Welcome to the scribblings of one Methodist pastor. Here you will find devotions, sermon clippings, pastoral letters, and other assorted thoughts and reflections. The most significant categories can be accessed through the menu at the top. These include:
Beyond Sunday: These are follow up materials related to sermons I preach. If you would like to hear the audio for the sermon, it is generally posted by Tuesday on my church’s website.
Open Source Liturgy: Prayers, readings, and sermons series crafted by myself, my team, or posted with permission. You are free to use and adapt these with attribution. Pictures or stories of how they worked for you are always appreciated.
Faith and Art:For more than two thousand years artists across the world have produced moving works based on Biblical texts and the stories of the Christian faith. I use many of these in preaching but often can’t delve fully into them so the extra reflections end up here.
Leading:Reflections on leadership, change, and being a pastor.
You may have seen the UMC denomination in the headlines over the weekend. A plan called The Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation was released Friday and captured the attention of many people both inside and outside the UMC. Since then I have and several questions and conversations about what this will mean for Deer Park UMC.
The shortest answer is, it means nothing until General Conference meets in May. The UMC has been having a long conversation about polity and human sexuality. That conversation has been particularly intense over the last 18 months. At a Special Session of the General Conference in February 2019 the denomination adopted part of what was called the Traditionalist Plan. It maintained prohibitions on performing same-sex weddings and ordinations, and restructured the process for dealing with complaints and punishments for violation of those prohibitions. That legislation went into effect on January 1, 2020.
Caucus groups across the denomination met over the year and several have submitted plans or legislation for General Conference 2020. Notable among them are The Bard-Jones Plan, The UMC-Forward Plan, The UMNext Plan, and the Indianapolis Plan. All provide for some form of separation from the UMC denomination or breaking the UMC into multiple denominations. The Protocol is like these in that responds to GC2019 and proposes a path forward via multiple expressions of Methodism; all will require debate and adoption by GC2020 to become a reality.
What is different?
The Protocol was worked out by leaders from a wide spectrum of caucus groups with the help of a professional mediator and is being supported by 8 Bishops.
The Protocol does not yet have legislation for its implementation. When that legislation is ready, it will need to come to the GC2020 either through a Special Session of an Annual Conference (our AC is Texas Annual Conference) or by permission of the General Conference organizing committee because the deadline for legislation is long passed.
The signers of the Protocol have expressed a desire for the plan’s legislation to come to the floor for debate and vote as a whole (inseparable) package. The Indianapolis plan also has an inseparability provision, and the validity of that has been challenged.
The way the Protocol was crafted and released gained far more media attention than any similar legislation.
UMNews has done an excellent job of summarizing the specific provision of the Protocol and had provided an extensive FAQ.
The Protocol is ultimately one plan among many coming to GC2020. I will not speculate here on its likelihood of adoption and we will not have a firm answer on this plan or any other until May. It is worth noting that the Protocol, like several other plans provides for votes by Annual Conferences and/or local churches. Our bishop, Bishop Jones, has already announced that all actions stemming from GC2020 will be taken up at a Special Session of the Annual Conference in August. This is because our normal session occurs only 9 days after the close of GC2020, and that is not enough time for meaningful conversation or considered decisions.
The leadership of DPUMC was already considering when to hold information sessions and town-halls ahead of GC2020. Those will likely be scheduled in the March-April time frame. While possibilities and contingencies will be discussed all year, no decisions can be finalized or actions taken until we know what the General Conference does in May and the Annual Conference does in August.
In the meantime, I ask you to do 3 things:
Be in prayer for our church, our leadership, our denomination and its world wide leadership.
Check any information you see in or on a major media outlet. The UMC is a large denomination, movements are going to make headlines from time to time, but they often fail to do the background research necessary to understand our polity or the wider implications of a single action. umnews.org is a great source for accurate information.
Be in conversation with one another. In times of anxiety or conflict it can be tempting to seek peace through silence. We have reached a point where that is not viable. We need to listen to each other, seek to understand each other, and hold each other accountable for understanding the options on the table.
Across generations, the people of God have created metaphors and imagery to explain God, imagine God, and relate to God. Children asked to draw God will often picture someone who cares for them and teaches them about God. As adults, how we imagine God can have a subtle but profound impact on how we live our faith.
What does God look like? The Bible gives us lots of imagery for God
Is God a He? Yes, especially when we’re talking about the human/divine Jesus. For all of God, She and They (singular) are also appropriate.
Does the way we imagine God affect how we live our faith? Yes.
Find an image from art or life that helps you imagine God and journal about what that picture says to your faith.
Spend some time with a scripture that images God. Pray through it and respond to it by creating visual art that reflects what it teaches you about God.
Ask someone else how they see God and mediate on their answer and how it relates to you.
Gather images of God from Christians around the world. Study what each one reflects about their culture and God. Create a devotion or series of devotions around the images and share them with your Sunday School or Small Group.
Though we won’t often admit it, we all like to know our boundaries. What is the minimal effort required, what is the most that is acceptable. We might not always color inside the lines, but we like knowing where the lines are. So perhaps we find ourselves asking questions like: What is the least you can believe and still be Christian? or What must I do to be saved? The questions are eternal, and so is the answer. As Jesus said, love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.
Does everyone need salvation? Yes
Does Christ offer salvation to everyone? Yes
Do I have to go to church to be saved? God does the work of salvation, church helps us grow in our love for God and neighbor.
James exhorts us to pray in the midst of suffering and celebration. Paul tells us to pray without ceasing. Again and again we hear the power of prayer exhorted. But exhortation doesn’t necessarily answer all our questions. There is great power in prayer, and it is an essential part of our faith life. But what if that power is bigger and wilder than what we imagine with our well loved platitudes.
Does God always hear our prayers? Yes
Why doesn’t God answer every prayer? God always answers, just not always in the way we expect or with what we hoped for; sometimes the answer is no, or not right now.
If God is in control of everything, do our prayers matter? Yes.
Big things begin from small seeds. A tax collector can be reformed by dinner. A small group of women in a church basement can become a mission organization with worldwide outreach. You may see your gifts as small, but in them God sees great opportunity.
Remember a time when you offered a small kindness that was received as a great blessing.
What actions have had ripple effects in your faith community?
What big work would you like to see accomplished? What small step might begin it?
Set aside 30 days to pray for discernment about where God is leading you now.
Read “Maid” by Stephanie Land
Volunteer 10 hours with an organization that works directly with poor or marginalized persons
Commit a year to learning about a broken circumstance in the world (poverty, immigration, polarization, etc)
Start a small group to focus on a single issue. Study together, pool money, and offer service together.
Peter says in Acts “God is no respecter of persons”, meaning God does not show partiality. The world marks all kinds of status divisions, wealth, influence, age, race, gender. The Church as the body of Christ should be without partiality, but often we can be as infatuated with status as any other community. Our discipleship calls us to rise above and see the image of God in all.
Have you ever been honored for your contributions of time or treasure? How did it feel? Were you more or less inclined to give again?
Have you ever refrained from supporting a ministry or program because you didn’t like an aspect of it? What would Mary McLeod Bethune have said to that?
Make a list of places you give time or money. Ask yourself how you chose those.
List places you used to give time or money along with the reason you stopped. Were any of those about a need for control?
Pray about one place you could give time or treasure that has no benefit for you.
Make all of your giving for 1 year anonymous. Reflect on how that changes your attitude.
Francis of Assisi was born to wealth and privilege. Yet he wrestled with how to use what he had for others and what so much luxury did to his soul. Eventually, he turned his back on riches and chose a life of intentional poverty and service. His witness has influenced generations. Though we may not be called to a life of aestheticism, we can learn from Francis the truth that giving to God is as much about our own spiritual needs as it is about the needs of others or God’s requirement.
Can you recall a time when you gave something away only to receive an unexpected return?
Paul asks the Corinthians to contribute to the life of the Church by saying “that you might have the blessing of giving…” Do you view giving as a blessing or a duty?
Journal about the stories of your life that have shaped how you veiw giving.
Make a list of all the groups and causes to which you contribute and select one place to increase your donation.
Review your budget. Find at least one item you could reduce or eliminate and give away that money.
Eliminate one thing from your calendar and use the time to volunteer.
Part of DPUMC’s unique make up is that we put love into action. We believe that when the love of God is deeply rooted in our hearts, it pours out in our actions. We help others, not for glory or duty, but because it is our nature as disciples and we cannot be otherwise. [hear sermon audio]
Devotion time is crucial to your growth in faith. Here are some resources for yours this week:
Our scripture this week is part of a larger speech. It is the last of the discourses that structure the gospel of Matthew. This week take a look at the rest of the teaching:
Dorothy Day said, “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” Who is least for you? What actions could express compassion toward them?
Put it into practice: Take a sheet of paper and list our core values: Welcome, Family, Faithfulness, & Compassion. For each, write out ways you do or could put that value into action. Commit to making those values explicit in your life over the next week.
Share an invitation to church. Invite someone to come with you next week and experience our compassion.