Tuesday, September 28, 2010

We Messed Up

An open letter to people who feel disenfranchised by the Christian church

We got it wrong.  For quite some time now the Church has made crucial mistakes.  We have assumed that Church as we have known it will continue without the major changes you have wanted to see.  We have focused more on doctrinal purity than the needs of the poor.  We have tried to start new churches based on our vision rather than your needs.  We have convinced ourselves that we have been loving you but more often than not you have not received our actions as genuine love.  We have held fast to worship practices that keep us entrenched and unable to conceive of the changes necessary to reach your heart with the glory of God.  We have caused division in the Church and the world with our beliefs about who is living in sin.  We have insisted that you accept certain forms of prayer and non-essential beliefs before we accept you into the Church. 

No doubt you could add a few more reasons why you do not want to be part of the Church.  I apologize.  We failed to listen to Jesus when he told his disciples that others would know us by our love.  I am sorry.  We messed up when we have allowed what separates us to be more important than what brings us together.  You have looked at us and decided that Church is not for you if we continue to be the way we are.  And you are right.

The question is, Can we change?  The deeper question is, Can we listen to you?  This is not to say that we should change the essence of who we are as the body of Christ.  We should not abandon the principles of peace, healing, love, and forgiveness that are the core of the life of Jesus and who we need to become.  But can we change the form of who we have become?  Can we love the world without expectation of new members who give generously?  Can we stand up for people who live at the edges of society, those who have no voice among the powerful?  Can we start new ministries that are radical and different, ministries that you would be a part of, ministries that do not replace but exist side by side with ones church people appreciate?

I am a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, filled with God’s Spirit.  Because of this I believe in transformation!  Yes I can change!  And yes, we can change!  So I ask for patience that we will get it and shift how we do Church.  I ask for your forgiveness that we can sense a genuine love for you and the hurting of this world.  And I ask for your prayers that we will embark on a new era of authentic love and compassion, not simply to get more members, but to love this wonderful world God has given us all.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Lay School of Theology

I have a confession to make.  When I was pastor of a local church I rarely made time for the Lay School of Theology.  The third weekend of September is not a good time for pastors.  When St. John would host it I would always sneak in the back and take in some of the excellent teaching, but I never fully committed myself to the entire event.  That is, until last weekend.

I attended Dr. Elaine Heath's class on A NEW KIND OF CHURCH.  Dr. Heath is a professor of evangelism and has started a new monastic, missional community in Dallas called NEW DAY.  You can visit their web site at http://newdaydallas.org/New_Day_Dallas/Welcome.html

I invite you all to learn more about Dr. Heath's missional initiative.  Check out her book titled "Longing for Spring." 

Basically, this ministry is about a leadership team covenanting together for their spiritual journey, living by a rule of life, and being bi-vocational.  Leaders receive their income and benefits from their employer and donate their time to the ministry.  There is no plan to grow a large church.  Anchored to an existing church a new community would consist of 12-20 neighbors gathering in a home for a weekly meal and worship.  Members would become a close-knit community sharing burdens, studying the Bible, being inclusive and diverse, and an advocate of social justice.

Dr. Heath is interested in exploring how this might look in our Alaska communities.  She has a plan for an academy that will develop lay and clergy leaders to start small, missional, monastic communities.  This vision has touched my heart and I wonder how God might be working in our lives to do something similar in Alaska.  So let's pray and talk about it!

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tonight's Dinner is in the Garbage!

This morning I put out the garbage.  Now that Kim and I have an empty nest we have much less trash to put out.  About 5 days ago I prepared some halibut for dinner and put the skins in a bag in the freezer.  We often do this so they won't smell before the next garbage pick up.  So I tossed the bag of what looked like halibut skins into this morning trash. 

At work I had a vague sense of uneasiness when I remembered that Kim suggested I fix halibut for dinner tonight.  Did I throw out tonight's dinner?  So I called Renee, a neighbor, and asked her to go through our trash to rescue tonight's dinner.  At first she couldn't find it.  Then another neighbor came over and asked her, "What are you doing going through Dave's trash?"

Renee called back to say she had found the halibut.  I had indeed thrown out something that was meant to sustain our lives.

How often do we fail to recognize valuable gifts from God that come our way?  Perhaps one comes to us in the form of a homeless person asking for help.  Maybe a gift is hiding behind a frustrated face if we will only offer a smile to unlock it.  Let's be on the lookout for the many gifts from God, gifts that are meant to sustain us and give us abundant life!

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Biblical Literacy and Money Debt

September is a high energy month in the life of our local churches.  People are returning from fish sites, non-stop camping experiences, and world travels.  Summer worship schedules give way to fall and winter times.  And Sunday School kicks off with excitement and anticipation.  It is also the time when many churches give Bibles to their third grade students.

I want to use this moment to highlight the need for Alaska United Methodists to deepen their understanding of the Bible.  Specifically, I challenge pastors and lay teachers to be honest about teaching a view of scripture that moves people beyond literalism.  There is a huge difference between biblical literacy and biblical literalism.  The first is about Bible education while the second is about a particular view of scripture that holds the Bible to be historically true in the actual words.  There is a view that holds to the truth of scripture but not in the literal words. 

I heard a story in my home conference of West Ohio when Bishop Judy Craig was speaking to her clergy.  With her finger pointing she said, "You are not teaching your people what you know."  There are ways to ask questions that lead us to want to know of the truth of scripture without assenting to the historical accuracy of scripture as it is written. Here is a link to an old sermon I preached at St. John in 1997 when I was pastor of Soldotna UMC and a guest preacher at St. John. 

Click on this link to check out a one-page resource on biblical literacy from our General Board of Discipleship.  If you have stories or ideas on Bible education that have helped your people grow in their understanding of how God acted in the stories of scripture please share them with me and we'll find ways to share them with everyone.

Now to a different topic.  At worship at St. John last Sunday Rev. Jo Ann Schaadt delivered a sermon called "Holy Meddling."  She talked about the ways we are called to meddle (hold each other accountable) in each others' lives.  This includes debt.  When all pastors are ordained we are asked historic Wesley questions and one is "Are you in debt so as to embarrass yourself?"  Whether you are clergy or lay let me ask you, "Are you in debt that is causing undue stress and anxiety for you and your family and perhaps affecting the ministry of your church?"  St. John offers a regular class called Financial Peace University which is helping many families look at money from a spiritual and biblical perspective.  So I want to encourage us all to examine our personal stewardship in light of the teachings of Christ when it comes to money.   We are called to lead by example in each of our local churches.

Grace and peace,