“Uniting Methodists” and Why I Joined the Movement

flip-unity2-copyRecently, I prayerfully considered joining a movement within the United Methodist Church called “Uniting Methodists.” The Uniting Methodists are a middle-way, moderate group seeking to unite a divided denomination. The United Methodist Church is on the verge of a schism due in large part to differences in Biblical interpretation around same-sex relationships and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy. Without getting into all nuances and depth (and some dysfunction) of our denominational ecclesiology, in 2019, our denomination will come to a decision on whether to stay together as we are, divide, or restructure ourselves in a way that makes room for theological differences.

You can find the Uniting Methodist’s statement here: http://unitingmethodists.com/

While I wish the Uniting Methodists would have included language and plans to address other things that need attention in our denomination like apportionment restructuring, the reduction of the organization of the institutional church, changes in guaranteed appointments (specifically exit plans for ineffective clergy), the role of itinerancy in today’s culture, clergy health, and the growing financial burden of seminary education on young clergy, I recognize that the pressing issue of division is paramount. I maintain that whatever plan is adopted for moving forward, even including a schism, this is an opportunity for the church to restructure itself in a way that it is more effective and conducive for the 21st Century.

After much prayer, and having been a part of local conversations about a middle-way, I decided to sign the document and join the denomination-wide movement. Here are some reasons why.

  1. I am a product of both the progressive and conservative branches of our church.
    At my ordination, I asked one of our more progressive and one of our more conservative pastors to be my sponsors. They stood with me and laid their hands on me when the Bishop told me to “take thou authority.” Both were equally formative in my life as a disciple and pastoral leader. The thought of one or both pastors belonging to a different denomination breaks my heart and stifles our denomination’s ability to reach a broad spectrum of people for Christ.
  2. We need all voices at the table—longer.
    I know that there is some listening fatigue over the debate. The problem is, it has been a debate and not a conversation. We have very few models of listening in and outside the church. We must model that all voices matter and that no position has a hold on truth. I believe we have failed to discern our voice (our opinions) from the voice of the Spirit. Every leader must practice discernment carefully and continually. I think discernment is best done in community, or lest we repeat the failure of our ancient ancestors who, “did what they thought was right in their own eyes.”
  3. Every generation of faithful Christians have had to figure out how to live under the authority of scripture and how to apply scripture for their time.
    We must remember that scripture (and our doctrinal creeds, for that matter) did not fall out of the sky as they are today. They took years to formulate and years to figure out the practical application of texts. The church has a long history of contextual exegesis. If we didn’t, women would still be sitting silently in church and growing out their hair. We also would still have slaves. We need scholars, pastors, and lay people to wrestle with our sacred texts and to discern the voice of the Spirit, today.
  4. I refuse to leave my LGBTQ brothers and sisters behind.
    Much like point one, I have been shaped by the stories and experiences of LGBTQ Christians in my own congregation, and in my own sphere of relationships. We must remember that when we talk about LGBTQ persons as “an issue” we dehumanize them. People’s lived experiences matter to God and they should matter to us. Stories have power. To split the church would isolate a whole demographic of people whose stories need to be heard and who need Jesus as much as I do.
  5. The right and the left really do need each other.
    Contrary to what those who belong to the theological right and left would say, both have valid points that need to heard. The right reminds us of our need for personal holiness. They remind us that sin is real and pervasive, and that only through our participation with the Holy Spirit can we grow in Christlikeness. The right reminds us that we must grow in a deep, transformational love of God. The left reminds us that our personal holiness should never isolate us from our neighbors. They remind us that to love God is to grow in love toward our neighbor. We need both voices to center us toward the great command to love God and others with our whole being. It is too easy to close ourselves off into ideological and theological cloisters. It simply affirms what we already believe to be true. While it’s easy, it’s also extremely dangerous. Theological isolation has led to the sinful act of treating others with contempt. Dallas Willard reminds us in his seminal work, The Divine Conspiracy, that the entrenched right and left are no different from the Pharisees of Jesus’ day (Chapter 2 kicks my butt every time I read it). Both are dogmatic about their positions, and neither represent the fullness of the Gospel. But together? Wow! Now we are starting to see the Kingdom of God in a fuller sense.
  6. The church should model an alternative way of living, loving, and growing together that is in total contrast to the way of the world.
    The world knows divisions. The world knows partisanship and dissension. The world knows disunity and divorce. What the world doesn’t know is unity despite, and in the midst of, differences. What the world doesn’t know is the mutuality of agape expressed between two differing people/sides. We can’t lament the dysfunction of institutions like the US Congress, and advocate for the same dysfunction within the church. The world is watching not only where we fall on a particular topic, but how we treat each other as sisters and brothers in Christ.
  7. My need to be right on any matter should never isolate me from relationships.
    This is an important message for us all to hear. If we learned anything during this last political cycle, it is that people believe their beliefs and “rightness” is greater than their need to be in relationship (or in our language community) with others. We cried out against this in the church, reminding Democrats and Republicans to put Jesus first before politics. I know good, faithful clergy who reminded their people how dangerous this attitude was—how counter-Kingdom it was. And yet, I hear those same pastors preaching, teaching, and presenting a narrative that mirrors political rhetoric couched in theological terms like orthodoxy, tradition, and justice. Our infatuation of being right, on either side, has resulted in a dismantling of community.
  8. I think diversity in theology is an asset not a hindrance.
    Being in a theological big tent is hard. It’s messy. It’s complicated. It can be disruptive. It doesn’t always tie up all loose ends, and sometimes leaves more ambiguity than resolution. And yet, I see God at work in it all. It’s a strength. Strong beliefs are important, but theological protectionism and rigidity results in legalism. It becomes oppressive and suffocating. I grew up in a protectionist tradition. The wounds for many who have come out of such a tradition are deep. Our United Methodist Church has strong theological beliefs and practices, and for the most part there is unity around these beliefs and practices. Certainly, we have had some ecclesiastical outliers that have sought to push the church in a particular direction that is outside of our theological center. But they have been outliers. The community for the most part has pulled us back to the places in which we agree—make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Having trusted friends and colleagues on both sides of the theological aisle, I am convinced we all agree on far more than we disagree.
  9. I may have little impact denominationally, but I have personal integrity and values that I hold dear.
    I know that I am one voice among millions of United Methodists. I am not going to pretend that any Bishop or denominational leader is asking me for my guidance. However, I pastor a church that in large part has modeled what I have just spelled out. Just today, my staff and I had a lengthy conversation about our value to be a church where all people are welcome—conservatives, moderates, and progressives. I hold this value as a bedrock to my own leadership, and as long as I am a pastor, I intend on preaching, teaching, and embodying this truth.

So, I have signed on to the Uniting Methodists. They are not perfect. I am not perfect. But I trust that we are better together, and I refuse to give up on unity. Whatever variation of Methodism that will come in 2019, I plan on continuing to preach the Good News to all people. I plan to continue to tell people how much Jesus loves them. I plan to be a beacon of hope in a divided world and church.

This, of course, can only come through Spirit.  So, come Holy Spirit. Come.

 

 

 

 

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An Aroma of Life and Death – Reflection on Charlottesville, VA

clergy in charlottesvilleSince the aftermath of Charlottesville, VA and the blatant display of racism, I have continued to reflect and pray. Like many across our county, my heart broke when I saw the hateful carnage of white supremacists and neo-Nazis carrying torches. A mob of hate chanted bigoted slurs, waved Nazi and confederate flags, and used clubs, fists, feet, and even a car to beat those who gathered to oppose them. It was a demonic display of hate that has festered in our country for centuries.

I must admit, I was angry when our president did not fully condemn the violence and name the hate groups for who they are. I was angered again this week when he passed blame on “many sides” and emboldened the hateful rhetoric. I posted on my Facebook this comment on Monday:

Today our nation witnessed a failure in moral leadership from our president. Having had an opportunity to speak about unity and empathy, his combatant nature and painful    words added fuel to an already blazing fire. I’m glad to see many Republican and   Democratic leaders speaking out against the president’s press conference today. I hope their words can translate into action as we all seek to discover ways to unite our             country.” 

I know some disagree with my assessment and that’s OK. I stand by these words and believe them to be true, but as I have further reflected, I believe the statement only goes so far. The president is not the only one who has failed in moral leadership. We, the Body of Christ, have failed to be a strong moral voice in our nation.

As the Body of Christ, we have hid behind our political parties and ideologies as if they are Gospel and Good News. They are important and necessary for a democratic society. Both sides have much to offer the world, but they are not Gospel in and of themselves. Jesus is Gospel. Jesus, alone, is Good News to all and for all. It is in moments of human-caused tragedy where I think the limitations of our political systems to fully address and wrestle with the complexities of human brokenness become crystal clear. Politics, while important, cannot not fully address the “sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1).

As those who are “citizens of heaven” (Phil. 3:20), we have looked to our government to be the moral barometer, hoping they would figure out deep rooted problems like racism for us. In essence, we have relegated our Kingdom influence and values to governmental systems and institutions. Jesus said we are the salt of the earth. We are the influencers and moral-shapers of culture. And no, not in a religious right or left mentality—if you would just vote for the “right” candidate all would be well—type of influence. I’m talking about when God’s people decide to abandon all systems of the world and to live into a new Kingdom thats values are so radically opposed to and different from the world, that we stand out as unique and as light in darkness. The government should be turning to the Church for guidance because we should be leading the way toward justice.

So, then, how do we begin to tackle some of the deep issues like racism as Christians?

First, as the Body of Christ, we must confess that we have neglected and ignored racism in our country. We hoped that it simply would go away. However, we have never truly faced our tainted past, both as a nation and as a Church. We have ignored the truth that our nation was built on the back of slaves and through the near eradication of Native Americans. We’ve never fully owned and confessed that the Church often sanctioned and participated in acts of human degradation, and we’ve allowed the ideals of triumphant Americanism to overshadow our mandate to “love our neighbors as our self.” We can’t talk about racism in our country as if it is an anomaly. We must talk about racism as a reality that has been perpetuated and often sanctioned by the Church. It’s our dark truth. And one we must face. We must confess where we have failed to live into God’s Kingdom—a Kingdom where everyone is an image bearer of God.

Confession, then, becomes the doorway we must walk through. In the opening of Matthew’s gospel, both John the Baptist and Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God had come, and both declared that the repentance was the means by which one enters the Kingdom (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). To enter into God’s Kingdom is to leave behind another kingdom. Through confession and repentance, we leave behind the world’s ideologies of power, self-protectionism, self-preservation, individualism, hate, anger, and sin. Letting the world go, we then walk into a Kingdom that proclaims there is no more “Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female.” We adopt the personal and corporate identity that “all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

A great congregational prayer that embodies this need for confession can be found here: http://www.missioalliance.org/congregational-prayer-churches-charlottesville/

Second, after we confess and repent, we then live our daily lives by a new Kingdom reality. In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul tells the people of God that they are the “aroma of Christ” that “spreads in every place” (2:14-15). The people of God become an aroma to the world that influences and shapes it. Paul goes on to say for some we are an aroma of life, while to others we are the aroma of death. For some, loving our neighbors and seeing all people as image bearers of God becomes life giving. It’s a fresh aroma that speaks life into dead places.

For others, however, being the aroma of Christ threatens their worldview. This is why love, especially the love of a Christian, is so controversial and causes so much commotion. When Christians love their neighbors, it exposes systems and people that work to marginalize and oppress their neighbors. For these institutions and people groups, Christians become the aroma of death.

I was not surprised to see clergy present at the Charlottesville protests. There have been images floating around the internet showing clergy linked arm to arm with stoles draped around their necks leading anti-protests. It’s a beautiful image of being simultaneously an aroma of life and an aroma of death. For those who have been brutalized and marginalized they were life-giving. They spoke up, raised their voices, and were love incarnate. But for the mobs, they were the aroma of death, standing against their oppressive rhetoric and violence. And like Jesus, when love incarnates into dark places, evil reacts with violence. Jesus promises that if we follow him into the dark places of the world, we will be persecuted.

So where does that leave me as Christian and pastoral leader? And where does that leave you?

I must confess. I must confess that I have been too silent, stood too far on the outskirts of the issue, and have hid behind the comforts of my own privilege. I must confess that the Church, and my local church, have much work to do in regards to race. I must confess that my politics will not solve the problem, but certainly can be a part of the solution. I must confess that I don’t know all the answers, but I serve a God who does.

I must walk into a new reality day after day, letting go more of the ways of the world and picking the way of the Kingdom. I must walk into dark places, not as a messiah, but as a suffering servant. I must walk into the Kingdom that continually challenges all of my bias and privilege. I must walk into the Kingdom that calls me to love my neighbor with every ounce of my being, most especially when it is costly to do so.

I must confess, repent, and walk in the Kingdom. For those of you who call Jesus your Lord, I pray you do the same.

‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Top 10 Pastoral Lessons I Have Learned in 10 Years

pastorAt the end of this week, my family will load up our minivan with suitcases, swimsuits, bikes, and food. We will make the 2 ½ hour journey up to Lakeside, OH for Annual Conference. Annual Conference is my denominational body’s regional three-day church meeting filled with worship, communion, guest speakers, ministry reports, voting on recommendations, debates, amendments, amendments to the amendments, remembering the clergy and laity who have passed in the previous year, and my favorite, the ordination and commissioning of new pastors. There is also plenty of connections with friends, gallons of coffee, and multiple trips to the Patio for ice cream.

As I prepare for Annual Conference, I realized that this will be my 10th Annual Conference as a pastor. 10 years ago, I received my pastoral license to preach. Becoming a pastor was a long surrender, but when I finally gave into to “the call,” I felt at home. This was what I was meant to do with my life.

I am still a baby pastor, however. 10 years is nothing in the scope of pastoral ministry. Every day I learn something new about myself and the people God has called me to serve. As I look back over these last 10 years, there are many lessons, sometimes painful, that I have learned.

In the spirit of Letterman’s Top 10 list, here are my Top 10 Pastoral Lessons I Have Learned in 10 Years.

  1. Seminary preparation is limited. Now, I don’t say this as a dig to seminaries, and especially not to my alma mater. Seminary prepared me to be a practical theologian. They taught me how to exegete scripture and how to prepare sermons, funerals, weddings, and worship services. They taught me the original language of scripture, and the many historical settings of scripture. They taught me pastoral care principals, and the basics of leadership. What they didn’t teach is how to lead in a post-Christian context. Much of my seminary education assumed that the context in which I would find myself would be preaching and teaching to Christian people. With the decline of Christianity’s prominence in society, Christian faith is no longer the norm. Learning how to contextualize scripture into a post-modern culture has come through trial and error. It’s something I, and I venture to guess, all pastors are learning.

 

  1. Ministry is hard. I assume that every job has its difficulties, but I was not prepared to handle all the ups and downs of ministry. Ministry can be both exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. There are moments of success and celebration, and moments of falling flat on your face. There are moments of clarity and direction, and moments of wandering in the wilderness. Sometimes ministry is a gamble. You try something new and it blows up in your face. Sometimes you don’t try anything, and the Spirit rushes and moves in ways that you were not prepared for. Ministry is still such a mystery to me. Thank God for grace.

 

  1. Preaching is only a portion of what a pastor does. I hate this. I really love preaching. It’s my favorite thing to do. I love digging into God’s Word, pulling out bits and pieces, and nuances and nuggets to apply to present day realities. And yet, the 30 minutes of preaching is over before I know it. It’s like planning for a wedding—a whole lot of preparation goes into the planning, and boom, it’s all over. Unlike a wedding, however, I get to do it all over again, week after week!

 

  1. Titles and degrees aren’t all that important. I say this as I am working on a doctoral degree! Most people could care less that I have a Masters of Divinity degree. They could care less about my GPA in seminary, or what classes I took. As much as I hate clichés, this one is true. People don’t care about how much you know, they want to know how much you care. I know pastors that are the most articulate preachers and have a depth of knowledge that would make King Solomon blush. Yet, they struggle as pastors because they are so distant from their people. There is a movement within Christian literature that thinks that pastors need to be distant from their congregations. I just have not seen that to be all that effective. In a world where people are increasingly disconnected, this mindset seems to perpetuate that fact. People want to feel loved and connected to their pastor. As my church grows, this is increasingly hard. I preach three services a Sunday, and there is only a 30-minute window in between each service. This gives little time for connection. Scheduling appointments, coffee meetings, and breakfast and lunch meetings are great ways to connect with people and to let them know you care.

 

  1. Leadership is and is not about me. I used to think that to be a strong leader I needed to be a jerk. Honestly, I thought I had to be the one out in front, pushing, pulling, and moving people forward through strength, might and determination. I am a type A person, so this came naturally for me. I am learning that leadership, real Jesus-style-leadership, is about surrendering, loving, encouraging, equipping, and inspiring people forward. It’s about creating space for people to share their fears and anxieties. This doesn’t mean that we are captive to people’s fears, but it is about letting people be heard and valued. Martyred priest, Oscar Romero, has a great phrase in which he says, “We are ministers, not Messiahs.” Understanding the difference between the two is vitally important to a healthy ministry.

 

  1. Ministry takes thick skin. Sometimes Christian-folk can be downright mean. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. Pastors must learn to separate someone else’s baggage and history from their own experiences. Unhealthy people will try and project their “stuff” onto the pastor. Learning to protect one’s own heart and to differentiate oneself from the situation, especially if it is toxic, is important in order to provide healthy leadership.

 

  1. All change is loss. People don’t like change. It’s weird because with all the advances we have made as a human species, change still comes as a painful experience for many. I know all the literature out there about early adopters and those who seem to move faster than others, but no matter how large or small the change is, there is a loss. Giving people permission to name that loss, grieve that loss, and even decide if they can stomach the loss and maintain a connection with their local church, is important pastoral work. Sometimes people can’t handle the change and the most pastoral thing we can do is to help them find a place that better suits them in their discipleship journey. This is always hard, and again, requires thick skin.

 

  1. Pastoral ministry requires emotional health. I cannot emphasize this enough. I grieve when I hear news of a pastoral indiscretion of a colleague. I mourn with clergy who go through a divorce. I lament when a pastor leaves ministry due to exhaustion and burn out. Maintaining strong spiritual rhythms, attending to one’s emotional and psychological needs through counseling and spiritual direction, and establishing boundaries are essential in pastoral ministry. Having other pastors to connect and live vulnerably with, is beyond important. It’s essential. Ministry can be lonely and we need each other.

 

  1. Pastors’ families are the forgotten heroes. Pastoral families are often overlooked. They take the brunt of the worst side of the pastor. I know mine has. Many pastoral families didn’t sign up for ministry. They were adopted into it, sometimes kicking and screaming. Pastors must make their loved ones a priority. One important lesson I learned early on is that I am a husband and father first. I made a commitment to my wife and future family before I made a vow to the church. I once heard a pastor say that he would not sacrifice his family on the altar of God. I have adopted this principal and try my best, although imperfectly, to adhere to it. Again, #3 is so important. A healthy Sabbath practice, taking vacation time, and maintaining emotional and spiritual health is a benefit, not only to me, but to my entire family.

 

  1. Being a pastor is a blessing, not a curse. I know many pastors who act as if what we have been called to do is a burden. Don’t get me wrong, there are days when it feels so. But when I look back over my 10 years, and I consider the future, I continue to be in awe that God would choose me to such a task. I am honored to carry the secrets, the stories, and the moments of joy and sadness of so many people. This is sacred work. Holy work. As a pastor, I am a bridge builder, building a bridge between humanity and God. When ministry becomes a curse, I become a roadblock in people’s ability to connect with God. I get in their way. Ministry is hard, but it is joyful work. It requires sacrifice and a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears. And yet, every time I baptize a little baby and look at her/his parent(s)’ face, I melt. Every time I bless a couple into a new identity as a married couple, I melt. Every time I witness a personal transformation, I melt. Every time I hold the hand of a dying person, I melt. Every time someone shares with me their deepest, darkest, and most painful secret, I melt. Every time I stand before a congregation full of people desiring to understand how this ancient book called Scripture is meaningful to their life, I melt. Every time I offer people the Body and the Blood of Jesus, man, I melt.

One last bonus lesson…Being a pastor is a journey of learning. I am still growing into my “pastoral skin.” I have much to learn, and so I enter the next decade with an open mind to learn, an open heart to hear God’s voice, and open hands to serve God’s people.

Let the journey continue.

When Our Moral Objections Become an Idol – A Young, Pregnant Student Rejected by her Christian School

Earlier this week, I saw a news segment on High School Senior, Maddi Runkles, being banned from walking at her graduation because she is pregnant. Check the story out here. Maddie attends a Christian private school in Maryland. Heritage Academy principal David Hobbs sent a letter to parents, as well as published the letter on the school homepage declaring that the best thing they could do for Maddi was to “hold her accountable for her morality.” He noted that she was not being disciplined for being pregnant, but for being immoral.

My heart broke and I must believe Jesus’s did as well.

I am unapologetically pro-life. I believe life begins at conception, and the creation and preservation of life, in and outside the womb, is one of the most sacred acts that humanity is privileged to participate in. And yet, for the life of me, I cannot figure out how excluding a young girl from her graduation sends a message of Christian love for life.

How far we have come from the days of the Early Church met in houses! Surrounded by the pagan Greco-Roman world, churches were known by their neighbors as a place of refuge for whom society had written off, demonized, and marginalized. The Early Church took in un-wed pregnant mothers and called them sisters, and orphans were welcomed with open arms. The surrounding culture could not understand such love. It baffled them and was unfamiliar. Why would these followers of Christ, welcome the “immoral”, outcasts, and societies forgotten and overlooked?

Why? Because the early church was governed by different set of morals. They lived by the morality of Jesus.

So here we have a Christian school, proclaiming an allegiance to the Christ who ate with sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes. The Christ who sat with a woman at the well, and did not scold her, but told her about living water. The Christ who pardoned a criminal on the cross, rather than lecturing him about accountability and morality. And yet, they exclude a young, impressionable, vulnerable, soon-to-be-mother from her passage into adulthood.

Perhaps Heritage Academy needs to return to their heritage of Christian hospitality.

I wonder, is it worth it? Is Heritage Academy’s moral stance worth more than their message of grace? For them, it seems so. For me, I think they’ve missed a larger issue than a young, pregnant student.

The underlying issue with this story is that when our moral positions become an idol, or when our need to be right gets in the way of authentic love, we have lost sight of what mercy, compassion, and grace are all about. When we bow at the throne of morality, as important as morals are, we fail to see the opportunities God places before us to be Good News to broken people. When our morality becomes a tool of exclusion, we have botched what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Morality must always be looked at through the lens of Jesus. This is clear in John 8. A woman who was caught in adultery (Speaking of morality, where’s the man who committed adultery?) was brought before Jesus by the religious folk. They declared that the Law of Moses commanded them to stone her. It was their moral imperative. They were right. The Law commanded such an act. Yet, Jesus, who is the fulfillment of the Law, bent low, wrote in the sand and flipped morality upside down by saying, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, the crowd retreated leaving Jesus and the woman alone. Jesus then said the most merciful words one could say—“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” He didn’t let her off scot-free. Do not sin again. The sin was named before Jesus and the woman. Yet, despite her sin, Jesus showed her absolute mercy.

The morality of Jesus is a morality of mercy, not condemnation.

Now, please don’t mistake me as saying accountability and consequences are not important. They are. Grace without accountability isn’t grace at all.  But hasn’t this young lady already experienced the consequences of her actions? Her scarlet letter story has been thrust into the national limelight. She will be a young, single mother in a world where single mothers have an uphill battle staged against them. My understanding of the story is that she did acknowledge her wrong, and asked the school for forgiveness.  How has she not already understood and lived into accountability? How has she not followed the path of faith—confess and be made righteous (1 John 1:9)?

A greater lesson to teach the student body is that people make mistakes. We are all “prone to wander,” as the great hymn says. We are all in need of mercy, grace, and forgiveness, and part of our faith is to acknowledge poor choices, all the while being “merciful, as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

I wonder, what if the student body threw this young mother a baby shower? What if the mothers in the community taught her how to mother? She’ll need help. What if instead of a moral exclusion, the community ran to her like the father ran to is prodigal son with open arms and said, “Welcome home. You belong?”

I understand the school’s fear. I was raised in a similar tradition. They fear that if they wrap their arms around this mother, it sends a message that pre-marital sex is OK. They believe that other young boys and girls will embark on similar ventures. I think the opposite is true. If this religious community wrapped their arms around this mother, the students will see firsthand the challenges of being a single parent. Maddi’s story can be a blessing to the community, not a story to be shamed, shunned, and silenced.

The world is watching us. They are writing about us as they did in the infancy of the church. What heritage will future Christians receive from us? Will it be a heritage of exclusion for the sake of our morality? Or will it be a church that welcomes, embraces, and claims as our own the one’s society has written off?

If the church is to be known for any position, it is the position of humility, grace, and forgiveness. May it be so.

 

Life is a “mere breath.”

fogI am currently on a three day retreat with a couple of clergy colleagues. We’ve been talking about getting away for a while now and I am grateful that we made the time to do so.

During my devotions this morning, I was struck by the beauty of the fog over the lake we are staying at. It was still, quiet, and serene. However, as quickly as the fog descended, it lifted and disappeared. A part of my devotional experience is to read four Psalms a day. In one of today’s Psalms, Psalm 39, the psalmist writes, “surely everyone stands a mere breath.” Life, the psalmist says, is nothing in God’s sight—a couple of handsbreaths.  The psalmist reminds us, as only a lyrical poet can do, that life is short and fleeting in the grand scope of eternity. Just like the lake fog descending in the coolness of the morning, life comes and goes.

As I have reflected on the shortness of life, I wonder how present I have been with the life I have lived thus far. I’m only 34, but I am assuming a third of my life is already behind me. Have I been engaged with and alert to life? Have I been fully present to my family, to others, to God, to myself? Or have I blazed through it, simply surviving each day and looking forward to tomorrow?

If life is just a breath, have I really stopped to breathe it in?

I am increasingly aware of the fact that retreats, vacations, Sabbath, and rest are vital to the human experience. We were not made to work ourselves to death, nor were we created to just get through life. From the beginning of creation, God orchestrated an order to life—work six days, rest one. After each day of creation God paused, slowed down, and reflected on his work calling it good.  As people made in the image of God, work, rest, and reflection are a part of God’s divine fingerprint stamped into humanity. We are not created to survive life, barreling through it and exhausted at the end of it. It’s a sad commentary when people in their elder years look back over their life with regret for having not experienced it fully. No, we are created to live by a divine pattern of work, rest, reflect, work, rest, reflect. We are created to stop, pause, and celebrate the beauty of God’s good creation and to celebrate life itself. We are created to thrive spiritually, emotionally, and physically in the shortness of life. Rest and reflection, then, are central parts of God’s work, and so they should be for us as well.

Columba of Iona says, “Joy is the echo of God’s life in us.” If life is but a breath, what if we breathed in joy— God’s life —as deeply as we can before we exhale into eternity? Being present in life, celebrating the life we have been given, is to breathe in God every day, to take in his majesty, beauty, and love. It’s to take into us the ruach, the breath, the Spirit of God deep into our lungs and to allow the Spirit to bring life into dead places and rest to our tiredness. Breathing in the Spirit brings love and healing into hurt places and joy out of the depths of our experiences, even the those that come with pain.

So life is a mere breath, a fleeting fog, a speck in eternity. But life is good. Enjoy the life you have been given today. Breathe it in, and in your breathing, may you exhale gratitude and praise.

A Theology of Work – Work through the Lens of Creation, The Fall, Redemption and The Kingdom

work-in-denmarkI just completed another semester pursuing a Doctorate of Ministry degree in Leadership and Spiritual Formation from Portland Seminary (formerly George Fox Evangelical Seminary) in Portland, Ore. This program is top-notch. In one year, I have witnessed tremendous growth in my own personal spirituality and leadership skills. If you are looking for a seminary or a doctoral program, I would highly recommend Portland Seminary. You can find more info our here: Portland Seminary.

My dissertation focus is on helping laity integrate their faith and work. I believe that the dichotomy of sacred work and secular work doesn’t exist. This means that all work matters. If you are a teacher, doctor, CPA, police officer, construction worker, musician/artist, or a stay-at-home-parent, what you do is not only purposed by God, but it is part of God’s plan of redemption for the world and a tool to reveal the Kingdom of God in fuller form.

Each semester, we slowly tackle our overall dissertation. Last semester I focused on the history of vocation and calling. You can read that paper here: Faith and Work – The battle between the sacred and secular.

This semester, I have focused on developing a theology of work as seen though the lens of Creation, The Fall, Redemption, and the In-Breaking of God’s Kingdom. Take some time and read my paper and let me know your thoughts. You can download the paper here: A Theology of Work

Enjoy!

~Jason

 

 

 

A Few Leadership Nuggets

On Monday morning, I submitted my final paper for this semester of my doctoral program!!! One year down, two more to go!

This year has been richly rewarding and I have learned about myself  as a pastoral leader.

There are a couple of insights that I have learned this year that I wanted to share with you. I think these leadership nuggets can benefit you in your own life.

  1. We are all leaders. At its core, leadership is about influencing others toward a certain end. Some of us lead in our workplace. Some lead at home. Some lead at church or in a civic group. Some lead as a coach. Some lead as a mentor. No matter where we lead, leadership development is important.
  2. Leadership requires emotional, psychological, and spiritual health. We all know leaders, whether that’s a boss, co-worker, a parent, spouse, or friend, who operate out of some sort of dryness and fatigue. They are toxic to any institution, family, or relationship. Taking time for self-care is perhaps one of the best things we can do if we want to be effective leaders in our workplaces and homes. Remember, even God rested on the seventh day.
  3. Leadership requires journeying with others. One of the best parts of my doctoral program has been my cohort. The 13 of us have laughed, cried, encouraged, and held each other accountable. As human beings made in the image of a Triune God, we are made for connections and relationships. We were never meant to do life alone. Friends, coworkers, spouses, and church family are vitally important in our growth.
  4. Leadership development is life-long. I am convinced there are no naturally born leaders. Leaders are made by experiences, influences, and a continual journey of discovery. Whether we are leading a board meeting or conversation at your dinner table, we are on a journey of becoming the person God created and needs us to be.
  5. Lastly, and most importantly, leadership is about becoming more like Jesus. Jesus is the perfect model of leadership because he led through humility and strength, and he led for the sake of uplifting others and not himself. Growing as a follower of Jesus will impact the way you lead at work and at home.

While I am looking forward to a summer break from school, I am excited for what God has ahead. God is good!