I Can’t Believe What I Just Saw!

I am the pastor of a small church. It can be very easy for small churches to fall into the thinking that “we don’t have enough.” We don’t have enough to make a difference. We don’t have enough to change the world. Heck, we don’t even have enough to take care of ourselves half the time!

The disciples thought the same way because they focused on the same things. They didn’t have enough money. They didn’t have enough food. And if you think about the amount of time and energy it would have taken to go buy enough food for well over 5,000 people, then they probably didn’t have enough time and energy to do it either. They didn’t have enough and they knew it. And they focused on what they didn’t have.

Conventional expectations offered no solutions to the crowd’s needs. Yet, even after all they had seen up to this point, the disciples didn’t even consider the very unconventional solution in Jesus. Jesus was right there, but they didn’t trust him enough yet to know that he would care for these people no matter what.

Like the disciples, when we focus on what we lack, we are not trusting in Jesus. When we focus on what we lack, we take our focus off of Jesus. We take the focus off of him and we put it on us and what we can do. We don’t have that kind of power.

So, Jesus takes what is available and makes it MORE than enough. Five loaves and two fish feeds over 5,000 with twelve baskets to spare. And whether you believe that this miracle states literal history or metaphorical truth, you get the same revelation: Jesus can take the ordinary and too little and make it more than enough to meet the needs of his followers. Jesus can take what we DO have and make it more than enough.

You’re worried about your budget? Trust that when we use that money in the name of Jesus that it will be made more than enough to meet your needs.

You’re worried about having too few people around to do all the work that needs to be done? Trust that Jesus will take the collective effort of a small but mighty crew and make it more than enough. Heck, miracles happen right? Maybe we will find helpers in all sorts of unlikely places. Jesus can make that happen.

It is important that we trust in the power of miracles. We cannot expect or plan on miracles because that goes against the definition of a miracle. Miracles are literally the least likely thing to happen, otherwise, they’d just be ordinary.

But, if Scripture is clear about nothing else, it is clear that miracles did and do happen. We can debate all day how we identify miracles, but we cannot deny that we have all been witness to something that absolutely could not happen…but it happened anyway.

We’ve seen the miraculous before. We WILL see it again. So, let’s trust and keep our eyes peeled.

Pondering Principles – Water, Air, Soil, Minerals, Plants

You can read the UMC Social Principles here. 
Today, I am going to reflect on two parts of this section that stuck out to me.

First up:

We support policies that develop alternatives to chemicals used for growing, processing, and preserving food, and we strongly urge adequate research into their effects upon God’s creation prior to utilization.

Social Principles: Water, Air, Soil, Minerals, Plants

I think we are going to see a recurring theme where our Social Principles speak against things that are RAMPANT in our culture. When was the last time you ate a whole meal made with food that didn’t have any processing or chemical intervention? Unless you grow all of your own plants and raise livestock (and grow their food too), the answer is likely never. I’m not about to go on a tirade about that. I mean, I could and perhaps we should, but that’s not what really stuck out.

What got me was that last part, the call to fo forward thinking about the effects upon God’s creation prior to using chemicals. This isn’t a truth only about chemicals. We should be far more concerned and intentional about who we impact this world ahead of time. But, humans love to be a “hindsight is 20/20” people. We love to ask forgiveness instead of permission. What we are beginning to learn the hard way is that nature is fairly unforgiving so we might want to be a little nicer and start worrying about how things are going to work out before we do damage.

We are deeply concerned about the privatization of water resources, the bottling of water to be sold as a commodity for profit, and the resources that go into packaging bottled water.

Social Principles: Water, Air, Soil, Minerals, Plants

Oh boy. I once heard a comedian, I think it was Chris Rock, make a comment that eventually corporations will charge for air when they can figure out the process. I have to agree with him. The privatization of water shows that companies will make money off of anything even if it is a public resource.

Instead of harping on culture and corporations at large, though, I want to point out the insane amounts of bottled water we have at events like our Annual Conference. I drink them. Everyone drinks them. Bottled water has become a staple. If we were really THAT concerned as a denomination about the state of bottled water, we would be doing more to prevent using it at literally every single UM function.

Hell, I know people who will not drink tap water because it “tastes funny.” Maybe, instead of encouraging companies to continue bottling water by paying them to do so, we can put our money toward public infrastructure to improve the availability and quality of water to everyone.

Let me be clear that I agree with our Social Principle here. My issue isn’t with the Principle. My issue is with the fact that we seem to talk a big game but back it up little in practice. Maybe we should call a meeting and talk about it…

#LettersForMyBoys – 3

If they should say,


Evildoers: Come on! Everyone, hide and let’s wait to see whom we can beat to a pulp. We’re going to jump some unsuspecting chumps for no reason at all. We’ll have our way with them, and when we’re through, there will be nothing left, as if their bodies were swallowed whole by the grave’s dark pit.

We’ll take whatever we want—all their wealth and their fancy clothes and when we’re through, we’ll have piles of their treasure for our own. You have to join us; forget about God. We’re going to rake in the goods, and we’ll share all we take!

My son, do not join them; keep well away from their violent, destructive paths. For they run right away, every time, to do wrong, and they are thirsty for blood. You see, it makes no sense to bait the net and set the trap while the bird is watching, But these hiding in the shadows and waiting to spill innocent blood are really just hastening their own destruction! By giving in to their sinful desires, they set themselves up to be ambushed.

This is what happens to everyone who tries to profit by violence; violence will eventually rob them of their very lives


Proverbs 1:11-19 (The VOICE)

This passage speaks to a gang mentality. Staying away from those who want to hurt others seems like pretty straightforward advice. But, it is too easy to blind ourselves to the fact that we live in a country whose culture has become defined by the very aggressive mentality described in this passage. We usually do it in the name of freedom or making the world better.

For whom are we making the world better? Whose interest are we really concerned about? From the beginning of humanity, the strongest groups have had their way and their way usually pays little concern to the needs of the weaker members. I’ve heard especially callous people mutilate Darwin and call this survival of the fittest.

We will learn, as all of the great civilizations before have learned, that our need to be the strong arm of the world has corrosive effects on the heart of our culture. We exert our will on the world with might and violence. By doing this, we also harden our own hearts against compassion for our own who are not strong enough to be “useful.” Eventually, our culture will pay. We will collapse at the hands of another more powerful group or as the result of a cultural heart attack.

Boys,

Pay special attention to the final line of these verses. The Gospel of Matthew has Jesus say, “People who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Matt 26:52). While some would use the Bible to condone violence, I point to verses like this (and many others) to cry out for non-violence. Doing harm to others isn’t only outward. Doing violence destroys the spirit of the person committing it. If you live your lives hurting and exploiting people, it will come back to you. If you spend your lives serving and loving, that will come back to you as well. Everything you send out into the world will come back to you. That is the interconnected nature of creation. What do you want to receive?

Dad

It’s a Miracle!

Jesus didn’t only perform miracles to show off his power. Yes, there are times when that happened, like when Jesus walks on water in front of only his disciples. But even then, he only showed his power to calm their fears. He didn’t use it to cause more fear. As one writer put it, “Jesus’ glory is not revealed for power, but for grace-filled pastoral care.”

The miracles of Jesus ALWAYS brought healing intothis world. In fact, everything recorded about Jesus in the gospels was toeither point people to God or to restore them in some way.

And when we believe that the way of Jesus can heal,we begin to be healed personally and are empowered to heal others by God’sSpirit.

We believe in the way of Jesus…so that healing takesplace…so that we can be sent out…so that Jesus can become known through us…sothat he can draw crowds to himself through us…so that he can feed the worldboth physically and spiritually through our church.

The account of Jesus feeding the multitudes the ONLY miracle performed by Jesus that is in all four gospel accounts. The feeding miracle was so deeply ingrained in the remembrance of Jesus and for good reason. It’s truly amazing. Each gospel focuses on different aspects of the feeding miracle, but one thing they all share is the basic parallel between food sustaining life and Jesus being the one who offers it – both the food and life.

The next couple of posts will address two aspects of that story: Trust and Response. More specifically, they will address the LACK OF TRUST and the INCORRECT RESPONSE to the miracle and how those often reflect our own reality today.

Build It and They Will Come?

I have three children. Have you ever tried to hide or get away from your kids when you don’t want to share space or food? You’ve never locked yourself in the bathroom for a few minutes of peace and quiet? You’ve never waited until the children were asleep to eat cookies? I once ate the cookies in the bathroom! But, they find you!! No matter where you are or what you’re doing, they find you. Why because they know you love them and that you have something they want or need.

Catch the key point here though: The already know they are loved and cared for because they have experienced that. So, if you are near them, they gather around.

This would not happen if I never interacted with them on their terms though. I built up that image in them by being among them in THEIR space so much that they eventually always wanted to be in MY space. They choose to gather around me when I’m around because I chose to go among them where they were before they knew any better.

That is us as the church. People will gather around us everywhere we go if they know they are loved and cared for and if they know we’ve got something amazing for them.

Eventually, yes, some will want to be a part “our group”, but THAT IS NOT THE GOAL OF THE CHURCH! The goal of the church is to help transform this world by proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, by making those IN the church disciples in his name and going out as disciples to heal the broken parts of this world.

So, what do I want you to do?

I want us to commit to stop playing dead with the church and start drawing crowds where ever we go.

How?

I want you to commit to helping in some way in your church or community over the next few months. It’s not just going to be one thing. It’s going to be a series of things. But, everything we do has to be amazing, and it needs to be done with the spirit of outreach. Yes, we want people to come to us, but that is not why we exist.

Long gone are the days where the church building was only seen as the place where people gather. Build it and they will come no longer works. Indeed, it’s more like, “Gather your hurting and the Church will come to you!”

Pondering Principles – Natural World

The next nine of these are going to focus on the United Methodist Social Principles relating to what the Discipline calls the Natural World. Today’s reflection is on the introductory statement, which you can read here.

Water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life, and space are to be valued and conserved because they are God’s creation and not solely because they are useful to human beings

Social Principles – Natural World, Paragraph 1

Humans are selfish. Particularly, industrialized civilizations are selfish. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am writing this article on a laptop computer while sitting in a Starbucks. I am fully aware that there are any number of ways I am about to be a hypocrite. From the paper waste produced from my coffee cup to the insane amount of electricity consumed just in the past hour since I have been sitting in this place to the gas it took to get here in my fuel inefficient minivan. I recognize that I am the recipient of all that industrialized civilization has to offer. I recognize my selfishness in this as well.

My point is not that we shouldn’t use the advances that humanity has come up with throughout history. My point is that we should be more intentional in our awareness as to how the resources we use are connected the very creation we take for granted because those resources do not exist strictly for human pleasure or consumption.

Especially as people who follow the biblical God, we need to realize – and the UMC Social Principles affirm here – that every single part of this creation that we use and abuse is for God. We just get to borrow, play with, and care for it for a little bit. And just like it would be ridiculous for me to allow my child to use my property with no regard to how it comes back to me, it is unconscionable that we should think that we can abuse creation with no regard to how it goes back to God.

Christians have confused stewardship with ownership for far too long. It is time that we remember that this shit does not belong to us and start taking better care of things we have been lent.

#LettersForMyBoys – 2

My son, should your less honorable peers pressure you to do what is wrong, you should be strong enough not to go along.

Proverbs 1:10 (The Voice)

I like the choice of “your less honorable peers” to the more traditional (and maybe literal) “sinners” in this translation because it captures two very important ideas.

First, we all fall short of the goodness inside of us. We all sin. The traditional translation seems to carry a note of “us vs them,” sinner vs saint, as though any one of us is completely innocent. The VOICE does a great job at expressing the reality that we are all “less honorable.” Some of us are just a tad less honorable than others.

Second, we are all in this together, or peers, as the translation put it. We are all connected. We influence and are influenced in return. It’s not like we are walking around and being screwed over by strangers. It is with the people in our lives that we will screw up….together.

But the admonition to “be strong enough not to go along” is where we get to the money. It assumes that we can be swayed and likely by things we may want.

Temptation is the greatest advertiser of all. It doesn’t bother with things it knows you don’t want. Temptation is embodied in people we trust and in activities or products we desire. Temptation is good at its job.

But, we need to be strong enough to resist it. I suppose there are two ways to be strong here. People strengthen themselves by actually going through the activities. Here, that would mean we get stronger at resisting temptations by actively trying to resist them. It seems backward, but the act of resisting makes the act easier over time because we have used a form of spiritual resistance training if you will.

The second way we gain the strength to resist temptation is by using the strength of others. I recently had a couple of young boys hold a stack of books on outstretched hands. As you might imagine, they didn’t last too long when asked to do this individually. However, when one boy placed his hands under the other boy’s hands, not only were they able to hold the books longer, but they were also able to hold many more books. We are stronger together.

Boys,

You’re going to mess up. Your friends and family are going to mess up and some of them are going to want to take you with them. Maybe that will be me someday. You need to be strong enough to say no. No is a word you need to get very comfortable saying. Your safety and sanity are always more important than going along with the crowd, even if the crowd wears faces of people you trust and love. Just remember to ask yourself: Does this thing help me show my love for God? Does it help me love someone else better? If the answer is no to either of those questions, then just don’t do it. It won’t always be easy but you have to try.

Dad

Stop Playing Dead

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When something remains still, people will stop noticing it. In a world where things move so darn fast, you’d think that things that don’t move would be easier to spot. But, that’s not true.

Staying still is a protective measure. When creatures don’t want to be eaten, they have two options: run like hell or play dead. I’ve seen enough national geographic to know that things that play dead wind up actually dead more often than not.

Churches have been playing dead for far too long. We have stayed put safely inside our walls for WAY too long.

If we want to truly follow the Jesus who has come that we may have life and have it to the full, then we have got to stop playing dead. We’ve got to start moving.

Jesus didn’t draw crowds to himself by staying still. He literally went out to where the people were and the people gathered around him. We see it in this passage and everywhere else in the gospel stories as well.

At some point, the church started planting itself in buildings and expecting people to gather there. This was the main way of preaching, teaching, and ministering during the age known as Christendom. Build it and they will come…and that worked in a world where Christianity was the default mindset. I’m not blaming you personally for having this mindset. It is what worked over 1500 years.

It didn’t actually matter that cultural Christianity and authentic Christianity have had very little to do with each other. Cultural Christianity is when a person could miss church on Sunday and hear about it from their boss on Monday. “Everybody” went to church….or so the myth goes.

Christianity during that time, especially in our country, was cosmetic. We wanted the look of Christianity. We wanted the prestige and sense of “normalcy” that going to church brought. But, it was nothing more than a paint job.

Authentic Christianity is, and has been from the beginning, about rebuilding the engine instead of just throwing a nice coat of paint on the exterior.

Jesus was a heart mechanic, not a detailer. But he didn’t have a workshop. He made house calls and went where the broken cars were.

I’m going to break away from the car metaphor and just get right to it: Jesus traveled to hurting, sick, and broken people to heal them and change their hearts. Jesus instituted the Church…he did NOT institute a building plan.

Jesus said GO and make disciples. He did not say build a nice sanctuary and form a social club. He said GO. He didn’t say stay.

What worked for 1500 years of Christendom WILL NOT WORK TODAY! But what worked in Jesus’ day absolutely will. Why? Because just like today, in Jesus’ day, believers had to go out to those outside of their walls because Christianity wasn’t the default mindset. The Temple had a mindset, but Jesus had a lot to say about the Temple. Maybe I’ll get into it sometime.

They had to go out and do amazing things in order for people to notice them. But they DID get noticed. They DID draw crowds. They just didn’t do it by thinking the people were going to come to them.

The people, not the building, are the church.

CAUTION: It sounds like I’m saying we need to go gather people around us, to draw people to us. Let me be clear from the start:

We are not drawing people to us, Jesus is drawing people to himself THROUGH US!

Social Media and the Christian

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Social media can be great or terrible. That is the simple truth. The following is an excerpt from a great article with guidelines for a Christian trying to make the internet a little less terrible.


As I learned and implemented these thoughts in my own social media use, I found myself feeling more free, positive and healthy. I hope it does the same for you.

Chris Davis

Click here to read the rest of this really helpful article!

Pondering Principles – Preamble

One of the interesting things about a lot of the people who claim to be United Methodists is that we don’t even know what our official denominational stance is on a great many issues. Hell, I was shocked at the number of employed UMC clergy who have not yet read our Social Principles completely. Some of us like to get dogmatic on issues without knowing things we should know.

Now, I’m not one for towing the party line just because. People are free to believe a great many things. That said, I thought it would be helpful to provide a series of reflections on the United Methodist Social Principles in bite-sized chunks. If we are going to say we are Methodists, then let’s ponder what it means to be a United Methodist today.

I’m going to start with the Preamble of the Social Principles, which you can read here.

For the sake of space and copyright issues, I will not paste the whole text. I encourage you to read the specific sections addressed on your own. Instead, what I will do is point out a few sentences that catch my eye. I will probably give my own ideas as well. Hopefully, this will be a resource for people who want to know more about how we should order our lives around United Methodist belief. With introductions out of the way, let’s get started.

“we affirm the goodness of life and confess our many sins against God’s will for us as we find it in Jesus Christ.”

Preamble, Paragraph 2.

It is so easy to read over this one while missing a HUGE point, that God’s will for Christians is to be found in Jesus. Now, that might seem like an obvious point to some of you. But, judging by the number of times as a pastor that I have had to answer the “what does God want” question, I am guessing most people either miss the obvious or just don’t know how to determine God’s will.

As United Methodists, and really this should be a Christian generalization, God’s will for our behavior and thinking should start with our relationship with Jesus. Jesus really boiled it all down to two things: love God, love neighbor. If whatever you’re doing or thinking doesn’t fit into those two categories, then it probably isn’t God’s will.

We affirm our unity in Jesus Christ while acknowledging differences in applying our faith in different cultural contexts as we live out the gospel.


Preamble, Paragraph 3.

Especially in such a divisive time for the UMC*, it cannot be overstated that our unity as United Methodist, and Christians at large, comes as we relate to Jesus. We are not united by dogma, doctrine, practice, or ritual. We are united in Jesus.

There are a great many conversations and positions we can take within that scope, but nothing should tear us apart if we are united in Jesus. The problem, especially today, is that we are united against our enemies rather than united in Christ. Jesus would puke if he saw the crap being carried out in our denomination over the LGBTQ+ topic. He would stand on a hill and preach out against injustices being called for and carried out in the name of security and wealth building.

Applying our faith looks different in various contexts. One realization that is missing for most people is the one that reveals that, like everything else, context changes over time. But our unity in Jesus does not.

What are your thoughts on this? Also, if you like this or any of the posts on this blog, please share on your preferred social media platform. These are a lot more fun to write when others engage.

Next time, we will ponder what United Methodist believe when it comes to the natural world around us.

  • *At the time of this writing, we are about to enter into the 2019 Special General Conference to determine the official United Methodist position on homosexuality.