In a world full of division and discord, it is important to hear some words about unity. This is the first in the series Somos del Senor: We Are From The Lord. I hope it brings you some ecouragement in these dark times.
As I did sermon prep one morning, I encountered a familiar passage from Matthew that made me stop and consider a recent action I had taken. Here is the passage:
If you judge other people, then you will find that you, too, are being judged. Indeed, you will be judged by the very standards to which you hold other people.
So, what did I do that made me pause when I read this passage?
A number of years back, my sister-in-law bragged that her son knew the words to a country song, Something Bout A Truck by Kip Moore. If you click that link and listen to the song, you might see why I thought it was a bad idea to have a 7-year old singing this song.
If you don’t want to click, here’s the short of it: The song talks about drinking, making out, and smacks really close to teaching about glorifying sex with inebriated partners. I know, I’m probably overthinking it. I’m a pastor. It’s my job to overthink things.
I gave her a TON of crap for it. I told her in not so many words that her parenting was questionable. I, myself, was a parent at this point. It wasn’t anything like when I told her how to parent before I had kids. No, I had real cred now. She wasn’t as good at parenting as me and I let her know it.
Fast forward to about three weeks ago.
I was listening to Fireball by Pitbull (not the clean version) one day when my middle child says, “Daddy, is that Tequila?” I laughed and told him no but they both have catchy saxophone riffs. I never really listened to the words if I’m being honest. I just think that song is catchy as hell. So, of course we listened to it over and over for the next 30 minutes.
Now my kids are going around singing an even worse song than the one I gave my SIL crap for those years ago.
The issue isn’t whether it is good that either of us did it. The issue is that I couldn’t just keep my judgement to myself back then. And now it comes back to bite me in the ass.
This verse isn’t speaking to me. It is screaming at me. There have been a number of recent instances to which I’ve been witness where the parties involved would have been better off if they had remembered it.
One such situation began over a year ago. A colleague bull-rushed a program in at her church in the face of stern opposition. It wasn’t that her congregation didn’t want what she wanted. It was that they had distinct world views that made the implementation of the program fundamentally different. But she didn’t stop long enough to see the big picture. She showed no discretion.
Over a year later, she is still dealing with the fallout of running headlong into an environment and personality pool that she did not understand.
A little discretion and understanding would have protected her and the congregation.
I should have this very tattooed on my forehead. Seriously. I need to read this every day. I can imagine a scenario where discretion and understanding are not beneficial.
I am impatient. It’s in your blood. It is going to take a lot of energy and work for you to overcome your baked in impulsiveness. Do the work anyway.
I promise that you will never be sorry if you take some time to understand your surroundings and the people in them before forcing a solution.
What follows is a story that I recently shared with my congregation. It tells of a teenage boy at a crossroads. I hope you enjoy it. It is based upon a real person and real events.
There was a
teenage boy who worked at a pizza shop, mostly as a dishwasher. He didn’t have one
of those fancy automated washing machines you see in restaurants these days.
No. He washed hundreds of greasy, smelly pizza pans by hand every night.
The teen had
gone to church for years and considered himself a pretty good kid. He knew that
he was better than most people, anyway. He followed the rules set before him
and did the “right” things the church said he should.
series of highly organized religious events, the teenager found himself as part
of a group of men who were to lead a Spiritual Retreat for other men. During
this Retreat, each of the leaders would share the stories of their lives before
and after they gave their lives to Jesus.
just one problem: even though the teen had been going to church for years, he
had never made an effort to give his life over. To be honest, he had never
really thought about it. Wasn’t going to church, being in the youth group, and
following the rules good enough?
leaders said the teen couldn’t lead others to convert if he hadn’t converted
himself. One of them even used the term “born again.” OH GOD!
Conversion. Born again…. Only those religious, holy rolling, bible thumping,
CRAZIES talked like that. And the teen was certainly no “Jesus freak.”
from what he knew of the process, being “born again” might mean a difficult
conversation with his girlfriend about their extra-curricular activities. No.
Being “good” was good enough.
enough Bible verses to beat down most resistance. He felt like he had himself
pretty put together. He knew what was good for people, so he’d just keep doing
But how was he going to get through this Spiritual Retreat? What did it even mean to be “spiritual” anyway? Come to think of it, had he even ever HAD an actual conversation with Jesus before? Maybe. Accidentally. Like in a moment of distress or something. But never….on purpose. Maybe he should start with that. Yeah. He would just have a little chat with Jesus. People did it all the time. How hard could that be?
“Why does Jesus ask so many questions??,” the teen thought to himself a few weeks later, frustrated as he scrubbed another pan in elbow-deep grease water. That first conversation Jesus had been easy. Kind of a “getting to know you” thing. Nothing too deep. It tricked the teen into thinking they’d all be that easy.
But, then, Jesus stopped just listening and started asking
“Why do you hate Catholic people so much?”
“Why do you tease that homeless man you pass on the way to
school every day. His name is Jimmy by the way.”
“Why do you use your girlfriend for your good rather than
for hers? She only thinks she’s worth what you use her for.”
“Why don’t you forgive your father for not being a very
good husband to your mother? He was so focused on his own pleasure that he didn’t
have time to worry about her. I wish he had talked to me first. She is such a
“Why don’t you forgive your mother for caring more about
herself than about you? She always held out hope that your father would come
back to her, that he would remember the passion he once had for her. But he
died…and so did that hope. You can’t imagine how much pain she went through. I
could have helped carry that with her. But those bottles seemed more real to
her than I did. You really should give her a break.”
“You think you know what’s best for people. But you never
ever bothered to wonder what God thinks is best for people. Why don’t you let
me show you? Why won’t you follow me?
And there it was. The question. “Why won’t you follow me?”
Why couldn’t Jesus just mind his own business? The teen HAD
thought he was good enough. Good enough for himself, at least. So what if some
people didn’t deserve better treatment. They got what they deserved.
Then a thought occurred to the teen. What did HE deserve?
Just because he messed up a bit and maybe didn’t treat everyone the best didn’t
mean he deserved to be treated badly. No. Well. Who knows? Maybe he did deserve
If he treated others based on their behavior and
intentions, then shouldn’t he be treated based upon his? Maybe. It made sense.
But that’s not how he was being treated.
The youth group loved him and supported him even though he
was pretty snarky with them all the time. There was this teacher, Mr. Sekerak,
at school who spent so much time with him. That teacher always told the teen
how good he could be if he wanted to be.
And the other men at the Spiritual Retreat. They seemed
pushy but maybe they just wanted the teen to be intentional about his
relationship with Jesus. Maybe they just wanted him to know for sure that he
cared about the things that God cares about.
Jesus and his questions. They got him all messed up inside. But those questions weren’t mean. Those questions weren’t accusational. Those questions made him consider other people.
If these questions were any indication, then following
Jesus was probably mostly about how the teen’s actions impacted other people.
“I can’t do all of that by myself!!” He slammed a pizza pan into the dirty water, splashing it all over. The emotional outburst earned him a sidelong glare from his boss who was slicing a pizza only feet away.
There was no audible voice, but the teen clear felt the response: “I know you can’t. You don’t have to.”
The teen sighed as tears welled up in his eyes. As one
slid down his cheek and plopped into the greasy dish water, the tear drove away
the soap and grime in that one spot and caused a small ripple in the sink that
eventually went right to the edges.
With that, he closed his eyes and said, “I don’t know what to do anymore. Just show me. I’ll do whatever you say.”
There was no tingle. There was no rush of calm or
excitement. But, when the teen opened his eyes, the world seemed a little
brighter, somewhat clearer.
This was just the first of many times that the teen, now a
man, now your pastor, experienced a conversion, an intentional rebirth in the
With this wisdom you will be able to choose the right road, seek justice, and decide what is good and fair because wisdom will penetrate deep within and knowledge will become a good friend to your soul.
God’s wisdom helps us choose what is right, good, fair and just. God’s wisdom doesn’t sit just at the surface. It gets deep into your soul. I love these verses.
I also resonate with the imagery that we find God’s wisdom on a journey, a trek on which God does not compel us but empowers us to choose good. If God’s wisdom is buried deep and is found while on a journey, then God’s wisdom is always something for which we are searching. When we find it, it is like a a diamond or gold, a precious gem to value and hold dear.
Boys, Searching for wisdom and knowledge, the divine sparks that illuminate what is truly good and just in this world, is a long and, at times, difficult task. Do it anyway. You’ll never be sorry you put in the work. No one else will be sorry either. Just the opposite. Dad
I’m often told that unity is the centerpiece around which the United Methodist Church will live or die. We must be united or else there is no “United” in the Methodist Church.
I agree but not in the way you might think. I view unity much in the same way that the apostles Peter and Paul did.
Those dudes were united around a single point of focus. That point was not practice. It was not morality. It was not purity. It was not uniformity. Peter and Paul were united by Jesus and their need to tell everyone about him.
In Galatians 2:11-14, Paul gives a brief overview of an incident he has with Peter in Antioch. During that confrontation, Paul got up in Peter’s grill and called him out for his hypocrisy in dealing with Gentiles, particularly around the issue of dietary laws.
Paul believed that Gentiles didn’t have to adhere to Jewish Law, especially dietary restrictions or circumcision. Some of the other apostolic leaders, notably James and Peter, disagreed.
Following Jewish codes and practices were morality issues. So, the argument around whether or not new followers of Jesus, himself a Jew, needed to follow these moral laws was an important one to have. Peter and James were making a claim on morality more than they are on rule-following.
Paul successfully argued that one’s morality was not wrapped up in Jewish purity codes and dietary rules. People were made right with God through the faithfulness of Jesus and their willingness to emulate that faithfulness.
The current point of disunity dividing the United Methodist Church is around the issue of human sexuality. This is a point upon which some say we must agree or the whole thing falls apart. It’s a morality issue for many.
I agree that it can be seen as a morality issue. I disagree that we need to breakup over it.
Peter and Paul eventually agreed that the focus of their faith was the person of Jesus not adherence to particular views of morality. They went their own ways and allowed each other to exist in dramatically different, one might even say opposing, ways in order to bring people to Jesus.
The United Methodist Church needs to be unified around Jesus or else there is no unity worth anything. When we have been truly unified on this point, the differences have been able to coexist.
Peter and Paul were at odds on the morality of their day but unified around Jesus in the end. We can too. Dietary restrictions were every bit as dramatic of a moral issue as the one we face around human sexuality. It’s the same morality in a different wrapping.
In the end, they knew that the greater purpose was more important than the moral restrictions that were in place.
Morality does not make you a Christian. Following Jesus makes you a Christian. The church was not founded on unity of practice. It was founded upon and centered around Jesus. We would do well to remember that.
Why doesn’t God stop bad things from happening? Why doesn’t God cure cancer? If God is loving, then why does God seem to act so unloving sometimes? If you’ve ever asked yourself a question like this, then today’s episode is for you. Award-winning author, Thomas Jay Oord, and I talk about the problem of evil and why God can’t stop it. Let’s get started!
If I’m being completely honest, I was dreading this episode. What could be any less sexy or controversial than food safety and justice? Well, it just so happens that it’s a bigger deal than I thought. Enjoy this episode! Share and subscribe!