Thoughts Continued

I have continued to read what others are saying, some going down the path my thoughts seem to be running and others, not so much. It has and will continue to make me consider my stance. I appreciate the thoughts and ideas that differ from mine. I am doing my best not to be critical of others or replying without respectfully considering their thoughts.

This is not an easy issue, especially when you are going against the grain and what we have believed and taught for so long. When I began my Course of Study at Perkins School of Theology I thought I had a pretty good grasp of my thoughts. I had completed the Disciple Bible Study and had a good grasp on the flow of the Bible. The course, Disciple, is like 34 weeks long if I am not mistaking. I took what I was told pretty much at face value, with the background that God is sovereign so when it seems like God is promoting genocide or when we see the short comings of so many that have gone before and they are still in leadership it is OK, because God is in control and has the power of life and death. I spent a lot of time studying apologetics, the defense of the Christian Faith. After a while though it seemed to be a way to create arguments, instead of leading people to clearer understandings. So when the topics of God sanctioned genocide would come up, the answers never seemed to satisfy my understanding of God. I tried to memorizing many answers as if when I get to heaven I will have to just pass a theology exam to get into heaven. This seemed to be actually quite shallow. I have known many people who call themselves Christian, yet they live bitter lives. It didn’t make sense to me. Don’t get me wrong, I am not anywhere near perfect. I fall short every day. Sometimes I actually can see it. It really wasn’t until I began reading people like Dallas Willard, Richard J. Foster, John Ortberg, Phillip Yancey, James Bryan Smith, Shane Claiborne, N.T. Wright, Brian McLaren, Mike Breen, Richard Rohr and Joseph Girzone, that I began to truly see beyond the rigid Christianity that makes the laws above love. Who were the ones who felt they were righteous when Jesus walked the earth? Wasn’t it the Pharisees? Who did Jesus have the hottest words for?

May God continue in the movement of Christ like love.

And the curiosity has risen!!

OK, So yesterday I made a decision to update my Facebook profile picture with a rainbow in support of the ruling from SCOTUS. It was no easy decision to make such a statement. So far the response has been interesting. So far I have received 17 likes, one “glad you took a stand”, one “really?”, one huh, and one attempt at being funny. So what have we learned? What have I learned?

What in the heck then do I believe? I knew when I posted there would be some that would at minimum shake their head. I am thankful that, to my knowledge, no one has unfriended me. In my last blog, written yesterday, I spoke about the four lenses in which I make sense of life; Scripture, Experience, Reason, and Tradition. I spoke of a little of my experience with those from the LGBTQ community and the conversations I have had with them. There are a couple with whom I have had extensive conversations and I have seen the fruit of the Spirit (See Galatians 5:22-3) pouring out of them way beyond some who are considered “good Christians”. I consider when Peter gets to Cornelius’ home and how he watched them being filled with the Holy Spirit to the point where he could come back to Jerusalem and report that he baptized them because God had shown him a reality that God’s love goes far beyond the people of Israel. (See Acts 10) So my experience of God’s love flowing through others, and reasoning that I see the work of God through people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity allow me to see this as a social justice issue.

So let me talk about the scripture side for a moment. I spoke of John 13:34 in my previous post. I have read the Leviticus scripture a number of times, and to be honest have even used it myself. What is Scripture? Did God dictate it? Is it to be read as a constitution or book of law? Is it a love letter to humanity? Many will start heading to 2 Timothy 3:16. What does it mean to be inspired by God? I believe it is useful for teaching, showing our faults, to correct our thinking, and training us in character. I read it and see how far I often times not only miss the mark, but I even miss the target. When I see my failings that Scripture points out in my life I can break that down to my self-centeredness. I fail at loving God with all I am and my neighbor as myself. I stand condemned time and time again. I can only get back up by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. In Matthew 19 Jesus points out that some are born eunuchs. Science has shown that during gestation there are times when gender identity is confused. It happens. Are we to love them less? We do not know when someone becomes ‘gay’, but we do know that it happens and it is not something someone would choose, like I chose to change my profile picture. Is it written in our DNA? Is it Nature or Nurture? I cannot tell you. What I can say is that I believe in a God bigger than any of the issues we are talking about. I believe in the sovereignty of God to the point that God will do what is right. I believe that Jesus taught that the economy of God is based on the currency of love. I have seen more love in gay couples than I have heterosexual couples. I believe love wins, God’s love. I believe the Bible is a library written over a couple thousand years of oral tradition and people trying to figure out the world and how this spiritual force we call God created and continues to create even to this day. I believe it was written by men who, under the inspiration of God, told the stories and shared their experiences. It was composed by prophets, priests, and poets. I believe in a final judgment where we will all stand before God and give an account for our lives.

Love is the measure

We have a problem in this country that goes way beyond some of the issues that have been raised lately. I have been struggling myself to figure out what to speak about, either for or against, and the reason is that I do not know exactly where I stand. “Black churches” being burned down by arson after the shooting in Charleston. All of the hate over the idea of the government stepping in concerning gay marriage. These are just two examples that seem to be filling the news. I have to admit there was a time when I would have been outraged at the idea of the government stepping in and making it legal across all fifty states to allow and recognize same sex marriages. I don’t think there is a time in my life where it would have ever been ok to burn a building down simply because “black” people used it as a place to worship. I know I have been grateful and lifted it up as a praise to God that we live in a place where we can gather “safely” and worship without worrying about someone coming in and taking us hostage for worshipping or arresting us. I still feel that it is an unlikely ordeal in the church I serve as pastor, that either the becoming hostages or being arrested will take place here. I believe I would be shocked if it did happen in any of the numerous local church gatherings where I am currently living.

While the first example of taking lives and destroying property, whether it belongs to a church or private person, is a no brainer at least for me. There is no reason that this is acceptable in any society in my mind.

The second is the one I tremble at while my fingers are typing away. I have often been able to see arguments from multiple points of view. Sometimes this allows me some great clarity, while other times I end up on the fence unsure of how to respond. Growing up in the United Methodist Church and being appointed as a Licensed Local Pastor a little over 10 years ago, what has shaped my thoughts the most is what has been called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Simply put there are four lenses we look through to understand the world as best we can and the redemptive work of God in the midst of our brokenness. Scripture is the biggest lens, or it could also be referred to as the main lens. The other three lenses are experience, tradition, and reason. For Wesley we never check our brain at the door. I have spoken with some people and they can spit out the “party line” answers, even if they do not believe them. To me this seems like the blind leading the blind. (Gee, I hope I didn’t offend anyone with that statement. SMH)

Here is where I want to say something truly profound, but I am not sure if I can. There is a part of me that wants to put the rainbow color shield on my profile picture in support of this decision. My stance on gay marriage has changed, but not on a whim by any stretch of the imagination. It has come through talking with LBGTQ people, living life and seeking the same privileges I have as a married “straight” guy. It has come through time spent reading scientific studies and reports, not just psychological reports. It has come through seeing people question what is in their DNA, and trying to figure out how to fulfill a longing from deep inside of them. Tears have been shed as some have contemplated suicide over this struggle.

I believe in a God bigger than this issue. All of the LGBTQ people I have talked with know they also deal with sin in their lives. In my closet there are plenty of things in my past and likely in my future that will be classified as not only sins, but sins related to my sexuality. When Jesus came to fulfill the law, he turned the understanding of those laws upside down, COMPLETELY! Read and re-read Matthew 5-7. What was the message of Christ? John 13:34, “34 “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other.[1] Why is it a new command compared to Leviticus 19:18? “…you must love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.”

The issue is not the destruction of traditional marriage, heterosexual marriage does that all too well with the divorce rate nearly 50% for first marriages. I believe it is fear. We are afraid of this taking us down the proverbial slippery slope to who knows where. The world is changing and I believe God is still in control. I believe in Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. I believe we are on the brink of a new day where the love of Christ will be lived out. I do think we are over sensitive to some things, but the more I think about that, I realize it is more a personal heart condition.

May God’s peace and love fill you and your response to this blog if you choose to do so. May God’s peace and love grant the opportunities for us to see the other as a beloved child of God.

[1] Common English Bible. (2011). (Jn 13:34). Nashville, TN: Common English Bible.

Continuing the conversation

So, if you read my previous post you might be wondering where I stand in relationship the the Bible. While I did mention that I wondered how much influence the Roman Emperor and the leaders at that time had, especially when the creeds were created and the sacraments were noted, I still stand behind the Bible we have for a number of reasons.

The biggest reason I would say is related to what has come to be known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. We use the minds God has given us (reason) with the traditions and our experiences to find the application of the stories within the Bible. Dallas Willard in Living in Christ’s Presence and other writings makes a statement that we find out whether Jesus’ words are true by applying them to our lives. As we do so, especially the main portion of Jesus’ teaching known as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, we will find out by reason and experience that there is some power in putting Jesus’ words into practice. The tradition part is the area I believe that gets us hung up. Whose tradition do we trust? If we are reading Christ backward, that is looking back to the latest scholar’s ideas and tracing them back through Paul to see Jesus I believe it leads us off course. But if we start with the Old Testament and look at Christ with a more Jewish perspective (remember Christ was a Jew) and see how the early followers put that into practice (not necessarily circumcision but the understanding of reality… see 2 posts ago) we will be able to see clearer that tradition is important.

There are some very interesting books that are not in the Bible and I have read a bit of them. There have also been may arguments for why certain books are included. Martin Luther did not like the book of James, but really emphasized Romans. John Wesley on the other hand thought James was a necessary and powerful book. I personally continue to struggle with certain parts of Scripture and the understanding I am adopting at this time. I used to think of myself as a conservative Christian, but there were just some areas that my experience taught me I was not in sync with God’s spirit. But even so, I believe the Bible, the collection of 66 books handed to me as the Bible, to be what 2 Timothy 3:16 indicates; “Every Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.” Even though this comes from Paul’s writings before the cannon we have is set.

Shalom Y’all

Seeing Jesus, looking forward not backward

I recently shared a post on my Facebook page, (Facebook.com/texaspreacher I think?) where I mentioned looking at Jesus forward instead of backward. So what is the difference. (by the way I have been influenced by Brain McLaren, Richard Rohr, Dallas Willard, and others as I have come to my understanding)

When I was going through confirmation class back in 1980 or so we had to memorize one of the creeds, the 23rd Psalm, the Lord’s Prayer and a few other things. I of course wanting to be the most efficient memorized the shortest creed, The Apostle’s Creed. Hey, it is what is is. In the Apostle’s Creed we recognize God as maker of heaven and earth. Jesus is God’s son, conceive of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate… There, for me and some other’s I have been reading, lies one of the challenges. What happened between Jesus’s birth and suffering? Why wasn’t any part of his teaching or ministry mentioned? Sometimes I wonder if when the church became officially recognized by the Roman empire and adopted as the ‘religion of the empire’ was this when much of the gospel message removed? Wasn’t it shortly after this that the Nicene Creed was created? Would it be fair to say that part of the message became lost as the affirmations were created? I know this is controversial in some arenas, and quite likely the very one I represent as a pastor. Anyway, I read and wonder if that isn’t a reason why foot washing isn’t seen as a sacrament in the church. Can you imagine Emperor Constantine washing the feet of a prisoner?

We take our modern world, the mixing and interweaving of cultures, those who promote ‘turn or burn’ theology, showing a vengeful or wrathful God, waiting for the Left Behind series to take place in reality, an idea in and of itself less than 200 years old, And I can’t help but ask, “is that a misunderstanding of what the authors of the New Testament books were trying to tell us?” If we don’t have a part of our creed telling us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves I believe we are missing a significant part of the message we are to proclaim. So we look at what our modern theologians have seen, based on their understanding of the ones who came before them, looking backward through the eyes of Bonhoeffer and Barth, Wesley, Calvin, and Luther, who looked back at Thomas A Kempis, through Francis of Assisi, back through Benedict and Augustine, through Clement and Origin, and eventually Paul to see Christ. In that view it is easy to come up with the idea that Christ died so we can get into heaven for eternity.

Let’s turn it around now. If we start at the very beginning, God creating a world that is good, calling all things good, even very good. Then we go to the “Fall”, see the blog I shared here, which we make it a story that the Jewish readers, including Jesus, would have never interpreted that way. It was and is a story that tells of God creating a world full of “Goodness”. Then, humans are given the task of loving and caring for the good God has created. It was not a perfect world it was a good world. A perfect world would have been completed. What can you add to something that is perfect? If you add or subtract anything away from perfection, it is no longer perfect. By creating a good world God gives the apex of creation, a creature that bears God’s image, the tasks of being fruitful, multiplying, and subduing which means govern over it, that is to take care and allow it to flourish. In other words, continue to bring out the goodness of all God has created. If we start here and check through Abraham and the tasks given to Abraham, through Moses, and David, Isaiah and the prophets, what we see in Jesus is the perfect representation of what it meant to bring out the good of all of creation. It is in Jesus that being alive is given definition. It is in Jesus we are shown how to Love God, with all that we are and to love the neighbors around us. It is by living as Jesus did that we can find the gospel according to him fulfilled. That gospel is not about heaven after we die, but about living in the midst of God’s kingdom  that surrounds us waiting for a chance to break into our reality.

So, what is my point? The message of Jesus Christ is about loving God and others so that the goodness God created will be revealed. It is a goodness we all have in us, all people!!!!

Progressive, Fundamental, Liberal or “Fundogresseral”?

Recently, after reading a blog from a  “progressive” christian blogger who admittedly had some challenges with a few of the “out of the box progressive arguments” (my interpretation of some of the standard answers given). I am not one to fully go down that road either, there are still some thoughts I have not come to concise conclusions on as well. Here is a link to that blog.

One comment from the Facebook share of that blog was, “…good exegesis is central and something I wish we as pastors could teach as a common task.” My response was, “…why can’t we teach that?”

In considering my reply and further thoughts, I can understand more and more why it is difficult. I am in my 10th year as a pastor in the United Methodist Church. I have served 2 and sometimes 3 churches at the same time. Part of the reason is due to the shrinking of congregations and church attenders and the ‘expense’ of having a licensed or ordained paid professional leader. Even right there I cringe a bit and wonder if I should have included that last part. So I asked myself why I cringed. My income as a paid professional clergy is a great expense to the churches I serve, even though by serving multiple churches I ease the financial strain overall.

This creates a dilemma in some ways. I have seen people stop giving to a church or ministry simply because they did not like the pastor or something the pastor has said. A church I was a part of before becoming a paid professional went through a major split because some of the people did not like a particular message given by the pastor who had differing beliefs. So there is a reason to not break out of the “stereotypical lines” a church or denomination has been riding on and teaching, it could cause the whole thing to collapse. But is this a good reason to hold to the old status quo? I would say, “Not if you want to be true to the Gospel lived out and presented by Jesus Christ.” Now I MUST call myself a hypocrite!! I have, just as the responder to my Facebook share of the blog, succumbed to the theology and ideology of the congregation being served, which in turn reinforced the status quo understanding and ‘life as we have always done it’ mentality.

Here is another challenge I have personally experienced in a number of settings. When I speak or use words, even more dangerous here in a blog, I have an idea of what I mean by the words I use. This may not be the same understanding you may have of the same words. Here is an example. Years ago I was leading a church through a study of a book by Sarah Cunningham Dear Church: Letters from a Disillusioned Generation.” One of the chapters in the book dealt with the twenty-soothings view of denominations, that some would not be interested in coming to a church simply from the name or denomination attached to it. I made a comment along the lines of, “I wonder who in this community will not come here simply because of the United Methodist in our name. I wonder who we might attract if we simple became such and such community fellowship or community church. Instantly there was a tirade of why we could never go down that road. This is a group of people with the added benefit of seeing my body language and facial expressions when I made the comment, something you just can’t get through a blog. It turns out that at some point in the churches history someone that divided the congregation in a number of ways tried to get them to leave the denomination and go out on their own. All that to say, without conversation we not only do not understand one another, even when using the same words, we can never go forward and we lose the opportunity to find out our stereotypical thoughts about what others believe and think is not what we think it is.

Then we have the boxes we put people in. I am progressive in much of my beliefs. I am also liberal and fundamental in my beliefs, which I guess makes me a fundogresseral or maybe a progressameneral. Maybe I should coin these words so I can get credit someday. I have met some people that I would have believed were liberal only to find they have a fundamental view about certain areas. I have found that some liberals like the progressive word now because they have similar beliefs but do not want to be associated with the fundamental liberals. Ok so what the heck is a fundamental liberal? By the way, what happened to conservatives? Why didn’t you add them into the mix so you could be a pronseramenteralive. Ok, so maybe boxing people in with labels isn’t the answer either. In a discussion one time with a person who I felt was a  conservative fundamentalist I was taken by surprise when they questioned me about why I thought they were a conservative fundamentalist. They agreed to being a fundamental liberal, or maybe that twas conservatively liberal. I am so confused, are you getting there yet? The problem is that too often we are told to believe things we are not sure if we actually believe, like being handed a script we must memorize and never question, which is what some people think the Bible is, but that is a discussion for another day.

I appreciate the Wesleyan heritage as I understand it. Ah, did you see what I just did? I qualified it with ‘as I understand it’. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral as it has come to be known is not for those who are satisfied with trite answers or checking their brains in at the door when they come to church. Just tell me what to believe, I will recite it and when someone asks about it I will repeat it to them again. That is definitely not the Wesley I read about in my studies. Instead of checking our brains at the door, we should be engaging them in all of life. Critical thinking though can be dangerous. When we look at Scripture as the final authority of all matters sacred and secular, we can’t help but misread it. Applying reason and experience to Scripture by engaging our brains to the reality of our life’s experience with the power of the Holy Spirit (An explanation of prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace in the Wesleyan theology would be helpful here, but for now knowing that somehow God’s grace is working in our lives before, during and after our conversion through the Holy Spirit should get you through this thought.) can open us to new understanding. Another important part is tradition, not the ‘we always go to church as a family on Christmas Eve’ tradition, but looking back through history and seeing how the faith has been interpreted from the beginning of Christianity and even back to the Biblical stories starting in Genesis and how those stories, poems, dreams, songs, and history shaped a people called Israel tradition. These are what I have used to come to some of the conclusions I am embracing and still wrestle with.

So, why can’t we teach this? Or why don’t we teach this? Why do we think we have to have all the answers? Fear! Fear of losing my job as a paid religious professional. Fear of causing division in the church. Fear that I may be wrong. Fear that I am asking people to believe something I am not sure I believe 100%. Fear that my interpretation of Scripture will cause others to disbelieve. The list can go on.

So where do we go from here? I can think of a number of Scriptures that could inform us and pray that I am not taking them out of context for my agenda,  but that through these people will use reason and experience to test and see if they agree with them. (Which, if I am honest, is that you will like what I have written and agree with it proving that I am right, yet at the same time hoping that if you don’t agree with me you will engage me in some dialogue so you can straighten me out) I think of Paul writing to Timothy that we have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power. (2 Tim 1:7) Maybe consider 1 John 4:1 where we are to test the spirits to find out if they are from God.

While I know I have managed to sidestep answering any specific beliefs I have in this blog, likely for fear of finding out someone doesn’t like me or my way of thinking, my hope is that this will open some honest dialogue about how we engage the world and culture around us with the love of God, reflected in the life of Jesus Christ.

I believe God is bigger than any label we try to put on ourselves and others.

Lord, help me see others through the eyes of Christ. Help me to hear the cry of those around me who need to know your love and grace. Help me to remember to listen to those for understanding, not for how I can change them. Help me to love others as you love them. Help me to invite those around me into the journey of life we will share together. Challenge me to grow more like Christ everyday. Help me to uplift and challenge those around me that you may be glorified in them. Help me to challenge others to take the steps of faith that they may experience the relationship you desire to have with them. AMEN!

Who Gets Into Heaven?

This is a response to a Facebook post I was tagged in… https://news.vice.com/video/the-architect

I’m interested in religious folks interpretation/opinion on this.

Is waterboarding okay? EITs? Or should we turn the other cheek? Apparently God forgives all sins, even if that sin is mass killing of civilians. George Barcus, any insights for me?

As far as the torture part of this question I believe the article I shared deals with that. This question to me is more about the afterlife and figuring out who’s in and out of heaven after we die. If I am off on this let me know and I will respond to other questions as they come up.

The Christian teaching many have grown up with comes down to did you say the right prayer so that when you die you will get to go to the good place. The reality of that ideology is basically it says if you know the right answer when you get to heaven, like there will be a theology exam to find out if you knew the right answers to the questions, then you get in. The challenge is that we could have had that mental ascent and lived the worst kind of life imaginable afterwards. To me that is a pill that is impossible to swallow.

I believe the Bible to clearly teach that there will be a judgment day when we will stand before God. Many religions teach this in various ways, with varying results. This question comes up when we consider individuals like Hitler and other leaders who have committed famously egregious acts of mass killing, sadly too many to list here. The Bible has been used a number of times to justify this type of mass killing, which is another story for another day.

Recently the movie “Heaven is for Real” has come and given an interesting viewpoint of the reality of heaven, which is interesting idea. So, is a person like Hitler in heaven, forgiven of his ‘sins’? What happens on Judgment day? How can God allow those people in?

The four texts we have specifically concerning Jesus’ life, ministry and teachings can give us some insight. When the disciples ask Jesus about the judgment day, Jesus responds with something along the lines of, I don’t know, that is up to the Father.

When we face God, I believe everything we have ever done and been will be collected into one mass. We live in moments, so all we have done in each moment will be assembled together. I picture it like a huge caldron of our complete essence. Every moment God has given to us with all of the possibilities and our reactions and responses. These will be in God’s memory, every good and evil thing we have done. Then it will be judged, every moment that constitutes you and your lifetime will be shown to you and it will be weighed and tested. All that is false, dark and dishonest will be identified. All that is good, generous, joyful, honest and true will be identified. When we consider the death of Jesus, it gives us a window into God’s heart. As Jesus is suffering, God is dealing with all our wrongs, wickedness and evil. (our sin) So all of our wrongs will be identified. There will be no watering it down or attempts to explain it away; it will be there, staring us back in the face. One of the threads throughout the Bible is refining and removing impurities. As the caldron of our lives is heated up and tested, the evil will be revealed in its entirety.

So what happens next? This, I believe, is the real struggle with making sense of religion, which literally means, “reconnecting”. As Christians we believe God forgave the sin of humanity on the cross, through Jesus Christ. The visible pain of Jesus on the cross is the pain God forgives, meaning to count as worthless our wrongs and evil because they have no value (worth) in eternity. That is the ‘to good to be true’ part of Christianity that we want to accept for us thinking it is too good not to be true, but are not sure others are worthy of receiving. The atrocities of Mitchell and others who are somehow involved (whether they will admit it during an interview or not) or even the school shooters in Palestine yesterday to many are far beyond forgiveness and stir up ‘righteous anger’ and dislike for these persons. Some may be appalled at the idea that God could forgive them. We even justify ourselves by thinking we are good people, because we would never do anything like that, or we minimize our dark, shaky, underhanded deeds because people’s lives are not destroyed in the wake of our dealings.

So there are two (actually many more, but for this writing we will stick to these numbers) things we have to interpret differently as the world is transitioning between modernity and post-modernity: The value of EVERY human being and our part in both perpetuating the problem as well as trying to isolate ourselves from the problem.

To do this we go back to creation. First the Bible is not a Science textbook!! The two stories of creating in Genesis are not giving an accurate scientific development of the world in that it really tells us not how the world was created, but that it was God that created it in an orderly fashion. The Big Bang Theory (not the television show, but it is pretty darn funny) and Darwin’s theory of evolution have their good, logical input and more modern understanding. But the Biblical story we have isn’t and wasn’t in its original writing or understanding doing much more than giving God credit for creating the world and universe. It wasn’t telling that God created a perfect world as we understand perfect today, which is actually a Greek philosophy not Hebrew ideology. When the earth was created it was created with potential not perfection. Over and over in the Genesis story God creates something and steps back and looks at it saying its ‘good’ and at the end ‘very good’. Good meant that it was full of the potential of goodness in all things. When man is given charge over it the instruction is to take charge of everything. They were to bring out the goodness of all that was created, which is what Christ’s teaching is. To love someone is to desire for the very best of who they could be to become a reality. To subdue the earth, is to love it to a point where the very best for the earth continues to be brought forth. Some of these lessons we are learning the hard way as humanity has raped the earth and misused its resources for man’s desire more than the glorification of God. (There are many more implications to this, but I think you can see where this is leading.)

Perpetuation and isolation: We all have a part that we play that either continues the goodness of creation or denies the goodness of creation. Our time on earth is extremely short in comparison to the time the earth has been in existence. There are now over 7 billion people on the planet. If God had created a perfect world it would have been populated at that time by the maximum number of sustainable life, fully developed. Think about it, if you add something to a perfect thing it can no longer be perfect because you have changed what was perfect by merely adding something to it, no matter how good that addition was in and of itself. The same holds true if you take something away. As populations increase, economies change, ecological changes take effect, and animal populations and adaptabilities are in flux, humans are to be about controlling the changes that bring out the good. Too often we are all in many ways isolating ourselves from the problems, by isolating ourselves by self-centered desires and the blinders of our cultural habits and practices that are becoming more and more evident. I thought of plenty of examples as I consider Ferguson, MO, and other top stories from the Yahoo news page. I know this is way oversimplifying this idea but let’s say in some large US city a middle aged person was robbed by a late teen aged person who was trying to get enough money for their next drug fix. Many would say that the first did nothing to provoke the attack, which is likely true. But 10 years earlier that person had an opportunity to work with and help create after-school programs for children who had nothing to do but sit around, playing video games and be drawn into gang activity, but they refused to for whatever reason. Then could we say that inadvertently there was a cause and effect?

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had 3 simple rules: Do no harm, Do Good, Stay in love with God. The person described above may not have done any harm, but they failed to do good. In this sense there is a God given responsibility for all to bring out the good in all people. While I know I cannot fix the world, I can do my part as I seek to follow Jesus Christ.

So what happens to me when I get to judgment day? Everything I did that failed to bring forth the goodness of creation will be revealed in clear, undeniable ways. The same will go with the Hitlers, Mitchells, Bin-Ladens, and whoever. When the depths of our hearts is revealed whatever we hold onto will be kept. If we choose to hold onto the darkness, or fail to let it go, we make the choice to enter into hell. Jesus gave the keys to the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 16:19, “I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This came right after Peter makes the proclamation the Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the son of the living God. Also right before Jesus rebukes Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but mans.” (23)

The Gospel message that Jesus preached was not say a little prayer and you will get to go to heaven when you die. It wasn’t attend church every Sunday for an hour, drop a token in the plate and your covered. It was repent and believe in the good news, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Repent means to consider what and the way you think. Believe means to put Jesus words (teaching) to the test. If you want to know what Jesus actually taught see Matthew 5-7.

Sometimes the harder pill to swallow is living in this world now while such atrocities are taking place. This is where people are blessed when they hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5:6). The hope for this world is that it is not over yet. The real question, Levi (or others who will read this) is as you see these wrongs in the world what are you going to do about it? In John’s account of Jesus’ life, Jesus asks Peter if he loved him, to which Peter responded with, “You know I love you.” Each time Jesus replied with a Feed (take care of) my sheep. Are you familiar with that? It is found in John 21 beginning at verse 15. We like the story and too often stop at verse 17. In verse 18-19, Peter is told how he is going to die and Jesus says once again, “Follow me.” If we stop there we miss an important part of the conversation. Continuing from verse 20 Peter look around and sees John (know throughout as the Disciple Jesus Loved) and asked Jesus, “What about him?” Jesus’ response? “If I want him to remain until I come, what difference does that make to you? You must follow me.”

God continually raises up people to bring about change, but God doesn’t violate your free will or mine, and unfortunately at times, theirs either. I believe God calls all people, regardless of cultural upbringing, religious preference, race, nationality, orientation, disposition, gifts, talents, and ailments to bring about goodness in the world. When we read John 14:6, Jesus answered, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” and put it into the context of Jesus’ teaching through the four gospel accounts that means that while on earth did we do what Jesus did.