Tag Archives: UMC

“God Friended Me” Theology

I admit I got hooked on the CBS Sunday night series God Friended Me.   Even though I find myself rolling my eyes far too often at some of the cheesy coincidences or the many ways Miles and Cara awkwardly inject themselves into the middle of people’s lives, I still find myself moved by the story line and blaming my watery eyes on allergies.

The show is about Miles Finer (played by Brandon Michael Hall), an atheist who is also the son of an Episcopal priest (played by Joe Morton) who gets a friend request from someone named God.    Each show centers around a friend suggestion made by God which Miles and his band of friends (Cara and Rakesh) strive to help.   The side story happening alongside the drama of helping their new-found friends is their quest to discover who is behind the God account, because, well, the atheist Miles knows it most certainly can’t be God.

While the story line is intriguing, the theology behind it is not surprisingly dreadful.   Miles’ dad, the priest, offers very little in the way of correcting whatever misguided views his atheist son or lesbian daughter have.   More importantly, he presents his role as priest, and that of his church, as nothing more than a place where people discover their purpose in life.  The implication is that faith is simply discovering what your heart wants and going after it.

What’s implied by the father is explicit with his son.  In this week’s episode, Miles and Cara are discussing life and both affirm the necessity for everyone to follow your heart’s desire.   In fact, Miles states, your heart will never lead you astray.

In this way, God Friended Me does a marvelous job at positioning the Self at the center of the universe.   It affirms what all of us are all too easily persuaded to believe:  If I desire it, it must be good.   In this show, God friends me and affirms all that I am and the Church is there to support and nurture that belief.

Scripture, of course, has something very different to say about the nature of our hearts and the innate goodness of our desires.   The prophet Jeremiah warns us that our heart’s are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9).   Who can know it? he asks.   It can be known, but to do such requires wisdom, and wisdom requires a fear of God (Prov. 9:10).   Without a holy fear of God, without surrendering our hearts, our wills, our lives over to God,  we cannot rightly trust any desire we have.

I know in myself that I have desires which are not of God.   And I am not speaking of just the obvious ones, or the addictive ones.   I am not speaking merely of those desires which if acted upon might cause harm to myself or others.  I am speaking also of those secret and not so secret desires which can parade themselves as virtue in our culture today.    Desires like ambition, greed, fame, pride.   A desire to be liked by others.   A desire to be known for my good deeds or pitied for my bad.   These desires, and many like them, are not from a pure heart but from one that is rooted in the things of this world.   To advise me to trust my heart and follow after it would be foolish indeed.

CBS is not the only platform telling us to trust our heart’s desires.   This message comes at us from all angles, including the Church.   I’ve written here in the past about the impasse the United Methodist Church is experiencing over homosexuality.    At the root of this struggle is a God Friended Me theology, one that suggests that if a person loves something and is not harming anyone, it must be good.   It’s an easy, and appealing theology to embrace.    It certainly tickles the ears.

One of my daily practices is to read a portion of Psalm 119.   There is one theme in this longest chapter of the Bible which is abundantly clear:   The writer desires nothing more than to be molded according to the word of God.    If the desire does not spring from God’s law, the psalmist wants nothing to do with it.     I have written in the past about how praying this to be true of me has changed my life.    It’s a prayer I continue to pray today, and have begun praying for our Church.

James couldn’t be more clear when he wrote that temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away (James 1:14).    Having a healthy skepticism of our heart and it’s desires is wise, and praying continually that our heart and it’s desires be conformed to the word of God is prudent.   Doing so gives us assurance that indeed, God has befriended us, and we are his friends if we obey his commands (John 15:14).

 

 

 

Will Jesus do many miracles among us?

A few years back I met a missionary from Africa who was here in Tennessee sharing the gospel with Americans.  I was fascinated (and convicted) as he shared the heart he and his church back home has for the lost here in my own backyard.  One thing he said to me I’ll never forget:

In Africa, we witness miracles all the time because we depend on them.  Without God meeting our daily needs, we would die.   The reason you see so few miracles here in America is because you’ve learned to depend on technology and modern medicine to meet your needs.   God is not so necessary.

I don’t know about you, but I want to live a life where God is absolutely necessary, where I am increasingly dependent upon him to meet all my needs.   This is true of me less than I care to admit.

March Madness is right around the corner and you’ll no doubt hear many players and coaches reciting a line I remember hearing often during my brief time playing ball in high school:

Leave it all on the court.

After this game, don’t be the one who looks back with regret that you didn’t give it your all.   I wonder at times whether I will one day look back on my life and be satisfied that I left all behind for the sake of Christ, who left all to give me life.   I wonder if I will one day know all that could have been accomplished by God’s power working through me had I believed the impossible.

Or will it be said of me that Jesus could not do many miracles with Chad because of his unbelief (Matt. 13:58)?   I’m sure he’s done and will do some.  But many?   How much is many?

When I moved into Church of God country I witnessed for the first time in my life the gift of tongues and interpretation in full display.  Growing up a Nazarene I had never seen this gift.  I didn’t believe it was still in operation.  But churches in Cleveland, Tennessee proved otherwise.  Why is the gift of tongues a dominant gift in the Church of God but rarely if ever heard in the Church of the Nazarene?  Maybe because people growing up in the CoG have faith that this is a gift for them.

Why do so many preacher’s kids grow up to become pastors themselves?  Maybe because they saw their imperfect parent rising to the call and had faith that maybe they could, too?

Maybe miracles happen where people come to expect and believe that they will.

This may seem like I’m stating the obvious, but what we believe about ourselves comes to pass.   If you and I believe we can do something, than we will, or at the very least, we will die trying.   And if you and I believe we can’t do something, we won’t, nor will we try.

When I was floundering in my sexual addiction there were numerous things I believed wrongly, but two are pertinent to this post:

  1. What I’m experiencing isn’t sin, but addiction.
  2.  I’ll always be an addict

The turning point for me in my life was when I came to my senses and saw how my behavior was not due to me being an addict but due to me being a sinner.   I was a slave to sin.

The distinction is an important one, I believe.    My experience has been such that when I saw myself primarily as an addict, I did so to my detriment.   My identity as an addict put a veil between myself and a miracle working God, causing me to place my trust in a program to provide at best a daily reprieve from my addictive behavior.

But when I saw myself as a sinner, a person who has become addicted to sinning in a particular way, there was a seismic shift in my spirit.   Naming my condition rightly opened up the door for the Holy Spirit to minister to that condition.  It tore the veil separating myself from God and helped me to see that there is indeed a remedy for sin – the blood of Christ – and that in his grace and mercy he has provided wonderful tools (such as the steps, a group of brothers, a sponsor, and most importantly, his Word) to enable me to walk in the Spirit rather than the flesh, one day at a time.

There is so much brokenness in our world today.  So much that is outside of God’s intended design for us.  I see it in my own heart.  I see it in my family. I see it in our churches.   And the world cannot be healed or saved when the church is sick.  I believe God is aching to heal us of our brokenness, that this has always been the case, yet we are so often unaware or unwilling.   Jesus is calling out to us still, like a mother hen, longing to bring us under his wings.  But so often we reject the message, and the messenger (Luke 13:34).

Whether the issue be pornography, divorce, homosexuality, greed, lust, anger, racism, etc., it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the church and the world.   And this is to be expected.  For when the body of Christ ceases to name these things (and more) as sin, it ceases to avail herself to the One who died to destroy the work of sin (1 John 3:8).    We see so little victory over these sins because we do not believe victory is possible. 

It is imperative that we get our thinking – our hearts – right and aligned with the Spirit of Truth if we are to experience the joy and freedom Christ purchased for us with his blood.   It is imperative we do this for the sake of our mission to the world which has not seen, nor has it heard, nor has it entered into their hearts what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9).

May it be said of all of us one day that we left it all on the court, and within our midst, Jesus did many miracles.

A Response to #UMC Bishop Karen Oliveto urging #LGBT to stay

Early on in my theological education I was in an awkward place.   I knew I was called to pastor, but because I had been running from God for so many years, I didn’t have a church home and therefore did not know where I might one day land.    So I began investigating different denominations, what they believed, how they did church, who could and could not be ordained within them, what the qualifications were for their pastors, etc.    I quickly discovered that there were several denominations that were not options for me due to my divorce.  After crossing those off my list I began pursuing those churches where those sins of which I repented (like my divorce) would not preclude me from being a pastor.

Hello, United Methodist Church.

I have much respect for those churches who have a stated covenant – a standard by which they as a church, particularly its leaders, will order their lives.   There is an integrity about them which I find compelling, even if and when I don’t agree with their standard.    I have an equal if not greater amount of respect for people I have met along the way who feel they have been called by God into pastoral ministry, but for one reason or another, they cannot do so in the church they have long called home.   Throughout seminary I met many women who found a home in the United Methodist Church because they could not be ordained in the church of their youth.    They could have stayed, I suppose, and tried to change their church.   Many of them even tried, so they said.   But after being rebuffed a number of times they remembered Jesus’ command,

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet (Matt. 10:14).

They determined to practice biblical obedience by moving on rather than casting their pearls before swine, so to speak.

I have much respect for them.   Rather than lobby year after year after year, for 40 years or more, stirring up dissension among their peers and rivalry among the ranks, they chose instead to find a new home.    They brought their charge before others, and when those others would not repent and change their ways, they found a place more amicable to their convictions.

It never occurred to me to chastise these women for leaving women behind in the churches they left.   Nor do I recall the women who did leave worrying about the spiritual well-being, or physical safety, of the women they left behind.    I did hear, however, much respect all around for those who stayed and those who left.   I heard things like, “Many of them seem to flourish in that environment, and they are following their convictions, as I am.  I wish them well,” and other such sentiments.

Churches that do not ordain women on biblical grounds are still thriving, with many women within their ranks who are flourishing.  Beth Moore doesn’t seem to be hurting too terribly from complementarianism, and this is true for thousands if not millions more.   No one is forcing them to stay in a church which abides by certain rules.  They are free to leave and find a new home just like the many women I met in seminary and have been blessed to serve alongside.   While I may not agree with their interpretation of scripture and how women may or may not serve the church, I can respect it.

That respect for their institutional rules, coupled with how I think it best to love my neighbor, conditions how I would counsel a young woman in, let’s say a Baptist church, on what to do with her perceived call into ordained ministry.   It would be very unloving of me, I think, to encourage her to stay and fight the system, or “kick against the goads.”  Rather, I’d probably encourage her to become a Methodist.

Which is why I find the current advice of one of our bishops so out of place, if not harmful.  Karen Oliveto, the UMC’s openly defiant, lesbian bishop, wrote that she will not leave the United Methodist Church, and urges others not to do so either.  Rather, they should stay and continue to fight so that the church she loves will not “derail their ministries or commitments to love all people.”   Aside from the fact that the bishop should know better – that loving someone and exercising church discipline are not mutually exclusive (amen, parents?) – why does someone who believes that the Church’s teaching is harmful to LGBT people encourage said people to stay and kick against the goads?

 

Having said that, I am mostly in agreement with the bishop at least on one point.  I don’t want to see gay people leave the church, either.   I want to see them, along with everyone else, being redeemed through the body of Christ.   I want to witness waves of people laying their disordered loves at the altar and being transformed from the inside-out.  I want to see people humbled and broken before God, willing to die to an identity rooted in sexual brokenness (this is for both gay and straight people) and rise again in Christ alone.

And none of us should expect anyone to show up at the doors of any church ready to embrace this cruciform life.  I know I’m not most of the time and I have been in church all my life!   But I do expect, and I think it’s fair to expect, that as a Church we are speaking with one voice when it comes to the things we believe Christ desires to redeem, and chief among them in our present day (as is true of all days) is how deeply fractured we are when it it comes to understanding sex and our bodies.    If we as a Church cannot be united around this, than we render ourselves double-minded and thus unstable in all our ways (James 1:8).

May we as a Church love our neighbors well by offering them gracious counsel should their conscience not allow them to abide by their Church’s teaching, and may we love those who stay well by being united in how we speak about these things which have so thoroughly divided us as of late.

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.

 

I’m not hurting anyone (One of the lies we believe)

My friend James-Michael Smith has written a well-argued rebuttal to a post by a retired Methodist pastor that went viral through UMC social media.  In that post, Rev. McCormick argues that we need to be careful when using the Bible as a source for morality.   Below you’ll find the links to the article, and JM-Smith’s excellent response, and I encourage readers here to check it out.

One of the things you’ll find in this article, and what I find most instructive for myself (and, I presume, for most of my readers here), is an argument used by Rev. McCormick that what is moral or immoral is determined by the extent to which something is helpful or harmful to myself or others.

Isn’t this the lie every one of us who have been addicted to something have believed?

Whatever your drug of choice is, I am sure you, like me, have used the line, “I’m not hurting anyone!”   So deluded we become that we are convinced that we are not even hurting ourselves.  In fact, just the opposite:  We need our drug of choice.   We can’t live without it.   Those who are trying to take it from us are the ones harming us.   We are convinced that without this, we will be left with nothing to fill the void.

This is the sinister, conniving, baffling and powerful pull of sin.  We are led astray not by something that is ugly and obviously harmful, but by our own desires (James 1:14).   What seems right and good to us – that which we desire – is the bait Satan uses to cloud our judgment and eventually enslave us to something contrary to God’s will for our lives.

Who are we to judge what is helpful or harmful?  Jeremiah would remind us again today that our hearts are ever deceiving us (Jer. 17:9).

Francis Chan, when asked about his thoughts on homosexuality when ministering in San Francisco, points us to something else that I find helpful no matter your struggle, and I’ll paraphrase it here (watch the YouTube link though):  The Christian walk is not about being moral (however you want to define it) but about surrender to and obedience to our Creator.   If this God asked us to stand on our head, would we do it?  If this God asked us to not marry, would we do it?  If this God asked us not to eat a fruit that looked delicious, would we do it?

My desires – my heart – is fickle.  We are surrounded by a culture, a world drenched in sin, which does a fantastic job of making anything seem OK so long as we aren’t hurting anyone.   The world will tell me, and my fickle heart is easily persuaded, that my desires are good and deserve affirmation.  This is the morality of the world.   But that is not the standard of our holy God.

The way out of habitual sin – addictive behavior – begins with acknowledging that I am the creature, not the Creator, and my way of doing life may seem right to me, but is one that leads to death (Prov. 14:12).

Check out JM’s blog HERE

Or his Facebook Note HERE.

Dear Heterosexual: You are not forgotten

It’s been just over a week since the United Methodist General Conference voted on whether or not same sex marriage and LGBT clergy will be allowed in the UMC.

The fact that this issue has so captivated mainstream thought and life, and has been the key issue of debate every quadrennium in the UMC is quite impressive. Why?  Because according to a Gallup poll in 2018, only 4.5% of Americans self-identify as gay, lesbian or bi-sexual.   In this study, 95.5% of Americans identified themselves as straight.   What is so impressive is how the sex lives of 4 out of every 100 people has so captivated our consciousness, both within and without the Christian community.

It got me thinking:  What about the other 95% of us?  It can feel as though we have been forgotten.   It can feel as though our struggles and our sins are of little consequence.  With the spotlight so intensely focused on what 5% of the population is doing behind closed doors it’s easy to minimize or even justify our own struggles.

With 95% of Americans uninterested in marrying someone of the same sex it seems strange that nearly 100% of our conversations about sex have little to do with what all of us, gay or straight, are struggling with, such as….

Pornography

I wish we discussed this in the church more than we discuss homosexuality.   I wish this were seen for what it is – the epidemic destroying our lives – and our church leadership took it every bit as seriously if not more than homosexuality.   While we obsess over the 5%, consider these statistics regarding pornography

The porn industry generates 13 billion dollars in revenue in the US alone.
1 in 5 mobile searches are for pornography
69% of the internet pay-per-view market is pornography
51% of pastors say pornography is a real temptation
64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women say they watch porn at least once a month
71% of teens hide online behavior from their parents
9 out of 10 boys and 6 out of 10 girls are exposed to pornography before age 18
Average age of first exposure: 12
68% of young adult men and 18% of young adult women use porn weekly.
This sin, legal to view and purchase everywhere, affects every one of us.  The struggle is real, and it is destroying more families and lives than gay marriage ever will.  Our nation’s legalization of gay marriage pales in comparison to the overwhelming acceptance of pornography in our culture and our failure to address it.

Premarital Sex

Even before pornography began to flourish with the advent of the Internet, virtually everyone was having sex outside of marriage.  A study published by the USA Today in 2006 showed that 9 in 10 women born in the 1940’s had premarital sex.  The median age in 2003 of those having sex for the first time was 17.  Of those interviewed in 2002, 95% said they had sex before marriage.

According to one study, 61 percent of Christians said they would have sex before marriage. Fifty-six percent said that it’s appropriate to move in with someone after dating for a time between six months and two years.

While everyone is talking about who 5% of our population is now allowed to marry, the church has often failed to offer to the struggling rest of us a healthy, positive view of sex and why God intends it to be reserved for marriage. We have failed to offer a positive, affirming, theologically rooted understanding of singleness and celibacy.  We do not teach well what it means to have a body created in God’s image to be used for God’s purposes in unique ways as a single person or as a married couple.   (Read my review of the excellent book, Faithful: A Theology of Sex. Better yet, get the book!).

Sexting

While our Church directs her focus on who can and cannot get married or be ordained, our youth are floundering as we turn blind eyes and hearts to their struggle.   Sexting, which is sending sexually explicit material through mobile devices, is a growing phenomenon among both youth and adults.  40% of all teenagers have sent and received sexual material through their phones.  You can read more stats here, and this CNN article suggests that over 60% of youth are using apps on their phones to send sexually suggestive material.  It’s worth checking out, parents, to learn ways to safeguard your kid’s online behavior.

I know firsthand the reality of these struggles, and know all too well the pain they bring to bear on all of one’s relationships.  Even more, I know the guilt and shame surrounding these behaviors and I know how easy it is to minimize and justify these things because they are done in secret.  Because so few will admit they struggle in these areas, and because the church spends so much time talking about the 5% rather than the other 95%, it’s no wonder there is so much confusion in our churches regarding sex ( and given our negligence here, it’s no wonder we struggle to speak the truth in love when it comes to the important matter of homosexuality, gender confusion, and more).

The church, when operating as she ought, is a hospital for the broken.  She is to be the place where sinners like you and I, the 100% of us, can be real about our struggles without fear of being shamed or judged so that we might discover the transforming power of grace at work in each of our lives, healing our brokenness and restoring our communion with God and each other.  And yes, that includes our sexual brokenness.

This is not to say the church has nothing to say about marriage, or shouldn’t address the 5% of our population, but it is to say that as we look at the landscape of sexuality around us, we must admit we are deeply broken and in desperate need of healing.   As I read Scripture, it says that judgment begins in the church, not upon those outside (1 Cor. 5:12).  Perhaps the most faithful and God-honoring thing we can do at such a time as this is to look within ourselves and bring to the cross our own struggles and sexual brokenness.   Perhaps the best thing we can do as a church, particularly this day as we enter into the penitent season of Lent, is to beat our chests and cry out, “Have mercy on me, Oh Lord, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

My hope and prayer for the church is that we are offering places of healing for all people, no matter what their struggle.  I don’t want to see us become so fixated on one sin that we forget that we are all sexually broken.  We all need healing.  We all need to have our minds renewed.  We all need to lay our sexual selves down at the altar and offer our bodies to God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2).   We all must remember that our bodies our not our own, but have been bought with a price, and we are to therefore honor God with how we use them.

The one way in which “all means all,” (a refrain often used by those fighting for affirmation and acceptance), is truly accurate is in the sense that we are all broken and are all in need of a Savior who not only can forgive us, but can transform our desires into holy affections, pleasing to God and for the glory of His name.

So, to the 95% of us out there who are struggling, please know you are not forgotten amid the cacophony of voices, both gleeful and despairing, over the results of General Conference.  And you are far from being alone.  I hope you’ll seek out a church this Lent to offer up your own struggle to the lover of your soul, and find a brother or sister to walk alongside you as you both recommit to surrendering your bodies, and what you do with them, to the God who made you.

The missing element in our gospel

Yesterday I wrote about the virus infecting the UMC (which is actually in every church, and every person).   Addressing pride will go a long way in healing our churches and ourselves, but there is something essential about the gospel that I think we’ve collectively forgotten, or at least diluted.

When I was in the pit of my addiction and everything around me was unraveling, a trusted friend and mentor asked me over dinner,

Chad, do you believe in the power of the Gospel?

I responded by saying I do. After all, shouldn’t pastors and seminary students, of which I was both at the time, believe that?  But today, years later, I realize I didn’t know what I was really saying. I didn’t understand the power behind the question nor what would be required of me to access such power.

I am still very much a work in progress, but here I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned about that power and how it’s made available in your life and mine.   My prayer is that it will help you, as it’s helped me, to live free from whatever is holding you hostage or restore the joy of your salvation.

If when you hear the phrase “the power of the Gospel” you think of Easter, you are thinking about it the way I did when initially asked that question.  If you think first and foremost about resurrection, new life, freedom from addictions and failed relationships, healing, redemption, an eternal home in heaven, or anything of the sort, you are not alone, but you are believing in only a partial gospel.

It’s easy to do.  Who wouldn’t want all of those things? And when you are in the pit, you certainly want out.  The problem with it though is that this partial – yet hopeful – gospel obscures the real power behind the gospel.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church which was plagued with living a defeated Christian existence (sexual sin, relationship issues, church division, etc), he reminds them where the true power of the gospel rests:

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).

Did you hear that?  Or better yet, did you hear what Paul doesn’t say?  None of the things I thought was the power of the gospel back in the day.  Paul says the power of the gospel is not in resurrection, but in crucifixion.  It’s not an empty tomb, but a blood-stained cross.  Not Easter, but Good Friday.

A partial gospel – one that emphasizes Easter over the Cross – can be used by the enemy to rob you of ever knowing the power of the full Gospel, thus keeping you in perpetual disappointment and defeat as you seek a resurrected life without crucifying the present one.

This was the predominant truth I was missing in my life.  I did not know or understand (it was foolishness to me) the power behind the blood of Jesus Christ and the reason why the Cross must take center stage in my life – even more than an empty tomb.   For when the cross gets diluted in my thinking and in my life, the tomb of my life gets repopulated and polluted.

Paul stresses this just a bit further on in his letter when he writes that he desired to know nothing among the Corinthian church “except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).   It was the cross that dominated Paul’s thinking, not Easter.

Because Paul put Good Friday first, he lived an Easter life.   The paradox of putting the cross at the center of our lives is that it leads to a reality only God can produce in us: resurrection.

Tragically, far too many of us want the new life without dying to the old one.  We love the promise of resurrection and cringe at the prospect of crucifixion.  Can’t we just be bandaged up a bit and go on with our lives as we have come to know them minus these “bad behaviors”?

Not if you want to experience the power of the Gospel.   For the power of the Gospel knows nothing of making men and women better people and only of making men and women new.    God’s program of redemption, then, requires we go the same way of Jesus, which knows resurrection only as hoped-for promise of a life crucified to God.   It requires that everything we know dies.

Death to our dreams and hopes for how our lives should be. Death to our past, our present, and our future.  Death to our desires and preferences.  Death to our plans for how we intend to recover ourselves or others.  Death to our rights.  Death to our pride and place and prestige.  Death to our intentions for where we want to live, what we want to do, what we desire to be, and how we can carve out a “life” for ourselves.

Every time I experience a rift in my spirit, or sense a shift in my relationship with God or others, or feel as though the future is scary or the present suffocating, I can usually identify something of my crucified self that is rearing it’s defeated, yet greedy, head.   There is something within my flesh that I must hand-deliver to the Cross of Jesus Christ and crucify once more so that I might be able to experience the life of the Spirit in which I, and I imagine you, desire to walk.

The paradox in all of this, and perhaps the reason why Paul called this fixation on the Cross “foolishness to the perishing,” is that every time I do this I find God a more-than-ready and trustworthy steward of my crucified self and where my sin abounds, His grace abounds even more.   When I live to know nothing except Jesus Christ crucified I receive a life that is not my own, but Christ in me, who is new and alive and full of Easter promise and power.

The thing I thought was missing from the recent United Methodist General Conference, and I would contend in most American churches today, is a proclamation of this cross-bearing life which always precedes the resurrection life.   Jesus did not go to the cross to affirm our natural state but to inaugurate our supernatural one.

If you have been missing out on the fullness of the power of the Gospel my advice to you would be to prayerfully ask God to give you a heart willing to take everything to the cross.   Pray this every day until it becomes a reality in you.   Then, and only then, after you have been to the cross, will you experience the gracious gift of Easter and the power of the Gospel which makes men and women new.