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Archive for the ‘Kingdom of God’ Category

In times like these, we are looking for hope and wholeness in a world that seems very dark.

One of my favorite new TV shows is The Good Place. Kristin Bell plays the character of Eleanor who wakes up and is told she is in “the good place,” but soon discovers that while it may seem like the good place, it is actually a place of torment.

Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, KS

I spent most of last week at the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas at the Leadership Institute hosted by Pastor Adam Hamilton. I’ve  read most of the books he has written and worshiped online with his church. COR is like Disney World for church people. It was an inspiration to spend a few days in this church that has paid so much attention to every detail, in order to achieve their mission. When I walked in, I thought to myself, “This is the Good Place!” Even though they are a great role model for our churches in how to be more effective in ministry, they have their struggles and conflicts. As much as we want to be in heaven, we find over and over again that we still live in a broken world.

Reverend Brinda LeBleu

On Saturday, I attended the celebration of the life of a former pastor who lived her life in The Good Place. At her service we had joy even in our sorrow, knowing that Brinda was free of pain and living into her heavenly future. She was a person who lived with resurrection joy. In an imperfect world, she loved others, even when it was difficult and spoke faithful words about how to live into a genuine Christian life. She was honest and vulnerable and lived her life as a supporter and encourager of others. Her light will continue to shine through all who knew her.

This morning, as I watched the news about the shooting in Las Vegas, I realized that I know the family of the shooter. As I have been praying for the victims and the families of those who were killed, I now pray for this family that I love as they try to make sense out of these actions.

Evil is such a mystery to us. It takes us by surprise. We have expectations of heaven while our reality is one of living in a broken world.

But, we keep our eyes on The Good Place, doing everything we can to follow God’s work in guiding us to that place of wholeness for ourselves, our churches, our communities, and our world. Many of us who are connected to a church have lost the urgency for what it means to share the healing, transforming love of God with the world. We need to reclaim that urgency, not simply because we want to save ourselves, but because we want the world to experience the wholeness that we call salvation.

We grieve for the brokenness of the world as our hearts break for others in so many different places right now. There has been so much pain, loss, and destruction, we find ourselves with compassion fatigue, almost becoming numb to the pain around us, as the hits keep on coming.

But as resurrection people, we believe that death and destruction is never the last word. We live into the hope that comes from knowing that God is with us and that we will experience the wholeness we long for, right now and more fully in a world to come. We know that everyone who has suffered or is still suffering is being held in the palm of the hand of a mighty, powerful, and loving God who will redeem all of the brokenness.

For this we give thanks and find strength to continue living lives of love and faithfulness, not so that we can go back to our normal lives and forget about all that has happened, but so that we can be even more devoted to sharing God’s loving care to all who need to experience it.

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My daughter made this banner for her church, The First United Methodist Church of Orlando.

My daughter made this banner for her church, The First United Methodist Church of Orlando.

I love the position the United Methodist Church usually takes at the extreme center.  This is where I live in politics (okay, maybe a little left of the center) and I appreciate the way that the church has maintained this position to provide unity. Over the past few years, as our denomination discusses the issues of gay marriage and ordination my heart has leaned towards full inclusion, but I have been somewhat silent about it to respect the opinions of people in my churches who have held a different view.

When the Pulse shooting happened in Orlando, something shook loose for me and I realized that I see this as a civil rights issue; that sexual orientation is something that people are born with, much like being right handed or left handed. I love the part in the Book of Discipline that talks about valuing the sacred worth of every person. When these discussions get ugly, we are not valuing the sacred worth of anyone. The United Methodist Church fails to take a neutral position in the extreme center when it comes to marriage and ordination of LGBTQ people.  I hope that our wise Council of Bishops will help us come to a process of change where we find our place at the extreme center. This would leave it up to pastors whether or not to marry a couple, a right we currently have with heterosexual couples, and leave it up to the Board of Ordained Ministry to determine whether or not a candidate is ready for each next step in the process.

My belief is that when it comes to holiness, each of us has to search our own heart for the person God created us to be. It doesn’t mean that anything goes, but instead that a sincere process of discernment in a safe and loving environment will always be more fruitful than one that is only based on legalism.

The church can be a vital part of that soul searching by being a loving community, but when we assume to speak for God, we do more harm than good. I have spoken with several people who would like to reach out in love to LGBTQ brothers and sisters, but can’t get past “But the Bible says…”

Taking Scripture seriously is very important to me, but I believe that I am to focus on searching my own heart, wondering how literallly to interpret the passages that apply to me, such as giving to everyone who asks from me (Luke 6:30) or wondering if Jesus is talking to me when he says to sell everything and give the money to the poor (Luke 18:22) instead of only applying the Bible literally to others.

For those who say, “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” pointing to one man, one woman as God’s perfect plan for relationship in the Garden of Eden, do they also accept a vegan diet as God’s perfect plan for eating (Genesis 1:29) in that same perfect garden? Growing in holiness is a journey that none of us are doing perfectly, but if we are doing it well, we are doing it in love and faithfulness to God and to each other.

I found this quote from Henri Nouwen and would love for our church to walk with people with this kind of humility:

You seek answers to what cannot be fully known. I don’t know either, but I will help you search. I offer no solutions, no final answers. I am as weak and limited as you are. But we are not alone. Where there is charity and love, God is there. Together we form community. Together we continue the spiritual search. “

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The first core value in appointing pastors in the United Methodist Church is all about mission. The bishop states, “the primary factor in making an appointment is the mission field.”

When the DS called to tell me that I would be appointed to Fleming Island, she ended the call by saying that if there was a missional reason for not accepting the appointment, I needed to let her know in the next few days.

In my last blog, I conveyed a sense of excitement about this new chapter in my life and ministry. As I am in touch with some of the church members, that excitement is growing.

The chair of the missions team is Russ Kamradt, who was given a red VW from OPRAH as one of her favorite volunteers!! Having Russ heading up the missions team is as exciting as it would be to find out that my new tech person was Bill Gates or the hospitality chair was Rachel Ray!

He sent me a copy of his book, Treasures of a Servant, which I thought I would read a chapter at a time, when I found the time. It was so engaging that I sat down and read it all in one night.  Let me highly recommend this book for you, which is available on Amazon for $4.99.  All of the proceeds go to charity. Just a warning, when you finish the book you will most likely ask yourself, “What have I been doing with my life?” Then you will want to get in your car and drive to Fleming Island to be part of the awesome work that Russ is doing with this church and community!

Russ spent several months building concrete floors for poor families in the Dominican Republic, took 3 trips to Haiti to help rebuild after the earthquake, and in addition to several other mission trips, he has been hugely involved with making lives better for people in his community, through the Red Cross, Toys for Tots, and tons of other organizations. His work as a volunteer draws on his gifts for logistics and problem solving that he acquired in his successful career in a fortune 500 company. He heads up many different projects, coordinating people and resources to meet the needs of whatever people he is serving.

Each opportunity to serve finds him in God’s perfect timing.  I truly believe that this is what happens when your ear is attuned to God.  You start hearing whispers and nudges, then more like shouts of ways that you can serve. The more you act on these nudges, the more your heart glows with a sense of rightness. Russ is such an amazing example of that.

Russ has found what churches everywhere are searching for – the reason why we exist: serving God by serving others. While we fear this, thinking it will be drudgery, it is in this that we find true joy and fulfillment.

Learning about his story has left me inspired and excited about the adventures that lie ahead!

 

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As I watch the live stream of the United Methodist Church General Conference and deal with some issues of conflict in my local church, I am thinking about healthy environments and toxic environments.

A healthy environment is one where love flourishes and growth happens. It is always so great to see that my granddaughter is being raised in such a loving and healthy home.  But sometimes, if a child is in an unhealthy home environment, there can be a failure to thrive. We have agencies that step in and intervene, depending on how unhealthy those environments are. Sometimes boundaries have to be set up so that no more harm is done.

Churches are interesting places, because not only do we not like to deal with conflict, we don’t even like to talk about it or admit that it exists. No one wants to believe that theirs has become a toxic environment. And rarely is the whole environment toxic. There can be places of love and fruitfulness, as well as pockets of conflict and division. Unfortunately, even a little pocket can pollute the whole environment.

Christians frequently have misguided beliefs about how we are supposed to deal with disagreement.  We tend to think that everyone should flourish in love, like they would in a healthy environment, but fail to take into consideration how difficult this is when the environment has grown toxic. People behave much differently in a healthy environment than in a toxic one.

The Council of Bishops were asked to meet last night to propose a way forward on issues of human sexuality in a General Conference environment that has grown toxic.  While General Conference is experiencing some very healthy environments of worship and prayer, it seems that as soon as the business meeting portion begins, the tone changes. The Bishops recommended that we take a breath; to appoint a special commission to discuss these issues and hold a conference on them at a later date.

They are suggesting that we put a boundary in place to keep more harm from being done, then at a later time, in a healthier environment, try again to find some common ground. After all, our first general rule is to do no harm.

In our personal relationships, we sometimes find that when we have survived a conflict together, we grow closer. But, that doesn’t usually happen until a lot of work has been done, which sometimes takes a long time. It is my hope and prayer that our church will come through all of our conflicts and continue to thrive in those loving and healthy environments.

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The Pedaling Parsons

The Pedaling Parsons

A few months ago, a very nice pastor from Ohio called and asked if one of my churches would be willing to host his group of cyclists, known as the Pedaling Parsons, overnight on their tour through Florida.  Finding it difficult to say no to a UMC colleague, I said, “Sure, we’d love to.” I put in on the calendar and then kind of forgot about it. Pastor Don called to confirm right after I learned that the church they wanted to use would be closing in a few weeks. I wasn’t sure that we would be able to provide what they needed.

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But as it turned out, a group of ladies in the other church took on the task of feeding this group of 17 and we were happy to see them when they arrived on their bicycles. They rotated through the 2 showers in the parsonage and as they were waiting I had the joy of getting to know each of them.  What an amazing group.  They listened to my stories and told me theirs.  They bonded with Gracie, one person played my guitar, another played the piano, and I had such a long heart-to-heart talk with one that we were late for dinner. I hung out with them at church until it was clear that our conversation was keeping some people from going to sleep. I felt like these were long lost friends.

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They ride about 50 miles a day for 8 days, raising money to partner with Habitat for Humanity. Pastor Don has experienced a call to stop violence before it happens. Their goal was to raise $50,000.  So far, they have raised $10,000. After our time together on Monday and a time of worship with them in the morning, I felt as if I had been lifted up. They helped me experience healing and hope.

When they left, I was renewed and felt that my heart had been changed in a way that has caused me to feel more energetic, more loving, and renewed to celebrate the positives instead of dwelling on the negatives.

This was a profound experience of Christian community. Their adventurous spirit that led them to get up off of their tails and do something like this was inspiring. The joy and gratitude they expressed from our simple gestures of hospitality were very moving.

I would love to join them when they come to Florida again next year, so I’ve got some training to do to be able to ride 50 miles a day.

As one church is closing and many more are wondering how to remain vital, this experience reminded me that the mission of spreading love can  be very simple. A small group of devoted followers can make a huge difference in the world, but we’ve got to get out of the pews and be with people face to face. It’s not about getting them into the church, but celebrating the presence of God in the everyday things like the joy of a hot shower after a long bike ride, a meal prepared by someone else’s loving hands, and the sheer pleasure of conversation.

To see their trip journal and to learn more about The Pedaling Parsons and how you can become involved in supporting their mission click here.

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I have challenged the members of both of the churches I serve to participate in what I am calling a Disciple Boot Camp. For 8 weeks, they are being asked to commit to the following acts of discipleship:

  • Praying and reading Scripture daily
  • Meeting weekly with a small group
  • Attending a worship service each week
  • Serving outside of the church for at least an hour a week
  • Serving inside the church for an hour a week
  • Giving 10% of their income to the work of the church
  • Sharing a story of how God is working in their lives
  • Inviting one person each week to a worship service, small group, or service activity

So far, 10 people have committed to be all in on this journey.  For some who haven’t committed to this, it is a radical expectation, far beyond what they believe it means to be part of a church.  For others, this is no big deal, but what we all do when we commit to offering our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness in the membership vows of the United Methodist Church. Aside from the sense of fulfillment that comes from honoring their vows, those that complete this experience will get a t shirt that says “I Survived Disciple Boot Camp.”

I have been part of large churches and small churches.  At one time, we counted members to determine our size.  But now some of our churches have more inactive member than active members.  We count weekly worship attendance, but how many people live their lives as disciples outside of the worship service? The real size of the church is the number of people who have come together to be active disciples of Jesus.

I took some young people on a mission experience last week (which I will write about later), where they spent each day serving others in an impoverished community.  On the way back, they talked about how much fun they had.  This is how church is supposed to be.  Being together is fun.  Serving others is fun.  Church is fun.

Not everybody understands this, but we have 10 who do.  The work of reviving these churches is beginning with those 10 people.  Hey, it’s two shy of what Jesus had, but it’s a start!

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As I have visited with the people of my new faith community, I am so inspired by the resilience of the church and the strength of the human spirit.  People who have gone through great hardships have told me about how they have sensed the presence of God guiding them. Some are dealing with impossible situations and they are responding with faithfulness. Hearing their stories has inspired me.

People who haven’t found their home in a community of faith tend to think that religion is all about an individual’s personal feelings.  Some describe church as a place full of hypocrites.  By that, if they mean that it is a gathering of people who are struggling with their humanness and don’t always get it right, then, yes, we are not in heaven yet and we sometimes say one thing and do the exact opposite.

Stories of recovery are especially powerful to me, because of that surrender to God to heal what otherwise couldn’t be healed and to make beautiful lives out of so much brokenness.

Some of the difficult situations for me are overpowered by the saints walking around our church building.  God’s spirit of joy, love, and peace prevails and every week, the church comes together again to worship.

In our Bible study this week, we read the book of Revelation.  It was the last week of a 52 week study, that started before I got here. We talked about the letters to the 7 churches in chapters 2 and 3.  One of our study questions was – which of those churches are like the church today?  The people in the group admitted that we are like all of them from time to time – sometimes very faithful and loving, but sometimes lukewarm in our faith, spiritually dead, obsessed with idols, and adulterous.  As one of my seminary professors used to remind us, “And yet, we press on.” (Philippians 3:14)

We press on when we are tired.  We press on when our feelings are hurt.  We press on when we wish we were seeing more fruit. We gladly accept God’s gift of Sabbath and we rest.  And you know what we do then?  We get up the next morning and we do it all over again.  We walk faithfully in the strength God gives us.  We know that none of us walks alone.  We walk in the strength of the church and the grace of God.

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