Monday, April 24, 2006

Tomorrow is eviction day

My wife is inducing her labor tomorrow if the baby doesn’t come before then.
Pray for a safe delivery.

Here is a sneak preview from a few months ago:

Below is the proof he is our son.

Yes, it is his boy thingy.

Can you be a Christian and not go to Church?

God doesn’t love you.
God loves us.

For many years I was taught that God loves me. Well-meaning Sunday School teachers taught me to read the Bible for myself. Well-meaning preachers taught me to be a “nice boy.” Well-meaning worship services included songs about me and Jesus alone, just the two of us. A well-meaning church taught me an individualized faith. But it wasn’t until later when reading the Bible in a community of believers I realized that Scripture knows nothing of faith lived out in isolation.

The Church in its infancy said the opposite. Believers in the first few centuries had a simple slogan for their new, growing community: “There is no salvation outside the Church.” In a vulnerable position, facing false teachers, damaging rumors, and brutal and sometimes lethal persecution, the Early Church had to defend the faith from the inside out. This meant including only those who would give a full commitment and excluding those who harmed or disowned their brothers and sisters in God’s family.

The 21st-Century Church could learn from our ancient ancestors. Today, in a pluralistic and relativistic society, we still face opposition on every side. The Church has allowed cultural baggage to penetrate the faith at its very foundation. The basic problem: the Church in American has bought into the secular emphasis on individualism.

We have replaced the Early Church motto with “If it feels good, do it.” Many say, “If it works, no problem.” Pastors seem timid to speak of Truth in fear of offending the members. Instead, we get a “gospel” that sounds nice, teaches people how to be good citizens, rarely uses Scripture (except to defend opinions), and rejects over 20 centuries of Christian tradition. Sure, evangelism and ministry today is pragmatic, “sensitive,” and “relevant” (at all costs), but is this what God has in mind for His Church?

Salvation is personal, but not private. Anyone can have a belief in Jesus Christ, but neither the Bible nor the Early Church would have advocated that one could find salvation outside the faith community. In the Old Testament, salvation meant being part of God’s chosen, Israel. For the New Testament writers, salvation was not only about the individuals’ belief; salvation through Jesus Christ has always been a three-part process: believing, belonging and behaving. All three are requirements, not preferences.

Biblically speaking, can we be Christians and not be active members of a local church? No. St. Paul explains by stating that the Church is one Body. We may be different parts, doing different things, yet we are one, connected whole. My hand cannot exist apart from my arm. Further, Jesus teaches that His believers will be part of the one Vine. Jesus said the parts which separate from the Cine will wither away. In Revelation, we are told of that Jesus is coming back for His bride. Revelation doesn’t say Jesus will return for individual “believers” who are disconnected from one another. Jesus is coming back for His bride, for us, the Church.

Sunday is coming. What will you do? There are many good churches in Cass County. I will not say that only the church I pastor or United Methodist Churches have a “True Gospel.” (And I would suggest avoiding churches that claim to be part of a small but faithful remnant… that is the talk of cults, not the Body of Christ.) So this Sunday, if you are a believing-only Christian I suggest you get up, get yourself (and your family) dressed and go to church. Find the Bible-proclaiming, creed-affirming, sacrament-giving, loving community of believers to which you belong.

On second thought, God does love you… because God loves us.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

For those wondering...

I have been away from the blogosphere because:
1) My wife is expecting our third child, our first son, any day now. She (read: we) have been nesting.

2) I had my Track 2 Board of Ordained Ministry interviews this week. The good news is that I passed. The bad news is that a good friend I went to seminary with and a great pastor was “discontinued.” This news just makes me sad. Our group will miss you, Chas.

It is my hope that I can post some old articles of mine that may be enlightening to you. And I will let you in on the birth news when it happens.

Until then: Peace.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Good and Bloody Thoughts for a Bloody and Good Friday

Hold you hand out in front you? Look at it. Is it hairy? White? Black? Brown? Dirty? Do you have five fingers or more or less? Is it bloody? No? Well then, we need to get honest about it. Good Friday is a day for honesty. If any day… it is THE day we are confronted with the facts about ourselves. On Friday, we see just how low we can sink. So let’s be honest. The crucifixion of Jesus forces us to get truthful.

Perhaps, we can’t see the blood because we continue to lie to ourselves about our own guilt about our very selves. We don’t see the blood on our hands because we lie about our ability to commit this kind of violence today.

The Good-Friday News is a bloody story. Here was God's own Son, who came to this world to save us, but was rejected by those he came to save. On this day we witness Jesus hanging on a cross, but let’s not forget that he was delivered there by his own disciples.

If we could crucify God's own Son, then what else might we do?

All you have to do is to pick up a newspaper on most days to see that crucifixion continues. We keep committing the innocent to suffering; we continue to nail goodness to some cross or another. We need only consider what I will call our “everyday crucifixions.” We need only consider the issues of life and death that are found in the difficult situations facing our world: like the war in Iraq, or readily available abortions, or like what the Romans did to Jesus, the state sanctioned murder of capital punishment.

But most issues of life or death are much more subtle. Life or death.... our everyday crucifixions. Often it is not a moment in time in which we make a conscience choice. Life and death is the reality in which we live and, as Christ has shown us, a reality in which we create. Our everyday crucifixions... our bent to be violent, if we are honest with ourselves and with each other, is present in our thoughts, in our conversations, in our actions... even in what we do not do.

To ask, "Do I crucify Christ today" is to question ourselves too late. But to ask, "In my heart and in my mind, do I justify the ‘everyday crucifixions’?" is a better question. You see, if we use our hands for violence... to crucify each other and our world, and hence Christ, if we use our hands to kill, to rape, to fight, to execute, to war, to destroy... this is only the final step in a process that began in our hearts long before we used our hands for such violence. The process began by our being less than truthful with ourselves about the implication of how we, we who claim Christ as savior, are the very ones who crucified him and the one's who crucify him still today by justifying our everyday crucifixions.

And we lie about it. Look at our sanctuaries. Consider simply where we place the cross. There are many beautiful sanctuaries in the UMC but that isn’t where Christ was crucified.

Read the words of George MacLeod of the Iona Community:
I simply argue that the Cross be raised again at the center of the market place as well as on the steeple of the Church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a Cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves, on the town garbage heap, on a crossroads so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew, Latin and Greek.; at the kind of place where cynics talked smut, and thieves cursed, and soldiers gambled. Because that is where He died and that is what He died about, that is where Church people should be and what Church people should be about.

George is right. And maybe if we could see the cross of Christ in our own neighborhoods or dare I say it, even in our own living rooms or bed rooms, maybe then we would not be able to escape our own involvement. Again not just in Jesus’ crucifixion but in the everyday grace we sacrifice for the other gods we serve.

On Good Friday, Jesus was taken to a hill outside of the city and there he was nailed to a cross and tortured in a long, agonizing fashion. He suffered with his mom right there by his side. This was done, not by extraordinarily evil, vicious people, but by people a lot like us.

Friday, when we are made by the church to stare at the crucifixion of Jesus, is a good day for honesty about our human situation... honesty about our own involvement in the everyday crucifixions of Jesus. Our collective hands tend to be covered in blood whether we are willing to admit it or not. Yet this Friday is "good" because this is also a day for the world to be honest about the goodness and graciousness of God. Christ Jesus came to serve and to save sinners. And that he did? Even to the suffering and death on a cross.

Thanks to Bishop Willimon for helping me think through the above.

Friday, April 07, 2006

What is an "ineffective pastor"?

My bishop, Mike Coyner, recently wrote an article (see below) to address the many different considerations that must be made when making appointments. He wrote: "Do we work harder to help ineffective pastors to find another career, and will the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Clergy Session of Annual Conference support that effort?"

In our conference, the cabinet identifies ineffective pastors and a triad/team is created to investigate and address these clergy. A new appointment is then made in which the “ineffective pastor” signs a “covenant letter.” It is my understanding that there are several pastors under “covenant letter.” These pastors are expected to make this appointment effective.

But what constitutes effective? I wonder how effective I am in ministering to a church of mostly older people. I feel like in my last appointment, while I made progress with a few people, my ministry was mostly ineffective. We didn’t grow. People left the church. After I left the church became a two-point charge and had to change their worship time. After much battle, I was happy to leave and most people were glad to see me go.

Yet, I was never questioned about being an ineffective pastor. In fact, I passed the BOM commissioning interviews and papers without any re-writes or problems. I believe I am a good pastor. In my current church, people are supportive and my evaluations are all good (with the exception of the few pissed off about my use of the words whore and dirtbag, see below). Yet, we have simply maintained our membership rolls. Am I effective here even though I am able to “bloom where planted”?

And should we be honest about how apportionments are connected to this issue?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

How whores and genocide make Easter special

So in my last post, I spoke of how I used the Biblical word “whore” to describe our fallen state. I addressed the church (the congregation) as the bride of Christ who has cheated on our first love. And Kowalski in reply said:

That the use of the word "whore" would startle a good portion of the listeners had to be foreseeable. You chose a translation that had that word in it rather than a translation that communicated precisely the same meaning but was not as likely to cause parents to cover their six year olds' ears or traditionally-minded folks to get worked up.
As a follow up I would ask: Do we not teach our children about Old Testament wars? I mean while a felt presentation of the battle of Jericho cleans it up, can we really clean up a bloody, messy, violent war? The answer is yes… and we do often. But should we? And if we can’t use Biblical images of whores or harlots with children should we be teaching about genocide?

I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church and the preacher and teachers spoke of sin often. Before I married, my (future) wife and I attended her family’s holiness Pentecostal church… and they talked about sin often. My experience in the UMC is that sin is not often a topic of discussion. I believe this to be a good thing. We should emphasize God’s forgiveness and grace, but not at the cost of forgetting our total depravity. Occasionally, it is good to be reminded of our own dirtbagness, if you will. This is especially true during the season of Lent.

Perhaps, I missed the mark. I have my doubts. I think people’s horrified reaction to such hard words as being called a whore and dirtbag are simply proof that we need to be reminded of our sinful ways. And in the end I pray this makes our Easter and the realization of Christ’s love for us all the more significant.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Speaking with an accent this Lent

In an interview for Circuit Rider Magazine, Brian McLaren said this about issues young clergy face in ministry today:
For some young clergy, “postmodern” is their native tongue. They go into a traditional church and they seem to have an accent that more modern folk don’t understand. They will be pressured to change their accent for church culture, but to the degree they do so, they’ll lose their ability to communicate to their own generation. This is an agonizing dilemma.

To say the least, Brian.

I serve a mostly older congregation in the stuck-in-modern-time cornfields of Indiana. Recently, I was invited to preach to a congregation of several church combined for a Lenten series. The church I preached at had video projection availability and I was asked to provide special music. I was more than happy to oblige.

My sermon was what I thought to be a typical Lenten sermon: We are sinners, in Lent we reflect on our sins, and thank God for Easter because God loves us in spite of our sinful ways. Using a creative bent I said that most people I know are “dirt-bags.” I explained that it is a play on words for Lent because of Genesis (that we were created from the dirt) and that on Ash Wednesday we are reminded we are dirt when the ashes are put on our foreheads) Then I said that while I say creatively we are dirt-bags, the Bible says more harshly that God’s children are whores (See Ezekiel). I went on to say that we have cheated on our first love (see Revelation). We have been unfaithful. And as the bride of Christ, the church has been shameful. And I closed by saying, but because of the death and resurrection of Jesus God will love His bride anyways (see Ephesians). I closed my message by having two youth play Derek Webb’s song Wedding Dress. The chorus sings as the church to God: “I am a whore I do confess. I put you on like a wedding dress and run down the aisle. I am a prodigal with no way home, but I put you on like a ring of gold and run down the aisle to you.”

Well, many of the old people were irate. They called their pastors. I am still dealing with it from some older people in my church. Someone more level-headed folk said “It was a good sermon. It just included language I am unaccustomed to hearing in church.” Personally, I thought my language was both creative and Biblical. the older people are hearing something I don't.

I didn’t think of this sermon as “post-modern” (versus modern). But I have heard from my colleagues who were there and my own SPRC chair that had I preached the same sermon to a younger audience it would have been better received. Another pastor said that most of the people there were Gaither disciples and the Gaithers just don’t say such “negative” things.

I guess post-modern is my native tongue. I guess it comes through even when I don’t realize it. I thought I simply preached the Word. But I guess I preach it with an accent that I don’t always hear.

But everywhere I go, there I am… so I guess this is what everyone should expect of my horrible preaching.
Cost of the War in Iraq
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