Category Archives: Rants

Why Bother with Churches Full of Hypocrites?

(The following is adapted from a sermon I preached on Sunday January 22, 2017.)

“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

‭Matthew‬ ‭23:1-13, 15, 23-28‬

As I thought about today’s topic- the claim made by many non-religious skeptics that the church is filled with hypocrites- I could not avoid this passage of scripture. It’s harsh. It’s very difficult to read, and believe me, it’s even more difficult to teach and preach. And yet, the jarring parts of the Bible which perplex and disturb us are most likely the things we need to hear the most.

The more I read today’s passage, the more I’m convinced that this body of Jesus’ teaching was preserved very intentionally to admonish the whole church. Jesus allows us no room to sit in idle condemnation of other people, whether it’s the Pharisees of yesterday or today. This passage stands as a mirror to the Pharisee ensconced in each of us. It’s a warning, a gut check, a spiritual reality check.

img_1185Even then, Jesus was not condemning or writing off these fellow Jews. Of the major Jewish sects in his time, Jesus was most at home with the Pharisees. Jesus shared the Pharisees’ commitment to faithfully live out Torah in the world. Jesus shared their theology, especially the Jewish belief in the resurrection and the kingdom to come. So Jesus was not addressing the Pharisees as an outsider rebel rouser railing against an evil establishment, but as a likeminded Jew. This was very much an in-house confrontation.

As Jesus confronted the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, I don’t hear stern anger or harsh pulpit pounding. I hear despair and deep disappointment. I do see anger in Jesus’ words, too, but it was anger from a broken heart rather than righteous indignation.

Hypocrisy…  In essence, hypocrisy is claiming to be something I’m not. It’s a deception, a living lie. I become a hypocrite when I insist on a virtue I do not possess while hiding behind a plastic mask of righteousness.

Hypocrisy is driven by one thing: fear. It’s the fear of confronting my  whole self- both the good and bad, my angels and my demons, my purity and my impurity. It’s the fear of others seeing and confronting the real me. It’s the fear of being unloved, under-valued, and under-appreciated.

And when it comes to the world of spirituality and religion, hypocrisy is particularly ugly and all too easy to find. It’s our most costly liability. We people of faith hold up very high standards of values, virtue, and righteousness. At times we prophetically challenge evil and unrighteousness in our world. So when we act in contradiction to the life of faith and righteousness we profess, especially when our duplicity wounds other people, our hypocrisy becomes terribly egregious.

When Jesus called out the egregious hypocrisy of the Pharisees, he pulled no punches. He accused the Pharisees of showboating their religious practices and adornments to impress the masses. He chastised their scrupulous interpretations of religious law while flatly ignoring more pressing issues of justice and mercy.  Jesus called out their painstaking efforts to fulfill every public religious obligation while blinding themselves to their inner corruption.

Look at that list. Little has changed!  Today’s people of faith can be just as showy and pompous with their religious practices while typifying that old adage of being “so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good.” People of faith often excel in outward appearances of religious dedication while relegating the brokenness within them to the back closets of denial.

ghosts handWorse still, most people rarely own up to their hypocrisy. That’s because an honest confession of hypocrisy is an admission to living a lie. The illusion has been delusion. Feigned substance has been a wispy shadow. That’s why the typical reaction to a charge of hypocrisy is to lob the accusation right back at the accuser with an incensed retort of  “Who do you think you are to judge me?”

Other than a denial-infused response, how can we disciples of Jesus Christ best respond to the skeptics’ charge of hypocrisy? It’s very simple, actually: own it.

It’s been my experience that the harshest critics of the church, those who readily point out our hypocrisies, have been significantly wounded and deeply disappointed by the church. For many of them, I’m sure it’s cathartic. It’s also a way to mobilize a resistance against our malevolence.That said, we make matters worse when we respond to our critics by saying things like:

“That doesn’t describe me or my church.”

“That happened a long time ago.  It’s time to move on and get over it!”

“You are talking about those other Christians who give a bad name to good Christians like us.”

Those kinds of statements are simply other shades of denial.

Non-Christian skeptics keenly see something about us that we sometimes fail to see about ourselves. They know that Christians everywhere and from every era are bound together as the church. And they’re right. We would also say that each of us are a part of the living body of Christ, a body that encompasses everyone who has been baptized into the faith of Jesus. That would include saints and villains like St. Francis of Assisi and an American South slaveholder, Dorothy Day and Fred Phelps, Sojourner Truth and Pope Urban II (who called for the First Crusade), the many Christians who turned a blind eye to the Holocaust and the Venerable Andrey Sheptytsky, a Ukrainian Greek Catholic archbishop who risked his life housing hundreds of Jews escaping Nazi persecution. All of these Christians and all the rest of us share in one church, sharing both our great good and our terrible actions and inactions.

We must therefore listen to those who hold grievances against the church, acknowledge them, ask their forgiveness and God’s forgiveness, and commit ourselves even more fervently to be like Jesus.

In his book Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, Donald Miller writes about his experience of being a Christian campus minister at Reed College in Oregon, a liberal, humanist college whose faculty and student body by and large regard organized religion with a high degree of disdain.

Every year Reed College holds a weekend of unbridled revelry called Renn Fayre. On the last night, they lock out any authorities to spend the entire night partying, getting drunk and high with the option painting their naked bodies blue while running around campus.

Donald Miller and his friends decided to be there for that final night and set up a booth with a sign that said “Confess Your Sins”. There was a catch, however. If any students approached the booth, the participants inside the booth would spend time confessing their sins and the sins of the church to these students. A student named Jake gave into his curiosity and visited the booth. Donald Miller shared with him who they were and why they were there. Once Jake expressed an interest, Miller confessed his sins to Jake:

“There’s a lot. I will keep it short… Jesus said to feed the poor and to heal the sick. I have never done very much about that. Jesus said to love those who persecute me. I tend to lash out, especially if I feel threatened, you know, if my ego gets threatened. Jesus did not mix His spirituality with politics. I grew up doing that. It got in the way of the central message of Christ. I know that was wrong, and I know that a lot of people will not listen to the words of Christ because people like me, who know Him, carry our own agendas into the conversation rather than just relaying the message Christ wanted to get across. There’s a lot more.”

“It’s all right, man,” Jake said, very tenderly. His eyes were starting to water.

“Well,” I said, clearing my throat, “I am sorry for all that.”

“I forgive you,” Jake said. And he meant it.

“Thanks,” I told him. (Miller, Blue Like Jazz, 123-4)

Miller recalled that most of these confessionals ended in tearful embraces. Indeed, God melted hearts, most especially those belonging to Donald Miller and his friends. That night was a major turning point in their lives.

img_1177This kind of humility and authenticity is the perfect antidote to the poison of hypocrisy. It is strikingly unusual. It’s an uncanny abasement of ego and arrogance that defies reason. But this is indeed the kind of selfless love- the only kind of love- that has the power to change hearts, beginning with our own.

It’s my prayer that we who claim the name of Jesus would be a people of his cross-shaped grace, that in the face of criticism, we would offer an attentive ear and an open mind. I want us to be a people who utterly reject pretentiousness and defensiveness to claim an honest heart that remains open and ready to offer God’s love and grace to anyone. I want us to be disciples of Jesus who, instead of merely wearing a cross, choose to bear his cross, thereby being transformed into a new creation of humble servants who love and bless all people with God’s uniquely selfless, self-giving love.

We see that love most perfectly in Jesus Christ. May others perfectly see him in us.

Amen.

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Is It un-American to Sit Out the National Anthem?

There are very few things closer to the American spirit than football. If anybody wants to see quintessential Americanism, they need to hang around during football season. They’ll get a dose of American hyper-competitiveness, parties, wagers, fist pumps, plenty of yelling at the TV and just 60 minutes of the fun, fast brute violence of highly paid gladiators slamming, pushing and scraping for points on the gridiron. Now that’s America. (Oh yes… Go Skins!)

Equally American is a certain pre-game ritual at almost every sporting event. For a few moments there is absolute silence as a lone voice performs one of the most difficult songs for a vocalist to sing, our National Anthem. One is expected to stand, gentlemen to remove their hats, and face the flag while placing their right hand over the heart. That’s the standard thing for any American citizen to do. At the bare minimum, everyone in attendance is expected to stand as a sign of respect. Refusing to stand is often scorned as dishonorable and decisively un-American.

Or is it? Can we give that another look?

The American experiment has been a struggle between competing values. That has built our greatness and has continued to define American excellence. For example, at our founding, we made a radical declaration that all people are created equal with inalienable human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; meanwhile 20% of our population were forcibly enslaved. Even after the abolishment of slavery 151 years ago, we have still struggled ensure equality and dignity for all African-Americans. That struggle has pushed us to live into our credo.

Another example: We want and need efficient representative government, but there’s also this keen vigilance in the American spirit to be on guard against any governmental intrusion into our lives. We celebrate our freedom and rugged individualism while despising even a hint of tyranny. However we expect our government to protect those freedoms and “promote the general welfare”, with force if necessary. Just don’t tread on me.

Colin KaepernickRecently a national football player put himself into the middle of another clash of competing American values- American patriotism vs. our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. Enter the San Fransisco 49ers starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a very talented athlete who at times has been no stranger to controversy.

During the playing of the National Anthem at a preseason game, Kaepernick refused to stand with everyone else. His sit out was widely noticed and roundly booed. Later he stated,

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

As expected Kaepernick has been fiercely criticized for his sit out of the National Anthem. People have accused him of being un-American and furthering disunity. We’ve heard the usual refrains of, “If he doesn’t like our flag, he’s free to leave.” “There are thousands of soldiers and sailors who have died under that flag protecting his freedoms. He’s dishonoring them!” And of course, the internet trolls came out en masse to graffiti his Twitter account with racial epithets.

Were Kaepernick’s actions and statements justified? Was his behavior un-American? Those are two separate questions.

Without commenting here on the justifiability of Kaepernick’s sit out, I do say this:

Colin Kaepernick’s conscientious sit out of the National Anthem demonstrates what is best about America.

There have been and continue to be kingdoms, empires, and nations who would have severely penalized Kaepernick’s behavior as disloyal and even treasonous.

But that would never happen in the United States. In fact, embedded in our founding documents are Kaepernick’s rights to freely speak, even against his own country. He can pontificate. He can refuse to participate in patriotic exercises. He can even burn the flag of the country who guarantees his right to do so. And while he does any of that, his country’s law enforcement and entire legal system stand by to arrest and prosecute anyone who threatens his wellbeing or his ability to speak freely.

As a Christian, I have had brothers and sisters throughout the centuries who been restricted by their government to assemble, worship, and speak out when necessary against the evils and injustices of that country. I am blessed to live in a nation that protects my right to conscience, even if my loyalty to Jesus ever kept me from participating in patriotic exercises.

That reality alone builds my pride in what is best about America.

So Colin, as a fellow American, I salute your right to sit out our National Anthem as a very American thing to do. For my own reasons I won’t be joining you, and later on I might share why. But in the meantime, you have my support to exercise your conscience. I will defend you for it, too. But far more importantly, the United States of America, including those who defend and uphold your liberty, stand behind you, too.

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I Volunteer to Serve on the Council of Bishops’ Special Commission on Human Sexuality

HandsBy this act of presumption, I have probably just disqualified myself from consideration. Bishops generally frown upon clergy who attempt to appoint themselves to things- and for good reason. But since we find ourselves in unprecedented times, why not try an unorthodox approach and see what happens, especially as the fate of my beloved United Methodist Church hangs in the balance? Believe me, I will offer myself to anything that keeps us united and focused on our mission.

Yesterday, the General Conference voted to follow our Council of Bishops’ recommendation to select a special commission to review all of the language in our Book of Discipline dealing with human sexuality, and if necessary rewrite it all. The results of this commission’s work will come before a special gathering of General Conference for their vote in 2 to 3 years’ time.

Bishops, just in case you’re still reading, and aren’t totally put off by my effort to volunteer myself, let me tell you why someone like yours truly would be a good choice for such a commission.

For far too long, we have done the same thing over and over again, only to find ourselves in a worse predicament. Yesterday, Rev. Jeremy Smith reminded us that this would the the sixth attempt at a special commission or study on human sexuality. So while I applaud your leadership and the General Conference’s trust in your leadership, how would this latest go around finally do the trick?

Some have attempted to argue that this time, things are different. In America at least, we’re at a different ideological place than we were before. Same-sex marriage is the law of the land. Therefore, the circumstances for us are much more dire now. The stakes are higher. And this would be the most hands-on that our Bishops have ever been with a commission like this.

A whole new ball game? I’m not entirely convinced.

Undeniable fact: no matter what this commission comes up with, it will still have to survive an entrenched, bitterly divided General Conference who are not of one mind about even staying together!

The only variable that could make a difference- perhaps, and a long shot at that- would be the kinds of people the bishops select to be on this new commission. And that’s where someone like me comes in.

I’m new blood. I’m not a General Conference delegate. I have been spending 10 years attempting to mediate a solution that would include everyone at the same table of grace- no matter their views on what the Bible says or doesn’t say on human sexuality. I haven’t been elected as a delegate, but I certainly do all I can to voice my vision.

I have my own understandings, yes, but I’m not so entrenched that I can’t stretch to embrace a creative view or approach that could bridge a divide. I’m not in this thing to make sure my stance on human sexuality becomes the prevailing one. I’m in it to keep our church unified around Jesus Christ and his mission to advance the kingdom of God in the world.

So, Bishops of the United Methodist Church, if you’ve hung in here this long, but you’re still not accepting my offer to serve on your commission, let me offer some ideas on who would be the most ideal kinds of people to serve:

  • I fully trust that you’ll make the commission diverse. So there’s no need to say more on that.
  • Pick some new blood. If all you do is selected General Conference delegates, there is much higher risk of merely getting the same kinds of results. After all, we seem to be electing the same people or the same kinds of people to General Conference each quadenium. Shake things up. Get some fresh energy, creativity, and perspective in the mix.
  • Pick some younger people and give them leadership roles. Our LGBTQI members and our young people are the ones hurting the most from this debate. Young people see things differently than prior generations, so it is their kind of outlook and leadership we need to trust now if we expect to have a future with fruit and relevance.
  • Pick people who are moderate in their approach. I’m not saying that participants need to be moderate in their viewpoints. They can be passionately progressive or conservative. But one can also be moderate in how they live and advance their views. Moderate folks are open to listen, flexible, and don’t have to have everything their way or else. They are passionate, but not rigid.
  • Pick people who like to think and act in unorthodox ways. Alongside people who uphold and play by the rules, select a few mavericks. These are people who aren’t always bound to follow and uphold every rule. They like to push the envelope and chart new waters. They are entrepreneurs. They are apostles. They are the John Wesleys, Richard Strawbridges and Sojourner Truths of our time. Where would we be without faithful people like these?

Again, my offer is still there to serve, and I would do it gladly and faithfully. But just in case our bishops are not inclined to pick me, I have one request:

Please, for the sake of Christ and his church, fastidiously avoid any concession to make status quo choices.

Dare to be bold!

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What Do You Do with an Imploding General Conference? Make an Explosion.

General Conference 2016I’m absolutely disgusted at the state of the United Methodist Church. And the state of my beloved UMC is perfectly exemplified in the behavior of our main governing body, the General Conference, now meeting in Portland. These are the cream of the crop- delegates elected by every Annual Conference throughout the world to further the mission of the church.

And what have they done in the last several days? Nothing. They spent 2 1/2 days fiercely debating the rules of the session, laying out how they will do their business together. At the heart of the debate was a particular rule, the now infamous “Rule 44” which called for delegates to… [gasp!]… have small group conversations and discernment around very difficult issues, especially those concerning human sexuality. After one parliamentary trick after another, the measure was finally defeated.

Now it’s back to business as usual- speeches, debates, votes. Worship services. Sermons. Blah blah blah… Meanwhile we claim that we’ve been called to holy conferencing, which I interpret to be the process of praying, listening, sharing, and carefully arriving at a shared consensus. But in today’s day and age when the church is far more diverse and global in its reach, the model of parliamentary-style conferencing we have been using- Robert’s Rules baptized with reports, singing and sermons- is simply obsolete.

Obsoletion. That’s where we’re taking ourselves. General Conference must create a denominational infrastructure nimble enough to resource the church’s mission for the first quarter of the 21st Century and beyond. Instead, we are weighing ourselves down with an archaic form of structure and (in)decision making that is squashing the life out of the United Methodist Church. Most everyone sees the problem. No one likes it. But our delegates seem to lack the kind of wisdom and courageous humility to do anything about it. Instead, we hide behind history, rules, bumper-sticker platitudes and church as usual, labeling the other side of the room as the obstruction to progress.

In 12-step rooms they have a saying. “If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve already got.”

The time for spiritual talk and high-minded moralizing about our misbehavior is over. The only real response to an implosion is an action of greater and opposite force: an explosion.

It’s going to take an explosion of bold, passionate, compassionate leadership that is willing to do whatever it takes to throw off the restraints to become Christ’s church in the world. With the Holy Spirit’s fire, we must to what must be done to reach and include people with the good news of Jesus. Now this kind of Christ-shaped leadership is not safe. Here are several things I think must happen:

  • If a congregation, an Annual Conference, a Central Conference or a Jurisdiction is convicted to fully include LGBTQI persons into membership, leadership, and marriage, then do it. Don’t wait for the structures to catch up. Just do it.
  • If the reverse is true, and the conviction is to maintain our Discipline’s current language on homosexuality, especially pertaining to marriage and ordination, then uphold it. Don’t worry about those who see things differently than you do. At this point, you’re not going to convict them to repent and follow the rules.
  • If a pastor or congregation feels compelled to minister to their community in a certain way but the current structures or rules of the church create a barrier, do it anyway. If they are inviting and forming new disciples of Jesus Christ while transforming their community, it’s hard to convincingly argue with that.

You may read this and think that I’m promoting anarchy and disorder. Actually, I’m advocating for classic Wesleyanism. In fact, we wouldn’t be here today without this approach.

In order to further the mission of the church and build the kingdom of God, John Wesley did things which did not fit the mold of his Anglican Church. He engaged in open-air preaching. Wesley started unsanctioned, unauthorized societies of Christians who arranged themselves in classes (small groups) for prayer, study, and accountability. He gathered preachers to exhort and teach. And… he did the unthinkable. In fact his brother Charles was incensed when he found out: unable to wait for the Anglican Church to ordain preachers for the American colonies, John Wesley ordained Thomas Coke. Wesley was not a bishop. He had no authority to ordain anyone. It was a clear violation of the rules. But to keep in step with the Holy Spirit, Wesley took a risk, and because he did, we are here.

Wesley orchestrated an explosion of the church in the midst of an imploding Church of England.

Still not convinced? Jesus did the same. He ate with sinners, challenged the norms around Sabbath rules, touched the unclean, and was willing to stand in the face of opposition, all for the salvation of the world.

It’s 2016. What are we willing to do now? What will our General Conference do?

We can either sit and watch the implosion and schism of the church happen before our eyes. Or we can decide to move forward together, giving each other the respectful space to be the church the way God is calling us- together as United Methodists. There may be some chaos for a while. Things will not be as orderly and predictable as usual.

But we would have the opportunity to see what the Holy Spirit can do through congregations unfettered by rules that hamper their ministry. We could see what works and what doesn’t work. And then we can reorganize an infrastructure that supports what God is truly trying to do through the United Methodist Church.

Admittedly my idea is a very rough sketch. Yet no matter what we do or fail to do, something along the lines of what I’ve described here is going to happen anyway. We can let it steamroll us. Or we can bless it and learn from it.

Implosion will only happen for so long until an explosion happens. It’s beginning to happen now. The question for our General Conference is how we will respond to it- with resistance or with blessing.

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Jesus Keynotes an NRA Rally at Liberty University

This just in! A stunning revelation that Jesus Christ- yes, the actual Jesus of Nazareth- miraculously appeared at a scheduled National Rifle Association rally at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. Upon inspection of the wounds in his hands, feet, and side with residual scarring on his forehead, Jesus’s identity was confirmed.

In the words of Liberty University’s President Jerry Falwell, Jr, “We had been praying for some time that the Lord would show us how to better protect our students from the kinds of violence we’re seeing on other college campuses. The Holy Spirit convicted us that we must meet potential violence, especially from Muslims, with the strength of arms. Every student must be armed and ready to defend themselves and their classmates from any violent threat. Well, that led us to the National Rifle Association’s assistance and… to our great amazement… our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who was kind enough preach to us. Although I have to admit, I’m somewhat puzzled by the conclusion of his address.”

I, Pastor Chris Owens, have attained an exclusive transcript of Jesus’s keynote address to the NRA and Liberty University. The following are his remarks:

[Jesus walks onto the stage wearing two gun holsters with a rifle slung to his shoulder.]

jesus-gun-500x3001-630x378“Thank you, thank you, one and all for having me here today. I bring you greetings and blessings from my Father in Heaven and the Holy Spirit who has been trying to get your attention recently. I’m grateful that you have now heeded the call and have gathered together for this momentous occasion.

“Back in my day we didn’t have guns and rifles. We had swords, and I want you to know, my friends, that I would have been a proud, card-carrying member of the JSA, the Judean Sword Association.”

[thunderous applause]

“Yes! Yes! Those Romans were a severe threat to our people and to me. They oppressed us. They terrorized us. They certainly were not good Jews like us. And so the night before I died, I encouraged my disciples to sell a cloak and buy a sword. That’s right. I was beginning to come to my senses and I realized that the only way to fend off those heathen Romans was with a strong show of force. If any of those pigs dared come near us, they’d find a blade in their belly.”

[several minutes of applause]

“Now it’s true that I rebuked poor Peter for cutting off the ear from one of the guys arresting me in the Garden of Gethsemene. He was only trying to protect me with the sword I commanded him to buy. But I told him to put his sword away. Then I warned him that all who take up the sword will perish by the sword.

“However, I have had a few thousand years to think things over. So now I say unto you:

Whoever takes up the sword will LIVE by the sword. And whoever carries a gun will LIVE by the gun!”

[several minutes of rapturous applause with multiple refrains of “Hallelujah!! We praise you Lord Jesus!!”]

“Yes, thank you my friends. You know times change. Things that were good for people a long time ago are not relevant for us today. Your esteemed president Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr. led me to see that.

“It is a matter of common sense and even a good American duty to protect ourselves from the threats of people who hate us and want to harm us, especially those Muslims. In fact Donald Trump is spot on. Don’t even let them into your country anymore. You never know when one of them will turn on you.

“And when they do- and believe me, they will!- I want you to do the responsible, moral thing, and shoot them down where they stand. Then there’ll be fewer Muslims to terrorize the world.

[several minutes of applause and shouts of “USA! USA!”]

“Now, I know many of you remember my teachings about turning the other cheek and not resisting an evil person. Those teachings of mine have bedeviled you for 2,000 years, and I am truly sorry for that. Please forgive me for I did not know of what I said.

“How naively irresponsible I was for commanding you to be a bunch of pathetic wusses. How are we to stop evil people if we don’t take ’em out? Isn’t a bullet in the head of an aggressor the most loving, compassionate thing we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones? No more bad guys means peace and prosperity for us!”

[several minutes of applause, shouting, and gun shots into the sky]

[A hand of a young man in the front row goes up.]

“Yes, my son. Do you have a question?”

[The young main said, “Lord, didn’t you also say that we are to love our enemies and love our neighbors as ourselves? Have you revised that as well?”]

“Absolutely not, my friend! Loving our neighbors and our enemies are timeless principles which must be freshly applied to your context.

“Who are your neighbors these days? Aren’t they good Christians like you?

“And as for loving your enemies, the guiding principle is this: live to love another day. I mean, how can you be good, nice, loving followers of mine if you’re dead?? How can love prevail if evil people kill the true lovers?

“So I say this: love your enemy with an AK-47 at your side. Love ’em with all your heart. And the moment they begin to threaten you, show them the full force of good Christian love! Live to love another day, my friends!!”

[several minutes of applause, praises, shouts, and gunfire with a burning effigy of Mohammed.]

“Friends, I must leave you now. There is one more thing to be done. I am going back in time to correct a few errors. I am God, after all. I can do that.

Jesus with a rifle“Those nasty religious leaders who had me arrested and that fellow Pontus Pilate who condemned me to die– they’re dead men now. Yessir. How can I continue to love the world and bring about the kingdom of God unless those bastards are filled with lead?

“Greater love has no one than this: that he should take up arms to protect his friends. Crosses are for defeated weaklings! Sin, death, and evil– mow ’em down with everything you’ve got!!

“Farewell, my friends! Keep your ammo well stocked!”

[Jesus leaves the stage, and there is stunned silence. Suddenly a voice from the crowd says, “Does that mean we can sleep in on Sundays now?]

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The Most Pivotal Issue Facing My United Methodist Church

What is the most pressing issue facing the church these days? People have been asking and attempting to address this question for the nearly 50 years my United Methodist Church has been in statistical decline. Some would say that church revitalization is the key. Or some say that getting it right on divisive issues like homosexuality is the main issue. Some say that recruiting the next generation of leaders is our most dire need. Some say we must focus on reaching and discipling young people. Others say that we need to restructure our 20th Century-modeled General Church to be a more effective organization for our 21st Century world.

I say it’s all of the above and at the same time none of the above. All those issues are indeed very important, and as a church we need to get it right on every one of them if we hope to continue on. But at the same time, if these are the only issues in our collective scope, we’ve missed the point and missed it badly.

Baltimore StreetsWhy is that? All those issues- church revitalization, social issues stances, leadership, our young people, structure- are all about us. They are largely church-centric. And because they are church-centric, they have little to do with the much larger picture beyond church and religion. That larger picture is the kingdom of God.

I’m writing this post in Baltimore. Over the weekend, the people of Baltimore suffered the worst three days of violent crime in years. 28 people were shot in gun violence, 9 fatally. I am so grateful that our Conference is present- praying, marching in the streets, giving out much needed supplies for Baltimore’s residents. But when our Conference is gone at the end of the week, God’s kingdom will still be coming. God will be working to bring redemption and life to Baltimore. Where will we be? Hopefully the answer to that question will not be snuggled away in our church buildings and homes.

This week the Baltimore-Washington Conference will be electing delegates for next year’s quadrennial General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference. Those delegates will go to Portland, Oregon and Lancaster, Pennsylvania next year to face, deliberate and vote on all the regular institutional church issues. And yes, they are vitally crucial issues to address to bring this part of the Body of Christ into better health and usefulness to God.

But we as the Body must have a focus. That focus is God’s redemptive work in the world, and how we as a church can partner with God in redeeming his world. Our discussion of that parternship with God in the world must center on local congregations as the main conduit through which we as a denomination operate. The very best of our prayers, holy conversations, and decision making must be about that. If that happens, then we’ll be talking real kingdom stuff. We’ll be deliberating the eternal stuff of God that really matters.

I wonder if we would all stop and pause long enough to say to ourselves, “It’s not about us. It’s not about me.” It’s not about the salvation of the United Methodist Church. It’s about the salvation of the world through the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ. His kingdom is restoring communities to life at its best, the way life should be, of true shalom, loving righteousness, true wholeness, and plenty for all. Will we have the faith to see it?

So for next year’s General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference, I’m praying for one thing: that we take seriously the part of Jesus’ prayer that the kingdom of God would come and that we would do God’s will here on earth as it is in heaven. Let’s seek out our role with God in the communities we serve. Then we’ll best know how to structure, organize, and galvanize our United Methodist part of the church for the greater work of answering the Lord’s Prayer by the power of the Holy Spirit within us.

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Thank you, Dear Friend, for Exposing My Manifold Sins

My Dear —————,

I was recently made aware of your letter of complaint submitted to my supervisors regarding my participation in a rock band called Foreplay. Of course, I did not see this letter before its submission, but I’m sure that was a mere oversight on your part, considering that my best interests are always closest to your heart.

I must say, my friend, that when I became aware of your letter and the nature of your complaint, I wept. I cried bitter tears. I did not mourn the harshness of the accusation. Certainly not! No, I mourned my own spiritual blindness and hardness of heart that led to this latest deviation from the straight and narrow road of good Christian values and morals. How could I have ever thought to dishonor Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, by playing rock music in a band with such a horrid, filthy name? How could I have dared to transgress the Word of God by deciding to go the way of Sodom and Gomorrah, taking part in this band called… “Foreplay”?

No ForeplaySo, my friend, I am eternally and gratefully indebted to you. It is always gracious friends like you, folks who persistently point out my sins, faults, foibles, oversights, and transgressions, who make the most profound difference in my life. After all, where would I be without you? I suppose I’d be on the wide road to death and destruction every single time, were it not for your close scrutiny and righteous outrage over a fallen Christian like me- and a pastor, no less!– playing secular music in a band called “F*r3pl@y” (just the sound of the name is now bitter gall in my mouth). What a lewd and vile word that is!

And yes, I can now see how the mere appearance of a Christian and Man of God in a rock band called “Foreplay” would only send the worst of messages within the highly impressionable minds and hearts of those poor, witless souls around me, especially our youth and children. Why, they might walk away with the impression that “foreplay” is something other than the disgusting, sexually impure and filthy act it is. After all, we want people to enter into good, holy, wholesome Christian marriages, free from even the slightest hint of any base, sexual deviancy of which “foreplay” is a prime example. Oh how I mourn the irreversible damage I have done to these poor souls who now fully embrace… shall I say it… “foreplay”. God forbid it!

My friend, as always, your assumptions about my motives and behavior are, of course, flawlessly accurate. While I play all of this secular trash we dare to call music, I have fully succumbed to every evil influence around me. I have made a mockery of Christ! There is no possibility that I could have ever been the light of God, the grace of God, and an example of Jesus Christ to those around me who would ordinarily flee from righteous saints such as you.

No, I confess that I have sunken into the most miry pits of sin and thrown myself into dens of iniquity filled with sinners destined for the very fires of Hell. I have drunk the unholy, ungodly wine of debauchery and have drowned myself into an orgy of lust, filth, and sexual perversion to the point that I fully resemble a very child of the devil. But now, because of your stern, most godly of criticisms, there still may be hope for me, the chiefest of sinners.

So now, I begin my season of repentance. In sackcloth and ashes, I wail over my manifold sins.

Once I have spent an adequate amount of time fully steeped in the guilt and shame I so fully deserve, I will take action. It will be the necessary course of action which surely you would expect. I will immediately resign from “F*r3pl@y”.

I will individually call my band mates to inform them of my decision. Furthermore, I will follow your most godly example, and roundly condemn the depravity of their wantonly foul, sexually lewd, corrupted hearts. I will plea with them to run from the blazing hot grip of Satan and become like us- upright, godly folks who shun and roundly condemn even the mere appearance of anything we perceive to be sinful in other people.

Alas, however, they are probably reprobate, Hell-bound, souls created for destruction. But at least they would have heard the righteous decree of God- Good News for us, but a deserved pronouncement of condemnation to everlasting death for them. Hallelujah!!

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Chris Owens, former bassist/vocalist of the evil group known as “F*r3pl@y”

 

P.S.

NOT!!!!

P.P.S. Read Matthew 7:1-6. If you’re still reading, you might also want to ponder Mark 2:13-17.

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