Grieving Well when “here” is not good.

3 09 2017

This past Sunday I opened up the topic of “good grief” in our church with the goal of equipping our congregation to grieve well (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13). Grief is the natural human response to loss. It’s important to understand that:

  1. Everybody grieves – no one is exempt because everyone experiences loss in some form or fashion throughout their life.
  2. You are not alone in your grief – oftentimes we will isolate ourselves in our grief believing we’re all alone. But you are not alone in your grief. Others have walked on your same path and many are now.
  3. Your do not have weak faith if you experience grief – in fact, just the opposite! Learning to express grief is an indicator of strong and healthy faith. If you don’t believe me, consider that David, described as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), wrote the majority of the Psalms expressing at times, deep anguish and grief.
  4. Part of being made in God’s image is our capacity for grief – sin distorts our desires, so oftentimes we will grieve things God doesn’t grieve, and we won’t grieve things that deeply grieve God, but that’s not the point. God grieves loss, and we were created in God’s image.

Okay, with the foundation set, one of the overlooked causes of grief is transition. Transition occurs when you move from HERE to THERE: you get a new job, you have a child, you get your first gray hair, you are diagnosed with cancer. You are no longer HERE –> you’re now THERE. It’s a new reality. Things have changed, and whenever there is change, there is loss. And grief is the natural human response to loss. But how can you grieve well in the midst of transition and the subsequent losses you experience?

Two scenarios. 1) When HERE is not so good. That is the topic of this blog. Check out part two next week when I look at how to grieve well, 2) When HERE has been wonderful.

You might think that a situation where HERE isn’t so good would be absent of grief – let’s just get THERE. Anything is better than HERE. But just because THERE is better than HERE doesn’t mean that the transition doesn’t involve grief.

Let’s look to the time of Moses about 3500 years ago. Moses delivered God’s people from bondage and slavery which they experienced at the hands of the Egyptians for 4 centuries. God worked through Moses to bring his people out of Egypt and take them to the land promised to their ancestor Abraham – a beautiful land with all the resources necessary for survival. In their case, HERE was horrible – it was slavery! And THERE? THERE was something beautiful. But going from HERE to THERE wasn’t going to be easy. In fact, along the way, these thousands of people (biblical historians have estimated anywhere from 200,000 people to 2 million people) became difficult to feed. As they journeyed from present day Egypt to present day Israel via the Sinai peninsula, they ran out of food. So they cried out to God and God provided a bread-like substance for the people called manna. Amazing – God was providing in their difficult transition.

But the people came to a point where they started to remember what they had lost by moving from HERE to THERE. The Bible records, Soon the people began to complain about their hardship… “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” (Numbers 11:1, 5)

When you’re moving into the unknown, learning to depend on God – when you know that God has something better for you THERE because HERE is just not acceptable, you can still expect to experience grief along the way because you’ve experienced a loss – even if the loss is something unhealthy or came with strings attached or was something that enslaved you! You’ve left what you know behind and you can still expect to grieve.

Consider this example: Maybe HERE you’re addicted to pornography. THERE is so appealing! It’s the future God has for you; freedom from pornography; healing for the brokenness of isolation and shame and loneliness and anxiety that accompanies such an addiction; freedom to experience wholeness in your marriage or in the sexual purity God created you for; freedom to see people, not as objects to meet your needs, but as people created in God’s image. Even though THERE is so appealing, you will likely grieve along the way because you’ve become attached unhealthily to the things that enslave you – to the rush of excitement and the short-lived satisfaction that your habits provide.

Or maybe you’re in an abusive relationship. God has a better future in mind for you (THERE) if you’ll just speak up and either get out or find good counseling. But it won’t be easy. And you’ll grieve – maybe even want to go back to the abuse because it’s what’s familiar. Even though HERE is horrible, it’s what you’re used to.

So how do you grieve well when HERE is not so good. Your first step is to See the truth of HERE. See the truth! Allow the reality of how bad HERE is to soak in. What will happen if you stay HERE? What will happen if you don’t get a job where you feel fulfilled? What will happen if you don’t answer God’s call on your life? What will happen if you don’t change your eating or exercise habits? What will happen if you don’t quit ____________? What will happen if you stay HERE? Acknowledge that truth and allow it to drive you into discontentedness. You have to come to a point of saying, “Staying HERE is not an option.”

Secondly, it’s important to actually grieve. Grieve the losses sustained by staying HERE so long. Maybe you’ve been an overly domineering parent and its driving your kids away. Grieve the loss of you staying HERE so long. Grieve what it’s done. Maybe your parents got divorced and it hurt. It hurt bad, and you’ve been living in a HERE reality of unforgiveness and it’s poisoned all your other relationships. Grieve the consequences of that divorce and of your response. Grieve! What might that look like?

  • Cry about it! Cry out to God! Agree with God that “this is not how it should be” and allow it to break your heart as it breaks God’s heart.
  • Talk to others about your pain – get it out.
  • Pray to God for help and wisdom.
  • Ask God for forgiveness for your role in the pain.
  • Ask God for healing for the things that happened to you that were out of your control and for the bad effects of your own decisions.
  • Don’t wear a mask. It’s okay to say to people when they ask “how are you?” “You know what, I’m struggling right now through the pains of grief.”

But then the third part. Well, the third part of grieving well when HERE is not so good is the same as the third part of grieving well when HERE has been wonderful. So I’m going to have you wait until next week for Good Grief part 2.

Revisiting “Biblical Justice” in light of the events in Charlottesville

16 08 2017

Let me just say it. I’ve been sick this week over the events in Charlottesville, Virginia and the response/lack-of-response by the president of the United States. Racism is sin. Period. It cannot be justified by a Christ follower. It is always wrong. On the other side of the coin, self-righteousness is sin. Period. In fact, self-righteousness is condemned more often in the Bible. So in condemning racism, I tread lightly for fear of coming across as self-righteous. I recognize that people on both “sides” feel unjustly treated. In fact, those who consider themselves part of the alt-right felt repressed and ignored for years. Commentators have suggested that led to the election of our current president. They have cried out for justice! Of course I and many others are crying out for justice after the senseless murder of Heather Heyer when she was run down by a driver bent on causing fear and harm to those standing up for people of color. If both are crying out for justice it begs the question, “Biblically speaking, what is justice?”

Doing biblical justice is both 1) meeting the needs of the most vulnerable and 2) righting wrongs done to the most vulnerable. Biblical justice is always directed toward the poor and oppressed – those most vulnerable. This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. (Zechariah 7:9-10) You never read about God fighting for justice and being a defender of the rich or the strong or the privileged. Now this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about justice for all people. It just means that as a default, justice usually happens for the strong, rich, powerful and privileged. They have the status and means to defend themselves. So injustice happens less frequently to the strong, rich, powerful and privileged.

But people with less including the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, and the poor as well as migrant workers, some single moms and elderly and minorities – these groups are more vulnerable to injustice particularly because they oftentimes do not have the means or the generational support or the social status or class or level of influence or power to defend themselves. Those of us who do are considered “privileged.” Those who don’t are more oftentimes victims of crime or violence or corruption and being taken advantage of because they are overlooked or easier prey. So, because they cannot easily defend themselves, the God of the Bible has a special place in his heart for them. That is why God is described as a “defender of the poor” and one who “takes up the cause of the orphan and the widow.” God stands up for the vulnerable because no one else will.

Let’s apply these biblical principles to representative groups from each “side” that our president claims are to blame for the violence in Charlottesville: white supremacists and #blacklivesmatter supporters. Because God, by his very nature, is just, we can believe wholeheartedly that God wants justice to be done for everyone. However, biblically speaking, God is a defender of the most vulnerable, not those with power and privilege. God calls his people, the church, to be defenders of the poor and marginalized rather than defenders of the powerful and the dominant majority. So, you tell me. Whose cause does God take up? Certainly not those advocating for the dominant culture to gain more power and use that power to oppress or marginalize others. The biblical God of justice takes up the cause of those who have been marginalized by those with power; those who have been oppressed because of their skin color; those who have been systematically held down by the dominant culture. Yes, #alllivesmatter, but the God of biblical justice would more likely take up the case of the oppressed and raise a banner that says, #blacklivesmatter. That God would also likely be targeted and run down like Heather Heyer was. In fact, Jesus was targeted and murdered for opening up the Kingdom of God to those who were not the privileged.

Now to be clear, people are not perfectly just. I am not perfectly just. Nobody on either “side” is perfectly just. There will be people whose cause is righteous and “biblically just” who fall short of emulating Christ’s character in their actions in standing up for their cause. Then there are some (although I’d guess, fewer and farther between) whose cause is much less righteous and does not meet the definition of “biblically just” whose character is much more Christlike than their cause might lead us to expect. We can’t accurately categorize all people. However, we can and we should do the difficult work of holding the causes of both “sides” in the Charlottesville violence up to the plumb line of biblical justice. When we do so, it will be abundantly clear which “side” those who follow the God of the Bible should land.

As a side note, I am proud to be part of The United Methodist Church. Along with its predecessor denominations, the UMC has historically been doers of biblical justice whether through the abolitionist movement, women’s suffrage or civil rights. United Methodists care for the vulnerable.

Another side note – if you wonder why I put quotation marks around “side” it’s in reference to the president of the United States’ speech made on August 15, 2017 in which he claimed that both “sides” were at fault for the violence in Charlottesville.

Final side note – if you are interested in reading more about biblical justice, I would highly recommend Timothy Keller’s book, Generous Justice.


Our Big News

12 02 2017

Beloved family of Quest: A Community of Grace,

I’ve long known this day would come: the day when I would have to write a letter with this news. It was never a matter of if. It was always a matter of when. When I took my vows to become an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, I promised to go where God, through the authority and role of my bishop, sends me. Today in worship, Loren Sanders (the chair of our Staff Parish team), informed the congregation that Bishop Frank Beard has appointed me to be the next Lead Pastor at Troy United Methodist Church in Troy, Illinois, effective on July 1, 2017.

Troy UMC is a fantastic church that has made a great impact in people’s lives for the Kingdom of God. After meeting with their leadership on Thursday night this week, Amy Jo and I are confident that this is God’s call on us even though we didn’t ask to be moved. We really just wish we could take each of you with us on this next leg of our journey. Our hearts are filled with so many emotions and I’m sure it will feel like a roller coaster over the next few months. We are trusting in God to not only meet our needs, but also to meet Quest’s needs.

It was 14 years ago this weekend, on Valentines Day of 2003, when I was first appointed to start a new church in the Champaign-Urbana area. I still remember the feeling of complete exhilaration and tremendous anxiety as we stepped into the unknown. Starting a new church is risky business. In the United States, 40% don’t make it past their first birthday. Eighty percent don’t make it to their fifth birthday. And of the 20% that make it that far, only 20% make it to their tenth birthday. That’s right. Of all the new churches started, only 4% survive beyond ten years. But Quest not only survived, Quest thrived and is now even stronger since becoming Quest: A Community of Grace. Our church is perfectly positioned to make an even greater Kingdom impact in the years and decades to come. All I ever wanted to do was be faithful to God’s call to love Jesus and point people to him. I can rest well knowing that for the last 14 years, we’ve done that together.

So what happens between now and my last Sunday at Quest: A Community of Grace (Memorial Day Sunday, May 28th)? Together with the staff and the leadership of the church, I will be working diligently to hand over the reigns to whomever God, through our bishop, appoints as the next Lead Pastor of this amazing church. I invite you to begin praying now for whomever that may be. I anticipate an announcement sometime in the next several weeks. Of course, Amy Jo, Andrew, Anna and I will have many logistical things to tend to as we prepare to uproot from everything we’ve known for the last fourteen years. We are experiencing all the different emotions that accompany transition and recognize those will be amplified as our move date gets closer. Please pray for us as we pray for you. We love you, our church family, as well as our broader Champaign-Urbana community. We intend to cherish every moment between now and the end of June.



#UMCGC – Hope and a Future

21 05 2016
2016-05-20 18.43.08

The Oregon Convention Center in Portland – the site of General Conference 2016.

As I wait in the Dallas Fort-Worth airport for my flight back home, I can’t help but reflect on the entirety of this year’s General Conference. I have far too many thoughts than I will share in this final #UMCGC post, but I at least wanted to share the hope I left with.

Most of you know that I am a part of the Illinois Great Rivers annual conference. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with and getting to know some of the great pastors and laypersons of our conference. Right after the close of conference on Friday night, most of us gathered together for dinner with the delegation from the Liberia annual conference. Our two conferences have been in partnership for almost a decade. In fact the church I pastor, Quest UMC, has been intimately involved in Liberia – a handful of our members have visited, we’ve entertained and hosted a few Liberians who have traveled to the US, we’ve built a church building and a primary/secondary school, dug more than two dozen wells and sponsored dozens of kids to go to school at all levels. We are intimately connected with the work God is doing through the UMC in Liberia. It has helped our congregation experience the beauty of being a global church.

During our dinner together I met several Liberians and talked about their ministries. I was encouraged by the development of a Masters of Divinity degree through the United Methodist University and now Seminary in Gbarnga. The need for high quality theological education in West and Central Africa is urgent as the church continues to grow rapidly and more and more pastors need to be trained. (As a side note, on the final day of General Conference, we voted to increase our commitment over the next 4 years in Theological Education outside the US from 4.9 million to 10 million dollars!) I even learned that my alma mater, Asbury Theological Seminary, is building a relationship with the school in Gbarnga. That made my heart smile too.

Our dinner was a beautiful reflection of the church that I want my kids to grow up in. A global church committed to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with all peoples far from God. At the end of dinner we joined hands in a large circle and my friend, Rev. Jerry Kulah from Liberia, led us in singing “To God Be the Glory.” Every part of me wanted to weep with joy, but instead I just sang these powerful lyrics with a huge smile on my face as I looked around the circle and saw a glimpse, not only of heaven, but of the future United Methodist Church. For those of you who don’t know the song, here are the lyrics:

1. To God be the glory, great things he hath done!
So loved he the world that he gave us his Son,
who yielded his life an atonement for sin,
and opened the lifegate that all may go in.

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father thru Jesus the Son,
and give him the glory, great things he hath done!

2. O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
to every believer the promise of God;
the vilest offender who truly believes,
that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

3. Great things he hath taught us, great things he hath done,
and great our rejoicing thru Jesus the Son;
but purer, and higher, and greater will be
our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see.

After this General Conference, many people are left wondering if the United Methodist Church will continue to exist beyond 2020 when we are next scheduled to meet again in Minneapolis, Minnesota (there is a small chance we could meet sooner…). We are mired in discord over whether homosexual practice is contrary to Christian teaching. And honestly, I have a hard time seeing any Commission called by the Council of Bishops creating a plan that will be satisfying to representatives making up the wide theological diversity represented in our denomination. The idea of schism is scary to many. In fact when the rumors of schism were flying about earlier this week, I was worried too. But over the last 24 hours, whenever I picture the cloudy future for the UMC, I keep going back to the image of our delegation holding hands and intimately connected with our friends from Liberia. And as I go back in my mind’s eye and recall everyone’s faces full of joy, I see HOPE and an amazing FUTURE as we cling to the message contained in the hymn we sang together.

#UMCGC – Sweeping it Under the Rug

20 05 2016

So far the final two days of General Conference have been rather tame. Some legislation has been passed that matters to many (ethical investing, removal of UMC participation in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and more), but all in all, the energy has been ratcheted down about five levels now that all debate about human sexuality has been deferred in order to be worked on by a special Commission appointed by the Council of Bishops. The demonstrations have stopped. There is a (superficial?) atmosphere of calm. People are so at ease, many are even getting sleepy! This is what happens when we avoid those things that we passionately disagree about.

On the one hand, it feels much more peaceful here in Portland. Delegates are less on edge. I am certainly more relaxed! It makes me wonder if this is what it might feel like to really be unified. But then I think about my loving marriage.

I’m not sure if this is every married person’s experience. I’ve only experienced two marriages (in depth) during my lifetime. My parents and my own. With all loving respect to may parents, their marriage reminds me of our General Conference session. There were periods of major disagreement and explosion, and then long periods of what I might call “false peace” – an unspoken agreement to avoid the problems in order to get along enough to function day to day. We call it “sweeping the problems under the rug.” At least a couple things happen when we approach conflict this way. 1) Problems are not resolved – just avoided, and 2) Intimacy is sacrificed on the altar of false unity.

Given my upbringing, I came into my marriage with a VERY large broom! However, I learned (slowly and by God’s grace) that if I wanted to experience intimacy and unity (not necessarily uniformity) with my wife, that I have to put my broom away. In fact, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I’ve burned it up and taken out all the rugs in the house  – metaphorically speaking of course. Now let me be real for a moment. I hate dealing with the problems. It’s painful. I get defensive. I sometimes say things I regret. Sin still dwells deep inside me. But I’ve also learned from experience that my marriage will not thrive if I run away from the conflict. I love my wife, and when we’ve worked through the problems, even if it takes weeks or months or years, in the end the result is intimacy.

It is painfully clear to me that my denomination, as evidenced by this General Conference, lacks intimacy. We have clung to a false unity for years and years – sweeping our disagreements about human sexuality under the rug. At times we have experienced a sense of peace and mission together when we set aside our differences. But that can happen for only so long. We are being pressured from inside and out to change our historically Christian understanding that homosexual practice is sin. As best I can tell, somewhere between 33-40% of our 864 delegates would like to change that position of the United Methodist Church. The other 60-66% do not. Even though I disagree with a portion of the church, I love them and out of love, I don’t want to avoid our differences in order to have a false unity. We’ve wrestled with each of the pieces of legislation in smaller groups in our legislative committees. Some of those conversations have been painful, but many have led to deeper intimacy even in an absence of agreement. And yet, for the second consecutive General Conference we as a full body have avoided voting on the vast majority of legislation about human sexuality that our committees have worked on! The ONE and ONLY body that can officially speak for the United Methodist Church (the General Conference) has once again swept it under the rug!

In a marriage, when major problems continually get swept under the rug and go unresolved, a couple things tend to happen. Either the spouses learn to co-exist with each other in an unhappy marriage that lacks intimacy, OR they end up getting divorced. Until we burn our brooms and toss out our rugs, the United Methodist Church will continue heading in that same unfortunate direction.

I have hope that the Counsel of Bishops’ special commission will be fair and objective and creates a way for both segments of the church to minister with integrity without forcing either to compromise their base convictions regarding human sexuality. If that is possible, we might find a way to move toward intimate unity. If the commission doesn’t do that, at best we will have a false unity – at worst, we will find ourselves looking at schism in 2020. Please pray with me that this special commission comes up with a suitable way for us all to move forward and that we as a denomination STOP sweeping our differences under the rug.

#UMCGC -Wednesday’s “Blank Check”

18 05 2016

Wednesday at General Conference was something, let me tell you. We began with a powerful sermon from Bishop James Swanson Jr. Then we received the following “way forward” from the Council of Bishops. This was a non-binding recommendation that the General Conference body could act on or not. Here is the content of that recommended “way forward.”

Some highlights:

  • The Bishops believe unity is possible even with our differing views on human sexuality.
  • This plan would be bathed in prayer.
  • It calls for a special General Conference in 2-3 years to deal with a “way forward” “Should they complete their work in time.”
  • We would defer all conversation and votes on human sexuality for this session of General Conference.
  • The bishops would pull together a Commission “to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality.”
  • Members of this Commission would come from every region and represent differing theological perspectives on the debate.
  • The bishops “will continue to explore options to help the church live in grace with one another – including ways to avoid further complaints, trials and harm while we uphold the Discipline.”

After receiving this, we took a break. Upon returning from the break, Adam Hamilton (a large church pastor and proponent of “a third way” – refer to my definitions in a previous post) proposed legislation that would act on the bishop’s recommendations. After much debate and attempted amendments, AND a lunch break, the body voted it down by about 40 votes. In between our presiding chair was accused of undermining the entire process and was overwhelmingly supported by his colleagues and the body. It was an act of tremendous disrespect.

So, the Hamilton motion was defeated. After some moments of awkward silence and pleas (but no motion) from a two African delegates to move on with the business of the general conference, another delegate asked us to receive the bishop’s recommendations and act on them (essentially the same as the Hamilton proposal). After some debate, this vote passed by about 30 votes.

If we finish General Conference without reconsidering this motion, I am concerned that it essentially gives the bishops and their appointed special commission a “blank check.” If you read the bishop’s recommendation closely, you see that it has very few specifics and therefore opens the Commission to bring forward whatever it pleases. I’m concerned about this because I expect the Commission to bring something very similar to what the General Agencies and Adam Hamilton have already brought to THIS General Conference to be dealt with. Those petitions were defeated in committee and would likely have been defeated by the body if they would be discussed. As it is we kicked the can down the road, will likely spend alot of money to meet again in 2-3 years, and have to do it all again then. On the positive note, we don’t have to do the painful deliberating about human sexuality at this General Conference even though we were elected to do so. And yet my hope is not in the bishops or this commission, but in Jesus, and his Holy Spirit can do anything. Thus, I have peace.

Not to be shortchanged, at the end our our day the United Methodist Church acknowledged the horrific acts and pain caused by former members at the Sandy Creek Massacre on November 29, 1864 and repented of our institutional sin that followed.

#UMCGC – What is the Way Forward?

17 05 2016

Although we accomplished more legislatively today than we did in all of 2012, it is my sense that most people are primarily concerned with the future state of the United Methodist Church. Here is part two of my opinion piece. Part one provided an informed guess about all the events that led to this morning’s chaos. Now I’ll offer some of the possible ways forward for our denomination. I’ll offer the wide spectrum with brief explanation why they could or could not work.

Emphasis on current Disciplinary language with deeper accountability – This position is what the Good News and African contingent is angling for. It would keep the current “incompatibility” language with regards to homosexual practice and strengthen the accountability for bishops or clergy who choose to break their covenant vows to adhere to the Discipline. This would mean the “right” wins and the “left” loses resulting in further pain and a resolve for louder and more radical acts of defiance. The possibility of this position being played out may have led to the leaking of rumors of schism last night.

Keep everything the same – This would be the default if we can’t agree on anything. This would likely lead to more disunity under the false guise of unity as more clergy and bishops defy the Discipline without a structure of recourse. We would continue to fight the rhetorical battles and it would get uglier.

Adopt some version of a “third way” – This would effectively make what is currently happening “legal” acknowledging that we as a denomination can’t agree. Some things about this plan are desirable – fewer trials and bad press, etc. However, it wouldn’t satisfy anyone. Those on the “right” wouldn’t stand for it, and those on the “left” would continue to fight to mandate every church/conference be fully inclusive. We would continue to fight the battle every four years.

Become a fully LGBTQ inclusive church – The language here can be misleading. All people are loved and welcomed in the UMC regardless of anything really. However, the LGBTQ community feels less than included because of the prohibition of 1) clergy conducting same sex weddings and 2) ordination of openly practicing LGBTQ clergy. Obviously, the “right” would never move in this direction, and it is unlikely this kind of legislation would pass in any form. However, this is what progressives have been working toward for 44 years.

If schism occurs, we could find ourselves with two or more factions representing any or all of these positions. But most of the UMC isn’t keen on schism. That could blow up so much we’ve worked for including many of our churches who would have to fight this battle on the local level. We don’t want that. So what other options are there?

The “Love Alike” plan or something similar – The best bet we have to remain united is to help the “right” and the “left” both win. I believe this can only happen if we essentially have two churches with two sets of rules regarding human sexuality operating under the same United Methodist umbrella. The “Love Alike” plan works toward that end effectively allowing those who can’t, with integrity, abide by the current discipline to align themselves together even if that isn’t perfectly regionally based. I won’t get into all the details, but this type of plan seems like the most logical way forward considering neither side will change their minds about whether homosexual practice is sinful or not.

Whether it happens tomorrow, before the end of General Conference, or at some point in the coming years, I anticipate the Counsel of Bishops to bring forward some plan that involves amicable schism or some form of two churches under one umbrella. It seems the only way forward that will end the rancorous arguing over positions on human sexuality.

Please continue praying for our bishops, our churches, all of our delegates, and most importantly the world that we are called to go into to make disciples.

#UMCGC -Doing Biblical Justice

17 05 2016

Doing Biblical Justice is 1) Meeting the needs of the most vulnerable and 2) Righting wrongs done to the most vulnerable. Biblical justice is always directed toward the poor and oppressed. This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. (Zechariah 7:9-10) You never read about God fighting for justice and being a “defender of” the rich or the strong. Now this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about justice for ALL people. It just means that as a default, justice usually happens for the strong, rich, powerful and privileged. They have the status and means to defend themselves. So injustice happens less frequently to the strong, rich, powerful and privileged.

But people with less including the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, and the poor as well as migrant workers, some single moms and elderly and minorities – these groups are more vulnerable to injustice particularly because they oftentimes do not have the means or the generational support or the social status or class or level of influence or power to defend themselves. They are more oftentimes victims of crime or violence or corruption and being taken advantage of because they are overlooked or easier prey. So, because they cannot easily defend themselves, God has a special place in his heart for them. That is why God is described as a “defender of the poor” and one who “takes up the cause of the orphan and the widow.” God stands up for the vulnerable because no one else will.

That’s why I’m so proud that today, in one of our General Conference sessions, we voted to add a section to our constitution right after Article IV. Inclusiveness of the Church (which acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth and all people regardless of race, color, national origin, status or economic condition can participate in the life of the church) and Article V. Racial Justice (recognizing the sin of racism and vowing to confront it in all its forms) providing biblical justice for women! Here’s how the new paragraph will read:

As the Holy Scripture reveals, both men and women are made in the image of God and, therefore, men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God. The United Methodist Church recognizes it is contrary to Scripture and to logic to say that God is male or female, as maleness and femaleness are characteristics of human bodies and cultures, not characteristics of the divine. The United Methodist Church acknowledges the long history of discrimination against women and girls. The United Methodist Church shall confront and seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large. The United Methodist Church shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten women’s and girls’ equality and well being.

The United Methodist Church and its predecessor denominations have historically been doers of biblical justice whether through the abolitionist movement, women’s suffrage or civil rights. United Methodists care for the vulnerable.

After lunch today, there was a protest on the plenary floor. It began as what looked like a march for #blacklivesmatter (which seems to fit all the categories and descriptions of what biblical justice is all about). But it quickly turned into a demonstration for full inclusion of the LGBTQ community. Full inclusion of LGBTQ means openness to ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals and freedom to perform same-sex weddings. But are these two “issues” the same? Is the LGBTQ church fight a matter of biblical justice? At least according to Bishop Scott Jones, it is not. He says:

“Some violators of our church’s laws will argue they are justified by allegiance to higher principles such as their view of justice…When people justify their actions as “civil disobedience,” they are misusing language. It is not disobedience against the government. It is ecclesial disobedience. They are violating the rules of a church they have freely joined when other, similar churches offer acceptable ways of pursuing their calling.” (See his entire article here.)

Of course the disagreement about full inclusion of LGBTQs and whether or not this is truly a matter of justice may very well blow up the United Methodist Church. More demonstrations are coming in the following days. Chances are they will become more disruptive. One lady was arrested outside the Oregon Convention Center today because she had a bag full of urine she intended to throw on delegates. It’s getting uglier here. There is even rumor of a potential plan to dissolve the United Methodist Church as we know it at a special session of General Conference to be held in 2018.

I don’t have control over everything that happens to the UMC. But I’m committed to biblical justice and being a part of a Church that protects the most vulnerable.

#UMCGC – Behind the Rumors of Schism

17 05 2016

I think we accomplished more legislatively today than we did in all of 2012, but it is my sense that most people are primarily concerned with the future state of the United Methodist Church. Thus, I want to offer a two part opinion piece that 1) provides an informed guess about all the events that led to this morning’s chaos, and 2) some of the possible ways forward for our denomination.

So, what happened to get the rumor mill buzzing and created a feeling of panic across denomination? The following is my best piecing together of what generally happened along with my own interpretive lens:

Pre GC through May 15th – Apparently at least one bishop (and possibly more) had been in conversation with some of the caucus group leaders representing the differing stances on human sexuality within the church including Good News (proponents of keeping our current Disciplinary language), Love Your Neighbor (in favor of “full inclusion” of LGBTQ community – meaning they affirm clergy performing same-sex marriages and ordination of openly practicing homosexuals) and some large church pastors who have proposed what they call a “third way” (allowing pastors and churches to individually choose their stance without a mandate either way). It seems this group had been in conversations about possible ways forward including the possibility of schism.

Monday, May 16th – As the votes came in for elections to the Judicial Council, University Senate and Commission on General Conference, it became fairly evident that the majority of those elected were favored by Good News. This signaled the “writing on the wall” for Love Your Neighbor and there was amplified talk of further General Conference disruption and even a more aggressive move toward schism. Thus, Monday evening, the fact that there had been behind closed door meetings discussing ways forward, INCLUDING ways for the church to split up, was leaked and that sparked a firestorm of panic. Whether or not it was intentional, this certainly “disrupted” General Conference.

Tuesday, May 17th – Recognizing the outright chaos and fear of the conference and wider denomination, the Counsel of Bishops found themselves in a mess, one that they helped to create with their involvement in “behind closed door” conversations. [To be clear, I don’t think ill of their motivation, but the lack of transparency does not inspire trust!]. Caught with their hand in the cookie jar, the COB called a time out on themselves. President of the COB, Bishop Bruce Ough addressed the General Conference declaring that the bishops were as divided as the rest of the church, and would not be bringing forward or supporting any plans of schism. They would preside, but not lead during the way forward. Soon afterwards, proponents of this “middle way” urgently requested that the bishops “do what they were elected to do” and lead the way forward. In a very mixed vote (passed by roughly 100 votes), the body requested that the bishop’s come back with suggestions tomorrow morning.

In part two, I will offer some of the possible ways forward for our denomination that is deeply divided around human sexuality.

#UMCGC -When you are weary

14 05 2016

We’re almost to the half-way point of General Conference. Committee work for some will continue until 9:30pm Pacific Time. As you can imagine, by this time in the week, many delegates are getting a little tired. Almost everyone is away from family, many are out of their own country, and all have been rung through the emotional ringer. We have had people getting ill and several struggling from dehydration. I’ve been feeling physically great all week only to come down with a migraine headache this afternoon! As I look around my committee room right now, there is a palpable weariness.

You and I both know that people at General Conference aren’t the only tired and weary among us. I have a sense that my wife feels exactly the same way right now. (I am so thankful for you, dear!) You may be exhausted as you read this. Let me encourage you. God has made provision for your weariness. It’s called Sabbath rest.

This will not be my most profound blog entry during the week of General Conference, but I hope it is the most read and acted upon. If at all possible, when you wake up on Sunday morning, go to worship with your faith community, enjoy your family or friends and ENJOY God’s gift of Sabbath rest in Christ. I may or may not write about my rest tomorrow. If I decide not to, its because I’m napping! Either way, we will catch up on Monday.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. – Jesus in Matthew 11:28