So Many Questions.

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.

This pizza pan is very similar to the one told of in the following story.

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.

Through a 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.

There was 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?

The other 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!

Bleh! Conversion. Born again…. Only those religious, holy rolling, bible thumping, CRAZIES talked like that. And the teen was certainly no “Jesus freak.”

Besides, 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.

He knew 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 that.

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?

The memories…

“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 questions.

“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 beautiful soul.”

“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 that?

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 Spirit.

#LettersForMyBoys – 9

Photo by Josh Willink on Pexels.com

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.

Proverbs 2:9-10

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

Oh, The Morality!

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.

The Focus

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.

The Disagreement

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.

The Morality

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 Point

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 Call

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.

Stained Glass Rebel Podcast – God Can’t Stop Evil – Thomas Jay Oord(Ep. 07)

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-rthpt-b2f98d

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!

Stained Glass Rebel Podcast – Pondering Principles – Food (Ep. 06)

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-973bx-b23022

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!

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Pondering Principles: Science and Technology

After what seems like forever, I am back at these Social Principles. Today, we are on Science and Technology. You can read it here. A few lines did stick out to me. Let’s get started.

Here is the text:

“We recognize science as a legitimate interpretation of God’s natural world. We affirm the validity of the claims of science in describing the natural world and in determining what is scientific. We preclude science from making authoritative claims about theological issues and theology from making authoritative claims about scientific issues. We find that science’s descriptions of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology. We recognize medical, technical, and scientific technologies as legitimate uses of God’s natural world when such use enhances human life and enables all of God’s children to develop their God-given creative potential without violating our ethical convictions about the relationship of humanity to the natural world. We reexamine our ethical convictions as our understanding of the natural world increases. We find that as science expands human understanding of the natural world, our understanding of the mysteries of God’s creation and word are enhanced.

In acknowledging the important roles of science and technology, however, we also believe that theological understandings of human experience are crucial to a full understanding of the place of humanity in the universe. Science and theology are complementary rather than mutually incompatible. We therefore encourage dialogue between the scientific and theological communities and seek the kind of participation that will enable humanity to sustain life on earth and, by God’s grace, increase the quality of our common lives together.”


http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/the-natural-world, “Science and Technology,” emphasis mine.

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