Posts Tagged ‘faithful

06
Jul
20

Ideal vs. Real

Flag on houseI flew my American flag every day last week.

No… I did not fly my flag because of some sudden, Fourth-of-July-inspired outburst of patriotism.

I flew my flag because that’s just what I do. Flying the American flag is a routine, everyday occurrence at our house.

“How can you?” some might ask. “When you look at the injustice, the racism, the corruption, and the greed that have helped build this country, how can you fly that flag and support all of that?”

I reply that I don’t fly my flag out of ignorance about the deep, ingrained flaws of my country and its leaders. On the contrary, I am VERY aware of (and deeply ashamed by) a lot of what is happening in this country today.

I fly my flag because I love and support the IDEALS our country was founded on; ideals which it still – I believe – stands for… no matter how poorly.

Joan and I also faithfully attend the church of our choice.

How can you?” some might ask. “How can you possibly overlook the role that religion has played in fomenting hatred and war around the world? How can you possibly square today’s vast storehouse of scientific knowledge with the unscientific mythology of a book of 3,000-year-old writings?”

I reply that I do not choose to be a believer because I am ignorant of the massive harm done by people of faith over the centuries.

I choose faith because of the IDEALS espoused by Jesus Christ and those who transcribed God’s Word into the sixty-six books of the Holy Bible.

Having said that, I need to level with you; the time is long overdue – both for this country and for the church – to start working a lot harder to reconcile the IDEAL and the REAL.

Because of the tragic confluence of recent events, this country has been offered a real opportunity for soul-searching and course correction. We can no longer cling to the illusion that we as Americans live under some kind of divinely ordained exceptionalism that allows us to sweep our national sins under a gigantic rug.

That rug can’t hold any more. It has finally burst wide open, vomiting out its shameful secrets for all to see.

The only acceptable way forward for this country is through a campaign of genuine repentance.

And even though its affliction might not be as pronounced or as visible as the country’s affliction, the same can be said for the church. The time for the church to actually practice what it preaches in terms of love of God and neighbor, justice for the oppressed, mercy to the poor, and outcast, healing for the stricken is long overdue.

It is time for the church to abandon its “edifice complex,” stop acting as a willing stooge for the Empire, and summon the courage speak truth to power, the way Jesus did regularly. (For a great example of this, check out Jesus’ blistering tirade toward the religious leaders of his day in Matthew 23:13-30. It begins with, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites…” and uses the next 17 verses to basically rip those leaders into bloody shreds.) 

Right now I find it incredibly hard to affirm my faith in this country. But I have seen dark times before. I have also seen us wipe off the muck, reconnect with our North Star, and get back on track.

I am just naïve enough to believe the country can do the same thing again.

Crazier still, I believe the church can, too.

You see, when the Apostle Paul reminded me that God gave me (and anyone else who follows Jesus) the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18, NRSV), he was thinking big picture. Yes, he was talking about the reconciliation of men with women, of slave with free, of believer with non-believer, black with white, and American with non-American.

But I believe he was also talking about the reconciliation of IDEAL and REAL.

And THAT might be the biggest miracle of reconciliation of all.

 

Abundant blessings;

12
Jun
18

Daring to die

jesus-last-supperPicture, if you will, this scene: Jesus gathers with his closest disciples to celebrate the Feast of Passover. They are in the upper room in Jerusalem… the same place they have gathered every year of his ministry.

As the last words of the Haggadahfade and the tables are being cleared, Jesus makes an unusual request. He asks for their attention and tells the assembled followers he has an important announcement. He then tells them that in the last 24 hours he has received very credible reports of a conspiracy against him… led by the disciple Judas.

“In fact,” he continues, “… I know that even now a group of Roman guards is gathering and preparing to arrest me tonight in the garden of Gesthemane as I pray.”

The end result – he is confident – will be a quick, perfunctory trial followed by death by crucifixion.

“Which is why I am telling you now that instead of going to Gesthemane as originally planned, we need to gather up our things quickly and head out the back entrance of the house and out the southern gate of the city.”

Almost as an afterthought, he adds, “Guys, we have come too far with this ministry to let it be stopped by a misguided Zealot and a bunch of corrupt religious officials. We have to preserve what we have AT ALL COSTS!”

Anyone even vaguely familiar with the Bible knows this is NOT what happened that night… the night of the Last Supper.

Even though he knew full well the fate that awaited him, Jesus went forward to meet his horrible, painful, humiliating destiny. Yes, he prayed earnestly that God would take the painful cup away from him. But he ended his prayer with the powerful words, “… yet not my will, but thy will be done.” (Matthew 26:39, NRSV).

Schism road signToday the church I serve – the United Methodist Church – faces the very real threat of schism. This looming split is over whether or not we will decide to allow our Book of Discipline to reflect the full inclusion of all God’s children… without qualification or exception.

For a long time, a portion of the leadership of the United Methodist Church has said, “Some people – mostly because of their sexual orientation – should not be fully included in our communion.”

“Yes, we will let them come into our houses of worship and sing and pray with us, and even serve on committees. But due to our preference for a narrow, culturally-bound interpretation of scripture, we will not ordain them as pastors, or allow an ordained United Methodist pastor to preside at one of their weddings. They are just not compatible with Christian teaching.”

As you might imagine, another portion of the church’s leadership disagrees with this position and advocates instead that ALL faithful, believing Christians be fully included in ordination, marriage, worship, service, and fellowship.

Without exception.

And so, after more than 40 years of heated wrangling and name calling by persons on both sides of the issue, a compromise solution has been reached. It is a solution that was developed by a select group of thoughtful leaders representing both sides of the question, over a period of many months of prayer, deliberation, listening, and conversation.

This solution has been endorsed by the Governing Council of Bishops and will likely be adopted at a special called session of the church in February 2019.

The solution is called the ONE CHURCH SOLUTION… meaning it will allow us to avoid schism and remain one, unified, global church.

And in my humble opinion, it stinks.

To high heaven.

The essence of the ONE CHURCH SOLUTION is to allow geographical districts of the church (called Annual Conferences) to make their own decision about whether they will be an INCLUDING church or an EXCLUDING church.

That way, you see, we will be able to avoid the heartbreak of a painful breakup and allow the United Methodist Church to both HAVE its cake and EAT IT at the same time.

The part of this solution I find so objectionable is that it provides theological cover for unjust discrimination. It would be exactly the same thing as if we rolled back the calendar 150 years and said, “OK… if some churches want to endorse slavery and keeping of human beings as property (based, of course, on certain select scripture passages), we will let them do that.”

“If, on the other hand, you don’t think slavery is just, you are free to believe that also.”

I’m sorry… but it doesn’t get to be both ways. Discrimination is either right or wrong. (it’s wrong, by the way). Both positions can’t exist under the same roof.

And if the adoption of the position of justice means that our global denomination has to split in two (or three), then so be it.

Please understand… I really hate the idea of a schism in this church that I love.

In a way, I see schism as a death.

But by his example, Jesus showed us that sometimes we have to dare to walk the path that leads directly to a painful and horrible outcome… trusting that new life will somehow emerge on the other side.

Can we pray, “Not my will, but yours be done,” and mean it?

10
Jul
17

Laundry Love

3305372-Towels-drying-on-the-clothesline-with-laundry-basket-Stock-PhotoIt is just understood… around our house, the laundry chore is MINE.

Now and then – if I am gone or if she really needs something washed immediately – my wife is permitted to enter the Sacred Utility Room and use those special machines. But she has to apply in writing three days in advance for the privilege.

As is true with so many things in a marriage, this division of labor is accepted protocol… it’s just “the way things are” in our household.

And so recently, when the nine-year-old son of a friend of ours asked WHY I do the laundry, I found myself momentarily speechless… caught without an answer.

It was an innocent question… posed as we were all just shooting the breeze and eating hot dogs at the friend’s birthday party. Somehow the conversation drifted to household chores and my wife said, “Well, Russell always does the laundry at our house,” which prompted the young man to turn toward me, cock his head, and ask, “Why?”

And for the next few minutes, I just stuttered and stammered and said a bunch of stuff that fully demonstrated my lack of preparation for that question.

Long after the party ended and we arrived back home, I continued gnawing on that innocent, yet puzzling question: OK… why is that? Why DO I insist on doing the laundry?

And then it came to me…

Besides the purely practical fact that I regularly need clean socks or underwear, I realized: when I do the laundry, I get to see actual RESULTS!

It’s beautiful! You start off with a pile of dirty, wrinkled clothes… and then, a few hours later, after following some strictly prescribed steps: VIOLA! … you have before you neatly folded piles of CLEAN clothes!

SO gratifying!… and so very, very different from my work as a pastor.

Don’t get me wrong… I LOVE being a pastor. I love just about every part of it. But do not imagine for a moment that pastoring is work that affords a person the opportunity to see very many tangible results of their labor.

There are no proud piles of clean clothes at the end of the day… no newly constructed homes or roadways… no wiser, more knowledgeable students… no fresh coats of paint or scores of music or stacks of firewood to point to and say, “SEE! I did that!!”

Mind you, there are lots of things pastors LIKE to point to and say, “SEE! Look at that! I did that!” Things like increased worship attendance… more young people and children attending church… a new or remodeled building… more members… higher levels of giving… greater missional outreach to the community, for example.

It’s an understandable aspiration. Most people like to feel as if their efforts have made a difference somehow… that they have produced visible results.

It is hard to accept the fact that results are often out of our hands… sometimes occurring in spite of us… or even completely apart from our efforts.

We have a hard time accepting the fact that “results” – in the wild world of ministry – are actually in the hands of Someone Else… specifically the One we profess to serve.

It made me stop and realize that my call is a call to faithfulness. Not necessarily results. As Jesus said to his disciples in Luke 16:10“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much…”

That’s because most of the time, when I find myself looking for the results of my efforts, I realize that I am turning around and looking behind me. When my priorities turn to FAITHFULNESS, I am then looking FORWARD… to the next right step I need to take.

So I will keep washing and folding those clothes, mowing that grass and pulling weeds out of that vegetable garden and get my “results itch” scratched there.

Today, I will remind myself to continue to look forward… be faithful… and to remember that the results belong to God and not to me…

… and then I will be at peace.

Abundant blessings!




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