Challenge of the Extreme Center

I am a member of the United Methodist Church. As a member, I have been fortunate to hear both Bishop Scott Jones and Pastor Adam Hamilton speak on the concept of the ‘extreme center’ in relation to Methodist beliefs. (click here for Bishop Jones’ explanation) For me, this means finding a balance between the evangelical side of my faith and the social justice side of my faith. Even though there is a tension between these two aspects of my faith, I am thankful that my church not only preaches both concepts but pushes me to live it out.

With today’s political climate, this is proving to be even more of a challenge as I try to figure out where I stand on a variety of issues. As I wrestle with these issues, I’m trying to  figure out how God would want me to react to an issue. Several years ago, God showed me that if I waited and listened, He would provide guidance on how to react.

With today’s social media and 24 hour news cycle, the waiting is proving to be very hard. However, I know from experience that if I wait, the solution will come. Psalm 27 verse 14 also encourages me to wait:

Wait patiently for the LORD. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the LORD.

Pastor Rick Warren speaks of this need to wait for an answer in his blog post “What Do You Do While You Wait on the Lord?” In his blog, Pastor Warren refers to Habbakuk 2:2 which should be my resolution (if I could be patient enough):

“I will wait to see what the LORD says and how he will answer.”

As I am waiting, I am hearing God speak in a variety of ways. God has blessed my Facebook feed with ‘friends’ from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs. That blessing comes with a responsibility — to read posts even when my initial reaction is to disagree. I can’t say that any one post has swayed my opinion — but they all have caused me to think and to reflect about my faith.

To help keep my faith grounded in God and not Facebook, I read a daily devotional and often read a blog associated with that devotional. It is from these devotionals that I have found ideas or scriptures to help me focus this past month:

  • Focus on trusting God, living for God’s kingdom and loving others.
  • So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. (James 2:17)
  • Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love. (1 Cor 16:13-14)

One of the issues that I’m wrestling with right now is the issue of immigration and refugees. I believe there are many facets to this issue, making it difficult to come up with a solution. In my struggle to understand the opinions of others, I have read several statements from religious leaders and/or institutions on the topic:

Another way in which I seek to understand what God wants of me in relation to an issue is through attending worship services — both locally and on the Internet. The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection‘s current sermon series, Unafraid, has helped me to realize that fear is one of the major factors affecting my beliefs: fear of the unknown, fear of others, fear of failure. With this realization comes the command from Christ to not be afraid.

Knowing that fear is one factor affecting my beliefs, this mornings sermon by Pastor Willy Yumba at the Seneca United Methodist Church hit home with a quote from Dr. James Stewart (professor of the New Testament at the University of Edinburgh):

The greatest threat to Christianity is living our lives without sharing our faith.

Pastor Willy went on to say that faith in a living God must be lived out in our relationships with others. Thus, I have to look beyond how I might be personally impacted by an issue to see how that issue might affect someone else.

I pray that God will guide my thoughts and actions as I try to live my life ever mindful of what he asks of me —

“to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God” Micah 6:8

 

 

What is Worship

Ever since attending my first National Worship Leader’s Conference, I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain my experiences during the worship sessions to others. Just prior to this year’s conference, a Facebook friend posted a link to a ‘Chuck Knows Church’ video about worship. Even though I find this series of videos ‘cheesy’, I really appreciate how worship was defined in this video.

According to Chuck, the word worship is derived from the words ‘wore than’ meaning to declare how much something is worth. Woerthscipe is the Old English spelling of our modern word – worship. Thus, worship is an action in which we declare God’s worthiness since GOD is a the top of the worth chart.

The actions to declare God’s worth were described by three Greek words:

  • Sebomai — to lift up high or to exalt
  • Proskuneo — to bow down
  • Latreuo — to serve

Thus, when worshippers lift their hands in praise, they are practicing Sebomai. When worshippers bow down as they enter the sanctuary (pew) or as they pray, they are practicing Proskuneo. When worshippers go out into the community to help the homeless or disadvantaged, they are practicing Latreuo.

As an action, truly ascribing worth to God means that our minds, actions, emotions and will are all engaged. When I forget about what those around me will think and truly focus on God and all that he has done for me by lifting Him up, reaching out to Him, bowing down to Him and serving Him I get a glimpse of what it will be like in the heavenly realms.

Who is my neighbor?

We all probably know Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable. But I often miss the mark when it comes to applying this to my own life. As the political climate in Kansas is turning against public education, I’ve been led to thinking about the issue of public education in terms of this passage of scripture.

Luke 10:29 says: The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?

When I apply this passage to public education, I have to ask myself “are these children my neighbor?” Children have no choice about where they live or their family circumstances. Is the child of a single parent struggling to make ends meet my neighbor? Is the child a member of a family dealing with unemployment or large medical bills my neighbor? Is the child of a migrant worker my neighbor? Is the child who can’t speak English my neighbor? Is the child who suffered a debilitating illness and now lives with severe disabilities my neighbor? Is the child living with his/her grandparent my neighbor? Is the child getting on the school bus at 6:30 in the morning to get to the nearest school by 8 am my neighbor? All of these children are important to God. As a Christian, shouldn’t they be important to me?

Jesus answered the man with the story of the Good Samaritan and then asked the man, “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”  Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” (Luke 10:36-38)

When it comes to education in Kansas, many are arguing against equatable funding of public education. Some are even arguing for the privatization of education. If I were to go along with either of those arguments, I would be saying that the child in that home struggling to make ends meet doesn’t deserve access to education. Or, I would be saying children of migrant workers, even if they were born in the United States (and thus citizens), don’t deserve an education since they can’t speak English. Or, I would be saying children with severe disabilities don’t deserve an education tailored to their needs. Or, would I be saying that children in rural Kansas don’t deserve a local school even if it is small so they don’t have to ride the school bus for more than an hour?

The Samaritan showed mercy by tending to the needs of the traveler and even paid for some of his care. If I assume the role of the Samaritan in regards to the education of children, shouldn’t I be concerned with tending to their individual needs? Isn’t caring for the educational needs of the disabled the intent of special education  programs in our public schools? Isn’t caring for the educational needs of non-English speakers the intent of the English as Second Language program in our public schools? Isn’t caring for the nutritional needs of children living in poverty the intent of the Free/Reduced lunch programs in our public schools? Doesn’t the child living in rural Kansas deserve the same access to an education as the child living in Johnson County?

If I assume the role of the Samaritan,  shouldn’t I be willing to help pay for the education — the equitable education — of these children. Isn’t this what Christ is commanding me to do when he said, “Now go and do the same.”?

These children are my neighbors. They deserve an education no matter their family situation or where they live in the state.

Aren’t  they our neighbors?

Aren’t we all called to show mercy by supporting public education, an equatable education?

Challenged to Give

As Christmas rapidly approaches, this morning’s sermon issued a challenge to give — not just a little but sacrificially as happened during the first Christmas.

  • Mary and Joseph gave up their reputations, — Can I risk mine for Christ?
  • Mary and Joseph gave obedience — willingly despite feelings. — Am I obedient to God’s call?
  • The shephards and wise men gave their worship. — Can my lifestyle be a reflection of worship? Do I willingly give credit to God?
  • Mary and Joseph trusted God despite their fear? Do I trust God with my life?
  • The wise men gave God time. Am I willing to spend time with God on a daily basis?
  • The wise men gave God resources. Am I willing to tithe and to support those in need?
  • God gave sacrificially — He gave his son on the cross for my sins. Am I willing to sacrifice for Him?

Changing Terminology

Should I say I’m going to church on Sundays — OR should I be saying I’m going to worship?

Going to Church

  • go to be entertained
  • passive participant
  • go away feeling proud — I was in church today

Going to Worship

  • Go to praise God – thru
    • song
    • prayer
    • tithing
  • Go to be in communion with God — thru
    • prayer
    • Holy Communion
    • song
  • Go to support God’s work — thru
    • missions
    • tithing
  • Active participant
  • Go away
    • Humble
      • know own faults
      • know only God can change me
    • Hungry
      • to learn more by reading the Bible and listening for God to speak
      • to be in community by participating in a small group and/or Bible study
      • to be in worship again next week

Lord, I want to worship You today.

Being Anonymous

In a recent conversation with a pastor, the issue of declining worship attendance was brought up. Having attended all sizes of churches, I believe one of the factors behind declining worship attendance is the lack of community in the larger church. In a large church both my presence and my absence can go unnoticed — I’m just anonymous. Thus, it is easy to be a drop-in worshiper — attending at my convenience. However, in a small church, I’m not anonymous — I’m known by name and people genuinely care about both my absence and my presence. For someone somewhat shy like me, it is hard to make a personal connection with those around me during the passing of the peace. In a small church, not only do I get the chance to know others by name but I’m not allowed to remain anonymous. I believe that somehow, this sense of  ‘small church community’ needs to be developed within worship services at large churches. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to develop that sense of community.

New Understanding of Bullying

Over the past year, God has allowed me to develop a new understanding of bullying.

  • Bully may be someone close in life
  • Others may not see it as bullying
  • Cyberbullying is for real — and can be private communication
  • Bullied may not want to force others to choose between themselves and the bully
  • Silence builds a wall separating bullied from others

Even though I have a new understanding of bullying, I still have no answers on how to deal with it.