Decisions, Decisions, Decisions…

On April 28, 2017, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church issued its ruling regarding the July 2016 election and consecration of Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto as Bishop in the United Methodist Church. Almost everyone I know (from a Methodist perspective anyway) was waiting for this ruling, and many of them have asked me what I thought of the ruling. My answer has been: “I think it’s better than it could have been and worse than it should have been.”

BETTER THAN IT COULD HAVE BEEN

It’s better than it could have been because the Judicial Council could have decided it didn’t have jurisdiction over the matter. That is, in essence, what they ruled in part of the case. The Council concluded it did not have jurisdiction over the nomination, election and assignment as Bishop (you can read the entire decision here), but that it did have jurisdiction over the consecration of a homosexual bishop, and in that matter, the Western Jurisdiction violated church law. The decision goes on to say that any clergy who participated in the consecration are subject to a “chargeable offense.”

I’m not going to comment on the intricate details of the case because I’m not an attorney steeped in church law, but I will say that any intelligent person could read The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church and conclude that the consecration of a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” is a violation of church law. No matter how one parses the words, they say what they say, and no matter a person’s gifts and graces for ministry, the words say what they say. If we don’t like what the words say, then the words should be changed, but every four years for forty plus years, the wording has been reaffirmed by the General Conference of the United Methodist Church.

So, the ruling is better than it could have been. The Western Jurisdiction violated church law when it consecrated Rev. Dr. Oliveto bishop (although Oliveto was not specifically named in the petition). I believe it was the correct decision, and it helped to bring some clarity to the current debates within the United Methodist Church around human sexuality.

WORSE THAN IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN

But, the decision is worse than it should have been. I know many will disagree with that statement, and that’s perfectly okay with me (this is me assenting to your right to dissent–so please keep the nasty and snarky comments to a minimum). The decision left Oliveto in “good standing” in the office of Bishop, and remanded the case back to the Western Jurisdiction for what is called an “administrative process.”

Yes, others have asked what that means, too. Let me see if I can explain it briefly. Just like in the secular world, a person has a right to “due process,” so in the church a clergy person has the right to “due process” before any action can be taken against him/her (this is a good thing), so the ruling sends it back to the Western Jurisdiction for the process to play itself out.

So, while that’s good, it’s bad because the Western Jurisdiction is the entity that elected  and consecrated Oliveto in the first place, so I anticipate that nothing of substance will be done through the process, and when all is said and done, Oliveto will still be a Bishop in the United Methodist Church, and those of us who hold to the traditional biblical understanding of marriage will continue to be frustrated with the politics of it all (I’m speaking purely of church politics here). It’s also bad because it will continue to be a distraction from the mission of the church, and will continue to drain time, energy and resources away from the mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world.

WHAT NOW?

So, what do we do now? We wait…just like we’ve been doing. We’ll wait to see how the administrative process works itself out in the Western Jurisdiction. We’ll also continue to wait and see what the Commission on a Way Forward recommends when it completes its work, and we’ll wait to see what the special called session of General Conference does with that information when it meets in February of 2019, in St. Louis, MO.

In our waiting, we might discover that the Holy Spirit is prepared to do a new work with these people called United Methodist. The Holy Spirit could, in fact, be giving birth to a new Methodist movement. If we react now with frustration and anger (no matter which “side” of the debate we take), we might just miss the greatest move of the Holy Spirit in Methodism since John Wesley‘s heart was strangely warmed at a meeting on Aldersgate Street. Let’s all remain faithful with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness (those are the vows every person takes when she/he joins the United Methodist Church).

There is one thing we can do in the waiting, and that is to pray. We must pray for unity…but not unity for an institution…we must pray for unity in the body of Christ that goes far beyond any human institution. We must also pray for unity in the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must also pray for the Holy Spirit to fill us with fire so that our singular purpose will be a people who have nothing to do but save souls.

More than waiting, though, is the necessity of work…the work of the Kingdom. We must continue to be in ministry to the least, the last and the lost. There are homeless people to feed. There are foster children to care for. There are churches to build. There are souls to save (there’s my evangelical bent coming through). There are people to love, there’s a God to worship and adore and there’s Jesus to follow. Nothing any Council (Judicial or otherwise) could ever do will change the commandment Jesus gave us to “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28: 18-20 NLT).

So, I’ll wait, and pray and work. May I invite you to join me in that endeavor.

Until next time, keep looking up…

A Call to Prayer…

It’s time to pray. Of course, as disciples of Jesus Christ, it’s always time to pray, but that sentiment is never more true than now for those of us called United Methodist. The Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church begins its semi-annual meeting in Newark, New Jersey April 25th, and one of the main issues on its docket is the legality of the election and consecration of a homosexual clergy person to the office of Bishop in the United Methodist Church.

Members of the 2016-2020 Judicial Council. (From left) Front: Ruben T. Reyes, N. Oswald Tweh Sr., the Rev. Luan-Vu Tran. Back row: Deanell Reece Tacha, Lídia Romão Gulele, the Rev.Øyvind Helliesen, the Rev. Dennis Blackwell, and the Rev. J. Kabamba Kiboko. (Not pictured, Beth Capen)

In July 2016, the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church elected Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto as the first openly gay bishop. As Bishop Oliveto was being elected, the South Central Jurisdiction was still in session, and upon the announcement of Dr. Oliveto’s election, delegates of the South Central Jurisdiction passed a resolution asking the Judicial Council to rule on a specific set of questions regarding the legality of the election.

Oral arguments in the matter are expected to be heard on April 25th, and the expectation is the Judicial Council will issue its ruling soon afterward. There are several possible outcomes in the case. For a review of those possibilities and more docket information, you can click on these links:

https://juicyecumenism.com/2017/04/20/preview-umc-judicial-councils-april-2017-cases/

http://um-insight.net/in-the-church/finance-and-administration/lgbtq-united-methodist-allies-prepare-for-judicial-council-s_1/

For me, this week is a watershed moment for United Methodism. In the interest of full disclosure, I was at the South Central Jurisdiction in July 2016 as a delegate, and I voted in support (as did 56% of the delegates) of the request to the Judicial Council. How the Council rules (or fails to rule) may well determine the future of our denomination. I have had persons tell me they were preparing to leave our church if the ruling went one way, and I’ve had people tell me they were prepared to leave our church if the ruling went another way. That’s a no-win either way you look at it. The ruling will likely impact mission, membership and money, and in a cultural environment that is increasingly hostile to the Gospel, it is an unfortunate witness to the grace and love of Jesus Christ.

Additionally, no one really knows how a ruling may impact the work of the Commission on a Way Forward.  The Commission has been working for several months now to discern a unified way to move forward in the face of the diversity that exists, both within the Church and within culture. It will also be unfortunate that the General Conference has invested such resources to render the work moot.

Please don’t read any of this blog as anything more than a simple call to prayer for our United Methodist Church. Mine is simply another in a litany of such calls. You can read one here. I have a number of sentiments I could share here, but a colleague, Rev. Shane Bishop, has done a masterful job here, so I share his thoughts, not as my own, but as a summation of where I am personally and professionally.

So, please join me in prayer this week. Pray for:

  • Wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit for the Judicial Council
  • Grace for those who will present oral arguments
  • Peace among the “opposing” sides in the continuing debate
  • Strength for our bishops as they lead us amidst the chaos
  • Unity in our denomination as we face the uncertainty of the decisions and their consequences, both intended and unintended
  • Bishop Oliveto
  • Our pastors who lead congregations that hold a diversity of opinions
  • Our laity who desire to serve Christ through their local congregations

It’s time to pray folks! If you’ve never prayed for your United Methodist Church before (well, shame on you if you haven’t!), please do so now. While you’re praying, keep in mind that whatever happens, we are an Easter people. Things may not be the same after this week, but each day provides an opportunity for new life. The Lord is not done with the United Methodist Church yet. It just remains to be seen what the Lord might do with us next.

Until next time, keep looking up…(and, pray while you’re doing it!)

 

Renewing Resolutions…

resolutions-150x150I find myself every year not making new resolutions for the New Year, but simply renewing ones I’ve made in the past. I’m not sure what that says (it says I’m no good at keeping resolutions!), but I know I still want to be a better person, and somehow I think even renewing past resolutions will help me accomplish the goal. What I’ve discovered is to be a better person, something about me has to change. What I’ve also discovered is I’m a person who is in love with the idea of change if not necessarily the process of change.

What I’ve discovered through the years of renewing old resolutions is that I can’t change. I don’t have enough will-power. I’m sorry. I don’t. There! Confession over! Though I can’t change, I can be changed. When I open myself to the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit can do His work in me and I can experience the life-changing power of God. I really believe that’s part of the whole “born-again” thing that Jesus talks about in John 3. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus changes me from the inside out, not just once, but constantly as I open myself to His guidance. Though I can’t change myself (as much as I’d like to), I can put myself in a place where the Spirit can do His work.

One of the ways I can open myself to the Spirit is through prayer. I suppose that’s the first resolution I need to renew for 2017–I renew my commitment to pray. I probably need to learn how to do it better. I’m one who always feels like my prayer life should be better, and I lament how weak my prayer life may actually be. Unfortunately, I’m like most folks–I lament the issue, but actually do little to change it. Life always seems to get in the way.

Here’s how it happens for me: I see an announcement for a prayer retreat. It piques my interest and I think, “I really need to go to that.” It’s a free event, it’s only three hours long and they even provide food. I’ll have to drive 30 minutes, but I really need to open myself to learning how to pray better. I put the event on my calendar and think, “You’re doing well, friend, on keeping that resolution. You’ll learn and you’ll grow closer to Christ.” Nothing quite like patting yourself on the back. Then, life happens.

The prayer retreat draws closer. It’s a few days before the event and I get a call from a friend. “Hey, Lynn. I’ve got tickets to the LSU game on Saturday and I can’t go. You can have them if you want them.” In the back of my mind, I know I’ve scheduled this prayer retreat, but the idea of free tickets to Tiger Stadium overwhelms (well, momentarily anyway) the desire to improve my prayer life. I say, “Sure I’ll take them. You sure you don’t mind?” “No problem,” he says, “and I’ve even got a parking pass, too!” I get off the phone and immediately I remember the prayer retreat. “Oh, well! There’ll be other retreats on other days. After all, this is LSU and Tiger Stadium.”

I really shouldn’t be too hard on myself, I suppose. In the 21st century, if we were to put 100 disciples in a room and challenge them all with the question, “Who would like to deepen their prayer life?” I bet 100 hands would go up. Offer that some 100 disciples the opportunity to attend a three-hour prayer retreat, and ten would show up. On the other hand, walk into a room of 100 disciples and offer them free tickets and a parking pass to their favorite team, and probably 80 of them will accept the tickets, change their plans and go to the game. Not only will we change our plans and go to the game, we’ll gladly spend more money to drive four hours, perhaps even get a hotel room and eat out in a fancy restaurant (after all, the tickets were free, right?). In the meantime, I’ll continue to lament that I wish my prayer life were better. I really wish I could change. And, so it goes…

So, I’m not going to renew my resolution to change. I’m going to make a new resolution. I’m going to resolve to be changed. Holy Spirit come! I’m yours! Please, change me! The rub for me will come when life happens and I have choices to make. Stay tuned! We’ll see what happens.

Until next time, keep looking up…

A Saints Fan’s Perspective…

I got a little perspective last night, which I think is ironic, since my oldest son, Adam, decided to start his own blog entitled “saintsfansperspective.” I’m also thinking it is a pretty good thing he’s in Brazil right now, and was unable to watch that thing they called a football game last night (the Saints lost–again!). He’d be terribly disappointed right now (actually, he’d probably be asleep right now–what does that say about me?), but, I suspect there are a lot of other Saints fans who are terribly disappointed right now, too.

350px-Fleur-de-lis-fill.svgI admit, I’m a little disappointed this season hasn’t gone better for the Saints. The New Orleans Saints are my team. Like my son, I’ve pulled for the Saints as long as I can remember, and I remember all the way back to 1967 (the first season they suffered a three-game home losing streak–also, their first season). I can remember wanting a Saints football uniform for Christmas when I was a kid, but what I got was a Green Bay Packers uniform. The Packers? Yes, the Packers. I guess my mom (I mean Santa) couldn’t find a Saints uniform that year, so she (I mean “he”) got the best one that could be found. Not that that gift has scarred me for life or anything, but I still don’t like the Packers (Aaron Rodgers notwithstanding) unless they’re playing any team in the NFC South. I remember rushing home from church so I could watch the Saints play (that still happens today, too, by the way), and I remember not wanting to go back for youth group because the game was still on (I had to go anyway–parents were different in those days).

My love affair with the Saints goes way back, and I suppose that DNA was seeded into my oldest son. My youngest son likes the San Francisco 49ers. I’m not sure how that happened, seeing as how they were one of the primary division rivals of the Saints for the first 30 years of their existence. I know he never heard me say a good word about the 49ers (and he never will–those rivalry waters run deep, my friends), so I’m uncertain how he latched onto that team favorite. Maybe he did it just to spite me, or maybe he likes the colors of the uniform (seriously, what could look better than black and gold?), but in this case “that apple fell far from the tree.”

I developed the unfortunate habit of posting running commentary of Saints and LSU football games on Facebook a couple of years ago. I call Facebook the “new way to watch football with friends.” My commentary usually tends toward the sarcastic and negative (especially this year–for both teams) because I tend to be a glass-half-empty kind of guy (I’m working on that, please cut me some slack). Posting cutting remarks and asking sarcastic questions helps me vent my frustration a little better, and I end up not (as my son put it in his first blog when he sold me down the river) finding creative ways to curse, without cursing. I took a couple of games hiatus from posting this year, and let’s just say, it was not a pretty picture. Yeah, I know! I hear you saying, “But, you’re a preacher. You can’t get frustrated. You shouldn’t be so negative. You’re supposed to be a person of faith.” And, I would say, “There’s a reason I titled my blog Not the Perfect Pastor.” There’s also a reason I’m a good Wesleyan–I’m going ON to perfection. I haven’t attained it yet! Actually, I have friends who’ve told me they look forward to my running in-game commentary. Tell me? Dare I disappoint them?

So? About this perspective thing…

I watched last night’s Saints game with a good deal of frustration, but even while it was being played, I was praying for the people of Ferguson, MO as the decision of the grand jury was announced. This is not a commentary on the decision of the grand jury. You can form your own commentary (and I’m sure you have). This IS a reminder that what was happening in New Orleans was just a game. When it was over, the players, the coaches and the owners collected their paychecks and went home. They packed the ball and the equipment up, shook hands, showered and went home. There was nothing earth shattering that happened as a result of that game. NOTHING! A few years from now, the only reminder will be in a record book somewhere. That same thing happens every week, every year. When the game is over, it’s over. Championships are played and winners are crowned, and there’s nothing earth-shattering, or life-changing about it. They’ll crown another one next year. Sure, go ahead and crow about being a world champion. All it means (in most cases) is an extra zero or two on the end of your paycheck, and you’re not taking that with you when life is over.

In Ferguson, MO, lives were changing, and perhaps even life in these United States. In Ferguson, MO, fires were burning, property was being destroyed, people were protesting, and the police were trying to maintain order. What happened in Ferguson, MO, is real life. Those events have the potential to change the face of our nation, and to destroy a lot of lives. These are the things we should be frustrated over. These are the things we should be praying about. These are the situations we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, should be working to redeem and reconcile. We should be praying for peace and working for peace. We should be praying for God’s grace, and we should be vessels of God’s grace, not only in Ferguson, but wherever we see brokenness in people, and in our world. That’s our calling. At least, that’s the way I read 2 Corinthians 5:18-21:

18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

So, I’ve gained a little perspective from my son, from a game and from Ferguson, MO. I ask the Lord to help me keep that perspective, especially next Sunday when the Saints travel to play the Pittsburgh Steelers. For three hours, I’ll likely get a little frustrated, but I pray I remember it doesn’t really matter. I pray I remember there are weightier matters that demand my attention, that in the grand sweep of eternity makes all the difference in the world. I should probably focus a whole lot more on those things. That’s what would make me a better disciple. That’s what would likely make me a better pastor. And, that’s what will make a real, life-changing difference in the world.

Until next time, keep looking up…

Some days are like that…

I can’t remember where I heard the saying, but as a preacher, I appreciate the sentiment: “It’s better to have something to say than to have to say something.” That’s the way I felt Sunday–I had a lot more to say than I had time to say it. It was communion Sunday, and it was All Saints Sunday, so that meant time for the sermon was limited (yes, there are those who wish time for the sermon was limited every week–but, that’s another blog!). I’m currently preaching a sermon series entitled Crossings: Facing the Challenge of Change, and Sunday’s message was “Overcoming Obstacles,” from Joshua 6. I really felt like I didn’t have enough time to do the passage or the story justice. To use another old cliche, I felt like I left too much meat on the bone.

Of course, I shouldn’t be too bummed about it, though. One of my old preaching professors taught us not to use all our material in one sermon. We will have to preach again someday. I don’t know if others find this to be the case, but it’s harder for me to write a short sermon than it is to write a longer one. And, I never know if I’m leaving out the right stuff or including the wrong stuff in the sermon when I shorten it. I suppose that’s why the Holy Spirit is so important in preaching, huh?

I also believe the power of the Holy Spirit makes it impossible to preach the same sermon twice. Yes, I might use the same manuscript, but something has changed. I notice it every Sunday morning. We have three worship hours at FUMC, MONROE every Sunday morning, and the same manuscript doesn’t preach the same way at any of the three. There are three participants in every sermon: The Holy Spirit, the preacher and the audience. If the preacher has prepared appropriately, the Holy Spirit has been active throughout the process, and He is certainly active in the moment of the preaching. I can preach the same manuscript, but the work of the Holy Spirit determines what the congregation hears, what they respond to, what touches their heart, and I’ve discovered every group will respond to different parts of the message. I just find that fact interesting, and I just laugh when I hear a preacher say they never preach the same sermon twice. I’m of the considered opinion that if a sermon was good once, it can only get better with use. But, I ramble…

So? What did I leave out? I’m glad you asked! Click on the link “Overcoming Obstacles” above to hear the sermon, so I won’t rehash it here, but I left out (at least for me) one major point: Obstacles in life present an opportunity to learn patience. I know patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit, but this is one area where the Spirit continues to challenge and convict me. I’ve often said I’ve quit praying for patience because the Lord doesn’t give me patience. He gives me opportunities to learn patience, and that becomes very frustrating.

I can’t imagine how frustrating it must have been for the nation of Israel to march around the city of Jericho every day. Day one–walk around the city, and wait. Day two–walk around the city, and wait. Day three–well, you get the picture. The city was only 8 – 12 acres (depending on the commentator consulted), so it couldn’t have taken more than an hour to walk around it. Suffice it to say, there was a whole lot more sitting and waiting than there was marching. I’m thinking that got old after the first couple of days, but this was more about doing God’s work God’s way than it was about the conquest itself. Sometimes, there are days we have to wait for God’s plan to unfold. As frustrating as it can be for us in our digital, get-it-now world, waiting (ergo, patience) is a spiritual discipline–and one we desperately need to practice these days.

traffic lightI’ve learned I need to count to three when the traffic light in front of me changes from red to green. If I don’t, I’m likely to get run over. It’s because fewer people pay attention to red lights anymore. I was sitting at an intersection near the church I serve last week. I was stopped because my light was red. My light changed to green. I counted to three. As I started to move, this lady in her nice SUV turned in front of me, either oblivious to the fact she just ran a red light, or not caring that she ran a red light. I would like to pass it off to inattentiveness on her part, but I’ve witnessed too many people, not hastening through caution lights, but blatantly running red lights. A person can get killed these days!

What’s the lesson, you ask? Beyond “Don’t run red lights,” you mean? Try this:

I think too many of us see red lights as obstacles that keep us from where we want to go, where we NEED to be (as though where we need to be is any more important than where anyone else needs to be, but that, too, is another blog). Rather than seeing red lights as obstacles, why not view them as opportunities to learn patience, to use red lights as a spiritual discipline? Why not use the time sitting at red lights to give thanks to God for my vehicle? Why not use the time sitting at red lights to pray for my family, or my co-workers, or friends? Why not use the time sitting at red lights to pray for the person in the car next to me? Why can’t I see that red light as an opportunity to be patient? Honestly, it generally takes more than one prayer to see the hand of God move. Every circuit around the city of Jericho was an opportunity to pray for the hand of God to move through the nation of Israel. Every red light can be an opportunity to pray for the hand of God to move in our lives, or the lives of someone else.

God’s timing is always right. Sometimes, we have to do some marching around to see what God can do. Now, here’s my confession…I blew my horn at the lady in the SUV! Whew! I feel better now.

Until next time, keep looking up…