Just no words…

As I sit in my home office this morning, October 3, 2017, reading the responses to various people’s tweets and Facebook posts concerning a mass shooting in Las Vegas it became evident to me that there are no words that can be said. What started out as heartfelt sadness to the situation escalated into fiery jabs, pokes, and cut downs. I found myself getting caught up in the midst of the varied reactions waiting for the clinching blow of victory for the person I agreed with more. Feeling disdain for those who held on to beliefs I have overcome, wondering why anyone would still think in those particular ways proved troubling to me. So troubling that I decided to throw my 2 cents in, not in their arena, but in my arena; my blog.

I ask myself, “What is wrong with the world? What is wrong with these people? Why can’t we all just… just… get along? What is wrong with me?” What is wrong with me? I have this crazy idea that somehow or another there is a magic phrase to make it all better, kind of like when a mother kisses her child booboo, that it will magically feel better and the healing will begin. But there is no such phrase. Many at this point will look down at the ground, shake our head, and get busy with our personal world and hope it will someday go away.

I do not know anyone involved in the tragic events, or at least at this point I do not know of anyone I knew, so it is easy to sit here in my office and focus on other things, after all there are many things to do; waiting for the cable guy, preparing this Sunday’s sermon, looking around at my disheveled office and thinking to myself, “I can’t even keep my office neat and tidy what makes me think I could make the world neat and tidy.” So I focus back on writing my blog to say what the title already says, there are just no words.

My soul longs for the peace that passes all understanding. My soul yearns for those who are experiencing such great tragic loss. My heart goes out to those whose lives are now interrupted as they seek healing from bullet wounds. For the children who no longer have a parent, for the parents who are going to do the unthinkable, bury their child. The only answer I can come up with from the depths of my soul is found in tears of compassion and to offer to be an ear for those who have a story that needs to be told, a pain that will only be released as they are the ones who speak and discover the pathway into this day, this hour, this moment with a new reality of a loved one no longer here, a limp they did not have before, a mark on their body, and image in their mind that will remind them again and again of their tragic experience.

To offer hope and help is not to find the right words, but to open a listening ear.

Shalom my friends.

My Spiritual Migration: 1

I was at a gathering of fellow clergy earlier this week when I stood up to make a statement concerning my thoughts on the current challenges we face as The United Methodist Church, mostly to do with inclusiveness. My words put into thought a couple things. First is when we are making major shifts in thinking the biggest issue is fear. A second was a new image that has come to me concerning the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” I will get to these in greater detail later. One of my colleagues came up to me afterward and made a statement that he thought I was more on the conservative side of theology. I responded with a question, “Is that because I came here from Texas?” His response neither confirmed or denied, but he indicated it probably had a little to do with it. I began to tell of the migration I have been on for the last several years. He asked if I had journaled about it, to which I replied I think I should blog about it. So here it is. I want to say that my intent in blogging this out is to help me think through the transformation I have gone through and hopefully inspire others to consider their long held beliefs to see if they still ring true.

I am not really sure when it all began to happen, but I noticed that my thinking on a number of subjects was less rigid than it used to be. Here is where to me, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral comes in. If you are not familiar with it the basics are this: Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason are lenses we look at things through. There are various images I have seen over the years that try to rank the four lenses, usually Scripture getting the largest portion, and the other three much smaller boxes. The image I have been working on is more like the Wesleyan Tricycle. There are numerous parts to a tricycle, but the main parts are the frame, front tire, and rear tires. I said scripture is like the frame, connecting and holding everything together and in alignment. The front tire (and steering apparatus) is experience, and the two rear tires were tradition and reason. This image for me is still a work in progress, as there are times when Reason could be the front wheel, or at least maybe it is the frame and scripture the rear axle holding up the two wheels of tradition and the front is still experience. Anyway, over time and through many conversations and experiences I could not hold to the conservative beliefs I had previously embraced and taught.

As I began considering these newer ideas I found myself in a quandary. What would it look like if I believed and embraced these new thoughts? Can I back these up scripturally? What would people think if I began pushing away the old, firmly held beliefs for these newer thoughts? What would my District Superintendent think? Could I get fired over this? As you may be able to imagine the list of questions is rather long. As I began reasoning through these ideas I noticed a presence of fear. Maybe you have heard it said something like, “The Bible says it, that settles it!” Or put another way, “We can’t pick and choose which parts we like and only believe them.” Again, there are a number of ways this has been expressed. Fear comes in because we ask these questions. If I don’t believe homosexuality is a sin, what do I do with the 9 or so verses that call it out as sin? What about eating pork? It is clearly a no-no in the Old Testament. The only verses that indicate it might be ok to eat pork are found in Acts 10, and the animals listed is very vague at best. Yet, right now as I am writing this I have a pork tenderloin on my smoker. What about shell fish? I love to eat crab, lobster, and shrimp but these are only a few among many other forbidden foods.

Is there a slippery slope we are afraid of falling off? Where is the edge so we make sure we stop before going too far? These are questions of fear. Yes, we need boundaries, but who sets them? Or what sets them? Is it my ability to interpret the Bible or The United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline? Well, yes, these set some boundaries. Boundaries make us feel safe and secure. What happens when these boundaries that keep us safe create pain, hurt and anger to others? Do we look away? Do we call them out and make them feel worse? What is our model for interpreting these things? When I step out of the perfect world box and dare to enter into a relationship with real people who don’t fit in my box I often find myself in good company.

When I make the choice to step over the line I have to be discerning. This brings us back to the tricycle image. Is it reasonable that God would send someone to hell simply because they loved? Because they found an intimate relationship in every good measure the same (maybe even greater) than my love for my wife and wanted to live in that life with all the same benefits I have with my spouse? My fear is that you might reject me for thinking that way. Eventually, I realized when Jesus said there are two commandments, Love God and Love your neighbor, I had to decide what that looked like. Not that I have come to the final conclusion and therefore can set the boundary in new places, but that I found when we create boundaries we make God smaller and much more manageable.

 

Love these days is a charged word. It means so many things. I love my wife, hamburgers, steak, my phone, apps, energy drinks, dogs, cat, motorcycles and many more things, but believe me, there is a big difference in the way I love a good hamburger and the way I love my wife.  The love God has for every human being, animal, bird, fish, tree, the earth and the universe is beyond my ability to grasp. It may be easier to think there couldn’t be a god with the brokenness of the world, but something inside us leads us to a power greater than this life. Jesus said they will know you are my disciples by the way you love each other.

May that be what we seek to do.

Please, Ask Questions!!

I have been doing a lot of pondering lately. I have been in a number of conversations with people in the last few months and have begun to notice a theme, a tugging on my heart if you will. As we go on this adventurous journey we call life it is completely natural to ask questions. The challenge is when the questions were asked one of two things happened. Either they were made to feel bad about asking the question or there was a quaint, knee jerk response type answer that didn’t satisfy the questioner.

Many that I have spoken with said these answers were from when they were children and a few have commented that they were not allowed to continue the Sunday School program. This blows my mind. One person asked me to respond to two questions. I asked for a little time to give the best possible answer I could give. I pray for the heart of God to be revealed in the answer and if I am wrong, respond with a comment as I am most often open for good conversations.

Here are the questions: Well the questions were if Jesus kicked the money lenders out of the temple why do we have to give you money? And then if he said do not worship me (in) the temple why are we in this big church? (I added the word in parenthesis)

To answer the first question I began by reviewing the “cleansing of the Temple” stories found in Matthew 21:12-13, Mark did not mention the event, Luke 19:45-48, and John 2:13-19. The Luke and Matthew versions are virtually the same. Jesus goes into the Temple and knocks over the money changers tables, throws out all who were buying and selling, and makes the claim that the Temple is to be a house of prayer. Johns is a bit more detailed where Jesus makes a whip to drive out the animals, turns over the tables of the money changers. If Jesus drove the money changers out why do we donate to the church? From my understanding here is how I break that down. Why were people gathered there? They had gathered for the passover. A time when people would bring the required sacrifices, usually a year old lamb without blemish or pigeons, also to be without blemish. Depending on where they were coming from to celebrate the passover, which is a celebration of God freeing them from slavery in Egypt, this could be a rather lengthy journey. If you had lambs, the journey itself was a risk. If something happened on the way the priests would not accept the offering. What began to happen was a little like a certified pre-owned lamb sales event. The ones that were being sold at the temple were certified to be acceptable for the sacrifice. In order to purchase your certified lamb you had to exchange the money from the Roman currency to temple currency. As you might well imagine this was a lucrative business. The exchange rate was inflated (depending on what side you were on) and the sheep prices skyrocketed. So Jesus comes in and calls them on the practice. All three of the stories indicate that because of who Jesus was, a well-known teacher and healer, the Temple leaders feared the reaction of the people. So as you can see this is very different from the idea of giving tithes or alms. So why do we give tithes, alms, or offerings (money) to the temple or church? When Israel came into the ‘promised land’ there were twelve tribes. Of these tribes, one did not inherit any land. These people were known as the Levites. The work of the Levites was upkeep of the temple, caring for widows and orphans, and to serve as the priests. The offerings (grain, money, meat, etc.) were the source of the Levites to be able to do the work they needed to do. The offerings to the church on Sunday mornings are what allow the church to do the ministry to their community and around the world. It is also what pays the electric bill, pastor’s salary, insurance, and in the United Methodist Church a portion of those funds go to the global (worldwide) ministry and mission of the worldwide Methodist church.

This bring me to the second question. And then if he said do not worship me (in) the temple why are we in this big church? Another great question. I have heard many people tell me they can worship God on the golf course or the lake. This is true. I am also assuming that the reference is John 4:4-42, specifically verses 23-24 where Jesus says, “But the time is coming – and is here! – when worshippers will worship in spirit and truth.  So why do we need the buildings? When the church, which the Greek word used actually means a gathering of people, was born people began gathering in the Temple and in homes. The Temple and homes became a central location where fellow believers or “Followers of The Way” as they were called in the beginning, could gather to encourage one another, lift each other up, share in the burdens of life, meet other people’s needs, and get their own needs met. In Hebrews 10:24-25 the author writes, “Let’s also think about how to motivate each other to show love and to do good works. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing, instead encourage each other, especially as you see the day draw near.” So we meet in buildings to do two things. First is to fellowship with other believers and second is to encourage one another.

The sad reality in too many churches is they never moved from the first stage of the spiritual journey beyond creating a container to hold their spiritual stuff in. The first stage is really more head knowledge. What do we believe? How do we pass on our faith to the next generation? Basically what are the rules or boundaries. It is a time of either or thinking. Either you are in or your out. You are going to heaven or going to hell. Very black or white thinking. This has caused many challenges to developing deep spirituality. Many stories I have heard from wonderful folks I have met over time speak of pain from not being accepted for what ever reason. I know of churches that built buildings for other ethnic groups to have a church, which sounds generous until you see the underlying theme of ‘you worship over there, you are not like us’.

So let me close this with these thoughts. If you have been hurt by a church, maybe you have been shamed in some way. I am sorry. If you were molested by a church leader, protestant, Catholic, or whatever group. I am so sorry that you were not shown the love of Christ. I wish I could have been there to stop it as no one should have to go through that. A Catholic Priest that is such a wonderful, loving person was molested by the deacons and leaders of the Parish he grew up in. It took a lot of time for healing from those wounds. I pray that you could know my heart when I say I am truly sorry for that and know that my heart goes out to you. For the Native Americans that were told they had to leave the sweats and native dancing to join the Christians. I am sorry, I do not believe that is true. Many were way ahead of us (White Anglo Saxons) in true spirituality and were told to leave that behind. I believe Christ wants you to experience life to its fullest which, to me, means being the best you can be. Jesus was pretty clear when asked about the most important law. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. And a second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.

Go and do likewise…

Shalom Y’all

A New Beginning

Do we all want a new beginning? There are likely to be some that would say, “Not really.” In the American culture I have seen there are some that feel the problems people have are their own fault. So the homeless person should have managed their money better. The abused spouse should have left the relationship instead of believing the lies that the abuse is their fault, if they had (or had not) done _____ it wouldn’t have happened. The alcoholic should just stop drinking, the drug addict should quit doing drugs. If the person had never started this wouldn’t be a problem now.

While I know those statements are over simplified, they become a way to separate us from them. When we believe we do not need a new start we are not being honest with ourselves. Another way of putting it may be that when we do not want a new beginning we are under the impression that we have it all together.  Trying harder is often ineffective in the grand scheme of things. Trying harder creates more anxiety about whatever we have failed at in the past. Change is difficult. What can we do when we just are who we are? Maybe there is even a hint of defeat in noting we might need a new beginning.

The new beginning in Christianity is often also seen with little changing effect. Many who have come down during an alter call find themselves right back where they started in a short amount of time. New Years Resolutions often fail too. One might even wonder what it would take to really change their lives long term. So the alcoholic joins a 12 step program and does well as long as they continue going through the steps, over and over again. Many who are, like me, struggling with their weight will check out and try the latest diet or join a gym or even both, only to find out that in a few weeks or months they have fallen off the proverbial wagon.

We recognize the problems life brings and so eventually we might get to the point where we ask, “What’s the point in even trying?” We have come full circle back to the place where we accept life for what it is, a journey that we struggle through until death.

So what difference does Christ make in a believer’s life? The root of all that I listed above it self-centered. I can’t fix me so I will quit trying and I may even divert some of the attention to others to keep me out of the spotlight. We need something more. We need a connection that goes deep into our very soul, a connection with life-force of all life, a connection with God. As Christians we believe that was revealed to us in Jesus Christ, not anything we can do on our own, it is something God has done for us in Christ. We cannot save ourselves! Jesus talked about life as a relationship. I believe Native American Spirituality speaks to that as well, recognizing the Great Spirit and the forces around are in harmony to bring all things together. Buddhism speaks of ridding ourselves of ourself to transcend into the spiritual world. Studying Jesus’ life and interactions that we can see through the four Gospel accounts speaks pretty clearly about life being about relationships. Even in the prayer Jesus taught to his disciples we read, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The Kingdom of God that Jesus spoke of was all around, it has drawn near. Then Jesus spoke of getting into heaven we must come as a child.

A new beginning is about seeking how we can relate to the old in new ways and asking for a new view on the components of the relationship. You have heard it said… (here is the letter of the law) but I say… (here is the direction the relationship seen properly will take you) Read the Sermon on  the Mount (Matthew 5-7) with that in mind. Then look at the areas in your life you might not have been as truthful to yourself about and dream about the proper relationship for you to have. That will be a New Beginning!!

What do we do with our sinfullness?

This week in the Not A Fan study the topic is about our sinfullness and how we deal with it. Sure, we know Jesus washes it away, but how much of our sin have we revealed to Jesus? 

As I look at my past sins and think through them, I am finding places where I have not dealt with my sin in very productive ways. I am not advocating that we have to fix it on our own before we can be good enough to be loved by Jesus; not in the least manor. There are some sins I have committed and I no longer commit. Yay!! There are other areas though I seem to continue sinning, like a bad habit or something. Often I turn to Romans 7, the things I want to do, I don’t seem to be able to do, the things I don’t want, these are the things I am doing (paraphrased here a bit) I tend to rationalize them, cover them up, make excuses, ignore them, rank them and compare with others so I come out on top comparing my very best to someone else’s lowest deeds. 

I wonder how many feel like this is their story too. Did Jesus really forgive you for… ? What I am realizing is this, those areas in my life I wouldn’t want to really have the hard conversation with Jesus about (my sin) are the areas I for some reason think I have to get it right before I can go to Jesus and say, “Here, now I got the stain out of my life, I think I can let you love me now.”

Maybe you have given up on getting it right and so maybe you found it easier to not try. Maybe you find reading the Bible to much, as it reveals so much you are ashamed of. I can’t go to church because it doesn’t seem to be helping, instead it just makes me feel worse, is that your response? 

The 4 acounts of Jesus’ life in the Gospels show Jesus as very approachable, no matter how bad we think we have been. The challenge is the battles I face, are only battles when I take my focus off of Jesus. I can try to hide my sinfullness and in so doing deny the grace God offers. It is when I am willing to share my struggles with Jesus I find freedom. It is when I fail to do so that guilt and shame become a burden. 

Who is more important

When I first read the question for this morning I thought it asked, “What are you most tempted to put ahead of Jesus, to love more than Jesus.” Once I read this I fired off my answer quickly, “My accomplishments!” The next question asked why and so I answered again in a rapid ‘I got this one’ sort of fashion, “Because there is still something inside of me that hopes it will please God and get me more points with Jesus.” Then it  asked, “what did you gain from this exercise.” which I at first left blank. As I contemplated my answer, that I was going to write down in a bit, my only thought was recognition that I want to follow Jesus. When the lunch portion of the journal asked me to think of the person you named this morning, I did not understand. I didn’t name a person this morning. That is when I looked the mornings question over again to see that it asked, “Who…”

There was a sinking feeling in my heart as I considered that answer. The obvious first answer was me, at least in my mind. The real answer as I consider it more is, “It depends on the day.” I reflected back on the last couple weeks and tried to figure out all of the people I had put before Jesus. There was the service writer that had to get a car done quickly. (For those who do not know I am pastoring part time now at Parker UMC, I have a job at a local car dealership as a mechanic.) Then there are all those other things people ask me to do, even though I don’t have time to get my other stuff done. How annoying is that? Have you had days like that?

My mind begins to think about how do I make Jesus number one in my life? It is easy to see that I get too busy helping others out. But wait a minute, if I have died and it is Christ living in me, then when I am helping someone out, isn’t it Christ serving through me? The lunch questions bottom line was for me to make a comparison. Compare the person that I am tempted to put ahead of Jesus with Jesus, there is no comparison. Even when I am answering the wrong question, the things that I put ahead of Jesus, had no comparison to Jesus. While my accomplishments have the potential of overshadowing Jesus or being put ahead of Jesus, it is because of Jesus I am motivated to do those accomplishments. My number one accomplishment is making it through another day seeking to move in the direction of Christ-likeness.

I pray my actions show that Jesus is what I am committed to.

NOT A FAN 7_20_2015

At Parker UMC we have started a series called, “Not A Fan.” by Kyle Idleman. Yesterday we watched the first of six video lessons and had some really great discussion about the content. This morning the first question asked in the follower’s journal is, “What stood out to you from lesson 1?” Many who will read this will not have had the chance to see the video presentation, which was done very well in my opinion. The story line so far is a father, likely in his mid forties, has a heart attack and dies. Kyle is working through and with the family and friends as they take the very difficult steps through the next stage of life. As he walks among them the conversations show various viewpoints of God and how things ‘work’ in God’s realm.

It is easy to sit and criticize all of the different points of view. It is very easy to say something like, “Well, it is obvious they don’t understand Jesus at all!” My thoughts are definitely not their thoughts. In my arrogance I wonder how they could ever think these things about God, as if I had the exact correct answer and fully understood all that is going on in the world. Even the understanding of the role of the pastor in that moment caused me to ask what would George do in that situation. My thought is I would likely over-react. I know that I have never argued anyone into loving Jesus more. Where I get stuck is my desire to fix them, to give them the right answers and solution to their questions. Deep down I want to say, “Where did you come up with that idea?”

We all have questions and struggles in this life. Even the question from week one, “Are You a Fan or Follower?” is very daunting to ask and answer. What does it mean to give everything to follow Jesus? We cannot change the time in which we are living. We cannot decide to try living in a different period of time. We are alive now in this world at this time. We are all on our very own path from birth to death. We are fortunate to be alive wherever we are living. So, is our relationship with Jesus just one more thing we fit into our lives? Luke 9:23, “Jesus said to everyone, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.” That is a loaded sentence.