May Mercy Win

We don’t hear about it much and it is my fault.  We don’t hear about it because I don’t talk about it.  It isn’t that I don’t want to, I simply forget the power and the call to action in these words.  I forget that as much as John Wesley was for personal holiness he was also for social holiness.  Prayer and study were important but so was visiting the sick and prisoners.

Alton Sterling died this week.  Philando Castile died this week.  Video captured this horrific moments and my heart hurts.  Three police officers are now dealing with the mental and emotional aftermath of taking another person’s life.  My heart hurts.  My hearts breaks.

John 11:35 happened again…”Jesus wept.”

As I prepare my sermon on this week’s lectionary text, Luke 10:25-37, or better known as the Parable of the Good Samaritan, I hear the cries of the man on the road.  I hear the cry of someone stranded, beaten, broken and left for dead.  I hear the man…

Who am I on that road?  Am I the Levite?  Am I the priest?  Am I the one who stops?

Just like the taillight on Philando’s car, our system is broken.  When a system is broken justice must prevail and people need to speak up to share the news of the one who says mercy wins.

This week my congregation and I will say together the Social Creed of the United Methodist Church found in ¶166 of the Book of Discipline. I truly believe this world needs personal holiness.  We personally need to know the love and grace God offers in Jesus Christ.  I also truly believe we need social holiness.  We, as the Body of Christ in this world, need to stand up and proclaim a way of living that follows the life, death and resurrection of the Savior we worship and follow.

When my heart breaks I am reminded it does so because I am attempting to “love my neighbor as myself.”  May mercy win in my heart and in my world.

Social Creed of the United Methodist Church

We believe in God, Creator of the world; and in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of creation. We believe in the Holy Spirit, through whom we acknowledge God’s gifts, and we repent of our sin in misusing these gifts to idolatrous ends.

We affirm the natural world as God’s handiwork and dedicate ourselves to its preservation, enhancement, and faithful use by humankind.

We joyfully receive for ourselves and others the blessings of community, sexuality, marriage, and the family.

We commit ourselves to the rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with disabilities; to improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of all persons.

We believe in the right and duty of persons to work for the glory of God and the good of themselves and others and in the protection of their welfare in so doing; in the rights to property as a trust from God, collective bargaining, and responsible consumption; and in the elimination of economic and social distress.

We dedicate ourselves to peace throughout the world, to the rule of justice and law among nations, and to individual freedom for all people of the world.

We believe in the present and final triumph of God’s Word in human affairs and gladly accept our commission to manifest the life of the gospel in the world. Amen.

North Carolina’s House Bill 2

When I learned that the state I live in, love and adore worked in a called session and in the dark of the night to pass House Bill 2 I was embarrassed, disappointed and frustrated.  I have not been thrilled with the legislator in Raleigh because it seems from my place, in Union County, we have stepped backwards and have been for a while.  When it comes to our educational system, the rhetoric towards the poor and how minorities are being treated we seem to be going backwards and progress is stopping in the Old North State.

I have been thinking about what to write about HB2 but I have been too caught up in disappointment.  Then Lory Beth Huffman wrote an excellent article on it in her blog.  She completely sums up my thoughts and feelings on this manner.  I realized after reading it she basically took the words out of my mouth.  Thank you Lory Beth for your wisdom and insights in this matter.

PLEASE VISIT HER BLOG AND READ HER POST ON House Bill 2.

As I read the bill and then her post, I agree with her it this bill doesn’t make sense and seems only as a dirty political ploy.

I will send with her two closing paragraphs which sums it up nicely.  I pray for my state and for the people who will be harmed by this bill.

So to me, this feels like so much more than a safety issue concerning transgender people and which bathroom they can use. It feels like pretext.  It feels like a step backwards in public discourse, policy making and statesmanship.  It appears to me that this is going to hurt our state economically. Consider the national reaction to boycotting the Furniture Market- an already struggling industry that could negatively impact High Point’s and the Triad’s economy. Some scoff as large, multi-national companies and organizations like Bank of America, Facebook, Apple, Google, Wells Fargo, American Airlines, Starbucks, the NBA and the NCAA are condemning HB2.  But sometimes an outsider needs to hold  the mirror up to your face and show you things you don’t like or don’t want to admit.

And as a spiritual leader, I am struggling to discern where Jesus would land in the midst of this mess.  I don’t see a lot of love in play.  How we treat one another matters.  How we solve problems matters.  How we disagree with one another matters.  How we balance safety and protection of all people – women, children and transgender people matters.  How we get along in the cities and in the rural communities matters.  Surely we could have done a better job than this.  I speak as a Christian, not as a Republican, Democrat or Independent.  And because I am a Jesus follower, my heart is heavy over this.

The Myth of the Modern Christian Candidate

10000227-00-00-00-00_lgI confess I am not a huge fan of politics.  What I mean is I don’t get all excited about elections or backing a candidate.  I won’t attend rallies or conventions.  It is just something I have never really been into.

The first US Presidential Election I truly remember is the 1992 race between Bill Clinton, George H. Bush and Ross Perot.  I remember taking a mock election in Boy Scouts where I voted for Ross Perot with the comment, “If we are looking for change, let’s go with a ton of change.”  This was my big political insight at the mere age of 15.  Honestly I didn’t understand how the whole system worked, only enough to pass civics class.

Leading up to the 2000 election I remember having a discussion in a college class on God, Politics and Society how we truly needed a Christian Candidate.  I guess George W. Bush and Al Gore weren’t Christian enough for me…who knows.

This Presidential Election will be the sixth one I can vote in, although I confess I didn’t vote in all of them.  I have paid attention and followed the last four pretty closely simply to be an educated voter. I do not affiliate with either party and I am registered as an Undecided in North Carolina. The reasons behind that decision will have to wait for another post.

As a Gen-Xer, cynicism is engrained in my DNA. I look at the US Electoral System and I see how it is run (only from the outside). I watch the news and read about super PACs, fundraising, and deep pocket donors. I have enough years behind me to understand a little more clearly how life works and I am not as naïve as I once was.

As I watch the train-wreck that is the 2016 Presidential Election I have come to a firm conclusion. I now understand that the idea of a Christian Presidential Candidate is a myth. I do not believe that you can live up to the standards of Christ found in the two commandments to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself AND run a campaign to be elected President of the United States (POTUS). It can’t happen.

It can’t happen because a piece of that person has to sell their soul. You cannot serve both wealth and God at the same time, see Matthew 6:24 or Luke 16:13. It takes millions upon millions of dollars to win the election for POTUS. How can someone run a successful campaign and escape nestling up, snuggling or even get in bed with wealth? It can’t happen.

There is also some part of a Presidential Candidate that has to believe they are focal point of the universe. They have to believe the world revolves around them to seek the highest and most powerful position in the world. Show me a truly humble person…truly humble not politically humble…and I will show you someone who doesn’t believe they are worthy of the job. A person with this humility, who puts God above all, even themselves, would never be elected POTUS.

I firmly believe that local politicians can. I believe mayors of small towns and even some state legislators can. However, once big money has to be made, conflicts of interest arise and a part of one’s soul has to be sold out. This is true in all politics no matter how big or small but the larger the office the more these Faust opportunities present themselves.

Maybe you agree or maybe you disagree. Maybe my assumption of what a follower of Christ looks like, a person who follows the greatest commandments of Jesus Christ, goes too far. Maybe a political Christian is someone who exists and my cynicism simply runs too deep to see it.

When I vote…I will vote knowing that there is no “True Christian Candidate” because that person is a myth. We need to stop looking for a political messiah or thinking candidates who can raise millions of dollars are one. Let’s face fact a “True Christian Candidate” is simply a myth.

 

10 Inner Thoughts while Preaching

I am not sure about you but when I preach there are two things that are happening at once.  I am concentrating the physical act of speaking in front of people and trying to make sense but then there is the inner dialogue that is happening too.  I usually have a conversation with myself in my own brain while I am preaching.

I know I am not alone…at least I pray I’m not.  I feel confident that I am not.  Moving on.

I decided to make list of the ten common thoughts that go on in my head while preaching…please feel free to add your own in the comments.

  1. I hope they are looking at the Bible on their phones.
  2. Did I pronounce that right…oh well, just go with it and move on.
  3. Where was I?
  4. Am I saying “um” too much?
  5. Is it hot/cold in here?
  6. ________ is sleeping again.
  7. Is anyone hearing what I am saying?
  8. ________ is giving me good energy and eye sight, THANK YOU!
  9. We are going to run over…where can I trim a little on the fly?
  10. Was that the Holy Spirit talking right there?

Keep Pounding

carolina-panthers-alternate-logo_1995-2011I arrived to Charlotte in 1985, age 8, from Royal Oak, MI (a suburb of Detroit).  My parents met and grew up in Huron, OH.  I grew up a Cleveland Browns fan and a Detroit Lion fan.  I remember watching a soccer game in the Superdome and the excitiment felt in the city when the Tigers won the World Series in 1984, although I didn’t really know what was happening.

I arrived in Charlotte knowing nothing of the traditions of ACC basketball.  It wasn’t until I went to Duke Divinity School that I gave into the wonder and the absolute joy of Tobacco Road and now I bleed Duke Blue.  I arrived to Charlotte before any other professional team and the only sports I remember watching was a Charlotte O’s minor league baseball game…I got a foul ball that night!

I was thrilled in 1988 when the NBA birthed the Charlotte Hornets.  I was an instant fan of Muggsy Bogues, Kelly Tripucka and Rex Chapman.  I loved watching Dell Curry, Alonzo Morning and Grandma…aka…Larry Johnson.  I remember after going to a game we could stand in the players parking lot asking for autographs and watching them get into their cool cars.  Charlotte was winning my heart.

In 1993, my junior year of High School, it was announced we would get an NFL team and I was pumped.  Let’s face it the Brown are like the Cubs.  It seems our best football is in our past.  I still root for them to beat the Steelers and especially the Ravens!  Yet, here I was given a fresh slate, a new start to give my whole heart to a local team, my city’s team.

In 1995, my freshman year in college, the Carolina Panthers started their first season.  I was a fan from day one.  We finished 7-9 that year…the best of any other first-year expansion team.  I remember watching us play an unbelievable second year when we won the division and the joy of beating the Cowboys at home.

One of my favorite players back then was Sam Mills.  He made some incredible plays for the Panthers and he seemed to put the new team on his shoulders to lead them through their first three seasons.  It is awesome that his jersey is retired in the stadium and that he coached for a number of years.

In two weeks the Carolina Panthers will go back to the Super Bowl, a place they have visited only once before.  The shoulders that helped carry them there, in 2003, was Sam Mills, who found out later that year that he had intestinal cancer.  The doctors gave him only a few months to live.  In an emotional speech to the team he told them to “Keep Pounding.”  He never gave up and fought cancer.  He kept coaching although he was going through chemo and radiation.  I cannot imagine the inspiration he left on those players who looked at all he was going through and was still fighting.

Keep Pounding will be a chat we will hear over and over again the next two weeks but I hope the message of what it stands for is highlighted.  I hope the name Sam Mills and the man he was and the inspiration he is will pound into the hearts of those who hear.  I have always been a fan and will continue to be so.  The video below highlights why this is the Carolina Panther’s mantra.  As I wear my jersey, with Keep Pounding sown in the collar, and root my team on to what I hope will be their first Super Bowl victory…to all those who are hurting, fighting cancer, going through hardships in life…may they feel inspiration and KEEP POUNDING!

GO PANTHERS!

 

Comfort In Dump Out

I heard some terrible news of friend of mine who lost their 12 year old boy suddenly.  My heart broke and my mind has been awash in prayer and sympathy.  I cannot imagine what they are going through and what they will be going through.  I cannot even fathom what they are going through as the prepare to remember the life of their precious son.

I have sat beside some people who have gone through tragedy.  I have ministered to them as they sat in visitation lines and crowded around the tent after a committal service.  Usually, I stand their silently, quietly and calmly.  This is one of my gifts that God has blessed me with.  I stand or sit there praying and nothing more.  I truly wish others would simply do the same.

What usually happens, especially in the context of losing a young child, is that someone says something impossibly stupid.  Stupidity can flow out of a mouth quickly when they are face to face with someone who is in the midst of tragedy.

There is a great article I read on Facebook years ago about who to complain to and vent to and who not too.  I went searching and one quick Google later I found the original article form the LA Times.  This article is brilliant because it demonstrates  where we can complain and where we need to simply be silent and offer comfort.  Depending on where you are in the circle depends on where and who you offer comfort too and who you vent or dump emotional baggage too.  See image for details.

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(Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Time)

If you are the one in the middle of the circle you have the right to dump on anyone.  If you are a lookie loo on outside edge…keep your mouth shut at all times while interacting with this group of people.  That is the hardest part thought.  In the midst of tragedy we get nervous, uncomfortable and that forces stupidity out from our gut and through our mouth.  We think we have to say something and what we say is usually just horrible.

If you are going to offer comfort by showing up…and you should because the family WILL appreciate your presence there.  So when you go, simply say, “I’m sorry,” and leave it there.  You are allowed to say, “I am praying for you all,” but that should be the range of your conversation.  You can offer physical contact, a hug or a handshake and pat.  You can simply come and be present in the room say if they are in the hospital but don’t say anything unless spoken too.

A foot can travel to the mouth at a high rate of in these circumstances therefore the best thing to do is stand still and be quiet.  Remember: Comfort IN and Dump OUT.

New Year’s Revelation

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A new year is almost upon us, less than 5 hours as I type.  As I reflect on 2015, I wonder if 2016 will be any different.  What miraculous moments of ministry will happen?  How will my congregation be different this year?  How will I change over this next year?  In what areas will I attempt to grow and stop in other areas?  When I sit down on Dec. 31, 2016 how will the world be different because of God’s work through me?

I know people are making resolutions, or attempts to better them selves.  It is common to make a resolution to lose 20 pounds and keep it off.  Other will want to stop eating junk food or other bad habits.  Resolutions though are made to be broken or if nothing else, not kept.

In 2016, I am praying for a revelation.  Revelation is defined as “the divine or supernatural disclosure to humans of something relating to human existence or the world.”  This is what I want out of a new year.  This is what I need to move forward in my ministry.  This is what I need in my life in order to keep my passion and love of God.

I am praying, in this new year, I can see, feel, experience, and be used by the Triune God I worship.  I want to be a vessel for God’s love to be expressed in this world.  I want to partake in the in-breaking of God’s kingdom in the here and now.  This is the revelation I am praying for.

I pray that God would reveal in my life how this will happen.  I pray that God will use the gifts and talents that he created me with to do this in 2016.  Instead of a resolution, I pray for a revelation.