#UMCGC -When your blood starts boiling

14 05 2016

I’m not a General Conference rookie. After my first go-round in Tampa in 2012, I have been fully prepared to experience frustration, stress and yes, even anger here in Portland. As part of my daily heart preparation, I’ve been centering myself on admonitions in God’s Word to love and be a peacemaker and to do good to others. My verse this morning was James 1:19: Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. I shared it on Facebook and received encouraging words of prayer from far away friends. Boy, I needed them today!

In two of my pre-conference posts (#UMCGC May we not be of one heart? Part 1 and Part 2), I held up a vision for civil dialog and respectful disagreement on some of the controversial human sexuality issues facing our United Methodist denomination. I held up this vision with the clear understanding that they can only happen when a mutual covenant of trust and grace is established. My colleague, Sara Isbell, and I were able to enter loving, respectful dialog despite our disagreements because of such a covenant. But what do you do when such a covenant doesn’t exist or worse, is broken? How, as a peace-making follower of Jesus (is there any other type?), should you respond when someone says they want dialog, but only uses it as an opportunity to attack you while your guard is down? Typically when that happens to me, my blood starts to boil.

I was faced with this situation in Friday’s General Conference. Someone who knew better made judgments about me and used trite, overly simplistic, irrational and totally unfair generalizations about me. I was misrepresented with no invitation to express myself, explain my thoughts, or even to ask clarifying questions to this person who has regularly spoken about the need for “across the aisle” conversation. I was so thankful I had been praying all morning to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry!

When this kind of thing happens, instead of building bridges of trust and respect, it creates easy opportunities for entrenchment. It takes people who might be able to find some mutual ground and polarizes them so much they can’t see any good in the other – they can’t have compassion for the other – they can’t see the other as a human being created in the image of God. And it happens all the time.

This afternoon I had a conversation with a fella I’ll call Larry. I only met Larry today, but he opened up to share how he had been so hurt over the way his concerns for the Church he’s served for 3 decades have been dismissed. He’s felt attacked by those who he disagrees with about human sexuality. And he essentially asked me, how do you deal with it? What do you do when your blood start’s boiling?

I shared with him some of my convictions. That by God’s grace, I choose to see those I disagree with not as my enemies, but people who love God and are trying to do the right thing. I choose to see those who are angry and bitter as those who have been hurt. Hurt people hurt people, right? I try to remain in touch with my own brokenness whenever I come too closely to judging someone else’s brokenness. And I try to live with compassion for those I disagree with. Well, after sharing a couple of examples, I looked at Larry and his head was hunched over and I noticed he was weeping. This man I just met confessed to me that he become a pharisee. Larry’s heart had reached a boiling point so often and he became so deeply entrenched over the years that he unknowingly turned into a legalistic and hard hearted pharisee. And for whatever reason, God chose that moment to break him.

By the grace of God, I pray that I will never become a pharisee – that my heart will not grow hard and that I will not build walls when attacked unfairly. When my blood starts boiling , by God’s grace, I pray that I will be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. By God’s grace, I pray that I will continue to have genuine compassion for those I disagree with even if they do not exhibit the same toward me. If you find your blood boiling, or you find your heart growing hard toward those on the other side of the aisle, confess to God your pharisaical nature and ask for his forgiveness. Pray for a softer heart. Don’t settle for entrenchment. Follow Jesus and choose the way of the cross. And please pray for me to do the same!

#UMCGC – A Lesson in Communication – Rule 44

13 05 2016

If you’re a leader of any group of people, it doesn’t take you long to find out that sometimes you can have the best plan, but if you don’t communicate it well, you will unintentionally create fear, anxiety, frustration and maybe even distrust in the hearts of your followers. Everything may work perfectly in your head – you may even have it clearly outlined on paper – but when the details are not shared with those whom it affects, you will not create the kind of ownership needed for it to succeed.

This was a hard lesson learned by the Rules Committee and all those who had invested time and energy to develop an alternative way of creating helpful legislation for difficult topics, particularly disagreements around human sexuality. This alternative process was called “Rule 44” and was offered to all delegates in writing about 3 1/2 months ago. Rule 44 was explained in approximately 8 paragraphs and basically suggested the creation of 50-60 small groups of 15 delegates each who would discuss their thoughts and feelings about the United Methodist Church’s stance on same-sex marriage, homosexual practice and ordination of openly LGBTQ clergy. We were told those thoughts from each group would be collected and then looked over by 6 people (selected from a group of 24 nominees) and synthesized into legislation that would be brought back to the full conference to be debated, discussed and voted upon.

Proponents of Rule 44 felt that something needed to change in the way we discussed such sensitive topics which have created misunderstanding and hurt for many people. Among other things, critics of the rule felt uncomfortable giving so much power to six people. And it seemed that everyone had questions. Proponents assured the conference of Rule 44’s viability – critics were skeptical. What ensued on social media and on the conference floor was nothing short of a spectacle. In the end, Rule 44 was defeated 57% – 43% (in a controversial ruling, it was determined Rule 44 actually needed 67% approval to pass, so it fell far short).

After Rule 44 was voted down, I spoke with one of the Rule 44 small group facilitators who had just been trained the evening before. She showed me the materials that were going to be used in the small groups had the vote to approve Rule 44 had passed (and another vote to ensure that we would use that process on issues of human sexuality). She explained the process clearly, showing me the materials to be used and exactly what information would be passed from the groups to the committee of six. Then she showed me what the committee of six would do and how that would create the legislation that would be brought to the conference. We talked back and forth – I offered a suggestion for what might work better, and after about 20 minutes of dialog I said to her, “I believe Rule 44 would have passed if every delegation had this information ahead of time to allow them time to digest it and practice it in their preparation meetings.” She agreed and together we grieved a bit for our denomination.

There are so many leadership lessons to be learned from this fiasco, but this was the most profound for me. Yes, you can have the best plan, but if you don’t adequately communicate it and create ownership of the process, it will be bound to fail, and unfortunately create more skepticism the next time around. I’m disappointed because I think we can do better than this. Poor communication kills relationships, dreams and visions, and possibly even denominations. A couple of pleas:

First, for those who voted FOR Rule 44 – understand that the skepticism of the 57% was not uniformly a desire to avoid difficult conversation. There were very important issues that were unresolved or at least poorly communicated.

For those who voted against Rule 44 (like me) – please be open to a perfected process if and when it is presented to us. Use it in your churches and delegations. Try it out. From what I saw in detail, I felt it could become something very helpful.

And finally, for those who have the charge of preparing and planning future versions of Rule 44. PLEASE understand the magnitude of your task. You’re not just charged with creating the plan. You MUST also create ownership of the plan amongst the delegations by over communicating the details and getting all the information out 12-18 months in advance of GC 2020. I encourage you to not give up, but please learn from this year’s failure.

#UMCGC – A Top 10 for a slow day at GC2016

12 05 2016

There were some great things that happened today. Here’s a countdown…

10. I ate Baklava – wow that was good, and I wanted more.

9. Rule 44 was tabled, then taken off the table, and we’ll vote tomorrow – a controversial way for handling sensitive legislation dealing with human sexuality has been proposed. The action on it wasn’t as exciting as the twitter feed about it.

8. The Cubs lost two games today but are still 17 games over .500 and it’s only MAY – no, it’s not good that Cubs lost. That is bad. But their winning percentage is still .758

7. My day ended at 4:45pm – I was only 11 votes away from being elected as a subcommittee chair in the “Faith and Order” legislative committee. If I was elected, I would have been in training until 9pm! I won even though I lost.

6. I met some great people – I met an “adorable” clergywoman named Juliet from Louisiana where she serves as a district superintendent. She had some great stories, but the best was a powerfully redemptive story about her son. I love hearing how God works in amazing ways. Talk with somebody new today – you will be blessed by it. (By the way, “adorable” is an inside joke in case Juliet actually reads this.)

5. I got up early and ran through downtown Portland – It was so beautiful and new that I just wanted to keep on running and was a bit late for my breakfast appointment!

4. I can’t get the song “No Longer Slaves” out of my head – what a great song by Bethel Music. We’ve begun singing it at church and it’s a regular on my iTunes playlist. “I’m no longer a slave to fear; I am a child of God!” Powerful song – check it out here.

3. Did I mention I ate some amazing Baklava? – I really do want more…

2. Great to catch up with an “old” friend, Roger Ross – well, those of you know Roger know that he never looks like he’s aged a day, but its been a long time since we’ve talked long about life and ministry. I am always better for these times.

1. The Episcopal Address was nothing short of inspiring – Bishop Gregory Palmer, my former bishop (2008-12) brought it this morning. Empowered by God he challenged us to be humble and have hope. I can’t do it justice, but if you’d like to watch it, you can here.

That’s all from Portland for today. Enjoy some very amateur pictures from my run this morning.

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A view down the Willamette River in downtown Portland

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Check out the size of that UMC banner!

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A view of the Oregon Convention Center (where GC2016 meets) from across the river

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Only view I could get of Mt. Hood on my run

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The former Rose Garden now called the Moda Center where the Trailblazers play

#UMCGC – The Smell of Heaven

11 05 2016

I smelled heaven this afternoon. No, I didn’t walk by a Chicago style pizza place in Portland (if anyone knows of some good deep dish in Trailblazer country, please let me know). I smelled heaven during our opening worship service and it brought me to tears.

Please don’t take offense to this. I don’t mean it in any negative way. Simply observation with all my senses. People have odor. I’m guessing you’ve noticed this from time to time. I’ve been privileged to travel the world a little bit over the last 10 years, and in that time, I’ve observed (with my nose) that people in different regions of the world have unique smells. Maybe it’s food preferences, or the water or the cultural habits of personal hygiene. It really doesn’t matter to me. I’m not making any judgments about the smells although this afternoon, they made my eyes water.

You may not know this, but the United Methodist is a worldwide church. 42% of the 864 delegates to General Conference are from outside the United States. There are many parts of the world underrepresented because the UMC does not formally exist in those places (India, China and South America come to mind) but still, 30% of our delegates are from Africa, 4.6% from Europe, and 5.8% from the Philippines, making us a global denomination. Our opening worship reflected that reality beautifully.

I was moved deeply in my spirit when we sang the song “Holy, Holy, Holy” and recited the great commission from Matthew 28:18-20 in multiple languages, but I was unprepared for our time of Holy Communion. Yes, the liturgical words, “Make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world” were powerful, but it was the smell that overwhelmed me. The communion servers were immediately in front of my table, and as dozens and dozens and dozens of delegates from all over the world walked in front of me, I could smell each and every one of their uniquenesses, and the beauty of it broke me in so many wonderful ways. Tears came to my eyes as I thought upon the picture of heaven from Revelation 7:9, After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb… Today I smelled heaven.

In other news I also won a John Wesley doll. I wonder if this is part of what he had in mind when he said, “I look upon all the world as my parish.”

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General Conference Delegates from around the world participating in Holy Communion



#UMCGC – A “Thank You” & Another plea for civility

10 05 2016

I met Barry* last night while riding on the MAX railway system to my hotel from the airport. Barry is here in Portland as a volunteer for General Conference (the once every 4 year worldwide United Methodist gathering that sets the policy and direction of the entire denomination). He remembered my name from earlier at the airport when he greeted me and other delegates after our 4-hour flight from Chicago. I’m so thankful for Barry and the many others like him who are here to volunteer their time. They are serving Jesus as they serve so many including me.

We chatted about several things. Barry told me where he was from (Georgia) and that he had flown a long way to be here. I shared with him that I flew from Illinois so I didn’t travel as far as he did, but it sure felt like a long day! He was very hospitable and offered to help me get where I needed to go. (Since I’m almost always a bit over prepared, I knew exactly where I was going and how to get there, but it was kind of him to offer!) Barry mentioned that he had other travel plans since he was on this side of the continent, and we chatted about a few other things. I asked him if he brought any family along and he mentioned that he and his husband were here together.

If you’ve been paying any attention at all, you know that debates about human sexuality are high on the agenda for this General Conference. It could be the issue that blows up our entire denomination. But I want to urge everyone to grasp the reality that this is not just an “issue.” The decisions we make at General Conference, and maybe even more importantly, the way in which we make them affect real, kindhearted, good and loving people like Barry and his husband.

When it comes down to it, people will believe that homosexual practice is either an acceptable or unacceptable practice for Christians (and to be clear, I believe you can love Jesus, love Scripture and love the mission of the church and yet come to different conclusions, interpreting in different ways). I don’t think any act of General Conference will change how either “side” interprets the Bible or chooses to believe. However, we can all remember the Barrys out there and in the midst of our differences, we can treat each other with love (and if not love, then at least civility and respect). Please continue praying with me for our General Conference – that the way we go about disagreeing will actually be a testimony of God’s grace and love and not another obstacle to people finding it.

Barry, I know I changed your name for this blog, but if you ever read this and realize I’m talking about you, thank you for serving me today. Your kindness showed me your love for Jesus. I hope and pray that I can serve you at this General Conference, if not by my votes, then certainly by the respect and graciousness I offer back to you.

*I changed Barry’s name for this post.

You may also be interested in previous posts about disagreeing civilly. May we not be of one heart? Part 1 and Part 2

#UMCGC Why I chose Faith & Order Committee

9 05 2016

For those of you who aren’t aware of the inner workings of General Conference, there is a TON of proposed legislation. Every delegate looks forward to February with fear and trepidation. February is when the Advanced Daily Christian Advocate (ADCA) is published and sent to delegates. Don’t have any idea what the ADCA is? Imagine 4 phonebooks arriving at your doorstep only you are supposed to actually read them. Yes, 4 phonebooks. (After conference is intend to attempt tearing them in half like a true strongman.)

The volumes of legislation all seek to alter, in some way, the guidebook for United Methodists, the Book of Discipline, or it’s supplement, the Book of Resolutions. In order to facilitate the legislation, the 864 delegates are broken down into 13 different subcommittees that each deal with legislation around a particular segment of the Book of Discipline and corresponding Resolutions. Legislative committees include Church and Society (1 & 2), Conferences, Discipleship, Finance and Administration, General Administration, Global Ministries, Central Conference Matters, Independent Commissions, Judicial Administration, Local Church, Ministry and Higher Education, and my committee of choice, Faith and Order.

In Tampa, at the 2012 General Conference, I served on the Local Church subcommittee and experienced the legislative process first hand. Early on in the first week of GC, the delegates break into their legislative committees. Anywhere from 50-100 people gather together and one of the first tasks is to elect a committee chair, vice-chair, secretary and sub-committee chairs. Then an agenda is set and for the next few days the committee (or subcommittees) discuss, amend and ultimately vote on every piece of legislation. Sometimes there is overwhelming agreement sometimes there is contention. In either case, the committee’s decision isn’t final until the legislation gets to the floor of the entire body of General Conference in the 2nd week. If there was overwhelming agreement, the legislative item will be lumped with MANY other items in a daily consent agenda and voted on in mass. If there is contention in the legislative committee, it MIGHT come to the floor to be debated, amended and voted on by the entire body. Whether it comes to the floor or not is determined by the agenda committee that is comprised partially by the chairpersons of each subcommittee. Yes, plenty of politics…

Anyway, you just got more information than you likely care to read about. Back to my original point of writing. WHY I chose Faith and Order. Faith and Order covers legislation in my favorite part of the Book of Discipline which cover our “Doctrinal Standards and Our Theological Task,” “The Ministry of All Christians” and the meaning of and qualifications for ordination. I chose Faith and Order because I love the doctrine of the church. I’m particularly passionate about ordination and our doctrinal standards. In fact, while serving on the Board of Ordained Ministry in the annual conference to which I belong, I love reading and learning from as well as critiquing and challenging the doctrinal work that our ordination candidates submit. It’s the part of the church that not only connects us with the church universal, but also highlights unique Wesleyan contributions.

This year our Faith and Order Committee will discuss important legislation that seeks to add the Nicene Creed to our Doctrinal Standards, possibly change our mission statement, sharpen language in our “Theological Task” and clarify the expectations for those seeking ordination (yes, there are several controversial issues regarding sexuality and ordination). For a doctrine nerd like me, it will make for an exciting few days in legislative committee during week 1 of General Conference.

#UMCGC May we not be of one heart? Part 2

6 05 2016

“But although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union; yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.” – John Wesley, Sermon XXXIX, Catholic Spirit

The last Sunday in April I participated in a public viewing of An Act of Love with a talkback session with me and another member of our General Conference delegation. Sara and I are friends and colleagues although we are “not of one opinion” on the United Methodist’s current language regarding the practice of homosexuality. Despite our differences, Sara and I have engaged in helpful and healing dialog and, by God’s grace and Holy Spirit, modeled that type of dialog in front of the 150 or so gathered to watch the documentary. You can read more of the background in Part 1 of this post. I now want to spend a little bit of time reflecting on how it is possible for us to, as John Wesley put it, “be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion.”

First, let me say that I would not have willingly engaged in a public talkback session like this if it weren’t for my trust in Sara herself. Sara is a well-respected and fruitful pastor in our conference and the two of us have been friends and colleagues for several years. Not seeing eye to eye on this topic has not defined our relationship. Our love for Jesus and our love for people does. And maybe that is the first “how” steps in being “of one heart, though we are not of one opinion.” We choose to think the best of each other and each other’s motivations. We choose to not see each other as the enemy. I know and trust that she loves Jesus, the Bible and people at least as much as I do. If our denomination is ever going achieve a “Catholic Spirit” we must start with mutual respect and love and stop the divisive rhetoric that paints one another into categories of “heretic” or “hater.” In order for that to happen we must individually develop genuine friendships with colleagues on the other side of the fence and engage in difficult dialog seeking to understand before we are understood.

Secondly, while preparing together for our public talkback, Sara and I agreed upon similar goals. Here are a couple of those goals:

  • We agreed we would not approach this as a way to try and change the other’s mind. We assumed that our viewpoints and interpretation of Scripture would not be altered because of our dialog. Let me just say that we DID hope to change the minds of those in attendance – not to “our side” of the issue – but rather to change our perceptions of those who don’t see eye to eye with us.
  • We agreed we did not want to approach this from a win/lose standpoint, but rather a win/win standpoint. We decided that if either of us were getting negative pressure from someone in attendance that we would rise to each other’s defense. We also sought to give each other the opportunity to dispel common stereotypes that opposing sides like to promulgate to make themselves look better. For instance, progressives are often accused of not loving the Scriptures or being fruitful pastors. Conservatives are often accused of being haters of gay people or homophobes or unable to read the Bible contextually. We sought to dispel those stereotypes, which would lead us to “be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion.”

Although we did not write these goals down, we did covenant together to abide by them. I would not have agreed to participate in this forum had it not been for this agreed upon covenant with Sara. If either one of us would have sought to get our digs in and undermine our covenant, everything would have fallen apart. There is enough hurt surrounding this issue that we don’t need to create any more.

As I approach General Conference, I do so with opinions. I’d like to think those opinions are well thought out over countless hours of prayer and study and dialog. But simply because someone has a different opinion from mine does not make them my enemy. I’m a pretty competitive guy, and it’s natural for me to think in an us/them framework. Praise God I’m heading to General Conference empowered by the supernatural. I invite you to join me in submitting to the power of the Holy Spirit. Not to change how you vote necessarily, but to change the way you see those and treat those who vote differently than you. In that way, I believe we can be of one heart.

#UMCGC May we not be of one heart? Part 1

5 05 2016

“But although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union; yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.” – John Wesley, Sermon XXXIX, Catholic Spirit

I recently watched An Act of Love, the documentary about Rev. Frank Schaeffer who faced church trial for performing the wedding for his gay son. The absolute best part of the entire film was that it told a real life story. It humanized what has become for many conservatives a faceless “issue.” These 90 minutes were filled with pain and hurt. No matter how you feel about the biblical “rightness” or “wrongness” of homosexual practice, it must never become a mere “issue” to debate. If we want to be like Christ, we have to at least try to understand the pain that the LGBT community experiences. This film helped confront viewers with that pain.

A United Methodist Church in my area set up a public viewing of An Act of Love followed by a talkback session featuring a colleague of mine and me who are both delegates to General Conference. To quote John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, Sara and I approach this controversial (yet not faceless topic) that threatens to tear apart our denomination “not of one opinion.” We have discussed our viewpoints here and there for a few years, but only recently engaged in a deeper dialog (although we could have spent FAR more time sorting through our thoughts together). And we agreed to try and model respectful dialog in front of an emotionally charged crowd of about 150 viewers. We tried to be a living, affirmative answer to Wesley’s question, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?”

I’ll end this post with the reflections of one of our fellow delegates who attended the viewing and talkback, which he shared with the rest of our delegation (shared with his permission). Tomorrow I’ll reflect on some of the reasons how this kind of respectful and loving dialog amidst disagreement was possible.

To Illinois Great Rivers Conference delegates:

I cannot help but share with you something that I feel is absolutely newsworthy and groundbreaking. Last Sunday evening, two of our delegate-colleagues, Andy Adams and Sara Isbell, engaged in dialogue with one another in an auditorium filled with curious United Methodists following the showing of An Act of Love, a documentary movie about the Rev. Frank Schaeffer and his recent church trial, conviction, and the convictions overturn by the Judicial Council.

I understand this production has been sent to all General Conference delegates. Beyond its compelling story line about a pastor, husband, and father of four who engaged in “an act of love” by presiding at the same-sex marriage of his oldest son, its showing provided the opportunity for two of our own (Andy and Sara) to engage each other and the audience in dialogue about this vexing issue that comes before us once again with increased intensity and stakes higher than any of us want to believe possible.

I was personally struck, though not surprised, by the gracious tone of Andy and Sara. They courageously engaged each other, each self-identifying as “right of center” and “left of center” and admitting their disagreement with the other on the issue, but agreeing to respect and authentically listen and respond to the other on this painful and deeply divisive issue. They modeled for the congregation what we as a denomination might be, should we decide that “faith working by love” could by our modus operandi.

In my heart and mind, I felt I was part of a “Pentecostal” moment when two very different disciples of Jesus Christ witnessed to their common faith. They demonstrated the unity (not uniformity) that only the Holy Spirit can achieve between those of differing opinions.

I left Champaign Faith UMC that night saying to myself, “I just experienced an authentic model of Christian community and unity in the faith that gives me reason to hope.” If Sara and Andy can engage each other so respectfully and meaningfully here, dare we hope that our brothers and sisters in Portland can do likewise? I know the predictions. So do you. But I also know that the risen Christ surprises despairing disciples with his presence, power, grace, and love in ways we can hardly imagine! May it be so, Lord; may it be so.

Randy Robinson

#UMCGC Praying for General Conference

4 05 2016

You probably don’t care, but just in case you do, it’s obvious I’ve taken a hiatus from blogging. It just isn’t built into my regular routine. I haven’t been lazy over the last couple of years during my time away from the blogosphere. I’ve been enjoying the love of my family (Amy Jo and I will be married 16 years this summer and our kids are 8 and 7 – such fun ages!), helping to merge two United Methodist congregations, as well as write and research about it for my Doctor of Ministries dissertation. Maybe you can understand why I’ve taken a break from blogging.

However, I will be starting up again during the 2016 General Conference which meets from May 10-20, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. General Conference is the highest decision making body of the United Methodist Church that meets every four years. This will be my second General Conference as an elected delegate (I was a “rookie” in 2012 in Tampa). I’m one of the 864 from all over the world. When I think about it from that perspective, the magnitude of the responsibility is not lost on me. I’ve tried to honor Jesus as well as those who elected me by being diligent in prayer and preparation.

Last week I shared with my church’s leadership and broader congregation the importance of everyone’s prayers for General Conference. Many issues will be debated and decided including the role of the pastor, the “Imagine No Malaria” initiative, missionary support, the planting of new churches, the appointment of pastors, the accountability of bishops, the issue of human sexuality, as well as many other social and theological issues. These topics (and many more) will all be on the table. Many of these concerns to be addressed are the same issues that we face in our culture and world at large. And the sad reality is, we are as divided as a Church as we are in our nation and world. Virtually every contentious topic is presented in an “either/or” scenario and it’s hard to find unity.

Maybe that’s why Jesus prayed so hard for his followers to be united in heart and mission. Earlier in the night of his arrest, after he had shared his final meal with his disciples, the book of John records what has become known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer in chapter 17. Here is a snipit of it: Jesus prayed, I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. (John 17:20-23) Jesus is praying for the church today as much as his original followers. He’s praying for our unity of heart and mission SO THAT the WORLD may know how much God loves them. Our disunity hurts our mission.

To be frank, I do not believe that we will achieve unity at our General Conference. Yes, we will be able to agree on some things, but I realistically believe that our disagreements will continue to separate us and compromise our mission. Yet here is my hope and prayer. That even in our disunity around social and theological issues, that as those redeemed by Jesus’ blood, our unity in Christ will lead us to treat one another with civility and respect. That we will cease the divisive rhetoric and name calling and instead address our challenges with love and compassion. Would you join me in praying for that kind of unity so that the world may know?

More to come from Portland.

Together > Alone

3 10 2014

I recently watched an episode of The Walking Dead entitled “Alone.” Judge me if you like, but there’s just something in me (and millions of other viewers) that romanticizes a zombie apocalypse. Regardless, this particular episode emphasized an important reality: Being alone stinks. Yes, I know, we all need some alone time, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. You can “be alone” even when you’re in the presence of hundreds of people. And nobody was created to “be alone.” God said it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).

I can relate. There are times when I feel alone. As a leader, it happens more frequently than I would like to admit. I feel alone whenever I don’t have someone close who understands the emotions I’m going through. I am so thankful for the gifts of friendship that God has blessed me with such that I always have someone I can turn to. I do not take those friends for granted. But not everyone has found such community, and prolonged aloneness takes its toll. The most common coping mechanism in America for feeling alone is to build the kind of life that never depends on anyone for anything – to become completely self-centered and never make ourselves vulnerable to the pain of feeling alone anymore. Some people become withdrawn, stop feeling altogether and live in denial. Others compromise values in order to belong or be with others so they no longer feel alone. If you feel alone you may be tempted to act out in some kind of a harmful way to mask your internal pain. And feeling alone has led numerous people to simply give up, particularly when the challenges of life begin to mount.

That was the case for the Israelites Nehemiah interacted with in Jerusalem after the exile. They had accepted their disgrace and had given up on the restoring their beloved city to its former glory. They faced opposition and felt their challenges were insurmountable. But Nehemiah cast a vision for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem with these words, Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace! (Nehemiah 2:17b) Let US rebuild the wall… Nehemiah invited them to face their struggles and pain and opposition and disgrace TOGETHER! Nehemiah invited them into a vision that could only be accomplished TOGETHER! When things are overwhelming because you’re facing them alone, know that TOGETHER, with God, anything is possible.

As I reflect on the last decade of Quest’s ministry, there are many achievements and accomplishments that are noteworthy. Baptisms, professions of faith, ministries begun, missions projects completed, lives changed here and around the world and more. But I have to be honest and say that what has been most personally gratifying for me is that over the last 10 years, we Questers have lived out the mission of God TOGETHER. I would rather go through trials and tribulations together than live in the glory of success on my own. Because, as God said, it is not good for man to be alone.

Join me in praising God for 10 years of Quest ministry lived out together.