This week, the United Methodist Church put a pastor on trial named Frank Schaefer for officiating at the wedding of his gay son. The judge, retired bishop Al Gwinn, ruled out as inadmissible any defense arguments based on scripture or other sections of the Book of Discipline, reasoning that only “the facts” of what Schaefer did were relevant to determining the verdict. While I understand the rationale and practical limitations that necessitate this approach to justice, I do not think it does justice to justice. The promise that we receive in scripture is that God judges according to the heart. Hebrews 4:12-13 says: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” Continue reading
It’s a strange and beautiful thing to hear someone preaching your own thoughts in a sermon. That’s what happened for me last summer when I heard Pentecostal preacher Jonathan Martin‘s sermon series “The Songs of Ascent” about King David and the Psalms. My whole life, I have been on a journey of trying to understand the nature of worship. Growing up Baptist, I was instilled with a zeal for sincerity in worship. What is the difference between truly worshiping God and putting on a performance? In one sermon last summer, Jonathan said that King David’s worship was to delight in the discovery of God’s delight in him. This beautiful way of framing things is at the heart of Jonathan’s new book Prototype, which I would buy and ship to every Christian who has been wounded or disillusioned by the church if I had the money. Continue reading
Today is Easter. It’s also Cesar Chavez’s birthday. Google decided to put Cesar Chavez’s face on its search page today and all hell broke loose among the professional agitators who have made a career out of being offended. So now we have a “war on Easter” in addition to the “war on Christmas.” Because curious Google viewers could click on the bio of a Christian social justice activist whose life exudes the meaning of Easter.
Is Jesus saving the world from us? It’s a different way to talk about salvation, but honestly it’s the gospel that I’m hoping to be true as an evangelical afflicted by what Rachel Held Evans calls “the scandal of the evangelical heart.” When did we become the Pharisees Jesus came to Earth to stop us from being? How many of us have been secretly asking that question in our minds? How many of us need to be saved from a toxic salvation? I really feel that we are in the midst of a great awakening. The legion of demons that poisoned our gospel for so long is running off a cliff in a herd of hateful pigs, leaving us to wake up in the graveyard where we chained ourselves. We are discovering that Satan is our accuser and oppressor, not God. We are realizing that our need to be right and justify ourselves has kept us inside a tomb whose stone was rolled away by Jesus. So I wanted to share five things God has been teaching me over the past few years about what Jesus saves us from and what He saves us for. Continue reading
It occurs to me as I’m waiting for what seems like just a lot of rain to turn into the mouth of hell: what if this is really bad? Like Armageddon bad? (There I did it — I busted out the tinfoil hat crazy word!) I know the media always over-hypes these kinds of things. It is going to hit pretty close to New York City though, so it could be a super-Katrina. I was praying a lot last night for God to protect us. I said to Him, “You can send this out to sea if you want to.” I have also had a constant prayer over the past several months that I have felt strangely compelled to pray: “Make their fruit plain.” And it made me think of how natural disasters have a tendency to separate the goats from God’s sheep.
This weekend, I preached on the text of the parable of talents. My regular readers might recall that I’ve been contemplating this text a lot recently in thinking about the difference between the two kinds of Biblical fear: being afraid of God and being awestruck by God. Many American Christians want to know exactly what they need to do to get into heaven so they can do it and not add a penny more, just like the third servant who thought it was the safest option to give his master back exactly what he owed him. Many of us pursue “safety” throughout our lives and spend them riddled with anxiety rather than receive the authentic salvation that teaches us not to be afraid of God but to delight in His wonder instead. In my sermon, I decided to explore the contrast between this false sense of safety and real salvation, contrasting the kingdom of God with a metaphorical use of the 1998 film Pleasantville, which is about a stereotypical 1950’s sitcom in which everything is perfectly pleasant and predictable. I’m sharing my sermon slides below with some abbreviated reflection. You can listen to the audio here: From Pleasantville to the Kingdom. Continue reading
Over the past several years, as I’ve gone through the ordination process, I have had the opportunity to describe my salvation journey in multiple different papers that I’ve written. One of the things that always bothered me growing up was what I would call the doctrine of “personal decisionism” — the expectation that salvation always happens at an exact date and time. If you asked Sunday school teachers and other adult mentors, “Well, how do I know if I’ve been saved?” they would say, “Oh, you know if you are!” And if you acted enough unlike a Christian after your “decision,” then it proved retroactively that your decision wasn’t “sincere.” It took me decades to recognize that not everyone has to have a dramatic Damascus road experience like Paul. I got baptized in second grade, prayed Jesus back into my heart in tenth grade, but I think the most decisive moment in which God saved me was through a little girl in the Zocalo of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, in August of 1998. Jesus makes three statements in Mark 9 and 10 that talk about the saving power of children. This was the basis for a sermon that I preached two weeks ago: How children save us. Below I have shared some further reflections on these three statements. Continue reading
I had a bit of a creative explosion this week while I was attending the Duke Divinity Convocation so I wanted to share the fruit. Basically I wrote two raps and one praise song from Sunday evening to Tuesday afternoon. Then I played hookey from several of the lectures at the Convocation to sit down at my favorite piano in the world in Goodson Chapel and record these three songs and seven others with my iPhone propped on the music stand. The sound quality is actually not too bad. Because of time constraints, I did almost everything on the first take, mistakes and all, unless I completely shut down. So almost all the songs have two or three mistakes. Anyway I’m sharing them below. Some of them might sting a little bit because God is giving me a prophetic word to call out some things about the American church right now. As there’s always a mix of flesh and spirit, some of my cynicism and arrogance may have found its way in. That’s where I depend on you to call me out so I can refine this and make it more glorifying to God. So please critique and offer suggestions!!! (And don’t laugh too hard at the goofy expressions on my face on this page.) Continue reading
About a month ago, I wrote a blog post about a phenomenon I’m witnessing among American evangelicals that seems like a massive reenactment of Jesus’ exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac in which he casts a bunch of demons from a man into a herd of pigs who storm off a cliff and drown. As the tinfoil hat types among us get more and more obviously ridiculous and start racing towards a cliff, many of us are turning back in disgust as Jesus exorcises our demons. So this song is the rap version of that blog post, basically mixing imagery from Mark 5 with the parable of talents. Continue reading
There are two different stories people tell about capitalism. Those who describe capitalism favorably say that it is the story of how the innovation and creativity of entrepreneurs are unleashed through a spontaneity of resources provided in a free market. Capitalism’s critics tell the story of how money-changers are constantly hunting for ways to make money without sweating a drop by leveraging workers and markets against each other and finding loopholes to be exploited. Both of these stories are true, though not always equally. At this particular juncture in our nation’s history, the money-changers are winning the day by masquerading as entrepreneurs. If it’s true that corporate profits are at record highs while unemployment remains high, then the money-changers have found a way to create wealth for themselves without creating jobs. I am not qualified to explain how this works, since I’m a pastor, not an economist, but Jesus had plenty to say about entrepreneurs and money-changers that is relevant to thinking through a Christian response to the competing economic visions that are being set before us this election year. Continue reading