Getting Real About Life, about Love, and about God

Monday, April 8, 2019

Is it a Sin? Part 2

"When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it." Genesis 3:6

We see in this verse that Eve decides that the fruit of the tree looks good to her.  It pleases her.  Eve desired the fruit of the tree.  Let that sink in as we think about the issue of whether something is a sin or not. I wrote in the last post about how sin is really a heart issue and it is deeper than just behaviors that we do or fail to do. We see in the story of the fall that the devil tempts Eve to shift the inclination of her heart from what God wants and desires to what she wants and desires. The gauge of whether something is a sin or not cannot be what we want and desire.  It can't be based on what we say is good.  It can't be determined by what pleases us. Because our wants and desires don't always line up with God.  If we are honest we know that they rarely do.  Jesus knows this about us as well that is why he says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23)  It is not about what is good to us, pleases us or what we desire.  It is about what pleases God and what God desires. 

Here is where I am going with my thoughts on this.  If the argument for homosexuality not being a sin, or anything for that matter, is that it is good to me, pleases me and I desire it, then that is a not a very biblical or Christ-centered argument.  If the basis for determining our actions is our desires then we are determining our behaviors on our terms not God's. This is the very thing that the devil convinces Adam and Eve to do.  This is what leads us to separation from God.  This is not a denial of self but self-indulgence. This is self-centeredness, not Christ-centeredness.  Following self, not following Jesus.

The same is true of determining what the church is like and who is in and who is out.  If we base that on what we desire, what is good to us, and what pleases us then we are building our church, not God's.  We build our own little kingdoms.  We create communities of people designed to be what we are pleased with and what we think is good.  We only let in the people we are comfortable with and the people we find easy to love.  We keep out the people who don't look like us, think like us, or act like us. And we keep God out of it.  Because we are not thinking about God we are thinking about ourselves. 

The same is happening when we base a decision on whether we think it is bad for us, doesn't please us or we don't desire it.  This is still about us and not about God.

There must be another basis for determining what is sin and if there are behaviors that seperate us from God.  This must be determined by God not us.  After all, this is about our relationship with God and what separates us from Him. We have to surrender not just our lives to God but also being the ones who say what is right and what is wrong.  We have to live our lives in and through the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit of God will reveal what is sin in our lives and will enable us to understand the will of God.  God enables us to understand what is good, pleasing and desirable to God.  The truth is that we only know about God what God reveals to us.

Jesus tells us this as he reveals to Peter how Peter knows who He is. "And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven." The way that we are able to live in relationship with God and live according to his will is through surrendering to Him and allowing his Spirit to come into our hearts and lives and lead us.  He promises that his Spirit is what will keep us from sin and enable us to determine what is a sin. 

Ezekiel reveals the promise. "And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws."  The way that we know what God desires is by His Spirit.  The Spirit will reveal what is a sin to us.  The Spirit will cause us to live in relationship with God that is pleasing to Him.  Our calling is to live by the Spirit and allow the Spirit to be our advocate.  I believe that the only way that I will know what is in the will of God or not is by living in and by the Spirit.  I have to live in relationship with God and others who are living in relationship with God by the power of the Holy Spirit and in this, and only in this, will I be able to understand what is good, pleasing and desirable to God as He reveals it to me.  Paul writes about this in his letter to the Galatians.
"You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other." Galatians 5:13-26
So, we need to keep in step with the Spirit.  We need to live by the Spirit and be led by the Spirit.  The Spirit will bear fruit in our lives, not sin.  If anyone lives in and by the Spirit, they will bear the fruits of the Spirit and not desire the things of the flesh.  Our biggest concern should not be if someone's behaviors or our own behaviors are "good or bad" it should be if we are connecting to the Holy Spirit. This is the only way we will really know what sin is.  It is the only way that we can know the desires of God. 

Jesus says an interesting thing about sin as he tells us about the promised Spirit that will come to us after he goes to be with the father.
But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” John 16:7-15
Jesus says that the first thing the Spirit will do is prove the world to be wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment. He is saying the world gets sin wrong. Maybe we are basing it on the wrong things?  Maybe we are making it a list of behaviors?  Maybe we are making it about what we want?  He says that the problem with our understanding of sin is that we don't believe in Him.  When it comes to sin we have to trust Jesus.  We have to remember that sin does not get the last word Jesus does. "This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:22-24)  All of us are sinners, all of us are justified by grace through faith because of who Jesus is and what Jesus does not because of who we are and what we have done.

Our focus needs to be on the Spirit and on connecting one another to the Spirit and then we need to be looking for the fruits to be revealed in one another's lives as we love one another. The Spirit and only the Spirit will guide us and make known to us the desires of God. I believe the Spirit will surprise us.  I believe that Spirit will open our eyes to new discoveries. I believe that we will grow in our understanding of God.  Not just an understanding of what separates us from Him. 

Love today.

In Christ's love and mine,

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Is it a Sin? Part 1

I learned a pretty powerful lesson about sin when I was in seminary. I did not learn it from a professor or in a theology class. I did not learn this lesson about sin through the study of the Bible.  I learned this while playing with a piece of clay that I was molding into a chalice. What I learned about sin is this-- anything can be sin on our lives, even good things. 

Sin is anything that separates us from God.

It was the first week of January 2006 and I was at the monastery in Atchison, Kansas. The final class that I was taking for seminary was to immerse myself for a week in this community of Benedictine nuns.  It was an incredible week of prayer, meditation, reading the psalms and contemplative labor. I thoroughly enjoyed my week there even though it was not at the most opportune time for me in life and ministry.  Perhaps it was at the perfect time, however, I did not see it that way when I went.

I had just moved to pastor a new church.  A thriving, fruitful new start church that was growing and reaching new people.  The church that I had just left had experience significant growth spiritually and numerically.  I had been going to seminary full time and pastoring full time I was finally going to be finished with my formal education and be able to devote full time to pastoring and leading the church.  I moved to my new church, preached my first sermon and then left to go to the monastery.  I left my wife at home with 3 children, a house full of unpacked boxes, in a place she knew no one and said I will be back in a week.  It was not the best time to go away.

Ministry was going well. I had been studying, serving, and leading the church and outwardly everything was going good.  I was busy and finally, I was going to be able to take seminary off my plate and focus full time on doing ministry in the church.  As was set in this barn that had been converted into an art studio playing with a lump of clay and thinking about my relationship with God it was like a window opened up in my mind and I begin to have a conversation with God through that open window.  Free-flowing open dialogue with God.

Here is the lesson that I learned about myself and about sin at that moment.  Somewhere along the way, as I studied the bible and theology, as I prepared and preached sermons, as I cared for the sick and tended to the saints, as I lead a church that was bearing fruit and growing I had become separated from God. I was doing good things. I was not doing bad things.  But, what I was doing had led me to a place where I was no longer connecting to God. Early on in my relationship with Christ, as I was falling in love with Jesus and hearing his call to ministry, that window in my mind was open. I felt and experienced open dialogue with God.  This is what enabled me to discern and to follow where God was leading me.  But, somewhere along the way in the midst of all the studying and church work I had grown apart from God.  Worse yet, I didn't even know it.  I had not noticed that I had stopped the dialogue with God.  I didn't recognize that the window had closed.  I was so caught up doing good things that I stopped doing the God things. Good things can seperate us from God.  Church work can separate us from God. Good things can become sin in our lives.

What do we call things that seperate us from God?

Now, if we are honest, on our list of behaviors that we think constitute sin we do not have church work or studying about God. We don't have serving or preaching.  I think that we trivialize sin when we think about it as a list of behaviors. Let me write this again.  We trivialize sin when we think about it as a list of behaviors.  We make it seem less important, less significant and less complicated than it really is.

I also think that this is exactly what the devil wants us to do.  Make lists of good behaviors and bad behaviors. He wants us to believe that if we do the things on the good list we will be right with God and if we don't do the things on the bad list we will also be right with God.  He wants us to believe that if we or other people do things on our bad list than we are not right with God.  He wants us to boil it down to behaviors and strict obedience to a set of rules so we will miss that it is really all about our hearts and not our behaviors.

If good things like service in the church and pursuing a theological education can seperate us from God any behavior has that potential.  So, it has to be about more than particular behaviors that you and I can say are good or bad.  Sin has to be rooted somewhere deeper than just outward behaviors. While the Bible does contain lists of things to do and not do out of obedience to God I don't think that it is suggesting in any way that sin is that simple.  Just behaviors. In fact, being saved by grace through faith and not by works says behaviors are not the ultimate determining factor in what separates us or connects us to God. So what is a sin?  Are behaviors what sin is or is it deeper and more complex?

Let's walk back into the garden where sin makes its first appearance and let's dig into the soil where sin takes root and bears the first fruit of separation from God.
"Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden." Genesis 3:1-8
So, is the behavior of eating the fruit from the tree what leads to separation from God or do we see something deeper that leads to that behavior and to the separation? Is the behavior the result of the real issue that is the sin. Do we see what might be the root cause of sin that helps us to understand sin as more than bad behavior?

We are told that Eve knows what God desires.  She is clear about what God asks of her and Adam.  But, she lets the serpent tempt her to think about life and the arrangement of the garden differently.  The serpent wants to get Eve to not think about God but to think only about herself.  He begins with a lie. He stretches the truth by asking Eve if God said she couldn't eat from any of the trees in the garden. The serpent baits her into the discussion.  She tells the tempter what God desires and then he ramps up his lying by telling her God has ulterior motives for his stipulation about the tree.  He wants her to stop thinking about God's desires.  He wants to turn her heart away from God.  Because the inclination of her heart is what is important.  It is what he has to change if he wants to seperate the creation from the creator.  He knows he has to change the inclination of our hearts.  Convince us that it is all about a list of behaviors that are either good or bad. He wants us to trivialize it and simplify it.  He just needs to get us to desire something other than God.

We are told that Eve then decides that the fruit is good to her, pleasing to her, and she desires it.  The craftiness of the serpent changes the inclination of Eve's heart from what God says is good, pleasing and desirable to what is good pleasing and desirable to Eve.  This is what leads to separation.  The irony of it all is that Eve, and you and I for that matter, have no knowledge of good and evil.  Yet, the serpent in his craftiness gets her to think she knows something to be good, pleasing and desirable.  It is not that he changes her knowledge.  He changes her heart.  He changes what she desires. She moves from desiring what God wants, and what she was created for, to desiring what Eve wants.  This is the root cause of sin.

James writes, "When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death."

When the desire is conceived in our hearts it gives birth to sin. Sin is a matter of our hearts, not our behaviors. It is an attitude of our hearts that leads to separation from God, not bad behaviors in and of themselves. It is behaviors driven by the condition of our hearts that are sinful or not. It is a subtle shift, but it is significant in its consequences. The devil knows this. If we keep on the level of behaviors that are either good or bad we will never actually understand sin or address the real issue.  It is the motive and the drive behind our behaviors that make all the difference.  It is a heart problem, not a behavior problem. The desire conceived in our heats gives birth to sinful behavior. When the desire shifts to anything but God that is the root of sin.  Sin is a heart issue not merely doing what is wrong.  This is why simple obedience of all the rules is not enough for the rich young ruler.  Jesus tells him you still lack one thing.  It is also why the tenth leper gains his salvation when he is disobedient to what Jesus told him to do and the other nine only receive the healing being obedient.  It is a heart issue at its core, not an obedience issue.  I am not saying that behaviors and what we do are unimportant. I am just noting that sin is more complex than drinking, smoking, cussing or whatever behaviors we might put on our lists.  For the tenth leper, we see his call to love Jesus supersedes his call to obedience. Jesus told him to go to the priest, but when he sees that he no longer is inflicted with the disease that had marked him and he understands that Jesus has healed him the desire of his heart is to thank Jesus and show his gratitude.  He doesn't go to the priest as he was told to by Jesus. He disobeys and falls at Jesus' feet to show love.  Jesus tells him that his faith has saved him.  The other nine do what Jesus tells them to do.  They received the healing but in their obedience, they missed their salvation.  This is what I was doing early on in ministry I was doing good stuff, I was doing what good people do.  I was pursuing my calling but I had exchanged my pursuit of Jesus for it.  The inclination of my heart had shifted, subtly, but with significant consequences.  I was playing church.  I learned that it was a heart issue more than a behavior issue.

The Bible speaks about this.
"The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time." Genesis 6:5
"The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done." Genesis 8:21
"But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward." Jeremiah 7:24
The issue is cardiosclerosis. Hardening of the heart.
"When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts." Exodus 9:34
"Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way?" 1 Samual 6:6

“Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness," Psalm 95:8
"Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble." Proverbs 28:14
"For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’" Matthew 13:15
"Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning." Matthew 19:8
"for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened." Mark 6:52 
 "They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts." Ephesians 4:18
"do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness," Hebrews 3:8
God has promised a cure for our sinful condition.
"I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." Ezekiel 36:25-27
Sin is complicated.  It would be easier if it was just a list of behaviors not to do.  I like lists. To do lists help me get things done. A grocery list helps me buy what I am suppose to and not buy what I shouldn't. But, sin is not that simple. It is rooted in our hearts.  Our hearts are the place where desire gives birth to sin.  Sin at its core is a heart issue not simply "behaving badly".  Thanks be to God that he is in the heart transplant business. He promises the cure for our hard-heartedness. He also promises that he will give Himself to us along with a new heart.  He also promises that His Spirit will move us to behavior that is good, pleasing and desirable to Him.  We will unpack this more in future posts.

Love today.

In Christ's love and mine,

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Good and Bad

I have always found the creation story beneficial to understanding God's intent for the world. I call myself a creation theologian. I think it has a nice ring to it.  What I mean by this is that I believe we can understand a lot about who God is, who we are, and what God's purpose for our life is through the biblical account of creation. For me, the creation story paints the picture of life in relationship with God before sin comes in and distorts everything.  When we read the creation story we see what God intends life to be for us and what he desires.  In Genesis 1 and 2, we see how you and I can live in perfect harmony with God and the world.  Everything was good and just as God created it to be.  There was no separation between God and his creation.  We read that God created everything and it was very good.

Why does God create?

Have you ever reflected on this?  The Bible is clear the God creates all things. God creates the moon, the stars, the earth and everything in it. He creates the plants, the animals, the dirt, the water, and he creates humans. Everything is created by God. But, why?
Does he have to create? 
Is he lonely and needs someone to play with? 
Does God want something or someone to control?

If we read the accounts of creates we can understand that God does not have to create.  He just chooses to create. God doesn't need us. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, present even before time existed.  He speaks and it is so.  He does not need us. God isn't lonely. We are told that in the beginning, before anything is created,  God exists as a community, the Trinity. We are told that the Spirit is hovering over the waters, and creation happens as the Word of God goes out. When it comes to the point in creation that God considers the creation of humanity, God says, "Let us make mankind in our image." God is not lonely. God also does not want to control.  We see that after God creates humanity he then gives them the command to steward and subdue all that has been created. So, why does God create?

Love is the answer
God desires us. He does not need us. He does not have to have us.  He wants us.  You are loved and desired by God. He creates because he loves us.  God is love and works out every detail of creation so that you and I can experience love as well.  Don't miss this. God creates us so that we could experience an intimate, loving relationship with Him. God works out every detail of creation so that you and I can experience real love. He does not want us to have a false or fake love. Love that is forced is not love at all.  Love has to be chosen.  God knows this. Every detail of creation illustrates that the God of love creates so that his creation could know and experience the love of God and the love of one another.

Free will is necessary for Real Love
In order for love to be real, there has to be the possibility for us to not love. For creation to be good, there must be everything necessary for the fall built into the details of creation.  There must be a boundary. If there is no boundary or nothing off limits, then do we really have a choice?  We don't. Boundaries are necessary for us to have free will.  In order to choose God, there must be an opportunity to choose something else for it to really be a choice.

There also has to be built into each of us the ability to not only do good but also to do bad.  If we are created with only the ability to do good than our choices are not really choices.  We are "programmed" only to do good.  So, we would not be able to actually make any choices.  If we are programmed we don't really experience anything real. God desires a real relationship with us.  He wants us to experience real love. We can see this in the details of the creation story.  We see this in the way in which we have the ability to both do good and to do evil. This is also necessary for us to experience authentic relationships with God and others.

The boundary in creation is not just any tree
The only tree in the garden of Eden that Adam and Eve are told not to eat from, the one boundary that is off limits, is the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Don't miss this detail. You see God's original intent is that humanity, you and I, would not have to wrestle with trying to figure out what is good and what is bad.  We are not even supposed to mess with knowledge of good and evil.  Knowing what was good and bad was not up to us.  We are not supposed to try to eat that fruit. When we do it distorts God's creation.  When we do it moves us away from God's intent for our lives.  When we try to eat that fruit we try to do something we were not created to do and quite frankly we are not capable of doing?  Remember, in order for us to have free will, we have both good and bad in us.  The bad in me will distort my ability to understand what is good and what is evil. It can trick me.  The evil in us will convince us those good things are actually bad and those bad things are actually good.  We are not designed to have knowledge of good and evil. This is why it is the one boundary that God sets up.

This is why we struggle with questions like "why do bad things happen to good people?" or "why do good things happen to bad people?" We don't have the knowledge for it.  And we don't have access to the tree either. Yet, we still try to say that some things are good and some things are bad.  We argue and divide because we disagree on what is good and what is bad.  We think we know but when we look at the details of the creation story we discover that you and I don't know what is good and what is bad.  It was never intended for us to have knowledge of good and evil and still today we lack this knowledge.  Knowledge of good and evil is to be left up to God.  It is off limits to us.  To go there is to go out of bounds.  But, the serpent still tries to deceive us.  And we continue to fall for his tricks.  We are easy prey.  Tempted, we grab for the low hanging fruit instead of leaving knowledge of good and evil to God. 

We also learn from the creation story that God does not leave humanity even when they eat fruit they are not supposed to eat or are not designed to be capable of eating.  He still loves us.  He still provides for us.  He still works to restore us back to His original intent.  He still desires an authentic, intimate relationship with us. He still wants us to choose to love Him in return.

Love Today.

In Christ's love and mine,

Thursday, March 14, 2019

For the Bible Tells Me So

This post is going to be uncomfortable.  It will, to some, be the most controversial thing that I will write about pertaining to our discernment, knowing God and doing life together.  It will challenge us.  I am not trying to say I know the answers on this subject. As I have already shared previously I am open to the understanding that I don't have all the answers.  I do not fully know the mind of God and I am not going to pretend that I do. I just want to share how I am thinking openly about all aspects that go into the decisions that we make around any issue.

We should talk about the Bible and interpreting the scriptures.

We need to talk about this because, for many of us, including me, it is our interpretation of the Bible that plays the strongest role in understanding as we seek to follow Jesus. It is the primary resource we use to understand God's will. In future posts, I will be sharing how the scriptures help to shape my belief so let's spend some time talking about interpreting the Bible.

I want to begin by saying I consider myself a biblical conservative. What I mean by this is that I take the Bible very seriously and I believe that we should do what it says. I think the Bible extremely important. I read the Bible every day.  I start each day in the scriptures as a foundation for my day.  I long to have it written on my heart and to shape my life.  I think that the Bible is inspired by God and useful for teaching and rebuking as it says in 2 Timothy.  I believe that God reveals himself to us through the scriptures and speaks to our lives.  I believe that it is divinely inspired and because of that, it has power.  Those of you that know me, I believe know this to be true about me.

Much of the division that has taken place within the church on these issues have to do with Biblical interpretation. If we could all agree on how to interpret what the Bible says then things would be easier.  Not so messy.  Not so difficult.  But, the truth is, we all don't agree on how to interpret the Bible. We have different beliefs and we say, "I believe what I believe because the Bible tells me so."
Some people will say that this can not be the case.  Someone has to be right and someone is wrong.  People who take this position say my interpretation is right and any other interpretation is wrong.

I want to suggest that it may be possible to experience the Holy Spirit and the truth of God as we live in the tension of different opinions.  I don't want to say I am right and you are wrong.  I want to say this is what I believe according to my interpretation of the scriptures and I am open to what I don't yet know and what I can learn from others who believe differently than I do.

I am not saying that God's truth is subjective, what I am saying is that my interpretation of it could be limited by my own subjectivity. I think as a church we need to be open to diversity even when it comes to differing views of how to interpret the scriptures  I am ultimately suggesting a humility and a gentleness with our interpretation of scriptures that can build one another up and not tear others down. It is in the patient bearing with one another that we might discover more fully the truth of God. I am suggesting what I interpret Paul daying as he writes describing that which unites us together and also how our diversity will build us up.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it...So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up  until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16
Paul closes out the chapter in verses 31 & 32 with this.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 
I have already stated that for me the most biblical and faithful response is that I don't fully know. I have shared how I interpret the Bible to support this position. This position must pertain also to my interpretation of scripture.  How I interpret scripture is just that-- my interpretation of scripture. I am not God and I don't corner the market on the knowledge of God.  My mind is not the mind of God.  For me, I need to be open to the idea that my interpretation is limited by me and my knowledge.  Limited by the lenses of my tradition, my experiences, and my reasoning.  (Also, broadened by them.) But, I don't fully know.

It is possible for others to interpret the same scripture differently.  Shoot, at different times in my life the same verse has spoken to me differently. I have interpreted it differently at times.  I need to be open to what I don't know and be ok with others interpreting the scriptures differently. It is through conversation and listening to others who believe differently than me that I can understand more fully what I believe. I love when I am in a small group of people reading the Bible together and each of us interprets something different from the same passage.  It is moments like this that I understand the Bible as living, active and God-breathed, as it speaks into each person's life the word of God that they need to hear.  On this level, I think it is easy for all of us to be open to different interpretations.

It is on the understanding of how we interpret the scriptures that it gets more difficult for us. Do we take every passage as literal? What do we do with troublesome passages?  What about the passages that seem to contradict themselves? Do we still follow all of the law or just 10 commandments?  What do we do with the other 600+ laws? Can we do like Jesus and sum them all up in one? Do we make anything of the historical context that the scripture is written in? What about the authors, do they bring anything to the text?  What is meant by divine inspiration?

There is really a lot that goes into how we interpret the scriptures.  It could be, and I believe it is,  more complicated than just "this is what it says."  I have spent over 20 years as a student of the Bible and I have to say that I continue to peel back layers of understanding and meaning as I have been open to meditating and studying the scriptures. My understanding of the scriptures and how to interpret them has changed since I first opened the cover.

Early on in my relationship with Christ my understanding of interpreting the scripture was very simplified.  I went with the philosophy that if it is the word of God and if it says to "do it" then you do it and if it says "don't do it" then don't do it.  I wanted to take it all as the very literal word of God. On a certain level, this would be so easy.  Certainly would require less work on my part to interpret and since I only know in part it seems great.  But, there are times it is unclear, to me at least, if the Bible is saying "do it" or "don't do it".  There are also places that the Bible says to do something in one place and says not to do it in another.  Jesus on more than one occasion says "it was said of old to do _______ But I say __________". If we are honest, we must admit that understanding what God is revealing through the words of the scripture is just not that simple to do.  It is unlike any other book we will ever read.

When I was in seminary, for a preaching class I was asked to write a sermon on Judges 19.  If you are not familiar with this passage,  I will try to give you a readers digest version of the story that takes place in this chapter. I do want to warn you, however, this is not one of the stories that were shared in Sunday School class with a flannel board.  For younger generations, there has not been a VeggieTales made of this story.

In Judges 19 read about a Levite man who was traveling with his concubine from Bethlehem in Judea to his home in the hill country of Ephriam.  Along the journey, he is welcomed as a guest in a man's home in Gibeah. While he is at the man's house a group of men came to the house and demanded that the old man send the Levite out of the house so that they can have sex with him.  The man refuses to send out the guest in his home but instead offers his virgin daughter and the man's concubine.  The men still want the man to come out but instead, he sends out his concubine and closes the door behind her.  We are told that they rape her and abuse her throughout the night. The next morning the man finds her dead on the doorstep.  The story ends with the man taking the dead woman back to his home and then cutting her up into twelve pieces and sending her to the 12 tribes of Isreal.

***Side note.  In this particular preaching class, before I received this assignment, the teacher told us not to worry we would not be asked to do sermons on any of the difficult passages of scripture.  I am so glad I didn't get one of those difficult scriptures she was referring to.

This is in the Bible.  You can look it up and read it for yourself in Joshua 19:20-30.  I have only heard one sermon on this passage.  It was the sermon I preached for the assignment.  How are we supposed to interpret this scripture?  How is it inspired by God? Does the context matter?  Do human authors matter? Am I to interpret this as a literal description of how we are to treat women?  Is this a passage about homosexuality? Is this a metaphor? Is it an allegory? What is it going on and why is this in the Bible?  I am not going to go through my interpretation of this particular passage.  I share this to show the difficulty that we can have with interpreting scripture.  How do we interpret this? Are we supposed to read this and say it is ok to treat women like this because they do it in the Bible?  Are we to see that women should be property used to protect men?  Do we read this story as one story or is it part of a bigger story that can help us discover meaning?

Interpretation is really not as easy as saying, "well the Bible says so."  The Bible has over 31,000 verses it says a lot of things but we may not fully understand what the Bible is saying.  At times the Bible might be saying one thing and actually showing us what not do.  We might read about God's people doing unGodly things.  Just because we see God's people do it does not mean it is good. One of my takeaways from the story in Judges, which was significant for me in interpreting scripture, is that sometimes what we see is what not to do without the words "thou shall not." Sometimes the stories we read reflect human behavior and not God's desire. Sometimes this is difficult to figure out.

Just because we read about it happening in the Bible does not mean it is something we still do today.  Slavery.  The roles of woman. An eye for an eye. I said earlier that there are over 600 laws given to Moses and we don't even come close to enforcing them and living out those laws.  Many of those laws we will say don't pertain anymore. It is a different time and a different place.  We don't have any problem wearing poly-cotton blends.  We will eat rare meat and not think twice about it.   I can't remember the last time we put people to death for adultery. To name just a few.  We don't make all the offerings and sacrifices that God commanded his followers to do. All of these would be direct disobedience to the scriptures if our only interpretation is, "the Bible says so." If we are honest, we have interpreted some scriptures as more important as others.  Some we say that is not for us now.  If this is possible how does that play into how we interpret other scriptures? Who chooses what we "have to" follow or don't "have to" follow anymore?

We do have some scriptures we don't take as serious or read as timeless as we do others. In fact, we see Jesus do that.  Is it ok for Jesus to say that scriptures don't pertain anymore? I think so. He is Jesus.  But if Jesus believed that every word is unchanging the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  If that is how Jesus interpreted the scripture in His day he would not say in His sermon on the mount over and over "you have heard it said __________, But I say _______________." Jesus says scripture, as it was interpreted, is now to be understood differently.

How we interpret the scriptures does play into our discussion about different topics.  I have friends and colleagues who interpret scriptures differently than I do.  I am a biblical conservative as I stated before.  I am pretty conservative in how I read the scriptures. But, I also know that a conservative reading of the Bible, if I take what the Bible says to be true for my life, means that socially I will have to be pretty progressive. The unconditional love of one another is pretty progressive, but if I  take seriously the teaching of the scripture and the words of Jesus, I must love everyone unconditionally.  When it comes to grace and mercy, a conservative reading of the Bible will lead to being progressive with my grace, love, and mercy.   A conservative reading of the scriptures leads to a progressive understanding of justice and a strong stance against injustice.  If we really take what we interpret the Bible to mean seriously the way we love and treat one another has to be taken seriously.  I think a conservative reading of the Bible leads me to openness towards people who don't think like me, act like me, and interpret the scripture different than me.

The unity that Paul talks about in the passage that I shared above is a unity on the things that are important.  A oneness that comes from the profession and sharing in the "unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." It is being united in one body.  United by one Spirit.  United in one hope. United in "one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."  He doesn't say that we will be one in the opinion all the time.  It does not say that we will have uniformity of thinking.  He says that we will have unity of the Spirit.  I think he knew we would disagree on some things.  After all, he is the author of the words, "we only know in part."  I think that he why reminds us that our unity will require patience and bearing with one another.  I think that is why he tells us that as we seek to live in unity with one another we have to get rid of bitterness, anger, and rage.  He tells not to brawl with each other or slander one another.  He reminds us that we are going to need to be kind, compassionate and forgiving.  I believe that if oneness was uniformity than Paul would not have to write those words.  I also believe it would be pretty limiting and boring.  I don't read anywhere in the scriptures that life in Christ's is either of those things.  This, of course, is just how I interpret it.

So, If you read this far, thank you.

I want to offer you a challenge.  Talk with someone who interprets scripture differently than you.  Talk with them sharing kindness and compassion. Listen to them. Be ok with not agreeing or changing their mind.  Love in the tension of not seeing eye to eye.  Be open to the idea that none of us fully know the mind of God. Trust and seek God.  If you don't have anyone to discuss different ways to interpret scriptures around the issues of same-sex marriage and homosexuality with I will share a link at the bottom with you. The writer does a good job of looking at traditional interpretations of the passages around these topics and also presenting other ways to interpret these scriptures.  Please be respectful, kind and open to his opinions and interpretations or just don't follow the link.  I also have a link to Adam Hamilton's book Making Sense of the Bible. Rev. Hamilton does some good work on understanding biblical interpretation.

I'll finish with the words of the old hymn,  "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.  Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong."

As God's little ones, trust and seek God in and through the life-giving words of the Bible.

Love Today,

In Christ's love and mine,

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Incompatible with Christian Teaching

The other day I spent six hours driving which gave me a lot of time to think and pray. It was the Thursday following the end of General Conference and I was trying to sort out what had taken place and what my thoughts and feelings are.  I watched the majority of the conference as it was streamed live.  I was drawn to it.  I had friends who were there and they were not taking lightly the decision that they were making for our denomination.  I had been and continued to pray for them and all the delegates. I was also curious what was going to happen and the human side of me wanted to see it for myself if it all derailed.

I do not want to focus on this but it did derail.  There were moments that we got to see our ugly side. There were moments that revealed to us the hurt that we have caused one another.  I am not proud of the way that we handled ourselves at all times. The church is still a work in progress.

I was thinking about the decision that was made and where I stand as a United Methodist on this side of the General Conference 2019.  The words that seemed to be at the heart of our differences kept reverberating in my mind.  "Incompatible with Christian teaching."  I kept thinking about all kinds of behavior that we could use that statement for other than homosexuality.

When I  think about Christian teaching I think about it through the lens of my Methodist influences. Scripture is the primary source for teaching about God but it is not all that there is to help us to understand God.  The history of the people of God and the work of the church can help us to understand what it means to live in a relationship with God and talk about the things of God.  We have our Christian tradition to look to in our discernment and learning to help us understand the things of God and to interpret the scriptures.  God created us with minds that can reason. We are not called to check our minds at the door when we enter the church.  We are not asked to stop thinking.  We need to think. To understand Christian teaching and the things of God we are to use our ability to reason that God creates each of us with.  Finally, we all experience God because God is not distant and far off. God is with us. God desires that we experience and know Him.  Our personal experience of God helps us to understand God. 

When I am talking about what I believe it is through a combination of scripture, tradition, experience, and reason.  This has become known as the "Wesleyan Quadrilateral."  As I talk about my understanding of Christian teaching and the scripture it is through these lenses.  What I read in the Bible, what I have learned from the tradition of the church, how I have experienced God personally and what I can reason.  As you seek to understand God you may find Wesley's Quadrilateral helpful as well.

Here are some behaviors and practices that as I understand through scripture, tradition, reason and my personal experience of God I would say are incompatible to Christian teaching. Each of these behaviors while not directly speaking to the issues of same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ+ people they are about living in relationship with Christ and one another.  So, they do have something to say to us.

I shared in the previous post that thinking that I fully know is incompatible with Christian teaching.  The scriptures caution us for thinking that we know it all.  There is a common theme that God is God and that we are not. We can know God but we can not fully know God until we see God face to face.  Our thinking is finite and limited. This does not mean that we know nothing. It only means that we do not know everything until we are able to see Jesus face to face.  This requires us to be humble.  It requires that we be open to at least the possibility that we don't know the whole truth.  It means that we are open to more learning and continue to seek God's wisdom.

One of the clearest themes of the Bible is that of love.  God's unconditional love. Jesus says that it is love that will identify His followers and set them apart. We are called to love one another. Not just love the ones that are like us and easy to love, but Jesus says to love our enemies.  James tells us that if we say we love God but don't love our brothers and sister who we can see we are liars.  We can't love God and hate others.  Not loving one another is incompatible with Christian teaching. To hate is incompatible with Christian teaching. Love keeps no records of wrongs.  Love forgives. Love protects. Love never fails.  Love always hopes.  Love is patient and kind.  Not loving everyone no matter what is incompatible with Christian teaching.

For me to judge others is incompatible with Christian teaching. It is not our job to judge.  Jesus is judge, not us.  Jesus tells us in the sermon on the mount that we are not to judge.  Condemnation is not compatible with Christian teaching either.  John 3:17 tells us that Jesus didn't come to condemn but to save.  If Jesus is not going to condemn people neither should his followers.

Here is one I will want to expand on further in future writing.  Making choices based on what I desire is incompatible with Christian teaching.  This traps Eve and Adam.  Jesus prays "not my will by thy will."  Too often we fall into the trap like Adam of Eve of saying "It looks good to me." "I like it." "I want it."  Following Jesus is not about following our desires, it is about following Jesus.  Jesus says if you want to be my disciples than you have to "deny yourself daily and take up your cross and follow me"  Making choices based on what we desire is incompatible with Christian teaching.

Jesus is always about inclusion, not exclusion.  Jesus is about making a way where there seems to be no way.  Jesus calls us to welcome the stranger, to care for the widow and the orphan. The widow and the orphan are without a family, a place, or people, He says to care for them.  He tells us unless we are willing to become like and be associated with the people that society says don't count than we are not fit for the kingdom as he brings a child to them and says "become like a child."  He is always about bringing the outside in. He tears down the walls that divide and seperate.  He dines with the ones that society shuns.  He touches the untouchables. Excluding others is incompatible with Christian teaching.  All of us are on the outside and excluded if it is not for the grace of God.

When Jesus begins his ministry he announces it in the synagogue of his hometown by reading the Isaiah scroll and then he tells them that it has been fulfilled in their hearing.  He says he comes to bring "release to the captive, freedom to the oppressed, to restore the sight of the blind and proclaim Gods favor."  Jesus comes to bring justice for the captive and the oppressed. There is a consistent theme from Genesis to Revelation that God is a God of mercy and justice.  Injustice is incompatible with Christian teaching.  As followers of Jesus, we should stand with those who are being treated unjustly and we certainly should not be perpetrators of injustice.  It is just incompatible with Christian teaching.

I am sure that there are more behaviors that we could point out.  I am not trying to make a thorough list.  These are some that I think about as I reflect on these matters.  They help me to think about where I stand if I want to stand with Christ. I remember when I was being called to ministry in my twenties, I wanted to deny it.  I didn't want to be called. I was scared.  I didn't have the tools. I was not qualified. So, I just tried to ignore God.  I did a pretty good job for a while. But, there was always a desire in me that I did not want to sin against God.  I didn't want to surrender to a call to ministry yet, but I did not want to sin against God. I was listening to a speaker talking about Christian leadership and he said, "if you know what God is calling you to and you refuse to do it that you are sinning against God."  It was with those words that I knew I had to stop running from God and I had to explore what this calling meant for my life.  I don't fully know. But, I do know some things.  God has revealed some things to us that help us to know more.  I know that I don't want to sin against God. So, with what I do know and with an openness to what I do not yet know I will seek to live in relationship with God and others.  I strive to be real about my relationship with God and to be as compatible as I can be to His teaching.  I believe that all of us in the church truly desire this.

Love Today.

In Christ's love and mine,

Monday, March 4, 2019

I Don't Fully Know

I ended my last post that spoke about the current state of the United Methodist Church with what I say is my answer to the questions that we are dealing with as a denomination.  If you would like to read it for the background you can click here.

I have spent most of my life trying to know everything I can know about the things that are important to me.  I was the child that took things apart and put them back together so that I could know how they work.  I am someone who is always trying to learn.  I believe in lifelong learning. I want answers.  I struggle to live in the mystery sometimes.  I don't like not knowing.  I want to know all the answers.  One thing I have learned in my relationship with God is that the more I know the more I realize I don't know.  The more I learn about God the more I discover I know very little about God.  God is bigger than I can wrap my mind around.  Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."   

It was not easy for this guy who wants to know all the answers to come to this understanding of God.  I wanted to be able to have all the answers about God.  I want to know God completely. I want to be able as a pastor to help people to know God.  But the truth is I do not fully know everything there is to know about God and the things of God.  Scripture reveals this to me all the time.  Just when I think that I know what a particular passage is saying It speaks to me in a new way. Just when I think that I understand all the nuances and all the details something new is stirred in me as I meditate on the word of God.  More is revealed as I continue to seek to know more.  Scripture also speaks to this in a direct way.  Paul writes about knowing God and the things of God in a chapter that we tend to focus on what it tells us about love. 1 Corinthians 13:9-12 says, "For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

Paul tells us that what we know now is only in part.  We don't fully know. This side of heaven we can only know part of the truth about God and the things of God.  I can't tell you I fully know what God is thinking or doing.  I only know in part.  I don't have all the answers.  I can't figure it all out because right now I can only see a reflection in the mirror.  It looks a lot like it, but it is not it.  I don't fully know.  This means for me that I can discern and I can know God and the things of God. I can find answers. But, It is not all that there is to know.  What I know is only part. I told you before that this was hard for me to come to this understanding but I want you to know that it has also been very freeing.  

You see we cannot coop the mind of God for ourselves.  We should be cautioned about saying "I know that this is where God stands on this."  We should be cautioned, by Pauls words, against saying that we fully know the answers.  I think when we study God's word we find that saying and believing that we fully know the mind of God is incompatible with Christian teaching.  The Bible certainly does not support that thinking.  No matter how much we know about God and no matter how much we know God there is always more his way is higher than mine and his thoughts I can only get part of.  I do not fully know.  Here in lies some tension.  It is a tension Paul lives in. The now and the not yet.  The ever-unfolding Kingdom of God.  Now I only know in part then I shall know fully.  Yes, I can know God and I can discern his ways but I can always know more.  What I know now is not everything there is to know.  Saying that I don't fully know is not a cop-out answer.  I think it is a faithful and biblical response.  It is also not saying I don't know anything. It is about discerning faithfully and biblically what I know but understanding that it is not all there is to know.  It is about being open to the part I may not yet know. I am aware that for people who really want to know where I stand on the issues they don't want to hear I don't fully know.  That want me to say this is what the answer is.  I struggle at times with that myself.  It would be easier to just say that this is all I want to know I don't want to think about it anymore. But what if God has more in store?  What if the God that makes all things new does a new thing?  What if I only know in part?  So, I do know some things that I have discerned and learned but I don't fully know.  I can interpret scripture as it has been revealed to me but I don't fully know.  I will try to share in some upcoming post about what I have discerned from my personal wrestling with the issues and I am sure they will reveal the tension that is there as we think about the issues of human sexuality, marriage, ordination, truth, and Christian love.

But, I have to begin here. With this understanding that as I talk about truth and love as revealed to me I only know in part.  What I can share, what I believe, is only part of the fullness of God's truth. I do not know fully and I am living in that tension. I don't apologize, and I pray that I did not offend anyone, for the use of the words "incompatible with Christian teaching" from the United Methodist Book of Discipline.  I will continue to use that phrase as I share what  I can discern from the scriptures as behaviors that could be understood that way as well.  I use these words only to help me and maybe you think about how we all at times might participate in behaviors that are incompatible with Christian teaching as we seek to live in relationship with Christ.

Love today.

In Christ's Love and mine,

I am a United Methodist

LONG POST ALERT -  I will alert you at the onset if you don't want to read something super long I understand.    If you have some time and you're interested in some thoughts and feelings that I have in regards to the current state of my denomination please read and discuss with me.

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I met and fell in love with Jesus at Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church. I was in a small group with some amazing, gracious, kind and loving people who helped me to see that God was real and that he cared about my ordinary everyday life.  They showed me love and grace and helped me to grow in my knowledge and love of God and to discover His calling for me. It was there that I committed my life to Jesus and made him my life.  Jon Spalding was the pastor and he helped me to see that pastors are real people and that God used ordinary people just like me to build His Kingdom. The people of Pleasant Hill UMC were the first to affirm and to say that God was calling me to be a pastor. They trusted God and they helped me to enter into the ministry.  They brought me onto the staff to serve as their first associate pastor.  They supported me as I went to seminary and sought to live out and into the calling to pastoral ministry. 

I went to a Saint Paul School of Theology, a United Methodist Seminary, and I had my knowledge and understanding of  God stretched, shaped and nourished. I connected with other colleagues and friends who were on the same journey of discovery and discernment and we journeyed together.  To this day many of us still do.

I have served in many wonderful churches as their pastor and a member of the faith community doing life together.  I have been blessed by my time at Smith Chapel, Prairie Chapel, and Dockery Chapel United Methodist Churches.  I was ordained by the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church as they affirmed God's calling on my life with the blessing and the laying on of hands.  Bishop Robert Schnase, Jon Spalding, Jeff Brinkman, and Dick Curry laid their hands on me in the midst of the people who call themselves United Methodist and on the behalf of the Church ordained and blessed me to serve as an elder in the United Methodist Church. For 20 years, I have been a pastor in this denomination.  The people at the churches I have served have and continue to help me grow in my relationship with Christ and be the person that God created me to be.  They love me, support me and challenge me.  

I am a United Methodist. 

You may have seen in the news over the past week stories about the United Methodist Church. We had a special called General Conference to make a decision on where the Global United Methodist Church will officially stand on the issue of human sexuality.  In particular, on the issues of performing and hosting same-sex marriage ceremonies and on the ordination of  LGBTQ+ individuals for ministry in our denomination.  Since 1972, we have been talking about how we trying to hold in tension the understanding that all people are of sacred worth, our call to inclusivity, the unconditional love of Jesus and how to address behavior that could be considered as incompatible to Christian teaching.  The tension is illustrated in the church's statements from the Book of Discipline and the Social Principles.  I have bolded the statements that create tension.

In regards to human sexuality there is the following statement:
"We affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We call everyone to responsible stewardship of this sacred gift. Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. We deplore all forms of the commercialization, abuse, and exploitation of sex. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation of children and for adequate protection, guidance, and counseling for abused children. All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence. The Church should support the family in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality to children, youth, and adults.
We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us.  We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons."

In regards to ordination:
"While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church."

Understanding that I don't want to take lightly or diminish the struggle, hurt, and sacrifice that has come in the tension and debate within my church over the past 40 plus year since the language of "incompatible with Christian teaching" was added to the church's statements. There are brothers and sisters on both sides of the issue.  God fearing, God seeking, loving, caring, compassionate friends on both sides who are seeking to grow in love of God and love of neighbor.  Seeking to be faithful to their call to follow Jesus.  I am far too aware after the events of this past week at General Conference that we don't see eye to eye on these issues and there are deep wounds caused by this longtime debate.  Hurt has been caused and continues to be caused by our efforts to live with differing thoughts and opinions on these issues.

I admit that this is probably an oversimplification of the issues but here is how I will try to express it in just a few sentences. We are divided on how to express truth and love.  I think that we all agree that we should express love to everyone.  We struggle with agreeing on what is the truth we are to express.  We struggle with what love looks like when we don't agree. We are divided on what love is and how loving action is expressed.  Some of my United Methodist brothers and sisters feel that it is not loving to condone behavior that they feel is incompatible with Christian teaching. Some feel that it is not loving to exclude people from ordination because of who they love.  We are divided on how to interpret the scriptures when it comes to human sexuality.  And we don't know how to live together anymore when we don't see eye to eye on the issue because I think for either side how we handle the issue is fundamental to what they believe it means to follow Jesus.
I already told you that I was going to oversimplify this complex issue. As I see it these are issues that have created all of the tension and inevitably will lead to a parting of ways for many with my church.

What is the truth?
What is love? 
How do we live out truth and love as followers of Jesus Christ in the world? 

The problem was that we put it to a vote. We asked our bishops and church leaders to lead us in choosing a side on something that we are struggling and wrestling to discern and understand as individuals and as a community of believers.  They led us to pick a side.  So, we voted and it showed us that we do not agree on these matters.  53% of the General Conference delegates chose the Traditional Plan.  47% voted against the Traditional Plan as the way forward. We said it was time to vote and pick a side. For me, this has been the most disheartening.  I have always loved and appreciated that as United Methodist we chose to continue the conversation.  Every four years we were open to "Holy Conferencing" and being open to having our thoughts, beliefs, and ideas about what it means to be the church and follow Christ open for discussion.  We were committed to continuing to discern the work that God is doing in and through us and what it means to be the church. It left us open to the possibility that God just might have more to say than what we have already discerned.  We seemed open at least to discussing that God might be doing a new thing. Putting this to a vote in the way that we have done it, through a specially called conference about a way forward, was an unspoken "thing will never be the same again" and" it is time to pick which side you are going to be on".  Discerning is over.  (I am not ready to stop discerning)
Sadly, our continued discussion has turned into winning and not discerning. At times, it was about rightness and not righteousness. About my view being right more than about Christ righteousness. The discernment through hearing differing opinions dismantled into a separation into us and them. I am right and you are wrong.  We lose sight of "we".  And we lose sight of God. We get mad. We get hurt.

This is the saddest part for me.  I want to say right now that many of my brothers and sisters in my denomination are hurt and I don't want to do anything more to cause them pain by writing my thoughts on these issues.  I am going to try to share in the next few posts some thoughts and I just want to say first and for most I am a United Methodist and I will continue to be a United Methodist.  I am not sure what the denomination will be like as we move forward, no one does.  Really, no one knows at this point.  I am going to try to be vulnerable and honest about my own discernment and thoughts on these issues as well as what I see as the complexity that leads me to where I stand at the moment in regards to the issue.  Again, I don't want to hurt anyone. We have all been hurt enough.  People outside the church do a good enough job causing hurt and pain to the church we don't need to be hurting one another in the church.  Also, I am acutely aware that the pain caused by brothers and sisters in Christ seems to hurt with an even more powerful sting.

In my next few posts, I just want to share from my heart what God has been speaking into it.  I don't know that it will help some or not. But, I feel it might help me. I feel that God is leading me to write my thoughts.  I will close with my position on the issues that I see at the core of the debate in my church right now.  I know that there are those that want to know what I think and it will open us up for my next post.  I think that the most biblical and faithful answer that I can give is that I do not fully know.

Love today.

In Christ's love and mine,