Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Is a church split inevitable over the homosexuality issue?

I do not know how many times in the past several months I have heard the phrase, "It seems like a split in our denomination is inevitable."  Inevitable.  This or that side is pushing their agenda too hard.  To obey Christ in this area obviously means that we must disobey Christ in the area of church unity, because, of course, that is how God works.  Do we really believe that?

When I was in college in 2000, General Conference had a heated debate over the homosexuality issue.  I read about it in the local secular newspaper.  As I sat at the kitchen table staring that newspaper article, I said to my mother, "Mom, I cannot be United Methodist anymore.  It is not a decision, really.  It is just a reality.  THIS is not me."  My mom said, "But if you leave the United Methodist Church, who will be left to give your voice?"  I thought a lot about that.  If I left, the denomination would still be called "church" before the world, and the world would associate it and its positions strongly with Christ, whether for good or for ill.

The reality is that, like it or not, the church as a whole bears a strong witness to the world as a body.  And a body that is divided - even if it is divided into sides that are faithful over here but unfaithful over there - this inevitably presents a very confusing and not particularly effective witness to the world. 

We believe in a God who can raise the dead.  We trust that is so in the lives of the broken, in the cities that are devastated, in nations ruined by war.  It is what we are called to do as Christians.  And as United Methodists, through Christ's strength we have excelled!  We are the first to respond to any devastation and the last to leave.  But it is inevitable that we are going to give up here?  We stick with people even when everyone else runs away.  Will we abandon those who we each believe are stuck in the prison of false theology to provide a quicker fix?  We are a part of international bodies that work for increasing ecumenical unity within Christ's body worldwide.  But we can't even stick together ourselves?  Wait, a church split is not who we are and it is absolutely contrary what we believe about God's resurrection power in Christ Jesus.

I am writing this for really one reason - I want to ask you to pray.  And, I know this is hard, but do not pray that the United Methodist Church as a whole will be changed to your position.  Instead, whatever you believe, pray simply for our Lord to "Break the lies regarding homosexuality in our church, in our nation, and in our world and make the truth prevail!"  Then praise God that God can do this!  And leave it at that in humility.  Because, as James says in his rather strong words about "conflicts and disputes among you... God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6).    

Our New Jersey Annual Conference is Thursday-Saturday.   Please be in prayer for us! 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Get over it

Staying committed to God and our walk with Jesus means we are all going to have to get over it. Over what? Over whatever it takes. Being a part of a small community of believers does not exclude us the struggles of everyday life. Being people we are prone to anger envy strive and all sorts of problems. I know it may seem easier if every time we come across a potential conflict with another believer to just give in and go somewhere else. But what happens when we come across a similar situation, will we give in again leave for another church?
I am not one for all the drama believe me, but what if instead of letting our conflicts within the church boil over we took the teachings of Jesus seriously. What if we took these conflicts and used them to advance our understanding?  I say these things because we are a family. Despite who you are, what you’ve done, where ever you are from if you are a believer in Jesus Christ you are part of the family. As a small community of people who claim Jesus as the Son of God we cannot afford in fighting to drive wedges between us. We are commanded to love one another. I know during potential conflicts and in fighting we are most guilty of not loving each other, but we are also held to forgive one another as well. Though the task of forgiving seems impossible at times when is it ever easy peasy ?
When I said advancing our understanding let’s see this through. Could we draw up a list of things said and done and use it against the person or persons in question? Yes we could, she said, he did so on and so on. But what does this say about us? Who among us can say we’ve acted in complete righteousness?  Have you ever lost your temper acted out of impulse, said something you shouldn’t have? What did God do for you? Does He ultimately hold it against you? Did He forgive you? Better question to ask is what is going to happen if we can’t settle our differences quickly? What will our forgiveness from God look like if we insist on holding the sins of others against them?
Being able to forgive others their transgressions isn’t easy at all. Asking to be forgiven isn’t any easier either. We are a family with Jesus sitting at the head. If we let our conflicts get the best of us and move on without the real resolution we are unknowingly cutting ourselves out of the family, because we weren’t commanded to shuffle ourselves around till we get along. We are commanded to love and forgive one another as God as loved and forgiven us. Do we really think moving to another part of the table without being able to forgive is really going to get ourselves back with God’s good graces? Please think about what happens next. Settle your differences quickly; remember what happened to the servant who did not forgive the debt of another.  Can any of us afford our own debts?

The conclusion of Confusion

I think one of the most helpful things for me in understanding the confusion we live with is the interactions Jesus had with Nicodemus. Jesus is laying out the case for God’s Kingdom here among us and He is doing so by using everyday language. Nicodemus struggles to understand what he is being told about being born again in the spirit but the truth Jesus presents him is just too far for him to see. Fast forward to the events after His death, burial and resurrection and Nicodemus’s confusion becomes much easier for us to understand. It took the future events at the cross to open the door to what was being said. Keep in mind though with those events behind us that door remains open.
God may always be something of a mystery to us; I don’t think that means God is unknowable. Jesus said if you have seen me you have seen the Father. The ultimate goal of Jesus’s ministry is to bring light to a world drowning in spiritual darkness; to bring truth to a world lost in a lie. Yes Jesus spoke in parables and answered most questions with better questions but He wasn’t hiding the truth, He was exposing it. The people around Him asked for the truth and that is just what was given.    
During His trial in front of Pilate Jesus states He was sent to testify to the truth.  Pilate replies back what is truth?  What is truth indeed? The conclusion to confusion as I see it is that there shouldn’t be any confusion. Jesus died upon the cross at the hands of a screaming mob that needed forgiveness because they knew not what they were doing. Moments before giving up His spirit Jesus said it is finished. Let those words sink in for just a minute, it is finished.
The creator God left His finger prints on everything around us. The way the world works, the rules that govern nature, the entire universe points us toward God and His love for us. The law and the prophets in the Bible foretell of the coming Messiah fulfilled through Jesus Christ. Everything that could’ve been done has been done. The truth has been given; the confusion we live with now is our own doing. Jesus showed us the truth and light of the Father it is up to us to wake up and head toward Him.
Matthew 7:7
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
This scripture isn't just pretty words for us to aspire to, they are a promise from a God who loves us, spoken by a savior who died in our place, a savoir that overcame death, wiped out our sin and is seated with the Father in Heaven and He is waiting. I am as excited as ever to know the truth is right there, it's standing right in front of us. We just have to recognize it, Amen?

He's Still Working on Me

This meme has been making the rounds of Facebook. If you can't read it, it says:
Yes I'm a Christian. Yes I can be the biggest hypocrite ever. I backslide. I stumble. I fail. I stray onto the wrong path. But God is working in me. I may be a mess, but I'm His mess. And He is slowly straightening me out. And the day will come when I will be by His side, His work in me completed. And until that day I will take His hand, and let Him do in me whatever needs to be done, no matter how painful it will be for me. When He is finished, it will all be worth it.
This touched me, because I'm a mess, too, a lot of the time. I stumble and fail and stray. But I hope God is working in my life.

It reminded me of a song our choir did years ago, called "He's Still Working on Me." It goes like this:
He's still working on me
To make me what I ought to be
It took Him just a week to make the moon and stars
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars
How loving and patient He must be
'Cause He's still workin' on me
Both of these quotes make me feel better. I hope God is working in me and will eventually accept me into His loving arms.

What do you think? Do you sometimes stumble or fail or stray? Do you feel God working in your life?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


It really is amazing where we find God, or maybe where he find us.

About a year ago I decided to join the era of Facebook. I thought it would be a good way to keep up with and in touch with my scattered family and friends.  I was not too surprised at many of the postings about everyone telling the world about what they had for breakfast or the many, many oh so cute things their kids or dogs had done that day. However I was surprised to find how many of my friends and family were friends with God.

I have had a friend for over 30 years who I thought I knew. I thought his major love was football until I began to read his Facebook postings. He posts this over and over again. "Dear God, I wanna take a minute not to ask for anything from you, but simply to say thank you for all I have." Many of his postings are there just to thank God....I now see a whole different side of him, not just the Eagles fan, but also a God fan. I really like that side of him.

My nephew as a teenager was as wild as sea grass. He is in the army now and very proud to defend his country. His posts remind us that he has help defending our Flag...he carries God with him every day.

Those are only two friends who have touched my heart with their love of God, there are many more, and I find it amazing that God has found a way to use a social media to remind us that he is still with us and will use whatever is available to stay in our lives.

Look around, you too many be amazed at where you find God....He is everywhere.

Exercise in Trust

When Andrew went to Scotland in the 1950's to train for missionary work, he was shocked by one of the assignments.  He wrote:

"Mr. Dinnen (the instructor) explained, 'It's an exercise in trust.  The rules are simple.  Each student on your team is given a one-pound banknote.  With that you go on a missionary tour through Scotland.  You're expected to pay your own expenses...'

"'All on a one pound note?'  I asked.

"'Worse than that.  When you get back to school after four weeks, you're expected to pay back the pound.'

"I laughed. 'Sounds like we'll be passing the hat all the time.'

"'Oh, you're not allowed to take up collections!  Never.  You're not to mention money at your meetings.  All of your needs have got to be provided without any manipulation on your part - or the experiment is a failure.'

"I was a member of a team of five boys.  Later when I tried to reconstruct where our funds came from during those four weeks, it was hard to.  It seemed that what we needed was always just there.  Sometimes a letter would arrive from one of the boys' parents with a little money.  Sometimes we would get a check in the mail from a church we had visited days or weeks earlier.  The notes that came with these gifts were always interesting.  'I know you don't need money or you would have mentioned it,' someone would write.  'But God just wouldn't let me get to sleep tonight until I had put this in an envelope for you.'

"...  We stuck fast to two rules: we never mentioned a need aloud, and we gave away a tithe of whatever came to us as soon as we got it, within 24 hours if possible..."

This exercise was a crucial one for Andrew, because God's calling upon his life was to smuggle Bibles behind the Iron Curtain in the USSR, which he did for decades.  His faith and courage needed to be tangible.  His faithfulness with monetary donations, not clinging to them, but trusting them straight into God's hands, needed to be sure.  As I read this story as a college student, dreaming about what God might do through me in my life, I began to ask God to give me this kind of faith, as well.  I wanted - and still want! - to live a life that proclaims the certain reality and glory of our God, that yields eternal praise to his great name.  And over and over I have found our faithful God answering my prayer.

What if everyone in God's church yearned for this? 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Provocative Words on Love and Marriage

I came across an old article by one of my seminary professors, Stanley Hauerwas.  He is always provocative, and this one does not let down:
...When couples come to ministers to talk about their marriage ceremonies, ministers think it is interesting to ask if they love one another.  What a stupid question!  How would they know? Christian marriage isn't about whether you're in love.  Christian marriage is giving you the practice of fidelity over a lifetime in which you can look back upon the marriage and call it love. The difficulty therefore [with talking about Christian marriage in a consistent and cohesive way], is that Christians, when they approach the issue, no longer know what marriage is....
 I find this a fascinating tangent amid the argument about how to define marriage and the high rate of divorce (Which is essentially equal among Christians and non-Christians).  Perhaps when it comes down to it, none of us really know what we are talking about.  I'd love to hear some reflections on Hauerwas' assessment.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Ill communication

(continued )....There is way more to communication than simply stringing a few words into sentences. Everything we do be it eye contact, tone of voice to the overall posture of the person speaking that can come into play when we wish to convey thoughts or ideas. A lot of times it isn’t so much what we say with words that can come across the loudest. A lot of times our actions can speak volumes to the people around us before we even open our mouths.

The religious leaders responsible for crucifying Jesus at the cross could’ve let Jesus go any time they wanted. They were presented with many opportunities to do so. During His mock trial Jesus said little of anything to defend Himself or anger His accusers. Yet, every chance they were given to let Him go they dug themselves in deeper. The question is why?

It occurred to me one of the reasons behind His death was everything about this man spoke and kept speaking a Godly righteous message, they could’ve let Him go after His trial or after His beating but it would not have stopped Him, and they knew it. The religious leaders of His time had it in mind the only way to shut Him up was to put Him to death.

When it comes to the commandment of making disciples of every nation, there is technically nothing that should stand in our way, if we model our apologetics after Christ's teachings. The message Christ taught was seen by the blind, heard by the deaf, moved the infirm and woke the dead from their sleep. Jesus crossed the lines of wealth, poverty, geographical, male and female, racial and political with His teachings.

The church as always faced adversity, likewise disciples have always met with hostility one way or another, I think it’s safe to say those challenges will be with us till we are called up in the rapture. While it seems tough to break through those lines of communication or that state of confusion we live under it shouldn’t be. It makes me wonder if it is that difficult, just what is it that we are trying to communicate?  (To be continued....)
If you like what you read please comment and share, keep the conversation going.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Wake up!

This morning I woke up with my 4 year old on one side of me and my husband on the other.  I wanted to get up and pray, but I didn't want to wake them up.  I decided I would pray right there in bed, but my mind kept drifting into a state of half-sleep as I was praying and meditating on Scripture while laying there.  "Oh well," I thought when everyone woke up and it was time to go, "I tried.  I'm sure God is pleased with that."  Then I went downstairs, made breakfast, and started my day.  My mind continued to be unfocused as I did this and that, not very effectively.

When I sat down later to check my email, I found an e-devotion waiting for me with these words: "Worship that is performed with a sleepy, drowsy body is weak worship." Ouch! 

The devotion talked about Isaiah 64:7: "And there is no one who calls on Your name, Who stirs himself up to take hold of You."  The word "stir" can also mean "to rouse oneself, to awaken."  It talked about how the people were wanting the Lord to rouse himself on their behalf (Isaiah 64:1-2), but, as the devotion writer noted, there was no one who would rouse himself awake and stir himself to pray. 

It is not always easy to get ourselves up in the morning or to stay awake later into the night in order to have special time with our Savior.  And it isn't always easy to stay focused on God throughout the day.  Our bodies rebel.  Real needs of other people rightly demand our attention.  But, as Denise's blog from yesterday aptly demonstrates, there is so much need for us as Christ's people to be alert and focused, prayerful and ready to be of use to God in this hurting world.  How can we do that if we are perpetually half asleep?  Not just physically, but mentally throughout our days?

Ephesians 6:18 says, "Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and petition.  To that end keep alert and always persevere in petitioning for all the saints."  For our Christian brother who is doing hard labor 16 hours/day in a North Korean labor camp right now under constant threat of torture, for the young boy in the Congo who is right now hiding scared as his tribe is being visited by rebels wanting to force him into the child army, for the kidnapped Nigerian school girls who have converted to Islam under threat,  for the kid trying to do the right thing in Camden but who daily passes by drug dealers on his way to school...  Can we not rouse ourselves and pray for them?   
"Now it is high time to awake out of sleep" (Rom. 13:11).


Monday, May 12, 2014

Homeless Jesus

Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Matthew 8:20

Jesus the Homeless statue in Davidson, N.C.
I recently saw a story that caught my interest. It seems an upscale Episcopal church in North Carolina accepted a memorial gift of a statue. It depicts a homeless person asleep on a park bench. You can't see the person's face or hands, but you can see the feet, scarred by nails. It's Jesus.

Reaction to the statue has been mixed, to say the least. Some people recognize it as worthwhile art while others are appalled. One lady in the neighborhood actually called the police to report a homeless person sleeping in front of the church.

Here's a link to the story if you want to read the whole thing.

The sculptor intends the statue to be challenging, and it certainly is. It made me think. Because it's a fact. Once Jesus started his ministry, he was homeless. He and his disciples relied on the kindness of strangers for their needs.

If Jesus came to the world today, I don't think we'd find him in our comfortable churches. He'd be in Camden, healing and preaching and praying with those who have nothing. He'd be in North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, bringing hope to the hopeless.

As true followers of Jesus, shouldn't we do our best to bring hope to the hopeless? We may not be able to do what Jesus did, but we can give to the Future with Hope fund. We can go to the Neighborhood Center to volunteer. We can cook a meal for the homeless of Camden and serve it at New Beginnings Church.

Our church members are doing all these things. But we should be able to do even more. What do you think?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Loving Jesus

A devotion from one of my mentors, Aletha Hinthorn:

"A friend said that after reading in John 17:26 of Jesus' desire for us to love Him, she prayed for three years that she might love Jesus more.

One day the Holy Spirit said, "If you love Jesus, you love every member of His body."

Could it be that if there is someone we do not love we are saying to Jesus, "I do not love you enough to love that person"? We love Jesus no more than we love the member of His body we care for the least.

God uses expressive terms to describe the kind of love we are to have for one another. He tells us to "be devoted to one another," to "have sincere love, and to "love one another deeply, from the heart" (Romans 12:10; 1 Peter 1:22).

God loves the inconsiderate co-worker, the salesman at the door, the noisy people in the next apartment, the disappointing teacher, the rude clerk at the store, and the pokey driver ahead of us. God loves, not tolerates, all of us at all times. If we find someone is difficult to love, we can invite the Holy Spirit to pour His love into our heart.
When His Spirit fills our hearts, His Spirit becomes ours. Then we, too, are "gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love" (Psalm 145:8)."

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Tower of Babel

Confusion Sets in

Shortly after the Biblical flood in Genesis, there is the story of the Tower of Babel.  For those who don’t know, it is a very short story of people coming together to build themselves a city with a tower that reaches toward heaven.
God Goes to check out the construction of the city and the tower and decides if as one people they do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. In His wisdom He scatters mankind and set apart the languages so that there is great confusion. It worked, the people abandon the construction and it never gets built.
Even though we live in a day and age where anyone of us can learn a new language in fairly short order, we are still living in that state of confusion that keeps us divided. We divide ourselves on geographical lines, political lines, male, female, racial lines, blood lines, wealth and lines of poverty. We draw lines between science and religion, we push the lines of morality, conjure up lines between church and state, your line my line, it’s no wonder we can’t come together, we’re too busy setting lines.
Most of us would love to wake up to a world where we all spoke the same language and it was easy to come together as one people. So long as man as it in his mind to do evil this goal will remain out of our reach. ( To Be Continued.....)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

At the Roots

While gardening this spring, I keep thinking of analogies between my heart and the earth in which the seeds grow.  This morning I read a dream that an early Methodist woman had after she had begun growing in Christ, and in it she said this:

"I then dreamed I saw a bank full of green plants just coming up.  While I was admiring them, one came and began to dig it up, when to my great surprise, as he turned up the shovel, there appeared a large body of all venomous creatures joined in one.  Lifting up my hands and eyes, I said, "How could these plants grow with such creatures at the root?"  Then he laid them down on the ground and they were spread almost all over the place.  Afterwards a company of people, coming from the Foundery, began to kill them, in which I likewise was employed.  But two clung to me for a long time.  At last they also were killed, and I awoke.  Reflecting on this I thought the bank was my heart; the plants, the graces God had sown therein; the man was the preacher; the venomous creatures were my inbred corruptions, the two last of which were pride and unbelief..."

One of the things that struck me about this woman's dream was how necessary other people were in able to help her get rid of the corruptions from her life.  Had there been no "gardener," or preacher, then the venemous creatures would never have been exposed underneath the pretty surface, and those creatures would have eventually destroyed the plants above.  Had there been no "company of people" to help her kill them, she would never have been able to have rid herself of them all.  But through the prayers and counsel of others, she did get rid of those corruptions.  And with the help of one another, so can we!

Quote from "The 'Account' of Sarah Ryan," Early Methodist Spirituality: Selected Women's Writings (Kingswood Books; edited by Paul Wesley Chilcote; Nashville: Abington, 2007), 238.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Laughing Jesus

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” --Jesus (Luke 6:21b NIV)

“Jesus Laughing” by artist Ralph Kozak
Trivia question: What's the shortest verse in the Bible?

Answer: “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35 NIV, KJV)

We read in the Bible about Jesus weeping. He was a man of sorrows, aquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3) He preached, he healed, he prayed, he suffered on the cross. All serious stuff.

We never read, “Jesus laughed.”

Do you think Jesus had a sense of humor?

Jesus was fully human, as well as being fully divine. And the human part of Jesus must have laughed. There are a series of examples in the Bible that indicate, at least to me, that Jesus did have a sense of humor, a sense of the ridiculous.

A camel going through the eye of a needle? (Luke 18:25) Can't you just imagine the smiles?

When the disciples told Nathanael that they'd found the One, Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanael's response was, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” I can see Jesus' smile as he responded, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:45-47)

Even when facing his coming betrayal and death, Jesus wished his followers joy. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)

Today may you find your complete joy in the laughing Jesus.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Consequences of Suffering

How many times have we witnessed someone sitting on top of the world, suddenly become involved in some sort of scandal and lose everything? Whether it’s a beautiful marriage, great career, money, fame, some sort of prestige, power or children, they roll the dice and it comes up snake eyes. You don’t even have to be rich and famous for this to happen, the people down the street, people in our church, people you went to school with, you , me, it happens to just about anybody and everybody. The question is why, why do we do it, why are each of us subjected to these kinds of fiery trails?
 I know the short answer is it’s in our sin nature, its hidden deep within our DNA as frail mortal creatures of our own fleshly desires. Does this mean we have no say in the matter? You and I are bound to sin, so we should just give in? Heaven forbid, each of us are equipped with freewill, and according to scripture God will never allow any of us to be tempted beyond our own ability, He will provide a way out. So, the question still stands, why do we do it, why are we willing to trash so much for so little?  
I think part of our problem is our unwillingness to suffer the consequences. It isn’t like most of us are unaware of the penalties of our actions we just don’t think about them long enough. If the sin arises and we ask ourselves can we get away with it, we can be tempted further into thinking we can have it all without paying the price. Even for the rarest of cases where someone may get away with something for a time will have to face facts everything we keep in the dark will be shown in the light of God’s judgment.
I can’t stand here and tell you I’ve avoided every temptation, or that I can from this day forward. But, I can say most of us look both ways before we cross the street, most of us don’t run with scissors, play in the bath tub or answer the phone when the caller ID is showing it’s a telemarketer. Why? Because, we are well aware of the consequences. When the sin we desire is burning brighter than the consequence written in small print we will fall and stumble every time. The answer to your prayers will never be found in sin, if it is you may want to reconsider who answered the prayer and repent, because God says the earnings of sin is death.
If you like what you read please comment below or consider sharing. Help keep the conversation going.