One of the issues that bugs people who stay away from church is the concept of Hell. It even bugs a lot of church-goers. The thinking is, "An all-loving, all-good God cannot possibly desire the eternal conscious torment of souls in flames." Many people are offended by "preachers" who proclaim a "Turn or Burn" ideology. They find it offensive that someone proclaims themselves as judge and condemns people to hell. In my own life experience, I remember hearing a number of messages at large youth events and other Christian gatherings that pushed listeners to think about death, and invite the hearer to ponder "where will you go when you die?" My response is, if that's the choice, then who in their right mind would even see hell as an option. Of course the person will choose Heaven! Duh! Maybe a better goal isn't choosing a final destination, but whether or not I have a relationship with the living Lord Jesus Christ, and living as his follower.
One of the ways to get around this issue is to explain away hell, either it doesn't exist, or it means something other than what we (21st Century Culturally-influenced Christians) think it means. The response to that is usually, "that's great, but...scripture says...do you want to take that chance?" There is a great book about the interpretation of Hell in scripture titled "Her Gates Will Never Be Shut" by Bradley Jersak. I highly recommend you read it with a teachable spirit. Regardless of the interpretation of what hell is, or whether or not it exists, the real issue I see is two-fold: Condemnation and Manipulation.
As I described above, the problem most of us have with Hell is how it's used in trying to convince people to be Christians. Most people don't like being stereotyped and judged, yet that's often how people hear this type of preaching. It doesn't fit with the concept of "God's love" or the character of Jesus Christ. I don't see Jesus telling the lost, "Hell is coming! You're going to burn!" He says, "The Kingdom of God is near!" This is Good News. It baffles me how often The Good News is lost because of the way Hell is used as a tool to condemn people.
The other problem I have with how "Hell" is often used is it feels like a manipulative tool. I have people ask me if I'm a "Fire and Brimstone" preacher. I assume they mean do I warn people of hell and how terrible it is. No, that is not me. I like to focus on the Good News of Jesus. We are all afraid of death. A lot of preaching about hell pushes us to reflect on the temporary nature of life and the fact that we will face death. This plays on our fears. To me, using fear to get someone to make a decision is unethical. I want people to make an informed decision. One that you're sure of regardless of your emotions. It can be emotional to decide, but it's not only emotional, or even primarily emotional. If anything, it's a relational decision. Will you walk with Jesus Christ, the way to God, the truth and the life? Kind of like getting married or other big commitments we make with people. You can be persuasive without using Hell and Fear as a tool to manipulate.
So, I am okay with the concept of Hell just not how it is typically used. Jesus obviously spoke of it, and warned us about judgment. But mostly, when it came to preaching to and helping non-religious people, the least and the lost, the poor and the oppressed (those fully aware of how Hellish life is)--Jesus proclaimed the Good News of Heaven. He attracted people by heavenly miracles, and wondrous teaching. When he did speak of Hell, he usually spoke with the overly-religious hypocrites about Hell, the ones who thought they were "in" and better than others who were "out". The Good News is Jesus has overcome death and hell. Heaven is here! And Jesus is the Way to be a part of it. Love like Jesus and see what happens! Jesus doesn't need manipulation. He doesn't mess with your mind, and play off your fears. Jesus Christ is so awesome, so good, so abundant with love, he is calling your name and drawing you to him. He is The Healer. He is The Forgiver. He is The Liberator. He gives life and peace. He is Love...like you've never known before. He will change your life in ways you didn't imagine possible. Will you be his disciple? Will you be a part of Heaven? Live like Heaven. Love like Jesus.
Happy Easter! You could say that for the next 6 weeks or so because Easter isn't just a day, it's a season! What does an empty tomb mean for you?
For me, The Good News of Jesus Christ, that he was crucified, died, was buried and rose again on the third day, is summed up in Grace. When you think about the whole ordeal, it doesn't make much sense. A peaceful, helpful, loving, teacher and friend gets accused of being a rebel claiming to be king. Yet he had now sword, no war horse, no army, and showed no violence against anyone. He helped people. He healed people. He said his mission was to let the oppressed go free.
Those who were "in charge" and had influence and power didn't really like it much. My guess is, they saw Jesus as a threat to their power because he challenged the status quo. The status quo allowed them to enjoy the position they had. It was comfortable. It was safe. But not for everybody. Jesus helped those who were forgotten and left behind due to the status quo. He empowered people by "forgiving sins" and connecting them with a relationship to The Most High power, God, whom Jesus called, Father. And it changed their lives.
Easter, the Resurrection, for me is a reminder of the Grace that God has shown me. It empowers me to live in a way that defies common cultural status quo. Forgiveness does that. It looks foolish. It looks like being "soft on crime" and letting people get away with things. But God sees it differently. He sees it as a chance to restore life and love, instead of tear it down. For the most part, we operate on the terms of "retributive" justice, but God's idea for us is "restorative justice." Forgiveness empowers us to forgive others. When I forgive someone, it relieves bitterness and grudges. It keeps me from being paranoid and defensive. It makes life a whole lot more joyful and enjoyable...not just endurable.
For many of us, we have a hard time forgiving others. We operate in this "tit-for-tat" or "you do for me and I'll do for you" mindset. We have a hard time being generous with our affection (the many ways it can be shown, big or small) unless we know that person will reciprocate. I think we have a hard time doing this because we have not realized the depth at which God has generously shown us affection without any regard for whether or not we respond in kind. Because we do not accept God's grace, God's overwhelming loving kindness and mercy through Jesus Christ on the cross, we cannot offer forgiveness and operate in the abundance of life God has for us. Letting God's grace, the power of the Cross and the Resurrection to wash over you, and know that you're completely utterly forgiven and in good-standing with God will empower you to live differently and forgive others.
You have to receive this gift from God first. He took care of it for you. You can try to forgive others, do more good than bad, be generous, etc., but at some point you'll think "why? Why am I trying so hard to measure up?" And you'll realize you don't have a good answer to that. You'll be overwhelmed by all the pressure for "success". Because you expect some kind of reciprocation from others, you apply this to how you approach God too. Eventually, you might even think "I do all these good things, and I don't do all of these bad things that other people do, so now God, it's time for you to...(fill in the blank with whatever you want God to do). The point of Grace though, is there is nothing you can do to be more "acceptable" to God. He wants you. He became human flesh like you, went through the harshest suffering and pain with you, and overcame death and the grave for you. You could never earn it or deserve it. God simply loves you completely, just as you are without any prerequisites. You are God's child. Your identity comes from God, not from what the common cultural status quo or other powers of oppression tell you. You are completely forgiven. I love how the song by Mercy Me puts it, "Flawless." Watch their music video and see it for yourself:
I've covered what Lent is, but why do we celebrate Lent? A lot of my non-liturgical Baptisty-type friends often ask, "If you're giving up something for Lent, why not get rid of it altogether?" If something is really worth giving up so you can have a better relationship with God, then just quit it for good. The problem is, you can't apply that to fasting...we all need food. Lent invites us to practice self-denial, of which fasting is an example. You're denying yourself something for the purpose of preparing for Easter when Christ denied himself, and was the sacrifice for all of us.
I agree that there are certain things we should give up for good. Things that we are addicted to. Things that have become like an idol for us. Things that distract us from our relationship with God. We should be working on those things anyway, not because we are trying to earn God's favor, but because his grace has changed us.
Lent is about being intentional, and having a more intense time of self-denial. It's like the time when Jesus went into the wilderness. He took an intentional spiritual journey for a certain period of time. We need this from time to time, and Lent is the time that the Church has designated for us all to do it together (or at least at the same time). So, why Lent? It's a way for us to experience the Gospel story in a hands-on, experiential way. The Good News is more than words. Self-denial keeps us in touch with Christ, and helps us know some sense of solidarity with those who do go without food and other things that we can take for granted. Hopefully, Lent and the practice of self-denial cultivates your character, and puts you in touch with the work of Christ this Easter.
Feel free to share in the comments why you practice a holy Lent.
Dave Ramsey is Close...But no Cigar
I love Dave Ramsey. His teachings have impacted my life, and my family. Putting his financial ideas into action has helped us pay off debt and give more. Thank you for that Dave! Really, I mean it. Then the other day, I came across this video of Dave in his car. I kind of agree with some of it, but there's a big part that misses the mark. (I'll put the video below so you can watch it.)
Dave goes through and voices his opinions about how people are responding to this current presidential campaign. He's worried that too many of us Americans view this or that candidate as our "savior." Dave is right to give us that caution. No POTUS is going to instantly fix the problems in your life. No POTUS is going to magically "fix" our country. It's just not that simple.
He then puts the responsibility on each one of us, which is good. We all need to take responsibility for our lives, and for bettering our communities, and for investing in our fellow human beings. Stepping up and taking the necessary risks to be responsible for ourselves is good. However, Dave overstates it when he says, "You are the hero of your story." That's a great sentiment, but it falls short of proper Christian thinking. I'm not the hero, and this ain't just my story. Life is God's story, and God is the hero.
This is a key orienting perspective for Christians. It's what sets us apart, or as Paul says, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world." Making yourself the hero of the story may make you feel good, but that's not the ultimate purpose or goal of life as Jesus Christ has revealed to us. If you really want to fulfill God's will for your life, put God at the center of it. God is the hero, and it is God's story.
There's probably some other issues you could have with these thoughts by Dave, but this is the main issue I see. Feel free to share in the comments with truth & love, of course.
Lent is the journey deep into forgiveness. It's an invitation to travel deeper into the maze of the lost forest, mess-of-a-life that you've helped make for yourself. Eventually, you realize that no matter how hard you try, or how much penance you make, or how much shame and guilt you feel; you cannot get out of this wilderness on your own.
Lent is the time that you pause, look around and wonder to yourself, "How did I get here?"
It's a time to reorient yourself. Time to take inventory. Time to ask for directions and look at the map. It's time to re-calibrate your GPS. Time to realize that if you're going to make this journey of life, you must depend on something, someone, beyond yourself.
Lent is your journey toward realizing your total utter dependence upon the promise of Easter: God has shown us mercy through His Son.
Don't go too fast. Easter isn't here yet, but in some ways it already is. So it's tempting to take forgiveness and the One who gives it for granted. Stop, look, listen...become immersed and overwhelmed by the depth of mercy God shows.
May the Holy Spirit lead you to repentance, and assure you of God's forgiveness.
Odds are against the Royals going back to the World Series in 2016, much less winning it. But there is reason to believe they could do it again...against all odds. If you want, go ahead and count the Royals out because they seem to feed off of that and find a way to win. As for me, I think they could win it all again in 2016. Here's why:
2014 Hurt More than You Realize
After the Royals' 2014 run to 90 feet away from tying the World Series in the bottom of the 9th inning in Game 7, I took my son to The 'K' for the rally to celebrate a 2014 season that Kansas City had not seen for 29 years. It was just a day or two after they had lost Game 7. I was hoping my son would get to see his favorite players one more time before the arduous winter stretch to Opening Day. We were disappointed. Gordon? Not there. Hosmer? Not there. Moustakas? Not there. Billy Butler was there, but most of the team found little reason to celebrate. That loss hurt more than we realize.
After this year's win and raucous parade and celebration with 800,000 Kansas Citians, I heard an interview with Ned Yost (listen here at 8:05 mark, until the 8:25 mark: http://media.610sports.com/a/110789847/11-06-9a-ned-yost.htm?pageid=491426). His remarks are surprising. Even after winning the World Series, he said that he expected the feeling of victory to be greater than the agony of defeat, but it just wasn't. To come so close the year before and lose was devastating. This may not motivate the Royals for long, but it is crazy to think about. Now, in 2016, the Royals really have a chance to make huge baseball history.
Core Group Is Back
Barring injuries the core of the team will be back. Both the 2014 and 2015 ALCS MVPs, Cain & Escobar, are back for 2016. The 2015 World Series MVP, Salvador Perez, will be back. Six out of seven 2015 All Stars will be back, and the one we don't know about yet, Gordon, could still possibly return. Most of these guys are just starting their best years as ball players. They should continue to trend up and get closer to their full potential. I expect Moustakas and Hosmer to shine even brighter in 2016. They have not yet reached their full potential. This Royals team will be back, and better than ever in 2016.
Wade (fil-in your expletive here) Davis. I see no reason why he would fall off. Barring injury, he looks to continue to be great for a long time to come. Then, there's Kelvin Herrera, the setup man that could be a closer on other teams. I admit, there was a time in both 2014 and 2015 that I was not impressed with him. It seemed like he could be depended on to let guys get on base, and/or let guys score. But then, he added a pitch to his repertoire. Now he has fastball, changeup, and slider. Here's an explanation: http://www.kansascity.com/sports/mlb/kansas-city-royals/article39865947.html. Herrera will continue to be a dominant force to be reckoned with. Let's not forget Luke Hochevar who was impressive this post season. Even with Greg Holland out due to Tommy John surgery, the Royals bullpen looks impressive for 2016.
There's still some pieces the Royals need to get to have a strong rotation. As far as we know, Johnny Cueto won't be back, but Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura, and Danny Duffy will be. Volquez seemed to be the most consistent this 2015 season, but Ventura was pretty impressive when it mattered most. They stood toe to toe with the Mets starters, arguably the best rotation in baseball (they did sweep the Cubs in the NLCS). Duffy spent the postseason in the bullpen, but I think he is trending up, not down. The Royals have shown they will believe in a player and give them a chance, and I think they will continue that with Duffy as long as they can. I expect Duffy to have his best season yet in 2016. For the other two spots in the rotation? Well, both Chris Young and Chris Medlen had starts in 2015. My guess is we will see Medlen in the 2016 rotation for a while. I doubt they will put Young in the rotation for very long. He's just not capable of that many innings, and you saw that in 2015 where they rested him a lot in the second half, and he was ready when they needed him most.
They Said They Would
Sure, it was probably over-zealous celebratory fever, but multiple Royals players have committed to winning it all again in 2016. Most memorable for me was Edinson Volquez on stage at the rally at Union Station after the World Series parade. The players are promising Kansas City another world championship, and I wouldn't count them out. In fact, if you do count them out, they might just do it to prove you wrong. This team is not a fluke. This is not a flash in the pan of a couple years. Dayton Moore has turned this organization around. The losing is over. They will consistently compete, and they are hungry for more. They won't be able to be the underdog any more. They won't be unexpected. But I bet no one will pick them to win. Why? Because that just doesn't happen in baseball. Well, as someone who's been watching the royals closely the last few years, the Royals are kings of things that don't happen in baseball. Just when you think the Royals are done, they find a way to win. They will find a way again in 2016.
I am so glad to have winning baseball back in KC!
I'm a leader, and I know that casting vision is one of my main jobs. As the leader of churches, God has given me a vision to share. But I don't usually share all or most of it. Why? Because I'm scared. I'm afraid of rejection. I shouldn't be. I should just expect it. Casting a vision usually means inviting people, and an organization to change. People don't like change. They tend to reject it. Why?
Because Change Is Scary
We will reject a change even if it is good for us because what we know is safe. I know I need to change my diet, but I'm afraid of what life will be like without chocolate chip cookies, candy, soda pop, pizza, and all of the other carbohydrate loaded junk I like to eat too much. I know I need to exercise more, but I'm afraid of injury and sleeping less than I do now. Change is scary because it asks us to leave behind something we've become comfortable with and attached to. Even if we can envision life differently, we still can't achieve it unless we're willing to change.
It's also really hard to change habits. We get so set in patterns of behavior that we repeat them without thinking. Even if we think about them differently, we still have a hard time applying it to our lives. It's just easier to stay the same because it's normal. The only way to really have an effect is to create a new normal. Change our thought and behavior patterns. Prayer, Meditation, Learning, Discipline, and Accountability all work together to transform.
Back to Fear, Rejection & Vision
Let's get back to my original thought: I'm afraid to cast vision for fear of it being rejected. I'm just trying to be honest and genuine here. I think part of it is, I'm so attached to the vision that when someone rejects my idea, they're rejecting me. It's as if I'm dumb or naive and don't have a clue (which is probably more true than I'd like to admit).
Besides that, sometimes, the vision that God has given me doesn't make sense to me. I don't understand where the resources are going to come from. I don't see how people would actually believe in that direction for the church. I can hear people's voices in my head shooting it down already. It might cause a division. People might leave the church. People might quit giving. People might stage a coup to get things back to the way they used to be. (What's on your list of fears?)
Even So, Sharing The Vision Is Worth It
What I'm learning and trying to convince myself of is: casting God's vision for the church is still worth it even if those worst fears come true. It's a bit like Jonah and Nineveh. It could be a lot worse if you don't cast the vision. At the end of my lifetime, I won't be held accountable for how many people attended church, how much money was raised, or many of the other numbers we like to count. I'll be held accountable for whether or not I listened and obeyed God. Did I do my best to fulfill what God put in front of me to do? Did I, as a leader, lead people to fulfill God's vision?
Casting the vision is worth it because the opposite of my fears could come true. The vision may cause unity. More people might come to church. People might give more financial support. People might be inspired to take on new ministries. Miraculous gifts might be provided. People's lives might be transformed.
In fact, instead of "might" happen. If it's God's vision, it will happen.
Ever since I first felt God calling me into vocational ministry, I've been aware of the diversity of the Christian faith, and Christ's call for Unity. It is something for which my heart breaks. I long for more unity in the Church. I want to see more collaboration across the congregational and denominational boundaries that we've put up. Even so, my local congregation is always a vacuum pulling me within its own issues and people. It is a constant reorientation towards the community and collaboration with other Christians. I thought it would be a good idea for me to write down why Unity is important to me.
Because God Is One
God's nature is relationship and unity. It is the definition of Trinity, three-in-one and one-in-three, the Triune God. God is not divided against himself, and we shouldn't be either. God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is committed to salvation for everyone. God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is committed to making all things new. The persons of the Trinity all working together as one for the common vision and mission. Jesus announced it, and he gave us authority to accomplish it. Let's do it, together! God is one and we should be too.
Because God Is Love
This is one of the few places I'll prooftext and say something like, "The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it." Not because of the one or two verses in 1 John 4 (verses 8 and 16) but because when you read the Bible cover to cover, the whole tenor of scripture includes this nature of God: Love. Plus, one of my spiritual fathers, John Wesley, emphasized love as God's defining characteristic. It illumines all the others. God is Love, and we should be too.
Because I Love The Church
I love my sisters and brothers in Christ. I love The Church in all of its forms and by all the different names it goes by: Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, Orthodox, Presbyterian, etc. I'm not just saying it. I try to show it. I try to lead my congregation to do the same. I love the Church even though I disagree with some of its individuals. I love the Church even though it's full of sinners and hypocrites. I love the Church because Christ loves the Church, and his Spirit is in me. Love keeps no record of wrongs, so I do my best not to as well. I love The Church, so I love being with other Christians, and want to be around them as much as possible. Especially when we work together on God's mission.
Because Love Unifies
The nature of Love is to bring people together. The fruit of the spirit is Love, not division. Division and fighting is the fruit of evil. When we are focused on conflict and division, we miss the higher calling to love one another. Love bears all things because Love is patient or long-suffering. Love has the ability to overcome our divisions and conflicts and fighting, and bring us together. For me, I think of sports teams. When they have "chemistry" they are unified, working together towards a common goal outside of themselves. When a team is fighting against each other to pad their own individual stats and get more individual playing time, then they lose sight of the greater goal. Or, think of a marriage relationship. When all the couple sees is their conflict, they are against each other, when really, they are supposed to be a team, working together. We too, should be united by our love, working as a team together for God's greater good.
To accomplish the mission
Division hurts The Church's ability to accomplish the mission that Christ has given us. It paralyzes us. We are to be known by our love, not for our fighting and what we are against. We certainly shouldn't be against each other within the church. We should stand together against evil, oppression, and injustice so that people may know Christ's love. Division kills our witness and testimony to Christ's work in the world. Division clouds our message and confuses people about Christianity and God.
I do some ministry on a college campus, and lots of students ask me "What religion are you?" usually meaning "what denomination?". I often have a hard time answering that question and explaining the differences in the brief moments I have. I usually end with "we're open to everyone." My priority is not salvaging an institution, but connecting people with the movement of God, so I have a hard time understanding why denominational loyalty is important. I know why I am United Methodist, and why I continue to choose to practice my faith that way, but more and more, I realize that doesn't make me better than any other Christian out there, just different. In fact, I'm always looking to adopt helpful practices and ideas from other traditions so I can grow in my faith. When I face a differing idea with another brother and sister in Christ, I try to put myself in their shoes, and often respond "you might be right." I hope others would do the same for me.
Unity will show the world what is really important to us, The Church. Instead of being seen as judgmental hypocrites who don't care, we might truly be known as those who Love in amazing unbelievably generous ways. Fortunately, God's mission is not dependent upon our ability to Unite, but also, God's ability to Unite is not limited by us. I just wish we'd be as committed to Loving one another as God is to loving us.
Unity and Diversity are not mutually exclusive. They are not diametrically opposed to one another. Unity does not mean "same." And Diversity does not mean "divided." I believe Unity and Diversity are core values that Christ instilled in his disciples and handed on to the Church. I also believe we are failing. We are divided, and we tend to group together by our sameness. I can't really blame anyone in particular or point the finger and find fault with some individual, or a movement, or a denomination, etc. It has just kind of happened. And it pervades our culture in the U.S.A. as much as it does The Church.
I worry about our country (U.S.A.) and The Church in the U.S.A. because of the division that seems to be prevalent. It seems like everything is either/or. You're either Pro-Life, or Pro-Choice. You're either Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives (Police Officers) Matter. You're either for Same-Sex Marriage or you're a bigot. You're either Republican or Democrat. We have developed this divisive attitude of "you're either with me or against me." And most often, it seems like we find a reason to be against some group group of people.
In the Church in the U.S.A. it seems to be a Evangelical vs. Progressive, Conservative vs. Liberal. And in the United Methodist Church, even those who claim to be "in the middle," who identify with ideologies on both "sides," can't seem to agree. I recently read this post from the "United Methodist Centrist Movement": http://umcm.today/the-true-center-of-the-united-methodist-church/ and it made me sad. It saddened me because it seems like we Christians, in this case specifically United Methodist Christians, have a hard time stating our case and making a positive contribution without tearing down someone else. The UMCM seems to be responding to writings and actions by the Via Media Methodists: www.viamediamethodists.wordpress.com. Both the UMCM and Via Media seem to support Unity and finding a way to work together, but then they tear each other down. What is up with that? I guess this is sibling rivalry among brothers and sisters in Christ, and it's to be expected. But we are playing it out in public for everyone to see. I'm not sure that's what we should be doing.
Like James (you know, that book in the New Testament) says, "This should not be so." People want and need to see Jesus in us. They need to see the power and work of God's Love. Yet, we seem to carry our conversations in such a way that it looks like this:
If you disagree with me, you're not a good Christian.
Or, If you don't interpret the Bible the same way I do, then you're not a Christian. You're a false teacher. You don't take the Bible seriously.
Or, I'm a better Christian than you because I believe X and you don't; therefore, you're not "Orthodox" (or fill-in-the-blank with whatever viewpoint/standard you use).
Or, I'm more Methodist than you because I emphasize this or that Wesleyan idea better.
Can we stop framing things in those ways? This way of doing things divides us instead of bringing us together. I would rather us have an attitude of "sincere love" (Romans 12:9). Like Paul directs in Romans chapter 12 verse 14 "Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them." And then in verse 16, "Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart." Can we have more humility and more building up the body of Christ?
We can get so busy fighting against each other that we neglect the greatest commands Jesus gave us: Love God and Love Others. Those two are so utterly intertwined that it is near impossible to separate them. In fact, scripture in 1 John chapter 4 has a number of verses explaining this connection:
8 The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love.
I'm not perfect at this. But I'm working on it. By God's grace, I'm working on it. One of the things that has always been appealing to me, from a Wesleyan heritage, is the way that we can hold seemingly opposite ideas in tension with one another. Our culture seems to push us into an either-or distinction, but we need to be the people of both-and, Unity and Diversity.
Christ calls us to Unity, and yet the we the Church don't seem to get it. Every Sunday, we silo off into our separate spaces and ideologies, and we suffer for it. Think of all of the resources at our disposal to change and revitalize our communities if we were joined together and cooperate and collaborate. Surely we could make a huge impact. The love of Christ compels us to work together for the good of all humans, all of creation. But even United Methodist congregations in close proximity have a hard time working together (at least in my experience) and catching a vision that brings us together for the good of God's Kingdom in our community.
Ironically, the path to Unity may be through allowing for more diversity (a local option, or a seemingly more congregational polity, or maybe less polity altogether, a thinner Book of Discipline). I know that by now the phrase "Generous Orthodoxy" (credit to author and church leader Brian McLaren) is laden with progressive baggage heaped on it by many, but can we be more generous with our grace? Isn't the very nature of love generosity? "That God did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all..." (Romans 8:32). There is no way we can out give God, but we should try. Our generosity of love should exceed all of our qualities. We give without expecting anything in return because it's our very nature. I've always been intrigued by the sheep in Matthew 25 whom Christ commends as righteous and to whom he gives the inheritance of God's kingdom. They didn't even realize how good or righteous they were. They just did it. Our love needs to be the same way. Then, the goats, they deceived themselves. They thought they were being good and righteous, but really weren't. Things didn't turn out so good for them. It looks like humility goes a long way towards obeying the command to love generously.
Diversity multiplies generous love. It's a multiplication of the varied gifts and affinities we have to share with people. The ways we are different from each other help us reach people who are different. You can reach someone differently than I can because of your unique gifts and characteristics. We each make up a valuable part of the Body of Christ. Unity also multiplies generous love. It strengthens it because of the sheer numbers working together. Like the proverb says, "A cord of three strands is not easily broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:12). When we stand together, we stand up to and overcome the forces working against God's Kingdom.
Honestly, I'm not sure what we are so afraid of. 1 John 4 continues the idea of love saying "perfect love casts out fear." Perhaps we should focus more on perfect love, than perfect polity. God has an amazing way of working things out beyond our abilities, and our ability to understand. I wish I had a definitive answer or plan or polity change that would keep us from damaging our Christian and United Methodist witness in the world. The best I can come up with is the scriptures above.
I want to finish up by connecting this to my personal experience. When I hear about the decisions that lie in front of us as the UMC, I can't help but think about the experience of divorce in my family. If an upcoming decision ends up dividing us, I see a similar set of emotions. I'm going to love dearly and have family on both sides, which means I may not feel completely at home with either. Or to put it another way, if I'm forced to choose, then it's like I have to leave behind ones I love, a "damned if you do; damned if you don't" or "catch 22" type of situation. In the end, much like my parent's divorce, the decision will be made and forced upon me to deal with. Fortunately, the future is not yet written. I hope through our conferencing, our love grows on to perfection.
Note: Scripture quotes are primarily from the Common English Bible (or whatever version was in my memory, typically NRSV or NIV).
The phrase "Do not judge" gets quoted a lot. In fact, I see this idea on a regular basis because the fitness center I exercise at has signs labeling it a "Judgement Free Zone." Most of the time, I hear it in Christian circles when we talk about sin, or something that someone has done wrong. The original quote is of Jesus in Matthew chapter seven verses one through three:
Don't judge, so that you won't be judged. You'll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt to you. Why do you see the splinter that's in your brother's or sister's eye, but don't notice the log in your own eye? - Matthew 7:1-3 CEB
This is a part of Jesus' teaching that has come to be known as "The Sermon on the Mount." There's a lot of good stuff in there. You should read it. Jesus has some very practical directions for how we should live our lives. People especially love this instruction to not judge. It's like a get out of jail free card. Any time anybody points out anything that you've done wrong, you can just tell them that Jesus said, "Don't judge," and you're off the hook.
Here is a story of a woman in Canada who says something similar to "do not judge": http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/atheist-minister-vows-to-fight-removal-from-united-church-due-to-her-beliefs-1.3180632
The key quote that I think relates to Jesus' idea of "Don't judge" is this one:
If we are going to continue to use language that suggests we get our moral authority from a supernatural source, any group that says that can trump any humanistic endeavour.
I read that and I immediately thought of Jesus' words "do not judge." I disagree with her about there being no God, and I think it is ok to claim a supernatural source for morality. But, I agree with Jesus' idea mainly because it came from Jesus (supernatural source for moral authority), but also because I think Jesus had the ultimate humanistic endeavor, namely the salvation of every human being ever.
The more I thought about it, I realized why it is ok and a good thing to have Jesus Christ as the supernatural source of moral authority. It really doesn't have to do with his being divine or "better than everybody else" or being "The Judge" at the end of the age. It really has to do with one thing: Love. Jesus Christ is the only one who has shown us complete perfect love. In fact, 1 John 4:8 states "God is Love." As a Wesleyan theologian, I see Love as God's reigning attribute through which we see all of God's other attributes.
Read Jesus' words in Matthew 7 again. The rest of the phrases inform the first. Yes, he says "Don't judge." Then he develops it further saying, "Whatever you deal out will be dealt to you." The question we have to ask ourselves is "What are you dealing out?" Is it love? I can only claim "moral authority" to the extent that I love one another. Jesus Christ is my source for knowing what that means. Jesus Christ dealt out love, true love. Just because some throughout human history have misused and abused moral authority based on a so-called "supernatural" source, doesn't mean that God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has not revealed to us God's love through God's Son, Jesus Christ. The problem is not the supernatural source. The problem is imperfect humans who deal out many things less than love. Jesus did not come simply revealing a moral code, or a moral authority, but he shows us Love, a way of life that gives life. I am not ashamed of claiming that supernatural source, and I believe Jesus can still change the hearts of humans to resemble the love we see in Jesus Christ. It will not undo or oppose humanistic endeavors. It will not divide us and cause fighting. Instead, "perfect love casts out fear", and love brings healing and hope, justice and faith, restored relationships, and unity. "Love never fails."
So, go ahead and judge, just make sure you're dealing out love, not condemnation and hate. Show grace to one another. Show forgiveness and sacrifice to one another. That's the Jesus Way. Call upon Jesus' name for strength and help to do it. See what happens.
I am a United Methodist Pastor, but I'm trying to re-define that as a Missionary sent to my corner of the USA. What would it look like for you to envision your life as a Christian more like a Missionary than a Church-goer?