The year 2020 will long be remembered for it's tectonic shift of attitudes and behaviors regarding race and racism. Major shifts are happening right now in the United States and perhaps the world. God's Holy Spirit is moving in every village and town, suburb and city. God is raising up people to make significant progress in "Dismantling Racism."
Joanne and I are committed to helping local congregations deal with this shift using Centering Prayer, Leadership Training and Small Groups. We bring decades of experience in "Christian Conferencing," the method favored by Rev. John Wesley to discern the will of God for individuals and congregations in any given situation. (Some great resources can be found at: End Racism UMC )
Even while we are still largely living a "Safe at Home" existence die to the Covid-19 epidemic, our congregations can begin to organize, explore, learn, connect and reach out RIGHT NOW!
We do this with a deep commitment to the unconditional love of God, the graceful forgiveness of Jesus Christ and a ongoing, eternal living in God's Holy Spirit. As discipled Citizens of Heaven, (Phil 3:20) we grow ever deeper in our love of God and of our neighbor.
Call us today and let's begin a conversation about "Eradicating Racism"in your locality.
Hashtags are one word "tag lines" that reveal a special handle for web content.
In this "Agapé Season" of our lives, Joanne and I have identified these four words as "words" to live by. They express the basic Christian outlook, lifestyle and values that have lived by for years.
#unconditonallove: Is the overwhelming, highest level of God's love that we discover in Jesus, the Christ (Messiah). As the long awaited gift from God that brings everyone home, Jesus ispresent with us in the here and now, not only teaching, loving and bringing change to people's lives, but actually offering the gift of God's self-sacrificing presence into our world. We are embraced by this love whether we want it or not.
And now, in the midst of our broken, hyper-consumeristic, overly divisive and painfully self-centered world, such a love is desperately needed to combat the evil, the tragedy, the loneliness and isolation that we all are living in.
#gracefulforgiveness: Often overlooked in the lives of many Christians, forgiveness is central to understanding that unconditional love. Forgiveness begins in the forgiving cleansing that God has for all that we've done, everywhere we've been, everything we've said that has been hateful and hurtful.
God's graceful forgiveness heals us as we realize we can't heal and forgive ourselves. It challenges us to live not just in love, but in God's UNCONDITIONAL love that is expressed most profoundly in forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others. We "forgive others as we ourselves have been forgiven." .... our friends, our neighbors, .....and even our enemies
#eternallivingnow: It's clear that we don't talk about God's heavenly presence enough. We hold it out as some sort of reward granted to us at the end of our lives. But we where Christ is, there heaven is. We easily say "Christ is with us" but we neglect the consequences of that reality.
We regularly pray "Your will be done, on heaven as it is on earth" but then let the brokenness and evil of the world overwhelm us so that all we look forward to is some kind of heavenly escape pod when we die.
"The Kingdom of God is at hand" Jesus proclaims at the beginning of the Gospels. It's a reality now!... as well as eternally.
And in fact, that is the "Gospel", the "Good News" that we are to proclaim. "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;..." (Mk 1:15) It's a call to "repent, and believe in the good news." and so be welcomed in heaven right now, as an heir to the Kingdom, a sibling to Christ. We get to taste eternal living right now. To begin living a sanctified life right now, changed and transformed by the Holy Spirit. We're "Citizens of Heaven" (Phil 3:20), and it's time we lived a more sanctified life because of that!
#radicalservice: The fourth hashtag makes all the previous three real by making sure that we truly love as God loves... an all embracing, Holy love that is focussed on all the people of his heart, everything we see around us and reaching out to all of creation. We are allowed to "till and keep" it all. (Gen 2:15)
It is this most holy reality that we are given and that we choose to remain in, serving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength; serving others and serving the world in all the ways we can.
With all this in mind, Joanne and I are committed to deeply taking seriously John Wesleys' admonition:
“Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.”
We are living in a "Gutenberg Moment"* that dwarfs other such moments by it’s breath-taking power to change life on earth.
In the past, such moments end up disrupting everything. Nothing is the same. Everything before is changed.
The digital revolution is well on it's way to be such a disrupting force. Artificial intelligence (A.I.) is the next wave that has already begun to buffet our economic, social and technical worlds.
The future appears turbulent and uncertain to a young adult workforce that is begining to navigate the gig “piecework” economy and the uncertain future of many industries.
But this is not the only major disruption in our society.
In the midst of the the “Love, Peace and Rock n’ Roll” season of the 1960’s & 1970’s, another major revolution in human behavior was unleashed that was completely unprecedented.
The birth control pill came into widespread usage during those years and for the first time in the history of humanity, sex was no longer linked to lead to pregnancy.
“Recreational Sex” became possible. People could emphasize the pleasure and rush one gets from genital intercourse and not worry about producing a child that needed decades of care. Pornography has become a major industry on it’s own right, changing how men see women and how people use each other.
And the change agents didn’t stop there.
The first effects of climate change were mere theories in the 1960’s and 1970’s, ...projections of energy supplies and the health effects of unchecked industrial pollution. All that has coming into focus and more as the harsh realities of scientific study provide clear evidence that human activity is the significant contributor to the rising sea levels, the spread of plastics in the oceans and the frequency/intensity of major storms (among many other ecological changes.)
We are in the midst of a tri-fecta of technological, social and environmental tsunamis. And our traditional faith structures, democratic process and social constructs are failing us.
No wonder so many people are angry, confused, anxious and rude with each other. So much change in such a few short decades has never, EVER happened before.
We are adrift in a huge, storm sea of change, with very few moral, spiritual and social resources left to navigate by.
As Christians, we claim the God of Israel to be a global, cosmic God. The God of all creation, who flashed the universe into being with a word, and called it “Good” (Genesis 1:1-27).
In Christ we recognize a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17) that changes not just our hearts but our relationship to everyone and everything around us.
When we accept Baptism into the body of Christ, we affirm that we are given “immigration papers” into the very presence of God, the realm of Heaven, as a free gift of unconditional love.
Our honest repentance unlocks all the power of “loving God and loving neighbor” needed to address each and ever one of these major changes.
With the great and boundless forgiveness, wisdom and encouragement found in God’s grace, we can begin to call ourselves and all around us to a new relationship with creation, with each other and with ourselves.
The world as we know it (and as we’ve modified it), is changing and morphing at a blistering pace. It is only in the rock solid, unconditional love of God, found in the life giving sacrifice of Christ, that can guide us, heal us, save us.
It’s not too late.
Grace and Peace,
*“Gutenberg Moment” was the term coined by T. Scott Plutchak, a librarian who first applied the term to the effects of the digital revolution to libraries.
I think I did 50 years ago when as a young adult I stepped into 1stUMC: La Mesa.
And it’s been there in all the churches I’ve been honored to serve, with all the people I’ve loved and who loved me in God’s holy love, and in all the hours I’ve spent here with other clergy and church leaders, it has been a recurring, inspiring joy, a true gift.
It’s in Holy Communion, in celebrations of Baptism and in times of healing and growth. It’s all filled with the life giving presence of Jesus that inspired and renewed me.
And now, do I see a "New Church?"
It’s been said so many times that it’s trite:“It takes a village,” but what happens when that village fails?
What happens when the children have to fend for themselves, getting no wisdom as to who they truly are?
We are at a confusing crossroads of history, but we only see in part.
Swirling around us is a tectonic “Gutenberg Moment” where technological changes are rearranging everything.
It’s taken us decades, but we have finally moved out of the false membership rush born of a post-war prosperity, where people attended church for comfort, to escape a world destroyed by war, or perhaps just to be social, …rather than be a faithful, deeply searching community living an honest and personal relationship with God.
Consumerism and greed have been our society’s god for centuries, but now our younger prophets are unmasking it for the self-centered false god it is.
But remember, we’ve been here before:
Roman roads disrupted families and nations in the 1stCentury.
The Gutenberg printing press brought on the tumultuous age of reason, and in Wesley’s time, the Industrial revolution upended everything held dear.
And in all these times chaos became fertile ground for the good news of Jesus that we were no longer limited by the world, but we can be fulfilled as citizens of heaven.
My most cherished Brothers and Sisters,
baptism gives us immigration papers into God’s holy realm of unconditional love,
God’s presence is at hand!
And as our world grows more desperate in loneliness and isolation, we have the gift of the holy community to give, with agapé-unconditional love and phileo-deeply chosen love rather than storge-family love and eros-physical love.
It makes this time the most exciting time everin my lifetime.
And as far as I’m concerned, I was born 40 years too soon.
Now is a true revolutionary time to proclaim the radical, transforming, heavenly, unconditional love of Jesus Christ, spoken and lived in ways that invites everyone to come home.
....and do the hard work that makes us all a family, an eternal village with God.
We're self-centered enough to think that if only we're good enough we'll be in love and with our loved ones forever.
But we know deep down that no matter how hard we try, we're never really good enough.
We all harbor bigotry and disdain, (among many other things).... along with hard to shake fears and anxieties.
The resurrection of Jesus proves that the unconditional love of God forgives us of who we've been and challenges us to become who God truly created us to be.
It has the power to transform us.
It offers citizenship/participation in God's heaven/God's presence.... right now.
(Baptism gives us our "immigration papers" to heaven.)
So fear, anxiety, shame, anger, suspicion and manipulation (and so much more) are forgiven and all the corroding parts of life can be replaced by gratitude, healing, peace, love and joy....(the growing holiness of God)......in all of our lives, ....forever.
We Christians call this the "good news of Jesus Christ ". ( Usually shortened to just "the gospel")
After church on Sunday (July 23), you may have noticed a group of people under our “Gathering Tree” in front of the Sanctuary.
They were all ages and dressed in various ways: casual, shorts & sandals, work clothes and one couple in formal attire!
It was a bizarre gathering of people who I did not recognize. Perhaps it was it a large family that decided to worship with us that day?
As I approached them, I noticed they all were looking at their cell phones intently and very few were talking to each other.
That gave me a clue. I knew what they were about.
I walked up to them I said in a loud voice: “Welcome Pokémon* players! What’s the occasion?”
By talking with them, I learned that this month, July, 2017 was the one year anniversary of the Pokémon Go Video game. For that occasion, a special, hard to find monster / animal was created and we were the only local spot to have it!
At least 50-60 (wow!) Pokémon players showed up at our “Gathering Tree” to try to “capture” this beast on their cell phones and so advance in the game.
I share this because as I walked away, I wondered about that old church saying:
“If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
Of course, showing up for church and church activities might count, but not for much.
Billy Sunday, noted evangelist once said: “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.”
Our friends on the lawn were engaged in some serious game playing visible to everyone!.
And their standing in the community depended on them knowing the rules, using their wits, traveling about town to find new animals/monsters, and then battling with others to grow in experience.
Whew! That’s a lot of work…
What would our faith look like if we took our faith walk with the same passion that these game players had about their game?
Could we be with God at least weekly? Perhaps spending time at home reflecting about God’s love in Christ and what he does for us?
Would our prayers before mealtime and bedtime grow from one liners into a deep thanksgiving for the day and for God’s guidance and strength?
Would we remember to bring our bibles to church, underlining the passage of the day and taking notes on the sermon, the hymns, the anthem and prayers for later reflection?
Would we share with our family and friends a deeper sense of how much Christ loves us and them?
Would we pray for ways to reach out and love them more completely?
I think we would also identify ourselves not just by our actions but by our words as well.
We’d pray with others when they need it, we’d pitch in and help others when needed as well.
We’d participate in the classes offered at Church, and look up reliable sources of Bible insight on the internet.
We’d work to initiate classes into studies and topics we’d like to see offered. (Maybe we can LEAD a discussion group with dvd input?)
We’d join in a mission team like our “FIVE ALIVE”, our Soup Kitchen, our Children’s Education effort, our Choir or Praise Band.
There are LOTS of opportunities to both grow and serve.
Our world is being turned upside down by a serious and global change as we move from a manufacturing society to a digital society. Everywhere we look is effected (Facebook anyone?)
The best way to survive through this pervasive turmoil is to have a strong foundation of trust/faith in Christ, and go share God’s will actively in the body of Christ.
Come and join us for a weekly time to be “under the Gathering Tree” here at Lancaster UMC.
You and those around you are personally invited.
Our very life depends upon it.
What scripture has stayed with you this week?
What have others learned about Jesus Christ because of you?
How goes it with your soul?
Grace and Peace,
(*Pokémon Video Game:
Pokémon was a Nintendo video game first released in 1996 Last July, Nintendo came out with a cell phone version called Pokémon Go.
It started a new wave of the Pokémon craze began. All last summer people starting walking around staring at their phones, using them as tracking devices for the animals/monsters
Churches and other “public” buildings became “gyms” where you could meet up with other players, work out to strengthen your character and engage in battles to earn points.)
Let’s meet up next Sunday and strengthen our Spiritual life. OK?
Like many others, I have agonized over the issue of Homosexuality and the United Methodist Church (UMC) for a long time. I believe we can unravel, not cut, this Gordian knot.
Is it possible for the 2016 General Conference next Spring to consider two completely unconsidered initiatives that are based on the reality that “Sex" does not equal “Love.”
One side talks about “love" as being inclusive of all sexual behavior. The other side seeks to uphold the biblical mandate that some sexual behaviors are “incompatible with the Christian lifestyle” yet paints it with such a broad brush that leaves many hurting in it’s wake.
Unless we make the above distinction of “sex" not being equated with “love" we shall always be talking past one another. (I’ve noticed that Eros love - physical love, and even Storge love - family, protective, are not mentioned in the New Testament, only Phileo love - Friendship and Agapé love - Godly love.)
2016 General Conf. Recognition of Covenanted Families
…Blessing the formation of families comprised of spiritual people who deeply love each other, but without intimate sexual activity.
In other words, is a “21st Century Monastic 'Small Group' Family Possible?”
Can we study ways to affirm “Covenant Families” of same sex families who choose to live in a close, caring, Christ-centered and nurturing relationship that refrain from certain sexual behavior?
Were not the classic Monastic orders basically same sex families?
Can we recognize the deep need we all have for family without being overwhelmed by our completely sexualized culture?
In other words, is this a way to recognize the “same sex love” that faithful people are feeling and choosing for each other without compromising a clear standard of behavior and our Book of Discipline?
Initiate a Gen. Conf. comprehensiveTheology of Recreational Sex in the 21st Century over the next four years.
What are the biblical, theological, traditional and experiential threads that could be woven together to provide wise and faithful guidance concerning sexual behavior in our turbulent and over-sexualized society?
What do we as a church have to say about
Adultery, the Divorce Rate and Multiple Remarriages,
Internet Pornography and Soft Porn in TV/Movies/Entertainment
Non-married living/sexual arrangements,
Sexual abuse of children and adults,
Sex Trafficking and casual sex among strangers,
Teen and younger sex,
(and other related topics)
...that can bring healing and wholeness in Jesus Christ to those caught up in these tragedies?
Perhaps these two initiatives can steer us away from the rocky shoals of division and estrangement of the "peculiar people" of the UMC who love so.
With the death of Brittany Maynard, the discussion of assisted suicide / choice for suicide is once again with us.
We all know life begins and life ends, but when we are suffering or someone else is suffering, we want to do all we can to alleviate that suffering. Every doctor, nurse and medical attendant has that desire as an important part of his or her calling.
And now, as more people are choosing to spend their last days at home, their loved ones surround them in their pain. This means that the sharing of that suffering comes back into the family, as it once was before the advent of hospitals. We are confronting a new/old reality of having the death and dying process back in our homes.
I thank God for those families who accepted this challenge. They have embraced all the consequences, the joys, the caring and the weeping, of being a hospice home. It is a major testimony to their faith and the faith of their family.
It does raise the question of suicide / assisted suicide as watching someone die can be unbearable. Watching your family care for you as you die can be unbearable as well.
The place of suicide / assisted suicide for the Christian has been long debated in the church. All the major denominations: Protestant and Roman Catholic, have issued statements about it. Our United Methodist Church has some guiding thoughts, (but they are not “doctrine” i.e. core faith statements). It’s found at bit.ly/UMC-Stmt-Suicide.
It talks about being non-judging, but also the need to be very careful because our support to reduce pain can easily ends up undercutting hope. It could also lead to the abuse of the elderly. And in addition, some will use it as an “easy out.” Of course, others will struggle until the very end. (Oregon reports that of those receiving drugs for assisted suicide under their laws, only one-half have actually used them.)
Christians are a people of hope. Christ brought us life over death and so over the centuries we have been very reluctant to end life by our own means. Such an act was seen to close off all hope even as it ends obvious suffering and pain. Such an act was also seen to go against the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.”
All in all, the church generally reflects what Paul said in Roman 8:18 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” It doesn’t mean we should ignore the sufferings. But it does affirm that we should not lose hope in Christ and use every moment we can have to love God and love others as God loves us.
I hope some of this background helps. I encourage everyone to continue to pray, talk, share in love, seek Christian conferencing and work to discern God’s will. It is a very difficult and multifaceted issue.
What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus in the midst of a congregation? What does it take to strengthen our faith on a daily basis?
We know it’s hard to keep our promises and resolutions. “Keeping the Faith” is a difficult challenge, especially when we do it alone.
To live out our mission: “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” in the midst of a congregation is to take seriously that our spiritual life is the most important part of our life.
We recognize that our relationship with God, our beliefs about Jesus Christ, our reliance for the Holy Spirit, is the most important commitment we will ever make.
In our society, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important. Our culture conspires to tempt us with all sorts of short term entertainment, pleasant distractions and the idea that we are the center of the universe. (All in an effort to get our money.)
Our society encourages us to complain, to focus on our problems and fears, and so it leaves us in worry and anxiety that shakes us to our core.
Our faith tradition teaches us that Jesus Christ came to free us from the slavery of our desires, from the shifting winds of current fads and the flashy, expensive experiences that ultimately destroy us.
When we decide to be a follower of Jesus we make a stand that it’s God’s values and perspectives that we will follow in our life, not the worlds.
As members of the United Methodist Church we proclaim our faith in God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and we also pledge that we will uphold our organization in order to: “Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.”
As members of our local congregation here in Lancaster, we make that discipleship real by regularly taking three simple steps:
Step 1) WeWORSHIP with our congregation EVERY chance we can.
Even when we travel we seek out places to worship God. By regular worship we reaffirm the centrality of God to our lives.
Step 2) WeGROW SPIRITUALLY both internally and externally. We regularly participate in the classes offered or other studies we know of.
We regularly involve ourselves in outreach to take the church into the world through service and love.
Step 3) We TELL OTHERS how important God is to us. We look for opportunities to gracefully and lovingly share the experiences and power of God and the love of Christ in our lives.
With these three simple steps, our lives will be transformed. We will place our lives in God’s hands and we will be taking significant steps in our spiritual journey as a follower of Jesus.
If you are a member of our congregation, I invite you to renew our commitment together by living out your life with these three steps. Work to strengthen them. Think of them often. Use them as your “spiritual fitness” routine that deepens your faith.
If you are not yet a member of our congregation, I invite you to pray about joining us in this highest of all endeavors.
Know that you are personally invited to live a life filled with God’s presence and the love of Christ. That you can be healed and be a blessing to those around you.
Make God the central focus of your life. Turn to the Lord and worship God with all your heart, soul, mind and spirit.
As you join with us in this grand journey, grow in your understanding of the spiritual life. Study, discuss, and involve yourself with others, both with your inner journey and with your outward service.
Finally, speak to others about this important focus in your life. Ask them about their most basic values and goals. Talk to them about the role of God’s love in Christ for your life.
It changes everything.
What scripture has stayed with you this week?
What have others learned about Jesus Christ through of you?