Running To and From

Run-fromming. This is a word that Pastor Smith spoke in his message today. He said he mis-spoke it, but I am wondering if God didn’t just “drop that on his spirit,” as he is wont to say. Because, I mean, run-fromming is amazing, and an awfully useful term when you think it about it. It’s a verb, obviously, and one that seems to imply a sort of regular habit of running from things. That’s part of what Pastor was speaking about today; and it is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. As in, when do you fold and when do you hold? When do you insist that your gifts be received, and when do you “shake the dust off your feet?”

Friendship Pasadena Church (MY church now!) chooses a weekly prayer based upon a piece of scripture. This week it comes from Isaiah 43:18-19

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

Do you not perceive it? Do you not perceive how badly I want this organization to succeed? How much I want our project to receive support? How vibrant this ministry could be? That you could live a more peaceful life?! Take. My. Gifts! (Does this sound familiar to anyone else)? As Pastor reminded us this morning, we all have gifts (Romans 12:8). And we get told this a lot. Sometimes our parents say so, other times our friends, coworkers — and even once in a while a supervisor tell us that. I guess that’s where the idea of Gifted and Talented Schools came from? Only I always found the idea somewhat confusing because not only did they express that every child was gifted (as in has some gifts) but it always seemed to be that the gifts in question were pretty limited. Like some gifts were more important to nurture than others. Of course (apparently like Pastor Smith) school was not my favorite subject so maybe I’m just being cranky right now.

So what happens when you offer someone what you think is a pretty fabulous gift of yours and they don’t want it? As Jill Scott sings in “Hate On Me,” sometimes folks are just too miserable to accept your offering. As in, one might make someone a peach pie – straight from their own peach tree, no less – and the recipient might just slap them out anyway. (Here’s the fabulous song: ). I am guessing we all know some people like that. And we probably even know ourselves to have gone back to some of those people with our peaches anyway. And that’s not always the wrong move. I mean, think of the story of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14. (Shout out to Friendship Pasadena Kitchen Table Bible Study)!

We join Paul and Barnabas preaching in Lystra. Well, let’s just say things got ugly (as they can in the Bible) and Paul was pelted with stones until the assailants figured he was dead. They dragged him out of the the city limits like yesterday’s trash. But other disciples came running to Paul, “gathered around him,” and don’t you know that man got back up and went into that self-same city again, the one where the folks wanted him dead. Turned out that was a good move because, “They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples” (Acts 14:21). That was their goal and they followed the “if at first you don’t succeed” method. They were not afraid, or at least the fear was not strong enough to keep them from marching straight back into the mouth of that proverbial lion. No run-fromming happened there!

What then of the counsel that the twelve disciples received from Jesus in the book of Matthew, when it was time for them to go out and do their rounds, canvass for the Lord? The disciples were tasked with finding “the lost sheep” and preaching and healing and doing all sorts of good stuff for those in need. “Freely you have received, freely give,” Jesus reminded them (10:8). I bet a lot of us could use that reminder, the one about receiving freely. Some of us — and by us maybe I mean just me — have a hard time receiving. I am way better at giving. Ooh, I love giving, and apparently I think I have lots to give. I have, as Pastor Smith encouraged us today, discovered many of my gifts. (I mean I better have, right? This gift-giving gig isn’t going to last forever). I love the act of giving. But receiving? Nah, I’m good. I don’t need that. Find someone more in need. (Or perhaps I mean more deserving)? Maybe I am afraid to receive. Fear is, after all, tied up in this gift thing but I’ll try to stay on point for the moment.

So back to the disciples, the twelve guys are to go out and perform miracles and preach the gospel. They are told to connect quickly with a “worthy person” in each town that they enter. I mean that’s what you do when you’re new in town, you introduce yourself to the folks who seem like they would be on your side, maybe even show you some extra kindness being as how you’re on your own and all. So Coach Jesus tells his team to go in with a positive attitude, to share their gifts of peace — and then some — as long as they are welcomed! But he doesn’t want them spinning their wheels either, following some playbook just for the sake of staying on task. “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town (10:14). I mean this is just about my favorite Bible verse. (And I guess Paul didn’t get the memo either, but we all have different paths to take with our various gifts so he was probably doing the right thing for his own personal journey). The twelve disciples weren’t run-fromming, mind you, they were simply turning on their heels and walking down their proscribed paths. Run-fromming is when you find yourself sprinting away from the scene. It’s when you start tripping over things, getting lost, screaming irrationally at the world because you’re hurt and lost… That’s run-fromming.

But my question remains, how do you know when to walk away and when to stay? When should we persist in offering our pies, and when should we take our beautiful one-of-a kind-baked-good and knock on someone else’s door? It’s about discernment, and that is something that takes a daily practice — and many years of days — to even get the hang of. If you’re me anyway. A lot has to do with the aforementioned fear thing. I am a strong believer that fear is the answer to why we do so many dumb, self-injurious things. I think I’ll probably write about that next week. My friends will recognize this theme immediately, as in there goes Katie with that “everything’s about fear” stuff. But my friends are good people, so they’ll probably listen to it again anyway.

For now I am still puzzling over discernment in terms of giving. I need to learn to recognize when I am withholding gifts for a good and right reason, and when, perhaps, I am simply leaving my gifts up on the shelf so as not to show off or bother anyone. In tandem, one also wants to learn to discern when it’s time to take their ball and go home, because the people they’re playing with aren’t playing with a love for the game. I mean I think we humans shake the dust off our feet prematurely sometimes. But I also think there are occasions when we just keep knocking on the door that’s getting slammed in our faces. Because sometimes it’s easier to receive rejection than approval; sometimes that rejection affirms our unworthiness, confirms our fears. But I’ll leave that for next week. So go give of your gifts. Ask yourself what they are. Tell somebody what they are. Better yet, ask somebody what they see as your gifts. Write them down, if you want. Just know this, we all have way more than we think.

*You may want to watch today’s powerful sermon:

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