Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Power of Stillness

"Be still and know that I am God"

God commands that we do what is good for us - to be still and be with Him.

Stillness is counter-cultural in our world that values constant communication, motion, accomplishment.  Yet all that busy-ness, all the going can keep us from truly feeling our feelings and letting God be at work in our hearts.

Be Still, God says.

Just Be.

Be still, and in quiet listen to God.

Connect with God.

Let God open up your heart and be at work inside you.

10-15 minutes a day

1 hour a week

1 day a month

2-3 days a year

Be still and be with God

Need a guide to get started?      Michael Hyatt has a simple guide here

Want someone to walk you through some guided meditations?  UCLA Mindfulness center has some great guided meditations here.  They are from a secular, health perspective

Here are some Christian guided meditations  from a faith perspective.

Ready for a day-long retreat?  here is a great website that will walk you through a whole day with God!  I also have some books and other resources for taking a personal retreat day.

Want a great place to go on a personal retreat?  Wellsprings Farms (formerly Clare's Well) is a wonderful place to get away by yourself and its not too far away.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

What does a Christian Look Like??

Paul the great church starter goes to Galatia among Pagan peoples, converts a group of leaders and helps them to start a church and then moves on to another area.   Jewish Christian missionaries come some time after Paul and are trying to convince the people to become more Jewish in their religious practice.  To be circumcised, to follow the kosher food laws, etc.   Paul writes this letter called "Galatians" to the people in Galatia and this letter and this point of view becomes the basis for which Christianity begins to reject its Jewish roots.

In chapter 5 Paul asks:  What does it look like to be Christian? 
How do we know we are being led by the Holy Spirit?  
For the Jewish Christians it is being circumcised, eating kosher, and believing Jesus is the messiah prophesied in the old testament.

What does it look like to be a Christian?
It is a question that is always being asked again.  Can Christians have tattoos? Piercings?
At one point in our Methodist history being a Christian meant not drinking, not dancing, not playing cards, going to church in a suit and tie if you are a man, or a dress and hat if you were a woman.
Over time these outward marks change with our culture and we are always asking again - what does it look like to be a Christian?

Paul’s argument is that narrow definitions of religious practice don’t work.  Having a check list or a picture of a “Christian” doesn’t work.  Outward habits of not doing this or always doing that are not the true signs of faith -- they are cultural definitions of who is "good" but have nothing really to do with our hearts.

What is really defines our faith is our connection to God through the Holy Spirit, allowing God’s spirit  work in us to make us better people.   The marks of being a Christian are in how we interact with people.  
The practices that we take on – service, Bible Study, prayer, small groups are opportunities for us to grow and develop these qualities within us.  But they are not the ends in themselves.   Being a person of faith means cultivating the inner qualities that bring us closer to God and help us love our neighbor.    Being a Christian is defined by our hearts, our attitudes and the habits of our minds.
When we meet a loving, joyful, peace-loving person who is good and kind and gentle and controls their temper then we know we have met a person led by the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

When Christians get it Right

We've talked about how Christians get it wrong the last 5 weeks.
But what does it look like when Christians get it right??
It looks like Pentecost!

First -- On Pentecost the followers of Jesus focused on telling the story of Jesus -- how Jesus lived & died and rose again to give us freedom and life and love.  

When Christians get it right we are focused on Jesus’ story, how we live it in our lives and sharing it with others.  That’s getting it right.

Second -- On Pentecost the Holy Spirit Wind blew open the windows and the doors sending us into the world.    The Holy Spirit oriented the disciples outward to the world, not inward to the group of insiders.

When Christians get it right we are far less worried about navel gazing and inner circle stuff than we are about how we can engage the world.  The new church should not be a resting place for used up rockets but a launch pad for sending followers of Jesus out into the world.  The church is not a car museum where everything is perfectly shiny and preserved but a NASCAR pit stop where the grease, fuel and the wheels are flying into us so we can get out there again to do the work of the church.

Third -- On Pentecost involved speaking in tongues, other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave ability.  Which is a little weird for mainline Protestants in subdued Iowa.  Think of the speaking of tongues as God's radical hospitality -- making sure the people heard the Good News in the way they would best absorb it.  

We are not called to share the Good News in the way we want to hear it -- We already have heard it!!   We are called to share the Good News in the way others might best hear it.  That means asking ourselves what kind of music do people in the world listen to??  What kind of hour do people in the world enjoy??  Who are on the edges of our society and how can we connect with them?  In the way they want to hear it

These three things:
+Focused on Jesus' story
+Outwardly Oriented
+Sharing in the way others can hear

Are hallmarks of how Christians can get it right -- how we show love non-judgmentally for God's people.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Comforting Words

We all struggle with what to say at a funeral, or to a friend who has had something bad happen to them.  Here are some words to say that truly comfort, and some to avoid:

Words of Comfort

This is hard.  (Hug)

I’m always going to remember their (smile, laugh, that time when)

I’ll never understand why this happened. 

You aren’t alone

When X happened to me I felt (shocked, angry, frustrated, depressed)  I’d like to call you in the next couple weeks for coffee and I’d be happy to listen to your experience.

I would love to help in some way – I could do X or Y, which would help?

Put on your calendar to call the person in the next weeks & months ahead.  Don't wait for them to call you!

Feelings aren’t right or wrong, they just are.

We all grieve differently.   You are normal.

What NOT to  Say

I know how you feel.
This is just like when X happened to me.
Don’t cry.  Be Strong.  Don’t say that.  Don’t feel that way.
Everything happens for a reason.
This must be a part of God’s plan.
God never gives us more than we can handle.
This is for the best.
S/He is in a better place.
Let me know if you need anything.
God needed another angel in heaven.

These might sound spiritual but they do more harm than good -- avoid them at all costs!!!

After preaching this on Sunday, a friend came up to me and responded that he had just been at a funeral for someone who had been a great runner. He was trying to think of something to say to the widow
He first thought of saying:  "Jesus must have needed a great runner on the track team"
then he thought better and reworded it to:  "If there is a track team in heaven, John is sure on it"
much better.
A simple rephrase can make a big difference in theology and comfort.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Can All mean ALL?

My goal in talking about homosexuality and the issues surrounding it is not to tell you you are right or wrong about your point of view, I’m not going to try to convince you to change your mind on the issue.  

I also can’t in one sermon go through all the Biblical texts that relate to homosexuality.  There are too many and we’d have to go into Hebrew and Greek etc.  But I hope we can do that sometime soon.

My goal is to talk about how the fight about homosexuality is affecting the ministry of the church and the mission of Jesus Christ, and the mission and ministry of Calvary United Methodist Church specifically.

The issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights is not new.  These issues have been around for 2,000 plus years.  They ebb and flow between levels of acceptance and levels of how much it is discussed openly in culture – but they have been there.

When its about your family, your people that you love, then this “issue” is deeply personal and touches a part of your heart that is tender.  I first want to encourage everyone to be careful with your words when discussing LGBT rights and roles in the church.  You may be talking to someone for whom this is personal.  And while we can always disagree, please do so with respect and gentleness.

The United Methodist Church has been arguing over LGBTQ rights in the church for 44 years.  Before 1972 there were no rules in the Book of Discipline (BOD) about homosexuality and each local church could do as it felt right.  Glide Memorial UMC in San Francisco did many same sex wedding that were not legal but meaningful.  Since the adoption of the phrase “We believe homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” in the BOD in 1972 the fight over that language has been constant.  PBS did a 30 minute documentary about the UMC’s fight over the issue highlighting the clergy trials conducted for pastors who came out and pastors who did same sex weddings.  Most recently Rev Frank Schaefer was put on trial in the UMC and his clergy credentials taken away because he conducted the wedding for his son and his son’s husband.

What happens when the world at large sees us, the church, fighting about this issue is damaging to the Mission of Jesus Christ, the Ministry of the Church and the call of Calvary United Methodist Church.

The Mission of Jesus Christ was spoken by Jesus in two places: 

Matthew 22: 37-38  “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

Matthew 28: 19  “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

So Jesus’ mission can be summed up as: Love God, Love neighbor, Make disciples of all.
When the world sees the church arguing about whether or not LGBTQ people are welcome or not, spending thousands of dollars on church trials, then the mission of Jesus is called into question.  Does the church really want to love our neighbor?  Do we really want to make disciples of all people?   If we are going to start excluding certain groups of people then we really aren’t taking Jesus’ words – make disciples of ALL – seriously.  All means all.  If all doesn’t mean all then who else can be excluded?  Anyone who doesn’t fit our narrow picture of the right kinds of people? 

The Ministry of the Church is in its rituals that enter into people’s lives at special moments.  Baptism, Confirmation, Weddings, Funerals – these are the moments when people who have ignored God all of a sudden feel the tug to connect with the Sacred.  They are open to seeing how God is at work in this new time of their lives.  When we are forbidden from allowing certain people from participating in these moments then we are telling them that God is not with them in the midst of their lives. 

In 2005 I came to Calvary UMC married to a man who promised to love, respect and be faithful husband.  Soon after arriving, I learned that he was not being faithful, and even after being caught and repenting he continued to lie and be in relationship with other women.  I was deeply hurt and broken by the betrayal.  That winter the opportunity came to go to a young clergy conference in Washington DC to learn about the Social Principle of the UMC and how to use them in our ministry.  In a discussion exercise we were asked to listen to each other for two minutes on a topic.  The leader read this statement on marriage from our BOD:

“We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman.”

The young, female clergy I was partnered with spoke first.  She spent 2 minutes telling me that the most important part of that statement was the man/woman part and that the church really needed to focus on God’s vision of marriage that was just for men and women. 
When it was my turn I started to cry.  I told her: I had a husband, he had all the right body parts, but he wasn’t loving, committed, or faithful.  For me the most important part of that statement was the quality of a relationship, how people care for and love each other faithfully and that the body parts was the least important part.

I probably get one or two phone calls a year asking me to conduct a wedding for a same-sex couple.  It breaks my heart to have to say “no” because I know that they have been hurt by the church before and that I am being another church person that is rejecting them when deep down I believe God is with them and wants to bless them.  I believe it is the quality of a relationship that God wants us to focus on, and that what is between our legs is not God’s priority.  And we turn not only LGBTQ people away from the church, but many people like me who have been in marriage and know that marriage is more than sex. We long for a church to focus on helping build quality relationships.

Finally, Calvary United Methodist Church has a special place of ministry in this area. When I first came to Calvary UMC I had a bunch of get to know you coffees at people’s homes and I was surprised to find at each one a person or family who was or had a close family member who was LGBTQ.  I had not served a church where I had so many persons affected by this issue and it was humbling.  You are also not alone.  My cousin from California I had not met until we were both in seminary about to become pastors in the United Methodist Church came out to me at my grandmother’s house.  I am saddened that after having an appointment to a church where the senior pastor was not supportive of her she left the UMC and is now clergy in another denomination.  I wish she was Methodist, but I am joyful that she and her wife are happy

Truth in advertising is very important.  20 years ago the United Methodist Church launched the most successful advertising campaign of any denomination in history.  “Open minds, Open hearts, Open doors”  was our slogan and the world loved it, attendance went through the roof.  But 9 months later attendance was back down.  Why?  People found we weren’t so open.  We talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk.  It was disappointing.

Calvary’s mission statement for 10 years has been:  “Sharing God’s unconditional love with all”.  If we really mean that, then all must mean all and we must be prepared to welcome and accept all of God’s children without judgment.  Or else lets change our mission statement.  Lets be honest.  Are we going to welcome everyone – can we decide to welcome people even those we may not agree with morally?? 

I believe that we can.  I believe that this church has the heart for the mission of Jesus:  Love God, Love Neighbor, Make all Disciples.  And I believe all can mean all.  May God help us.

#GC2016  #RMN  #allmeansall

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Do non-Christians go to hell?

The world has changed.  We used to go our whole lives without really meeting or getting to know a person of another religion and it was easy to condemn those who were not like us.  But the world shrunk and now we have Muslim doctors, Hindu yoga instructors, Wiccan cousins and Jewish neighbors.  We have met our neighbors who are different and we have realized they are a lot like us -- a lot like Jesus always said.

When Jesus was asked about how to go to heaven by the smart guy Jesus answered, "what does the law say?"  the smart guy said, "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself."  

Jesus said, "you got it."

Smart guy says, "but who is my neighbor?"  in other words - who do I really have to be nice too?  are there people that I can be mean to and not worry about getting into heaven?  Are there "get out of kindness free" cards out there?

Jesus, as he is prone to do, answers the question with a story.  And the story would have had a lot more impact in Jesus' day because they knew who Samaritans are.  Samaritans are to Jews backwards cousins who butcher the faith with just plain wrong ideas - like worshipping on the mountain instead of in the Temple.  Samaritans were dangerous, prone to lead a good Jew astray.  They were evil, refusing to do what God so clearly said to do.  Samaritans were avoided by good Jews at all costs.  

But Jesus goes and makes the Samaritan the hero of the story.  Jesus!  
Good religious people pass by a guy in need and the Samaritan takes care of him -- who did good?  

Smart guy has to admit (but he won't say the word "Samaritan") the one who showed mercy to the hurt man is the one who did good.   Jesus says - go and be like him.

What??  Go be like the Samaritan?!?!

If this story was told today with similar religious tension the story would go something like this:
A guy pulls over to pick up a hitchhiker on Hwy 71 south of Spencer.  The hitchhiker car jacks the guy, beats him up and leaves him on the side of the road.  A car comes by and the Catholic priest on his way to meet Pope Francis notices the guy but doesn't want to be late to meet this amazing Pope and drives on by.  Another car comes by and its a United Methodist District Superintendent on his way to the Imagine No Malaria fundraiser.  She sees the guy on the side of the road but can't stop or she'll miss the chance to help so many in Africa so she passes by.   A Muslim guy who works in the meat packing plant in Storm Lake is driving by, he stops and puts the guy in his car and takes the hurt man to the nearest hospital where he gives the check-in desk his own credit card for expenses.  
Who should we be like? 
Who would God be proud of? 
Who would God welcome into heaven with the words, "well done, good and faithful servant"?

Christianity has always had a variety of thought on the question "do non-Christians go to heaven?" and there are three main answers.

1.  Christian Exclusivism – Must be Christian to go to heaven, no exceptions.  Most people who believe this put a large emphasis on having Jesus as your personal Savior and believer's baptism.    Taken to the logical conclusion not only people who are not Christian are going to hell, but babies, Mentally handicapped, and those who never heard about Jesus.  The problem with this perspective is that the focus is on human understanding and the evangelist rather than God's grace and Jesus' redeeming work on the cross.  It requires that we understand and accept fully Jesus' sacrifice -- and really, do any of us fully understand?

Christian Universalism – Jesus saves all and everyone goes to heaven no matter what.  This is a very tempting, feel good kind of theology that basically brings everyone into the game.  But there is a problem with this as well - does not allow for free will.  God does not make us come to Him/Her.  God invites us and calls to us but God will not make us.  Universalism means people will be in heaven whether they want to or not - and some honestly will not want to be there.

Christian Inclusivism --  Jesus died to save the world, and all who earnestly seek faith, seek to love God and neighbor will be saved.  Not because they believed correctly or because they did good but because they lived in faith, whatever faith they could find, and that faith was lived in their lives.  This allows both for free will and for an inclusive theology that welcomes all who seek.  And while this might sound radical, it is actually a common position in the 2000 years of Christian history.  

 CS Lewis wrote in his classic book Mere Christianity, "We do know that no person can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved by Him.”  (Page 65)    In other words the work of salvation is through Christ alone, but that does not mean that people have to get it completely right for Christ to save them.

Billy Graham, the father of modern evangelism said in an interview with Robert Schuller May 31, 1997:
"And that's what God is doing today, He's calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they've been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don't have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they're going to be with us in heaven."  

So when you meet your neighbor who is Jewish, who is Muslim, who is Hindu, who doesn't know what they are - don't think to yourself "oh my they are going to hell".  Think instead of how God loves them and wants you to love them too.

So why do evangelism at all?  Why try to share the message of Jesus?  

Because it is good news.  It is good news that God loves us so much that taking a body on earth lived with us and shows us (even through death) that we are precious and beloved.
Jesus shows us what it truly is to be human: kind, generous, humble, loving, patient and self-controlled.  
Jesus shows us what it truly is that God wants for us: joy, peace, love, grace, and renewal.

I preach Jesus not because I worry about hell, but because I know life is better with Jesus in my life today.  And I believe that Jesus can make life better for all of us when we follow his lead and love God and love our neighbors.