Salvation has left the building …

I can’t help sometimes but wonder if we as a church are on the right path.   Or more importantly, if we as Christians are pursuing our faith in the right way.   I think the Christian journey of faith has become somewhat convoluted and dysfunctional and has been corrupted like a battery found in a flashlight after many years.   It feels like something is broken.   It feels empty of some viable ingredient.   It doesn’t taste right!

The other day I was in a conversation with a friend about his church.   It was a church that I’m totally unfamiliar with, yet I was interested in what they were all about.   For the next thirty minutes I heard about all of the regular events the church puts on, the bible studies and book reviews, and the beautiful choir they have, with new robes!   I was invited to come and listen one Sunday!

This got me thinking, in fact I spent the entire next day praying, reading and considering what the Christian church overall has become.    More importantly, what have I become as a follower of Jesus?   That day, I searched web site after church web site looking for identity markers that would explain just who they were as a church and how they were getting there.   One after another I read about the many traditional events they participated in, as well as the regular studies and small groups they have.   In a way, it seems like our journey of faith has become extremely “mechanical” in our approach to Jesus.

I started to consider the Gospels where much of the character of Jesus is displayed.   Did He seem to care about the “events” the religious community sponsored?   No, not really.   What were the priorities that He favored, in fact insisted upon?   It seemed like Jesus was always talking about “knowing God” and not just doing stuff!   He focused on the “relational” side of who we are before God.   He held high the relationship that He had with God the Father, and was constantly inviting others to instill that priority in their lives.   What was He saying?

When I think of “relational” stuff, I first think about marriage.   Is marriage more than just going to work, coming home to a family and then going to sleep?   Is marriage a routine that you get into while doing “married” things?    If married couples eat together, live together, save money together and have kids together, is that it?   The Gospels show that Jesus was much more concerned about the intimacy of relationships, not sex, but actually knowing the heart of the other person.   Afterall, I can live with someone and play house with them and still not know them, right?

In the Christian church today, we seem over focused on the things we do for God instead of knowing God Himself.   I know, I know, that’s a broad and controversial statement, but its true.   So many churchgoers today have bought off on the lie that “service” is the way to salvation.   They feel that if they are “serving” or “doing” Christian things it means that they have a saving relationship with their Creator.   If I serve at the food kitchen and go to church, what else is there?   I’m good, right?

Christian service is not the way to a saving relationship with Jesus.   No, its not.   It’s a lie that the culture has produced.   Let’s face it, saving is what we need, yet we long for value in our lives too, meaning and a purpose.  

Everyone needs to be valued, it’s the way we were wired.   In the culture we place value on various things.   The more that something is valued, the more it shows up in our agendas.   If I find my value as a hockey player, I find myself playing it on a league every week and spending endless hours in practice.   I receive value from it so I indulge myself in the activity.

But in a relationship with Jesus the opposite is true.   If I spend all of my energy “doing” stuff for Jesus, and not spending time with Him, the value I place on my relationship with Jesus is false.   Jesus doesn’t need me to do anything.   After-all, He created the heavens and the earth!   What He is looking for is people that will chose to know Him and through that relationship find their value, worth and purpose.  

So how many people in the church today understand that to have a saving relationship with Jesus is much more than doing stuff to earn points or participating in a churchy tradition?   Jesus said something that should stop us in our tracks.

John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

We always seem to focus on the “doing” part, keeping the commandments.   But Jesus first identified the relational part, “If you love me …”  

Loving Jesus involves spending time with Him, listening to His voice, feeling the Spirit speaking to our hearts.   Too many Christians feel that the busyness of the church equates to a saving relationship.   It does not.   It simply makes us “feel” valued or accomplished.   Jesus also said something else quite challenging.

Luke 9:23 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  

In this decision to “come after me,” it involves a deep intimate understanding of who Jesus is and a willingness to be with Him, everything else follows …

Rejoicing …

Jesus said some strange stuff!   In fact, I’m still trying to figure out some of the statements and stories that He told, and how they apply to my daily life.   Why does it have to be so confusing, so mysterious?   What was He thinking?

One of the most difficult parables Jesus told is the one from Matthew 18.   In this parable Jesus contrast an earthly version of personal worth to a heavenly version.   Isn’t a bunch of faithful people more valuable than one rebellious loner?   Don’t we need to protect the safety and unity of the majority over the one that might never “get it?”   How far do we stretch ourselves for a lost individual?

Matthew 18:12   What do you think?  If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost?  13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices more over that one sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.  14 In the same way, your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.

Recently I started a new ministry at my church: “Bibles & Beer.”   Yup, Bibles & Beer!    This group meets on Monday evenings at a local bar for food, refreshments, conversation and God.   So far, this effort has been very successful and we have seen many new faces at our tables.   At this gathering we join each other in Christian conversations while eating and yes, if chosen, drinking a beer.   The idea is simple, in fact it comes from Matthew 18:12-14.   Leave the safe harbor of the church in search for that one person still trying to make heads or tails out of what life is all about.   Maybe, just maybe, we might even get a new person into the fellowship of Christians so that we can build each other up and fulfill the command of Jesus to reach others.   It really is not difficult!

This new ministry has become challenging in several ways.   First, can I really take my Christianity into such a public place as a bar?   I think we’re supposed to if I read Scripture correctly.   Secondly, am I willing to follow Jesus into uncharted territory?   Am I personally willing to put my own ideals and prejudices aside for the simple sake of reaching someone new in Christian conversation?   Am I willing to build a relationship with a sinner?   (That’s a loaded question!)   Jesus did.

According to Jesus, God the Father rejoices more over one sinful person being turned back to God than a whole bunch of other people who are already there.    What’s He saying?   Being motivated to bring one person at a time back to God is the greatest motive you could ever have in life!   No kidding!   If you have to “buy em a beer” in order to do it … buy it!

I Don’t See the Need …

“I wasn’t raised in the church, or my church experience was very disappointing!   Why should I try again?”

I don’t see the need to follow God, Jesus, Buddha or the Tooth Fairy.   My life with or without is the same … really!   Inside my head are tons of questions, thoughts and doubts, and if you’re honest, they’re in your head too!

“I don’t go to church because it’s filled with hypocrites.   They say one thing and do something else.   I don’t think they would accept me for who I am anyway.”

“Believing in something I can’t see, feel or touch seems foolish.   I don’t want to look like an idiot in front of others!”

“My life seems to be the same whether I profess faith in Jesus or not.   Why bother?”

“I don’t understand why Jesus has not answered my prayers.   After all, I simply asked for the “best” for another person.   Yet, I am told that I should continue to put my faith in Jesus even though I didn’t get the response I wanted.   This makes me wonder “why?”

All of these are good and important questions regarding faith in God.   And yes, if we are honest, we all have had them or still wrestle with them to this day.   So how do I even begin to answer these questions, which really are questions surrounding the purpose of life?   How do I make relative and believable the relationship that the church says God wants to have with me?   It seems so far-fetched!   Maybe I can pick away at these questions one at a time?

“I wasn’t raised in the church, and it doesn’t seem relevant!   Why should I care?”

Having never been raised in the church or had any positive experiences in regards to it, is not the end of the world!   In fact, maybe it’s a good beginning?   Let’s face it, we always have to start somewhere.  Whether its in a new job, a new subject in school or a new relationship we always have a beginning.   It’s a fact of human life.   Its like the first time I wrote a check.   I was young and had just opened my first checking account.   I had a whopping hundred dollars in it!  

At the mall that day my hand quivered as I wrote the amount of the check in the wrong area.   Then with the eyes of the cashier beaming down on me I stumbled to write my name in block letters instead of signing my name.   Why?   I don’t know, just nervous, I guess.   Anyway, I was just starting to feel somewhat confident and accomplished when the cashier handed the check back to me and said; “Congratulations, you just wrote a check to yourself!”

“No problem,” I said.   Everyone makes mistakes, just like the time I used hot sauce instead of pizza sauce when making a pizza for the kids.   But this is not just a simple mistake.   This is important.   This is how business is conducted, it will have an affect on my life.   I gotta know this stuff!   So, I made the commitment that day to learn all of the ins-and-outs of check writing regardless of what should come my way.   Later that day, with check photo copies in hand, I sat down to “learn” something new, something important, how to properly write a stupid check while the world starred me down!

Maybe church (or faith in Jesus) is important too?   Maybe I need to learn about the reality of Jesus and His church, and not just discount it away as meaningless.   Possibly this is another moment of “check writing” that I need to investigate and see if it is really worth pursuing?   Maybe it’s the “way” things are done, life is accomplished.    Whatever the case, I need to check this out.

Like all things in life, we make them relevant or not.   We chose to ascribe various levels of importance to things and ideas.   Relevance is directly tied to many things that directly affect our lives.   Is it relevant that someone living a thousand miles away should hold a wild party one night?   Probably not, it won’t affect me or my life at all.   Is it relevant that my part of the world receives a certain amount of annual sunlight?   Sure, that affects me directly.   Without the sunlight there will be no crops, food or days at the beach, right?   Consequently, I ascribe “value” or “relevance” to each situation of life.

As a Pastor I see a lot of death.   Its what I call a part of the life cycle.   People are born, then live and then they die.   So, what’s the point?   What’s the purpose?   What comes next?   Is it relevant?   How does it affect me?   What’s the deal?   Well, it all seems to circle around the meaning (or purpose) of life when you consider it.   This is something I’m told the church should be able to unwrap for me.   Huh?

Church first of all is a human gathering of broken hypocrites who believe in the relevance and existence of God.   The church believes that God does exist and that it is important for us individually and collectively to pursue Him.   The church is simply one place to look for Him.   Unfortunately, many people get turned off on pursuing God because of the poor experiences they have with “church people.”   I think its super important to remember that “church people” are just broken hypocrites too!   Dude, they’re writing checks to themselves too!

When you survey life, and look into the windows of history, time and the universe, without hesitation you realize that there’s “gotta be a reason, a purpose behind it all.”   Why would all of this exist, and where can I find meaning and purpose too?   This happens to be the basis for the twelve major world religions that exist today.   Well, the Christian church is supposed to be one of the “signpost” God has established pointing us to His desire to have a relationship with each one of us.   Its supposed to be clear.   But of course, its not.  

In answering the question about “why should I care (about the church and faith),” we find part of the answer resting in the physical world around us.   Where did all this come from?   Did it really come crawling outta the ooze billions of years ago?”   Even scientist today reference what they call “intelligent design” or “a creative force.”   In other words, even science confirms that there must be more to life than just this, and it is reasonable to assume that knowing the “designer” or “creator” has tremendous relevance for our future.   And by the way, all of the twelve major world religions agree on one thing: the next life (or reality) will last forever.

So why care about church?   Why make it relevant?   I remember when I was young my parents and others always promoted the value in starting a savings plan early in life.   They talked about how later, when I was older, I would be glad that I started saving when I did.   Well, I didn’t listen.   Ya, I floundered around and spent everything I earned year after year.   But today, when the possibility of retirement is just around the corner, I realize the value of looking ahead.   Church is simply looking ahead.

The church experience, while I know this sounds iffy, should be a time of exploration and renewal.   In church we should find answers to many of life’s big questions, not a bunch of feel good stuff that seems unbelievable and irrelevant.   In church, those with questions should find a place of peace, acceptance and comradely, right next to the hypocrite.   Just sayin … give it a try … really!

#relevantfaith

If we’re making the rules …

If we’re making the rulesthen where does that leave “obedience?”

Its really a very interesting dilemma.   As Christians, if “we” are the ones that set the rules to live by, then where does that leave us when Jesus makes statements like He did in John 14:15?   “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”   It seems to me that God is quite capable of giving His people instructions, in fact we see that all through Scripture.   God giving instructions on how to live, what to do and what not to do.

Then comes the issue of sexuality in the UMC.   I know, I know, Jesus never said anything about human sexuality, but what He did do was to affirm the validity and truth of God’s Holy Word in Scripture.   If Jesus insist on obedience to Himself, and by His affirmation Scripture also, would it be fair of Him not to tell us what to do?   I don’t think so.   In fact, it would be a sick joke of sorts to insist on obedience and then say “you figure it out.”

When the topic of Biblical obedience comes up, ultimately the Old Testament laws that we do not follow anymore are mentioned.   This is a heavy and huge issue that deserves explanation in a future blog.   This issue centers around the culture, the types of laws, such as being civil, ceremonial or moral in nature, and also the issue of God’s requirement of obedience.   I’ll be writing on that soon.

But our dilemma today is one of following the churches interpretation of God’s requirement of obedience and exactly what the rules are.   Do we as human beings have the right to interpret holy laws, or are we simply conforming to the world?   When we earnestly pray and seek God’s Spirit to guide us, and don’t receive the outcome we desired, does that mean that God rejected our plea?   Or are we becoming worldly and simply pouting?

If God can create life from nothing, if God can know me before I was ever conceived, if God can do all of the stuff, He says He can in Scripture, can He not write me a love letter and give me instructions on how to live for Him?   Don’t get the wrong idea, I don’t like what happened at the GC2019 either.   It simply comes down to this; God what do You want me to do?   How do You want me to live?   I realize I might not like it, or agree with it, but do You really require me to place Your will over my natural instincts and ingrained human desires?   Is that what You mean when You say to love You with everything I have?

Yes, yes, yes, I remember what Jesus said…

Matthew 22:36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”   37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.  39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

If love is all that is required and takes precedence over obedience, then why did Jesus have to die for sin?   Is the issue of obedience summed up in verse 37 where Jesus said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind?”   I believe that Jesus is the ultimate example of living a life that honors God and serves Him faithfully.   Jesus didn’t just love God the Father, He died on a cross because of His obedience to the will of God.   I guess that brings up the question for me; what am I dying for in obedience to God?   My will?   My natural desires and inclinations?   My preferences?   My understanding of what “love” is?   Did Jesus not subdue all of His human nature for the sake of an obedient death on the cross?

Today you hear a lot about love and inclusivity.   Jesus was a wonderful example of both.   He accepted everyone, went to everyone and showed His love to everyone.   But in no way did Jesus ever demonstrate that love means acceptance of behaviors that are deemed sinful in Scripture.   I know that this idea is unpopular.   Jesus was constantly telling people to change their hearts, to turn away from sinful behavior, not celebrate it.   This concept goes way back into the Old Testament.

Joel 2:13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

Was Eve totally responsible for her actions that day in the Garden, or was she drawn to the tree because of her God given inquisitive nature?   Was Cain totally responsible for his act of murder against his brother Able?   Wasn’t his nature designed by God?   Was the jealousy in his heart towards his brother a natural aspect of who he was?   And it goes on.   Did Noah have to overcome his human nature to devote his life to such a ridiculous task of building a ship in the middle of nowhere?   What about Abraham?   Did he have to overcome any aspects of how he was created to trust in God and actually raise the knife to his own son?   Then there is Moses, what struggles did he have in overcoming his nature in order to live an obedient life before God?

There are no easy answers.   And to simply say that “loving” everyone means to accept every type of behavior I believe is wrong.  This doesn’t mean that I like it.   In the Christian walk, human nature has to be overcome.   Jesus demonstrated this, in that He included everyone, but never condoned behaviors that scripture deemed as sinful and we might deem at natural.   Can we not follow His example and live according to God’s Word?

Is it …

I’m not a rebel trying to stir up trouble.  I’m not a person who is taking a stand, waving a banner of exclusiveness or a person unwilling to listen to opposing views.   I am though a hypocrite at times, and I do rethink my position on issues a lot.   I am a person who seeks positive criticism even though it at times cuts me to my core.   I don’t have all of the answers, in fact, as I tell people all the time, the older I get, the more questions develop in my heart and in my tenaciously challenging relationship with God.

At times I just want to scream out to God; “Are You there?   Do You hear me?   Why can’t my heart find the answers?”   All of this wrestling finds its way into my thoughts throughout each day.   And at night, it is the source of my sleeplessness.   I thought that God’s Word was supposed to bring peace, comfort and joy.     I thought that the “truth” of God would always be evident.   Well it does bring me peace and joy, but it still leaves me with empty anxious spots to be filled.   One of the biggest empty spots in my heart lately has been over the special General Conference of the United Methodist Church that recently took place in St. Louis ( #GC2019 ).   This conference has left me with more to think about than I had before it began.   Some good, some quite distasteful.   It has left me looking to the mountaintop once again yearning to scream out to God; “Hey, what’s up?   Did You see what was happening there?   Were You there where two or more were gathered in Your name?”

Is it possible … that God was present and active at the General Conference (GC2019)?   Certainly, over the past several years, hundreds of thousands around the world have been praying for this special conference and its outcome.   God’s children around the globe have been crying out for a resolution, for a Word of truth and a Spirit that would guide and lead the conference to wholeness in the will of God.   The church of Jesus Christ worldwide has been seeking a way to move forward past an issue that has been smoldering in the background for decades and is now burning the forest down.   Not a way to ignore it, but a way to find God’s will and truth in it and a way to answer the debate once and for all.

As a believer in Christ I have come to believe that when God’s people cry out to Him in earnest He answers.   Is it possible that God did answer the prayers of the church for truth?   Is it possible that we didn’t like the answers we received?   Is it possible that having not received a favorable and supportive answer for our stance on sexuality, that we are now convincing ourselves that “God’s not done with us yet and He is still working on full acceptance of the LGBTQIA lifestyles?”   Man, this becomes a mind-boggling dilemma!   What to do!   Where to turn!   What to believe!

If I as a Christian, accept that God certainly answers the earnest prayers of His children, then why would I believe that God didn’t answer our many prayers for the General Conference 2019?   Matthew 18:20 tells us that where two or three are gathered God is in their midst.   Was God in the hearts and minds of the delegates that voted at GC2019?   Was God’s will manifested through the hearts of those delegates?   I believe that to deny that would be a great way to dishonor God as well as the hundreds of thousands that have died for the truth of Scripture over the last 2,000 years.   He doesn’t abandon His children!   He doesn’t turn a blind eye to their plight!   No, He emphatically states that He will be there in their midst.   He will be there to bring justice, truth, direction and guidance so that we can continue to live out our witness of who He is.   Now don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things in the Scriptures that I don’t understand, like or agree with, but the question remains; was God there and working through the delegates to bring truth to the surface of the muddy water of the UMC?

Maybe some did not receive the answer and affirmation at the GC2019 that they were looking for, but with all of my heart I know that God was present.   That being said, I have to also say that nobody won!   Nothing has been settled.   This is not a battle between sides, it is not a situation where my way has to be God’s way.   No, this is and should always be a search for Gods truth even if it is contrary to our human understanding, desires or preferences.   As Rick Warren so eloquently put it; “It’s not about you.”

Is it probable … that God showed up at GC2019?   Matthew 18:20 recognizes more than just a statement about Jesus, it represents a promise.   This promise is to be there where He is needed.   To be present and active in the midst of believers calling on Him.   What, would Jesus show up, and watch His kids slide down the slope of error?   Would Jesus show up and do nothing?   I think not!   His promise represents His attentiveness to our needs, our need for clarity and our need for guidance.   But like any loving parent, sometimes you have to tell the kids “no!”   Is that what happened here?   Do we have any substantial reasons to believe that God only answered us partially?   Is He playing with us?   Is He trying to teach us a lesson?

If God was active and in the midst of GC2019, why are we so distraught?   Why are we still so divided?   Why didn’t we accept with joy and gladness the movement of the Holy Spirit at GC2019 and leave as a church united?   Is it probable that our hearts were broken because of several factors?   First, are we looking at the real issue?   Is not what we are struggling with, the question of whether or not God says that any type of sexual relationship outside of a monogamous heterosexual married relationship is sinful?   Are we not struggling with what the truth of God is regarding our sexual preference?   Are we not wrestling with the human desires of our hearts to physically, emotionally and spiritually love a person of the same sex?   Yes, and the issue continues.   The real issue is “what does God’s Word say and mean” not if I like it or even remotely agree with it.

Secondly, I don’t see the issue really revolving around “inclusion.”   Inclusion in the 21st century has become to mean acceptance of all lifestyles and behaviors.   Jesus never excluded anyone, in fact He went out of His way to include people.   What was going on with people in regards to sexuality never stopped Jesus from including them.   Are we?   Jesus ate with sinners, slept at their houses and simply offered them His love.   But one thing Jesus also did clearly was to affirm the teachings of the Scriptures.   That being said, He never excluded anyone, He loved them, invited them in, cared for them, wept over them and affirmed their need for God.   Why is it that we spend more effort on having our beliefs accepted by the church than being invitational to all people?   You might disagree, and this might piss you off, just sayin.

Thirdly, I hear a lot today surrounding the words “context,” “acceptance” and “love.”    If I love someone, I will accept them they way they are, the way they were created.   Friends, the way I was created is filled with flaws.   Some hard to deal with, others easy.   Regardless, I have a lot of things in the way I was created that need to change!   I think our example of how to love someone should go back to the fall of humankind.

In the Garden, God certainly loved Adam and Eve.   He cared for them, provided all that was needed and was in a loving relationship with them.   But they still had to abide by God’s Word and will, regardless of how they felt, or more importantly, how they were created.   Flawed.   But even though they disobeyed, and disagreed with God’s law, God still loved them and provided for them.   He gave them clothing and lovingly removed them from the Garden so that they would not make another poor decision and be stuck in a sinful state for eternity.   In this account of the fall, God didn’t loose sight of what they needed, no, instead He watched over them as they “learned” to trust in God and His ways.   What about us?   Are we learning to trust in God’s ways, or are we arguing with Him about what He said or how relative it is considering our context?   My dilemma is this; are we arguing with God or truly seeking His will?

I also hear the word “acceptance” a great deal lately.   It seems to me that in order to be in relationship with someone I have to accept all that they say, do and believe.   Really!   All it seems that we are accomplishing with this mindset is the polarization of the Christian church.   Your side, my side.   What a great way to dishonor what Jesus died for!   He called us to be unified and to represent Him and the Word of God to the world.   He didn’t call us to ram our views down each other’s throats but to hold each other in love as we call out to God for understanding, guidance, love and respect.   All of this while submitting our will, our views, our very lives, to the will of God.   Wow, yes, so hard to do.

Is it clear … what God has said on the subject of sexuality?   In Scripture the issues of sexuality and marriage are clearly defined.   I know, you disagree, but hear me out.   It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to find and read all of the individual scriptures regarding sexuality, sexual relationships and such.   Over the decades we have also found many references to support what scripture says through archaeological means and discoveries.   Today, we know exactly what the Scripture says and the meaning represented in it.   We have more information than ever before regarding the words, meaning, situation and context of how and why it was written.   Believe it or not, God’s Word is complete, clear and relative as supported by many theologians over the decades and in our Methodist seminaries.   So why do we argue with it?   I know, now you’re really mad at me!

Is it a hardness of heart issue … Ouch!   I hope not!   Many of the Christian brothers and sisters I know that left the GC2019 disappointed are wonderful, loving people.   They love God, love each other and are truly disappointed and fractured over this issue.   My heart breaks for them.   These wonderful brothers and sisters want nothing more than for others on the outskirts of the Christian faith to develop a loving, lasting, saving relationship with Jesus.   Awesome!   But we are divided, and hurt, and broken-hearted as well as dismayed.   Why would God create me as a sexual being with all sorts of manifestations of that sexuality and limit me as to what is acceptable?   It seems to make no sense, it’s like a cruel joke!   I guess I have to ask myself if I am doing life my way, or God’s way.

Is it possible … that we could all stow away our feelings, our personal understanding and our agendas for the sake of knowing God’s truth?   Friends, someone is right, and someone is wrong.   That’s by the very definition of the word “truth.”   But it should never be a “my side, your side” issue.   With open and humble hearts, we should collectively cry out to God for His truth and Holy Spirit to place it in our hearts, even if that means that we have to admit that we were wrong.   Being right or wrong is indifferent next to a loving saving relationship with a holy and perfect God!   It’s not about me winning, or my way, it should be totally about living for God … regardless.

Is it necessary … that we split?   It certainly isn’t unusual; church denominations have split before.   But if we split does anybody win?   Not really.   I believe that a split in our denomination would only confirm to the world that we don’t really understand what we believe.   It would be a poor and devastating witness to the many hungry hearts that are looking for meaning in their lives.   For the very people we are trying to reach we would be failing them.

This is not a new issue.   How many times in Scripture do we read about how the hearts, true God loving Israelite hearts, were corrected in their understanding of God’s law.   Many.   Repeatedly through Scripture we see God correcting the thinking and understanding of truly wonderful loving devout people.   Might we be any different?   I don’t think so.

Is it hopeless … man, I sure hope not!   So many times, I thought that I was doing exactly what God wanted me to do.   So many times, I was wrong, and boy did that knife cut deep!

Both sides of the debate on sexuality are lined with good God loving people.   People who believe that they are right and following the will of God, people who are striving for all to experience the love of God.   That being said, I believe the answer lies in our hearts approach to God.   Are we seeking our understanding and application of God’s position on sexuality, or are we truly seeking God’s?

Friends, my intention here is not to piss you off, alienate anyone or take any sides.   I am struggling in my own heart with what to believe, and I’m willing to admit it.   The last thing I ever want to do is to represent a church that excludes people based on some aspect of their lives.   Nobody is perfect except God.   I want all to be lovingly included, but I earnestly want to seek God’s truth … regardless of how easy it is for me to apply.

A heart that seeks God through intense struggle can be found all throughout Scripture.   Moses gave it all up to follow God’s will and ways.   He lost family, goals and the future he had hoped for.   Abraham, the same deal.   He sacrificed it all for something unseen, unexpected and almost impossible to follow through with.   He even literally gave up his only son.   And the list goes on, many who had to sacrifice their human nature and understanding of things in order to follow the will of God.

The hardest thing I’ve ever done … to love all people … be open to God’s correction … to truly have a humble heart … to admit when I’m wrong … to give my entire life to God and mean it … I guess I could say, to be a fool for Christ …

How did we get here?

In just a few weeks the United Methodist Church will be holding a special General Conference to discuss, vote on and possibly determine the direction the denomination will be heading in the future.   Will we be maintaining our traditional values and uphold the Word of God as it has stood for centuries?   Or, will we be changing our stance on sexuality dramatically?   Will the future of the UMC include same sex clergy couples, ordination of openly gay candidates or maybe even same sex weddings being performed with the cross and flame in the background?   At this point, its hard to say what is going to happen.   But there are quite a few issues that are being brought to the forefront that will definitely change the landscape of our denomination forever.   I guess the real question is: “Will Christ be pleased with what we have done?”

There are many forefront issues being addressed at this conference but it is the precedent that will be established that will really determine where we are going.    One of the challenging background issues is this: if we establish that something other than a “man and a woman” can be married in a sexual relationship, what do we do with those that insist that being bi-sexual is just as valid?   Another vote, conference?   Does it mean that a bi-sexual person should be able to explore a sexual relationship with partners of both sexes?   I know, you’re going to tell me that “no’” they would have to choose one or the other partner.   But let’s get real, that’s not the stance of the many bi-sexual people I have encountered.   They insist that the freedom to explore both sexes and those experiences are “who we are” and therefore “God instituted.”   It would be wrong to deny anyone the opportunity to be all that God has created us to be!   And if they are supported when they explore a sexual relationship with a man and a woman, does that mean it’s still “God instituted, ordained?”   Does God want me to have two partners, two lovers, two best-friends, two relationships to fully experience “who” God created me to be?   The water is getting murky.

Again, there are a host of “sub-issues” surrounding the topics to be addressed at this special conference of the United Methodist Church.   But how does everyone outside of the U.S. feel about all of this?   From what I have been reading, and I have not read everything, the overall stance of the UMC in other nations appears to be on the traditional platform.   God’s Word is God’s Word.   Leave it the way it is!   I have found it discouraging that in the background of the issue the church has been looking at ways for churches to leave the denomination, to keep the money available for the church overall to utilize, to allow everyone to believe what they want and stay united.   Is this really what Jesus had in mind?   What did Satan say to Eve? (Genesis 3:1)

There is one word that constantly appears in the many articles, videos and discussions I have been involved with surround the issue of the church and sexuality; “unity.”   It seems like being a church unified is the ultimate goal, that together we can accomplish so much!   This leads me to ask “what are we trying to accomplish?”   “Are we all in agreement on that?”   “What is the church here for?”   Its always nice to be a part of a larger goal, a bigger effort, and to see those efforts come to fruition.   It’s a wonderful thing to see our donated resources go to help people around the globe.   One of the wonderful parts of being in the UMC is a global effort known as UMCOR.   Such wonderful work has been and continues to be done by this group.   And I have to say that there are many other efforts sponsored by the UMC that I am a proud partner of.   But is it the goal?   Is benevolence, caring for those in need the aspiration?   Is providing needed resources what we have been called to do by Christ?

Certainly, we are called to serve those in need, and there are many, and in no way am I discounting the efforts of the UMC in regards to providing aid and resources where needed.   But as Jesus said; “you will always have the poor with you.”   It doesn’t make it any less of a goal, but it is not “the goal.”   In my search for truth I am drawn back in time to our heritage, our roots in Methodism.   During the Reformation benevolence and care for the poor was upheld but “relationship and obedience” to God were identified as primary.   I can give resources to the poor, but if I really don’t care about the poor, what good does it do for me?   As Jesus identified many times, I can “look” Christian, act Christian but it is what comes out of my heart that makes me clean or unclean, in a Godly relationship or not, Christian or a “wanna-be.” 

Have we become so “enlightened” that we now have the right and duty to interpret Scripture for God?   Has this enlightenment taken 2,000 years to come about?   Wow, lucky us, huh?   What about the centuries of oral tradition, historical writings and archaeological finds that all support what Scripture teaches us?   I have yet to receive an answer about how we have received the right and enlightenment to alter God’s written Word.   Someone help me here, because I’m sinking like Peter!

In this short discourse we will never settle anything.   Maybe all I will accomplish here is to offend the few that will actually read it to the end.   That is not my intention.   But I have to tell you that I am compelled to write this short article and to post it so we would all take a break from our personal feeling and emotions and just “think!”   Does what we are doing make sense?   Sense for us, the church?   How has God revealed that this is His chosen path for us?   Are we satisfying ourselves, family relationships or the culture?   One thing I know for sure, and that is that God loves all of us, yes, all of us.   But the question is; does love mean condoning all types of human behavior?   And, how do we as the church respond to a culture that is dividing our church?

Pray hard for the coming General Conference, please pray…

Sometimes All You Can Do is Cry

I’m not a bigot!   I don’t hate people, I love people.   I don’t oppress individualism but instead I celebrate how God has created all of us to be unique, made in His image.   I realize that you are different from me, and I from you, but that is all part of the kaleidoscope that God is forming in human history.   It’s a beautiful thing!   As far as being children of God, coming together in His name and for His purposes, I revel in the diversity that He has instilled in each of us.   We are a most unique and beautiful garden of creativity and life.  

Yes, I am unique, an individual and I have my natural God instilled characteristics.   But the church today is telling me that my God instilled desires can be sinful if I follow through on them. Even though I am God-created in His image, I am not allowed to follow though on my natural tendencies and desires! The church is saying that we were all created in His image but all are also infected with a cancer of the heart called sin.   This “sin-cancer” comes in the form of free-will.   This is a trait of God that He has gifted us with.   We can choose our own way, make our own path, decide what is right and wrong as well as accept or reject God and His ways.

Free-will, or this doorway to blessing and sin, originally got Adam and Eve into big trouble, that is if you believe in them.   You see, created in the image of God, Adam and Eve were still imperfect.   They had faults.   Big ones! One day the temptation to disobey God’s instructions to leave a certain tree in the garden alone finally overwhelmed the couple.   They gave in.   Even though they knew that God said not to touch it, they buried that knowledge, gave into the temptation and acted, and it was in that act that sin separated humankind from a holy God.  

But hey, they were wired that way from the beginning!   They saw that the tree looked good!   It didn’t hurt anyone else, come ‘on God!   It was ingrained in them to be inquisitive and to try new things, they weren’t hurting anyone!   But still God saw the act as disobedience and removed them from the Garden of Eden.   Why?   To punish them?   No, to save them!   It was an act of love.   More on that later.

So again, I wrestle with the fact that no one else was hurt, only Adam and Eve were affected, at least at that time.   So, what, all of a sudden, they knew what the difference between good and evil was.   OK, cool, but is that a reason to get all huffy about it?   The issue here is one of “obedience.”   Its not so much that all of a sudden, they knew the difference between good and evil, but that they disobeyed God willfully.   In the garden they had only one thing to stay away from, but what if there had been ten things?   What if they had moved a forbidden stone, or said a forbidden word?   It still would have been the sin that separated them and us, from God.   Again, the issue is obedience, not just the act of plucking an apple and being enlightened regarding God’s edict of right and wrong.   The issue of sin is totally centered around willful disobedience to God.   That includes things you understand, and things that you don’t!

I used to think that the forbidden fruit in the garden was never to be eaten and experienced by Adam and Eve.   But Scripture reminds me that all of God’s creation is “good” and that all things are in obedience to Him.   When we fall short in that area, we sin and separate ourselves.   I wonder if one day God had planned, when they were ready, to let Adam and Eve eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?   I believe He did.   Why?   Because He has held nothing back from humankind, but God is a God of order and purpose.   As Ecclesiastes says, there is a time for everything under heaven.

So, was it fair of God to create humankind imperfectly, knowing we would fall into disobedience and suffer for it?   Why would He allow me to have certain yearnings, desires and inclinations ingrained in me from birth, not of my own doing, and then tell me its sinful if I disobey His edict not to proceed with my desired physical activities?   Seems like a sick joke, or maybe a trap!   Really, the issue is also one of taking God at face value.   Believing in Him and His Word.   God wants a relationship with children that “choose” Him and desire to trust in Him regardless.   Look at Abraham, was it fair of God to demand that he sacrifice his son by killing and burning him?   Its all about trust and obedience, not about understanding and agreement.

In the human realm sin is born out of the choice of one’s heart to turn away from God and follow our own will.   I know, it sounds selfish of God, but His reason for putting limitations on us is not to be mean, but to protect us out of His love for us.   God knows what we are ready to experience and what we are not.   Surely, we can clearly see from the garden experience of Adam and Eve that God’s desires for us is to live joyful fulfilled lives, not lives of inadequate experiences.   But just because we feel like we are “ready” it doesn’t mean that we are.   That’s where God’s will, direction and Word come in, they are there to guide us into a perfectly heavenly life with Him, one that does not encompass disobedience.   But as demonstrated by Adam and Eve, it takes obedience even when you don’t agree or feel like it.   Period.

So, in the United Methodist Church (UMC) the hot topic of the decade is sexuality.   Is same sex attraction normal, God given and acceptable?   What does the Bible say?   Is it still relevant, or is it outdated?   Who gets to make that determination and why?   How can it be wrong if I was born this way?   Part of the answer to these questions resonate from what our definition of God’s Word is.   Is it the Bible?   Is the Bible God inspired and perfectly filled with God’s directions and wisdom?   Or is the Bible simply a God inspired book that was once more relevant than it is today?   About God you have to choose, just like Adam and Eve had to chose as well as Abraham.   These choices do not come lightly and without challenge though.   Is it really God speaking truth to me?   Do I need to sacrifice what I don’t want to in order to be obedient to Him or can I find some flexibility somewhere?   Am I going to be intolerant of others and homophobic if I don’t accept the cultures definition of natural sexuality?   What about the UMC?   Am I going to be seen as an outcast if I hold onto the inerrancy of Scripture? There doesn’t seem to be an equitable way out!

Even more importantly, what about my relationship with God?   Is it going to be deemed null and void just because of this one issue if I reject it being sinful?   How do I handle it when my family members disagree?   What if my loved ones are LGBTQI?   Am I being put into the same position as Adam, Eve and Abraham?   Certainly, if God is a loving God He would not condemn people for simply being who they are, right?   Ask Adam, Eve and Abraham, maybe.

If two people love each other surely their acts of love cannot be seen as vile to God!   Again, we as His children are not to judge others, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.   But Jesus also said that if we love Him, we would obey Him.   Its that simple.   Man, I don’t like hearing that!   I don’t have to like it, believe in it, understand it, condone it or anything else, it is simply an issue of obedience and trust in Scripture.   Everyone, at some point, has to decide of what they hold as truth regarding God and His Word.   Is He real?   Is the Bible really His Word, and if so what am I going to do with it?   Do I trust that even though I am asked to sacrifice what I see as acceptable, normal and fulfilling today, that God will abundantly reward me for my obedience and that one day I will understand that He was right?  

As the UMC sets the stage for a vote in February 2019 on the issue of sexuality, ordination of LGBTQI persons and same sex marriage, I sense that I am at the same crossroads as Adam, Eve and Abraham.   Oh my, what to do?   What to believe?   How to weigh the consequences of the choices?   Its clear that the post-modern culture in the United States is supportive of the LGBTQI community.   We live in a free society of personal freedoms and free thinking.   More and more things are becoming acceptable in the world today and many believe that Scripture will only hold us back from experiencing the abundant life God has willed for us.   I’m not so sure.

Is it fair, or even reasonable, that God should want me to make a choice that would potentially alienate me from many in the culture, my community and even my own household?   How can I live with myself when the choice will ultimately lead me to alienating either God or a loved one?   There is no way out!   I’m trapped because I will be choosing between those that I love with all of my heart.   At least, that’s the way I feel!   Is that fair?   If God is perfect and doesn’t make mistakes, then I’m supposed to accept that this choice, as harsh as it is?   Whoa, God I don’t want to make this type of choice!   Isn’t there another way?   Isn’t there a way forward, where we can all have what we want?  

That’s the problem.   Unless we challenge the inerrancy of Scripture there is no way forward for all to be satisfied.   While we all want to say that God is never wrong, God is holy and never makes mistakes, we can say that Scripture is relative and must be processed to see what still applies to us in the post-modern world.   If that’s not enough to get the job done, we can no longer believe that God writes His timeless Word in a way that would be relative in all cultures, all times and all sets of contexts.

So, in February of 2019 a vote will take place at a special session of the UMC General Conference that could bring unity or division to an already fractured church.   But before that time, each one of us must make the choice of what side of God’s holiness and the inerrancy of His Word we will stand on.   These are life changing choices!

I kinda feel like I’m standing in the garden with Adam and Eve.   Which way do I go?   What should I choose?   If I understand God’s Word, is it right for me to question it?   But what if today’s culture and understanding are completely different than what existed 2,000 years ago?   Certainly, the overall context is different, and people are much more educated etc.   God has given me an ability to comprehend, understand, experience and figure things out, so deciding if the Biblical view of sexuality is correct is good, right?

Ultimately, I believe we all come back to the same overall issue, is God’s Word found in the Bible, and does it still apply today?

Don’t cry … choose …