My friend Matthew Paul Turner shared a page from the coloring book Steven Furtick has used at his Elevation Church to share the church vision. I wanted to offer my own version, but I’m not very talented artistically, so I cheated and Photoshopped an actual photo from our worship service using the “Charcoal and Chalk” filter. It’s a photo of a kid serving communion because that’s what he wanted to do more than anything else so I let him. Some of you may be scandalized by the impropriety of it. But I would choose this picture for the first page in my church vision coloring book because I think church should be a place where all people, including children, are encouraged and empowered to seek their own visions from God that they are equipped by their pastor to live out. Continue Reading
[The following is a guest post from Lindsey and Sarah who describe themselves as a celibate LGBT Christian couple. They reached out to me on twitter after my post about the Wheaton dialogue between LGBT-affirming students and Rosaria Butterfield. Lindsey and Sarah are emphatic about saying that they don't want their story to be used to invalidate any other LGBT story. I asked them to write a guest-post because I was fascinated by their lifestyle, and it was something I hadn't encountered before. Please ask any genuine, un-snarky questions that you have and/or visit their blog at aqueercalling.com.] Continue Reading
David Brooks has done it again. This time he wrote a column about how America’s class divisions are illustrated by the parable of the prodigal son: “We live in a divided society in which many of us in the middle- and upper-middle classes are like the older brother and many of the people who drop out of school, commit crimes and abandon their children are like the younger brother.” The point of his column was to exhort the “older brothers” not to be snobby moralists but to have compassion on the poor people who are like their “younger brothers.” Except that by making this blanket statement about why poor people are poor, Brooks becomes the snobby moralist he’s supposedly critiquing. Continue Reading
Jamie Coots, the snake-handling Kentucky pastor who starred in the National Geographic reality show “Snake Salvation,” died this past weekend after refusing treatment for a snakebite. Snake-handlers tend to be an embarrassment to most other Christians. But here’s the problem: they’re following exactly what the Bible says in Mark 16:16-18: “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Continue Reading
Jesus says some pretty wild things, but this week’s lectionary reading includes one of his most extreme statements in Matthew 5:29: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” I’ve only known of one instance in which somebody actually obeyed this teaching, and it was fictional. My favorite novelist Joyce Carol Oates wrote a novel called Son of the Morning about a boy prodigy Pentecostal preacher named Nathan Vickery who falls into fornication and publicly gouges out his eye as an act of penance. So what do we do with this extreme teaching of Jesus besides creating a nation of cyclopses? Continue Reading
A couple of weeks ago, at Wheaton College, a very interesting dialogue happened. The campus had organized a speaking event for ex-gay activist Rosaria Butterfield whose story of converting from a leftist lesbian university professor to the homeschooling housewife of a conservative evangelical pastor has made her very popular in the conservative evangelical speaking circuit. LGBT-supporting Wheaton students held a “demonstration” outside the talk that they said wasn’t a “protest.” They held signs saying things like “We’re all loved by God,” “Rosaria’s story is valid, mine is too,” and “I’m gay and a beloved child of God.” Their demonstration was called “More than a single story.” After Rosaria’s presentation, she talked with the LGBT students. Both sides were able to respect and show grace to each other. It was a beautiful witness.
This weekend, I had the perfect setup for a stereotypical social justice Christian sermon. I was preaching on wrestling with God’s anger. My primary text was Mark 3:1-6 where Jesus heals a man with a withered hand on the sabbath. Verse 5 says, “He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at the hardness of their hearts.” The lectionary Old Testament passage was Isaiah 58, in which God berates Israel for trying to win his favor by fasting when their lives are unjust. So I was all ready to talk about those religious elitists with hard hearts whom I’ve always heroically stood up against. But then God confronted me with something. It turns out that I’ve got a hard heart too. My audio is here with some additional commentary below. If you want to auto-download these sermons to your phone, sign up for my podcast.
God spoke to me this weekend through some loving criticism I got about my blog and a verse from the Daily Office last week that I had decided to memorize in Hebrew, Psalm 69:6. The verse says in English, “Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me, O Lord God of hosts; do not let those who seek you be dishonored because of me, O God of Israel.” I memorized it because it seems like a very important prayer to say as a pastor every day. And God used it to confront me about my motives for writing on my blog. Continue Reading
So I went to the Facebook United Methodist Clergy page yesterday with the question of whether “total depravity” is really a Methodist doctrine, and the response was pretty fierce. The phrase “total depravity” means different things to different people. Some take it to mean that humanity is utterly wicked, while others take it to mean that every aspect of our humanity is corrupted by sin, which are different claims. To me, the most important thing to understand is that we can do nothing without God’s grace. We would be helpless without it, which is a moot point because it’s all around us; we are depraved when we don’t acknowledge and seek it. In any case, based on the discussion with other Methodist clergy, I wanted to make the following five hypotheses concerning the topic of original sin and total depravity. Continue Reading
During the past week, there have been a lot of stories in the news about child molestation. There was Dylan Farrow’s open letter in the New York Times about what her adoptive father Woody Allen allegedly did to her. Yesterday allegations were raised about the sexual abuse of women by Christian homeschooling pioneer Bill Gothard. Last week I shared that my ordination was delayed partly because it came up in my Board interviews that I had driven a girl from our church to school in the morning during a tough time in her family’s life. In the United Methodist Church, we have something called a Safe Sanctuaries policy which says that children should never be alone with one adult from the church at any time. Over the last week, I’ve thought about the way that I violated this policy and that my blog post about my experience (which I took down) may have come across as disrespectful of Safe Sanctuaries. Two memories have haunted me: a time when I was a victim of sexual abuse and a time when I was falsely accused. Continue Reading