they lose it, meaning they will have to be taught to suck and swallow just like they have to learn to walk and talk. So if those who are new to the faith or even new to the church rolls are not quickly pointed toward mission and ministry, they may "lose" this reflex all too quickly and be forced to learn it later. What begins as a reflex later turns into an obligation, probably the worst attitude to have when undertaking ministry.

What are we waiting for? We don't have to provide all this training and discipling to people before we can give them an opportunity to share their experience "so far" of God and Christ with others. In fact, sometimes being a little on the unsure side of what in the heck you are doing provides the perfect channel for God's Spirit to move through.

Just last week, a new member of the ministry team to the rehab ladies told me, "I'm still not sure if I know what I'm doing..." (Her role is to conduct a follow-up meeting with women who have been newly baptized or renewed their baptism vows, to encourage them in their new journey and answer any questions they might have) I told her, Wanda, that's probably the best possible position to be in to succeed in this ministry.

Yes, discipling and pursuing what us Methodists call "means of grace" is integral to our faith journey, but it is not a prerequisite to ministry.

Remember the bleeding heart vine ... the flowers come first.

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