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A response to Adam Hamilton’s new United Methodism

Adam Hamilton, whom many might consider the pope of Methodism, wrote a blog post the other day titled, “A New United Methodism?”

While reading it, I couldn’t help but notice how all the arguments against the will of the General Conference (reaffirmed again and again and again) have to do with how it might make people feel and equally if not more importantly, how this will cause people to walk away from the church.   We will lose numbers going with the “traditional” plan.

I couldn’t help but wonder how another story in the gospels would have been blogged about if Rev. Hamilton were writing then.   Below I’ve quoted the section which stuck out to me the most, followed by my own satirical rendition.    What would Hamilton say about Jesus’ tactics with the rich young ruler?

The fallout was predictable and swift.  LGBTQ persons in our churches, and their friends and family, felt shunned—hurt by their denomination—and many made plans to leave churches, particularly those churches that supported the new policy and vote.  Even those in supportive congregations struggled with whether they should leave the denomination, despite the love they felt for their local church.  Meanwhile, the presidents and boards of some United Methodist-related colleges and universities have begun to talk about disaffiliating with the UMC (they all have students, and many have faculty or staff who are part of the LGBTQ community).  Pastors, lay people, and churches who had previously been quiet about inclusion and the Discipline’s incompatibility language, were moved to action by the hurt they saw inflicted on their members.  Congregations who have never withheld apportionments began asking about doing so to register their disagreement with the decision of General Conference.  Many pledged acts of dissent and disobedience to the Discipline.  Seminary students and candidates for ministry have been contemplating ending their efforts to become future United Methodist pastors.

All of this has led thousands of local church leaders to ask if they have a future in the UMC. While these hoped for a Church that made room for conservatives, centrists, and progressives, while removing language and policies that were hurtful to gay and lesbian people, they left General Conference feeling pushed out of their own denomination.


Mark 6 – And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.


The fallout was predictable and swift.  People of means who had been faithfully following The Way felt shunned – hurt by their rabbi – and many made plans to leave.  Many influential rabbinical schools and those of the Republic have begun to talk about disaffiliating with this would-be Messiah (they all have students, and many have faculty or staff who are part of the ruling class).   Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes who had previously been quiet about inclusion and Jesus’ exclusive language, were moved to action by the hurt they saw inflicted on this rich young ruler and all those who, by no fault of their own, find themselves wealthy.   The Temple finance committee, which never withheld it’s tithes in the past, began asking about doing so to register their disagreement with Jesus’ decision to demand so much of someone who hasn’t harmed anyone.   Students from both Hillel and Shammai schools have been contemplating ending their efforts to become future rabbis.

And in spite of all of this dreadful fallout, Jesus would not budge.  Rather, he insisted that it is extremely hard to enter the kingdom of God.   He even had the audacity to insist that he is loving this young man, even when asking so much of him.   When asked, “Who then could be saved?”  Jesus said, “With man, it is impossible, but not so for God.  With God, all things are possible.”

All of this has led thousands in Jerusalem and beyond to ask if they have a future in the Kingdom of God as described by this man claiming to be Messiah.   While these had hoped for a Messiah who would accept everyone just as they are – legitimizing their claims to be sons of Abraham – his exclusive, traditional, even bigoted views are indications to many that this movement is not of God.

 

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How Fasting Saved My Life, and Might Save Yours, too

With Lent fast approaching I thought I would reshare this post from a few years ago about fasting. If you have been struggling with some habitual sin, I commend to you this spiritual practice. It may save your life, as it has mine.

Desire Mercy

Lent begins tomorrow.  It is traditionally a time set aside each year where Christians deny themselves something for a period of time as a means to identify with Jesus who fasted for 40 days in the wilderness while being tempted by Satan.    Having grown up in the church fasting was something I knew about but, oddly enough, never practiced.   That all changed, however, when I realized I was dead.

It occurred to me while I was at Pure Life that the words Paul uses to describe dead people in Ephesians 2 applied to me.   Yes, I was a seminary graduate and a pastor and a life-long member of church.   But I was dead nonetheless.    Here’s what Paul says:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the…

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Our Killing God: A Lenten Reflection

With Lent approaching I thought I’d share a reflection I wrote a few years ago on the fear of God. I’ve been guilty of forgetting this awesome, terrible side of God and watering down his holiness to make him more palatable to others, or better yet, convincing myself that God winks at my sin.

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and as I’ve learned, the beginning of new life and freedom.

Desire Mercy

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We must trust also in a ‘killing God.’   We must declare with Job, ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him’ (Job 13:15)

These words from the Puritan, William Gurnall, have been marinating in my soul since I first read them months ago.  They sprang to life as I read over the text for this Ash Wednesday.  The prophet Joel begins,

Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near (2:1)

Not everyone in the church today believes there is any need to tremble.   We have so domesticated God that we wouldn’t recognize Him if he came throwing flaming arrows from a war horse, as Joel goes on to describe Him.   God, we have told ourselves, is a cute bobble-head smiling down on us from our dashboards.

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From the beginning there has been a steady push to…

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Satan Fans the Flame of Disordered Love

Since the recent UMC General Conference decision to reaffirm it’s traditional , orthodox understanding of sex and marriage, I’ve been in several conversations around the concept of “disordered loves” and the false presupposition that just because it’s “natural for me” doesn’t make it holy.

This post I wrote some time ago focusing particularly on sexual sin, but it applies to all our desires and how we should, in the process of sanctification, be increasingly skeptical of our desires.

Desire Mercy

so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs (2 Cor. 2:11).

I suppose one advantage of being in bondage to sin for so long is it made me well aware of the enemy’s tactics.   I hung around him long enough to have some understanding of his “designs.”    There are many tactics of Satan,  but I’d say one of his favorites is making us think our actions are normal and natural and even reasonable.  Have you ever said to yourself or someone else, “Well this is just who I am” or “I can’t help it, I’m made this way” or perhaps, “It just felt right, how could it be wrong” or even, “Love wins“?

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This is because each of us “is tempted when lured and enticed by our own desire” (James 1:14)…

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The Glorious Question….what’s your answer?

I was reading John again this morning and was reminded of this question. It’s still the most awesome thing Jesus asks us, I think.

Desire Mercy

I think one of the most glorious questions in history is the one Jesus asked the invalid of 38 years in John 5:

Do you want to be healed?

Imagine!  The creator of the universe asking this man that question!   But it isn’t a question he asks only of this man.  He asks it to every one of us.

Do you want to be healed?  Do you want to be made well?  Do you want to be whole?    How we respond to that question is every bit as important as the glory of the question itself.

That Jesus has to ask the question speaks volumes, doesn’t it?  I know from personal experience that the answer to that question is not always what we might expect.    The reason for this is explained just 2 chapters prior to this story:

And this is the judgment: the light has come…

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Come to Jesus

 

 

My morning reading was in John 5 and these words jumped off the page:

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“yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life”  (John 5:40).

Jesus is talking to religious people.  People who know the scriptures inside and out.  People who make it their life goal to worship regularly at temple and observe every law.  People who from all outward appearances are “good.”

People like me.  People like us.

I have found this to be true:  I can get so absorbed in the activity of religion that I miss Jesus completely.   I can get caught up in doing good things while ignoring Jesus altogether.

In essence, I am doing things by my own will and my own power.   It’s no wonder I burn out.

Jesus offers us a solution.  Himself.   We need only come to him, to rest at his feet as Mary does (Luke 10), and we will find that we bear much fruit and can accomplish much (John 15:5) as well as find rest for our weary souls (Matt. 11:28).

How do you “come to Jesus” each day?   My own experience of burn out and relapse and struggle has taught me that just like manna from heaven rotting after 24 hours, my ongoing health is contingent upon my resting in Jesus each day.   What I did yesterday is not going to serve me well today.   I find life, one day at a time, when I come to Jesus daily.

 

What the Covington kids taught me

If Jesus were preaching the Beatitudes today I have a hunch he might change it up a bit, adding,

Blessed are those without social media, for they shall be pure in heart.

Unless you are so blessed, you no doubt have been privy to the viral uproar around a group of high school kids from Covington Catholic School who seemingly taunted a Native American.    This picture was all over my Facebook feed Saturday and Sunday:

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I’m ashamed to admit that my gut reaction upon seeing this, along with the few minutes of video clip first shared by so many on social media, was one of anger and disgust.  Truthfully, I wanted to punch the smirk off of this young man’s face.   Reading the comments of many of my friends, it seems I wasn’t alone.

It was, I suppose, easy to get caught up in the hype around the story.   It did, after all, confirm (or uncover) certain biases I have towards a whole host of people based solely on whom they voted for President.   And if you are wearing a MAGA hat?   Well then, you get no mercy or consideration.   This news story did an excellent job at revealing my own prejudices.

Ironically, as the social media mob gained steam decrying the prejudice we perceived these white kids expressed towards Native Americans, I was guilty of my own prejudice against anyone wearing a MAGA hat.   I couldn’t see anything but red.

As more and more of the story was revealed, along with longer video clips and statements from those involved, it would appear that the above picture does not tell the whole story.   If you haven’t read it, I invite you to read the statement of Nick Sandmann, the boy in the picture above:  Nick Sandmann’s Statement.

I’m not writing this post, however, to convince you that any particular party to this event is innocent or guilty.   Instead, I’m writing to confess what this event revealed in my own heart, which I would argue is every bit as bad if not worse than whatever wrongs I imagine were committed by a group of strangers to me.

The brother of Jesus wrote this:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, (James 1:19)

As this story was getting shared and commented upon on my news feed, I got angry quickly.   It is only because I heard a sermon on this text just last week that I paused and decided against sharing the story myself.   However, that did not stop me from reading every juicy thing I could find about it and allow my heart to be carried away with anger and judgment.    James goes on to say that “human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires” (1:20).   The Spirit reminded me that God does not want me swimming in a tidal wave of judgment and anger but to instead be merciful (Matt. 9:13).    Not only that, but even if I perceive someone in a MAGA hat as my enemy, am I not called to love them?  Jesus’ words are worth reading again, as they are quite clear:

44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5).

At the end of the day, I have no idea what is in the heart of Nick Sandmann or Nathan Phillips or any of those in attendance at that rally.   I only know what is in my heart and I didn’t like what I saw this weekend.

  • I learned that I can easily be swept up in a mob mentality when something confirms a bias I already hold.
  • I learned that I can be quick to judge and too quickly become angry.
  • I learned that I hold prejudices in my heart that are as wrong and sinful as those of the racists and bigots I condemn.
  • I learned that I have a long way to go to be perfected in love of God and neighbor.
  • I learned that I do not always extend to others the mercy and grace God has so freely lavished upon me, while I was yet his enemy.

When the religious rulers brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus and asked him what should be done, they were right about their law.   But when Jesus revealed what was in each of their hearts, and showed mercy to the adulteress, he revealed that God’s arm of love and mercy is longer than the arm of truth or law.   Whatever the truth may be in this latest news cycle story, it should never trump the rule of love and mercy.

Perhaps, if John 8:1-11 were written today, it might happen differently, replacing the woman caught in adultery with a 17 year old boy wearing a MAGA hat.

“Chad,” Jesus gently whispers to me, “if you are without sin, go ahead and cast the first stone.”