Thursday, July 30, 2009

My thoughts upon the current conflict following the 2009 Mississippi Annual Conference

I’m a geek. I’ve embraced it. It’s what I am, and I do not deny it.

So, being the geek that I am, one of my favorite movies is Star Wars: A New Hope. It’s the story of Luke Skywalker and the beginning of his journey to be the hope to an oppressed people. It’s a story of hope and it’s power; it’s story of a leader coming along that will lead the people who are fighting for what’s right on to victory.

Hope is a powerful thing. Leaders are powerful things.

And that’s what I have come to find out. This may sound like a very arrogant statement, but I think I’ve come to understand part of what can bring hope to our Annual Conference and to the United Methodist Church in general. And ironically, it’s not what I used to think that it was.

I’m not going to recount the ways that our Annual Conference and denomination have seen troubles in the past four decades. We’ve seen loss of membership, status in society, and influence in culture. We’ve seen our ability to spread scriptural holiness across the land decrease. It’s been a long time in the wilderness for us.

So, then the question is asked, what will be our way out of the wilderness? What or who will be our Moses? What will lead us to the promised land of new growth? Of building and strengthening the kingdom? Of relevance to our communities?

We must first, though, answer the big picture question of who are we? What do we do? How do we stop the decline within our Annual Conference and our Denomination? What do we do to go about doing great things for Jesus in our state and our world again?

It’s in the hard work of figuring out who we are that much conflict starts. It’s in the hard work of baring our soul; of reflection; of examination and conversation that conflict can arise. I think that is what has brought forth so much conflict in our Annual Conference the past few weeks.

Our conflict does not come out of an isolated incident. It does not come out of a witness given at an Annual Conference worship service. It does not come out of debates over constitutional amendments. This conflict comes as we examine who we are, and who we are called to be.

So, the question is posed, how do we move from here? How do we enable our church to grow now, and in the coming years?

One option is theological purity. If the Annual Conference, or everyone within the Annual Conference held the exact theology, or close to it, that I held to, then everything would be great.

In short, the problem with our church is those who have a different theology than we do. Regardless of what our theology is. It’s those that are not willing to take the same stand that we think is an essential stand. They are the problem within our Annual Conference. And, if we can outmaneuver them, or out vote them, or drag our Conference and denomination back to where we think we ought to be, then surly things will turn around we will grow.

That’s how I used to feel. That’s what I used to believe. I love my church. I love the United Methodist Church. It’s where I was baptized, confirmed and converted. It’s where I was called to ministry. Its theology is my theology; its polity is my polity.

I love my church.

And, for a time, I thought theological purity was the way to ensure that our church would grow and build the kingdom in our mist. I knew this was right. I felt like it was the way for relevance and the way to make sure that our church would grow.

I felt like if the right delegates were elected, the right votes were cast, the right speeches made, the right conversations had, then my theology would win, and our church would be restored.

And then something happened. I began to meet other pastors. Some of which were “conservative.” Some of which were “liberal.” Some of which were “moderate.” And all of them were doing great things for the kingdom in their midst. They were leading their congregations in exciting ways to be relevant within in the community. People were coming to a saving faith in Jesus Christ through their ministries.

Across the spectrum. Liberal to conservative. These persons “got it.” They were leaders. They we focused on the kingdom. They were focused on their community. They were focused on doing whatever they could do to help build the kingdom in their midst. And God was blessing them.

And I shifted my thinking. It’s not about “theological purity.” It’s not about maintaining the old and keeping things as they are. If that were so, why aren’t the other churches all around us exploding? Why is there a decline in the influence in relevence of the church, not just the United Methodist Church, here in out state and across the nation? Have ALL churches fallen away from correct theology and that is why the overall church is declining? Or could it be something else?

So, going back to my original Star Wars reference, that hope that we seek is found not in a theological purity test or in closed doors or in condescending words, but rather our hope is found in Christ and in understanding that we have been called by Christ to take His grace to all that are hurting and needful. And that grace is for all. As John Wesley said in his sermon “Free Grace,”

How freely does God love the world! While we were yet sinners, "Christ died for the ungodly." While we were "dead in our sin," God "spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all." And how freely with him does he "give us all things!" Verily, FREE GRACE is all in all!

The grace or love of God, whence cometh our salvation, is FREE IN ALL, and FREE FOR ALL.”

Grace, free, and for all. That is what John Wesley believed, taught, and preached. That is who we are as United Methodists.

It’s about being relevant. It’s about following where Jesus is leading; to the heart of the communities where we live. The issues we fight over have very little to do with what matters in our communities. They are means to divide us and keep us fussing with each other. They are things that keep our eyes off of Jesus and off the great things He wants to do here.

All the time and effort that we spend fighting amongst ourselves is time and effort that we are not using to build the kingdom. That’s what matters. That’s what is most important.

It comes down to relevance and to meeting the needs of communities, to heal the wounds of the places we live with the love and mercy of Christ.

It’s not theological purity that leads to relevance. It’s leadership that loves and cares for their communities and leads their churches to care for their communities. And when our passion for the Gospel and freeing power of Jesus Christ compels us to leave behind the walls of our churches and build relationships, friendships, and connections with our communities, the kingdom springs forth. We see lives, families and communities change. When we become more than the churches on the corner or churches down the road. When we become part of the community.

Now, theological purity is easier. Theological purity is a checklist that can be completed and checked. Relevance for the sake of Jesus, that’s hard. But, that’s what the Lord demands of us. This is hard work. But it’s necessary work

This is our way. This is our new hope. But it’s same hope that compelled Wesley. It’s our way back. Leaders that will help us embrace our communities and build the kingdom. In this, God does amazing things.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ordinary Time: Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Today, just a quick quote:

The very fact that a holy, eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, merciful, fair and just God loves you and me is nothing short of astonishing. The wildest part is that Jesus doesn’t have to love us. His being is utterly complete and perfect, apart from humanity. He doesn’t need me or you. Yet He wants us, chooses us, even considers His inheritance (Eph. 1:18). The greatest knowledge we can ever have is knowing God treasures us.
--Francis Chan

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ordinary Time: Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Today, just a quick quote

If you want to smile through your tears, if you want to rejoice through times of suffering, just keep reminding yourself that, as a Christian, what you’re going through isn’t the end of the story … it’s simply the rough journey that leads to the right destination.
--Charles Swindoll

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ordinary Time: Monday, July 27, 2009

Old Testament Lesson

We see know the plan that began when David was a young boy begin to be completed. God had marked David as the one that was to be king. And it took a long time. Years of struggle and fighting, years of betrayal and tear. Hard years. But, now the plan was coming into place. David would be king.

God's plan don't always work on our schedule. But they do work on His schedule and His plan. And His' is always the better way. Trust in Him, even when things look like they may not work out when we want it. God is at work. Something great will come out of it.

New Testament Lesson

We see here, God take something bad and bring something good out of it. Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement. Barnabas was a forgiving person, always willing to give someone another chance. Just like he did with Paul when Paul first became a Christian. He wanted to take John Mark with them on the journey. Paul was against it; John Mark deserted them when they needed it last time. So, they parted way. Now, there were two groups out spreading the Gospel. And more leaders were being raised up, more good was being done, more folks were hearing the good news of God's amazing grace. God took this, and brought a good thing out of it.

Gospel Lesson

Pride is a dangerous thing. Because of his pride, Herod did something he knew was wrong. He had John the Baptist beheaded. He knew it was wrong. He knew he shouldn't. He didn't even want to. But, he had too much pride to admit he made a mistake. And that pride is a terrible thing.

Today, may we have the humility to admit when we've made a mistake. May we have the humility that we need for the living of life.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ordinary Time: Thursday, July 23, 2009

Old Testament Lesson

We see Saul consult a medium. Even though it was wrong. Even though he had banned them. Even though he knew it was something he shouldn't do. Why? Fear.

Fear is a bad thing. It makes do things that we normally wouldn't do. It makes us behave in ways that we normally wouldn't behave. It makes us do thing that we don't agree with, that we think are wrong. Fear can eat away at us, at who we are, at what we believe.

Perhaps that is why, over and over again, the scriptures tell us do not be afraid. Do not fear. God is with you. You have nothing to fear. Of all the things that should drive us, fear shouldn't be one. Do not fear. Do not be afraid. God is with you.

New Testament Lesson

This was a key moment in the history of the church. What would happen? Would the Gentile Christians have to become Jewish as well? Or would faith in Christ be enough. Peter answers the question. Its through faith. We are saved by grace through faith, lest no one can boast. We are not saved by anything we do, anything we can join, any ritual we performed. We are saved by faith. That's it. That's the list. That's where it all starts. Faith.

Gospel Lesson

The man that was healed, he said he wanted to go and follow Jesus. He wanted to go and do great things. His heart was so thankful and so full of joy he wanted to do this great thing. But, Jesus had something else for him. Something even harder. Instead of going off and being a witness for Him, this man was to stay home and be a witness for him. He was to tell his friends and his neighbors of the great things Jesus had done.

We aren't always called to go off and do good. Most often we are called to stay where we are, and do good. What good can you do today where you are? What good can you do in your job? In your family? In your friends? Today, what good can we each do for Jesus where we are?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ordinary Time: Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Old Testament Lesson

Abigail averted disaster because she did what was right. This took courage. It took strength. But she knew that if she did not go to David and make things right, terrible things would happen to everyone. So, in spite of any doubts or fears she may have had, she did what was the right thing, and appealed to David's goodness and because of that, lives were saved.

The right thing is not always easy, but it always brings life. Sometimes we have to swallow our fear, trust the Lord is there, and do what He has called us to do. And when we do that, He will be with us. In that time of fear. We can trust in Him. And He will be our strong hand in our time of trouble.

New Testament Lesson

The love of God compelled Paul to go to place, to do things, that he didn't want to do. God loves everyone. We all agree with that, we all know that. But, if God loves everyone, then He calls on us to love everyone. Even those we don't like. Even those that don't like us. Even those that do us wrong. Even those that are not nice to anyone. We are called to love. As God loves. And God loves everyone. Regardless.

We can't do that. But, through God, we can. Today, may we know the power of God's love and mercy, that we can love everyone. Even those we don't like.

Gospel Lesson

The disciples came to Jesus and said, do you not care if we die? And He responded by calming the storm. Calming the storm on the sea, and asking them, do you not have faith? Peace. That is His gift to us. Peace. Do we have peace today? Not peace that comes from anything the world can offer. Not peace that comes from anything we can do. But, peace that comes from know that God is at work, and even in the bad times, we can trust. Today, may we know that peace of God.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ordinary Time: Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Old Testament Lesson

Generosity is a very good thing. Being kind to one another is a very good thing. Today, David gives Maon the chance to show hospitality and grace, and he refuses. He doesn't want to let loose of any of his food or drink to help David, even after all David did to help his servants. He has the chance to be generous and help another. And he doesn't.

May we not miss the chance today to help one another. May we not miss the chance today to show God's love and mercy to each other, by loving one another. May we show hospitality and grace.

New Testament Lesson

One of the things Paul and Barnabas were able to do was to remind people, they were the important ones, God was. They weren't preaching for pride, or to get attention or to make money. They were preaching to spread the Gospel, to show God's love and mercy to all that needed it. They living in such a way that they pointed to heaven in all they did.

Not matter what we do today, no matter what our job is, may we live in such a way that we are always an arrow pointing to heaven.

Gospel Lesson

The kingdom of heaven might look that that mustard seed to some. Small, unimportant, not worth worrying over. But, if you've ever worked in the hot sun, you know how important a good shade tree can be. The mustard seed is a great shade tree. To those that need shade, it is very important.

To those of us that need grace, the kingdom is very important. It is life, it is hope, it is peace. It might not look like much to non believers, but to those of us that believe, ti is the very hope of our lives. May we always live a life of hope, because of the great hope we have in God.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ordinary Time: Thursday, July 16, 2009

Old Testament Lesson

We see in David and Jonathan that true friendship. We see the love they have for each other as friends, the support they offer, the defense of each other. Part of what it mean to live a life of peace and mercy is doing what is right for others. Jonathan, by helping David, assured that there was no way he'd ever be king. David would. But, as a friend, that was the right thing to do. The world tells us that it's all about us. This story reminds us, no, it's about doing onto others as we'd have them to unto us. And, in doing that, we find more life than the world could ever offer.

New Testament Lesson

One of the truths we see in scripture is that there will be challenges. Things will not always be easy when God calls us to something. But God will be with us even in the times of trials. We see Paul and Barnabas sent out. And things weren't always easy. But God was with them. He empowered them do what He called them to do. And to be who He had called them to be. He was with them. And He's with us, today.

Gospel Lesson

Jesus reminds us that people are most important. That people matter the most. He was sent to love us and to teach us to love each other. And to show us God's love for us through His life, His death, and His resurrection. He loved people first and foremost. And He calls us to as well. To love our God and to love our neighbor. And, in doing that, we find the very thing God has called us to do, and we are the very people God has called us to be.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ordinary Time: Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Old Testament Lesson

One of the greatest comfort of friendship is that there is someone in life that you can trust. I know one of the things I appreciate most about my friends is the ability that I have to talk through situations with them. They can help me figure out the next step, and also tell me when they think something might not be a good idea.

We all need someone like that to talk to, and to talk through things with. Do you have someone like that? Are you someone like that? Let us never take for granted the gifts of friendship God has given us.

New Testament Lesson

One of the lessons we learn in Acts is that God is always at work. His plan is always unfolding, and He is doing more than we can know or see. Many time in Acts, things look bad for the church or for the spreading of the Gospel. But, God is doing more than the people can see with their eyes. He is at work.

The same is true in our lives. God is always at work; and always doing more in our lives than our eyes can see.

Gospel Lesson

Tax collectors were seen as the worst of the worst. They were traitors. They were bad people. They were not worthy of fellowship or of mercy. And Jesus still ate with him. And called him to follow Him. Jesus looked beyond the sin and saw the soul beneath. He knew that Matthew was not defined by that which was wrong in his life, but was defined by the grace of God working within him.

The same is true for you. You are not defined by your mistakes. You are defined and find your identity in the fact that you are a loved child of God.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ordinary Time: Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Old Testament Lesson

Friendship is a good and noble thing. Jonathan and David were great friends. In times of trial they were there for one another. They supported each other, cared for each other, could be counted on to help the other in time of need. We all need friends like that. We all need friends that we can count.

And we all need to be friends like that. We all need to be the kind of person that others can count on. We need to be the kind of friend that we would like to have. And in doing that we find we have those friends we need.

New Testament Lesson

God makes a way. God is always at work, and is doing more than we can ever imagine. Peter surly thought his time was up. He must have thought that it was over and his end had come. But God, He had other things in mind. He made a way for Peter to escape, to continue doing what God had called him to do. God will make a way. Today, and each day of our lives. God will make a way.

Gospel Lesson

The type of friendship that David and Jonathan had is the kind of friendship seen here. We see these friends taking this one to Jesus. Going through whatever it would take to make sure that their friend had the chance to meet Him and experience His healing power. They were determined to do what they had to do for their friend. That's what friends do.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ordinary Time: Monday, July 13, 2009

Old Testament Lesson

Jealously is a dangerous thing. Jealousy destroyed Saul. He become more and more jealous of David until it destroyed him, his walk with God, and his walk with others. It is dangerous thing to dwell on other people. Instead of focusing upon them, let us focus on ourselves, on our walk with God, with our walk with our neighbor, on what God has called us to do and who God called us to be.

New Testament Lesson

Barnabas is one of the true heroes in the Bible. He was able to see the good in Paul when other were afraid or worried. Barnabas was able to be his friend when he didn't have many; able to encourage him; help him; mentor him. If Barnabas hadn't done what he had done, Paul wouldn't have done what he did.

If we treat other the with the love and respect that they deserve as those made in the image of God, there is no telling what God can do! Let's respect and love each other, and let go be at work in amazing ways!

Gospel Lesson

This leaper couldn't help be tell others about the great things Jesus had done for him. He just couldn't help telling about the hope of Jesus' love and mercy. The hope of Jesus' healing. The hope of Jesus' grace. How about us? Do our lives tell the story of Jesus' grace? Do the words we speak reflect grace? Do we build up or tear down? It's not just about "witnessing." It's about living a grace-full life. Do we do that? Do our words and lives tell of the great things Jesus has done for us?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ordinary Time: Thursday, July 9, 2009

Old Testament Lesson

One of the battles Saul faced was not that of Goliath, but that of fear vs faith. Saul was fearful of what may happen or could happen. The Lord had repeatedly done great things for him and had been a rock and shield for him. But, each time these trials could come, he would fall back into fear, instead of faith.

We do the same. We know God is there, we know God loves, we know God will be there. We are like Peter - increase our faith. Today, and each day, may we choose faith, instead of fear.

New Testament Lesson

For the longest time, the Jews were not to associate with the Gentiles. But, Peter comes to understand that one's walk with Christ is more important than anything that we as humans use to separate. Through Christ, we are all one. Through Christ, there are no divisions. Through Christ, we can be one. Even if we don't all agree or all share the same opinion, through Christ, we are one. Let us live as one, as God's children.

Gospel Lesson

The disciples had great joy. They had seen that the Lord has risen. They had seen that death could not hold Him back, they had seen that sin, death, and the grave are defeated. They had seen the power of God. And, with God's great power, they knew all things were possible.

Today, the same is true for us. Through God, all things are possible. Through God, we can know that joy, peace, and hope. And life. Through God, we can live.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ordinary Time: Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Old Testament Lesson

David was not the one that Samuel would have chosen. But he was the one that God had chosen. God doesn't choose like we chose, He doesn't pick as we pick. God looks at the heart. God looks at what matters most. If the heart is willing, God can do the rest. Because David had a willing heart, God did great things with. But, before God could do any of the things He wanted to do with David, the heart had to be ready.

Today, may we have wiling hearts.

New Testament Lesson

Cornelius was faithful, and the Lord heard his prayers. The Lord hears the prayers we offer. The Lord bends His ear to hear the words we utter. Even more, the Lord knows our hearts. Our prayers are not best defined by the words that come out our of mouths, our prayers are defined by the words upon our hearts.

Our prayer life is not simply the words that we may say. It's about our hearts' walk with God. It's about that relationship with God. It's about the heart longing to be in God's presence. That, even more than anything we'll every say, that's prayer.

Gospel Lesson

I love the story of Emmaus. The ones on the road almost missed the presence of Christ in their midst. They were so concerned with all that was happening and that was going on; they almost missed Jesus standing right beside them. How often to do we miss Jesus right here with us? How often are we concerned with other things that we miss Jesus, right here with us. Today, in this day, He is with us. May we have eyes to see, and souls to feel. He is with you, even now.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ordinary Time: Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Old Testament Lesson

We see even as things get bad for Saul, Samuel, while saying that the kingdom will be taken from him, returns with him to worship. And, even as he leaves Saul behind, he grieves over him. We see, that even as things change, even as punishment happens, even as things don't work out the way we'd like for them too, God's heart is always for His people. God, above all, wants what is best for His people. And He is at work in all life to bring that to pass. Somehow, some way. He will make that happen.

New Testament Lesson

We see that wherever the Apostles went, healing took place. The same should true today. Wherever the people of God go, healing should take place. Perhaps not healing of the body, but heading of the soul. Through the power of the Spirit within us, God can use us to bring healing and mercy and hope. Today, you can be a source of hope to someone. Today, you can be a source of healing to someone. Today, through His grace, God can use you in that way!

Gospel Lesson

The story of the resurrection had been told, but they didn't believe. They had to see with their own eyes. The faith of another was not enough, they had to see for themselves. And, perhaps, we need to see for ourselves as well. It's not just enough that we be told of the power and grace of God by those that have experienced it. Perhaps, in this day, we need to experience it again. We may need to rediscover the power and the grace of God.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ordinary Time: Monday, July 6, 2009

Old Testament Lesson

Saul never fully understood that as King his job was to lead the people into what God wanted. Or maybe, he just didn't want to do it. He was interested in doing it his way or leading into the things he wanted. God had a plan, but Saul didn't want to do it that way; he wanted to do it his.

It's hard sometimes to do the things that God wants us to do. It's hard to do them the way that God wants us to do them. But, in doing it the way that God has for us, we find life. We find all the things we need. We find what we can find no where else. Even when God's plan doesn't make sense. If we will follow, we will find the life we seek.

New Testament Lesson

We see here another Saul that at first didn't want to do it God's way; he wanted to do it his. But then he met Jesus on the road and became Paul. And then he followed God's plan. God changed his course, changed his direction, and lead him new ways. And, in those ways, he found life. May we go all the ways our savior leads us.

Gospel Lesson

We see, even in that darkest moment, Jesus shined light. A Roman guard realized that this was not right and Jesus was who He said He was. Even there, in that darkness, grace shined through. Grace always shines and the darkness will not be able to hide it. Light wins, in the end.

Today, and each day, may we be children of grace, may we be children of light.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ordinary Time: Thursday, July 2, 2009

Old Testament Lesson

One of the hardest things to do in life is to wait upon the Lord. It's hard when His schedule and our schedule are not in sync. We want it to all go as we want it to and when we want it to. But, sometimes, His schedule is different from ours. And we have to wait.

And that's a powerful lesson. It teaches us that we are not the end all and be all of life. We are not God. We don't control these things. We need to wait upon Him. Trust in Him. Listen to Him. Follow Him. And things will work upon His time, not ours. But, in the end, they will be for our benefit and for our good.

New Testament Lesson

We see Philip wait upon the Lord. We see Him listen to the Lord and do things upon God's schedule. And we see what happens. God uses it. God use Phillips faithfulness and His willingness to be used to lead this one to faith, and then he, in turn would go on to lead an entire people to faith. All because Philip went when God said go. May we do the same.

Gospel Lesson

Pilate made the mistake that we each make in our lives. Instead of listening to what God was telling, he listened to the crowd. And, in doing that, he missed the very real presence of the Son of God in his midst. Because eh was more focused on listening to what the crowd was wanting instead of listening to the voice of God standing right beside him.

May we listen to God, above all. May we listen for God's voice today, in all the ways that He will speak to us.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ordinary Time: Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Old Testament Lesson

Samuel reminds the people - your hope comes from God. Not from earthly leaders or institutions, but from God. He is the source and author of life. He is the one that makes all, both seen and unseen. He is the one that gives life. The people now had a king. Samuel reminds that God, in the end, is king.

Today, as we work for good in all that we do, as we try to be the people that God calls us to be, let us be reminded that our hope is not in preachers, politicians, or anything in this world. Our hope is in our God. May we trust in Him.

New Testament Lesson

In this passage, we focus a lot on Simeon, but notice where Peter and John were in this text. Samaria. They were with the Samaritans. And, in that day, the Jews and Samaritans were not the best of friends. In John, the disciples were shocked that Jesus went through Samaria talked with the woman at the well. Now, here they are, telling about Jesus.

Jesus commands us to go where there is need and bring His good news. Sometimes that's around the world. Sometimes, its across the street. Sometime the place that needs to hear the good news of God's grace and mercy the most is in our hearts. Today, where ever there is hurt, God wants to bring His grace, mercy, and life. Today, may we be about carrying that grace with us wherever we go.

Gospel Lesson

Jesus was paraded before many people on the night of His crucifixion. Yet, no one took the time to notice or understand that the very Son of God was standing in their midst. May we not be so busy today that we miss the very presence of God in our lives.