[Beyond Sunday] What’s Up With Perfection

God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. This is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have confidence on the Judgment Day, because we are exactly the same as God is in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. We love because God first loved us. If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen. This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.

-1 John 5: 16b-21

As Methodist, we talk about the life of discipleship as going on to perfection.  But does that mean that every mistake we make is a failure?  If God is love, is it possible that we are called into a perfection that is not a burden, but a graceful reflection of the love that is in us?  [hear sermon audio]

 

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • When have you felt pressure to be perfect?
  • Was the pressure for perfection internal or external?
  • How does the idea of perfect in love change your perception of perfection?

Do and share:

  • Step out of your comfort zone and try something new or do something you don’t feel you are very good at.  Record how it makes you feel and what you do with those feelings.
  • Take a picture of a random act of kindness this week.  Share in our Facebook group or on Twitter (@dpumc) and include how it expresses perfect love.

 

[Beyond Sunday] What’s Up With Simplicity

Then the ruler said, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”

When Jesus heard this, he said, “There’s one more thing. Sell everything you own and distribute the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” When he heard these words, the man became sad because he was extremely rich.

When Jesus saw this, he said, “It’s very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom! It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”

-Luke 8:20-23

Do we own our stuff or does it own us?  While Jesus never passes judgment on either wealth or poverty, he does point out that the accumulation of things usually indicates attachment to things.  And we are not meant to carry things with us into the kingdom of God.  [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • When have you let possessions define who you are to yourself or to others?
  • How many things in your house have not been used in the last 6 months?  The last year?
  • How does your relationship with stuff affect your relationships with others?

Do and share:

  • Take a less stuff challenge:  Try to go 1 week without buying anything other than food.  Keep track of the things you think you need and how you got around buying something. #lessstuff
  • Choose an area of life you need to simplify.  Give away unused clothes, Stop eating out,  Give up coffee shop coffee.  Share your story in our Facebook group or on Twitter (@dpumc). #lessstuff

 

[Beyond Sunday] What’s Up With Politics

2 Keep the king’s command because of your sacred oath. 3 Do not be terrified; go from his presence, do not delay when the matter is unpleasant, for he does whatever he pleases. 4 For the word of the king is powerful, and who can say to him, “What are you doing?” 5 Whoever obeys a command will meet no harm, and the wise mind will know the time and way. 6 For every matter has its time and way, although the troubles of mortals lie heavy upon them. 7 Indeed, they do not know what is to be, for who can tell them how it will be? 8 No one has power over the wind to restrain the wind, or power over the day of death; there is no discharge from the battle, nor does wickedness deliver those who practice it. 9 All this I observed, applying my mind to all that is done under the sun, while one person exercises authority over another to the other’s hurt.

-Ecclesiastes 8:2-9

Where there are people, there will be politics.  How do we as the people of faith navigate our relationship to the state and to each other.  [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • How does your faith inform your politics?
  • Do you find your politics informing your faith?
  • Do you ever see us as a people trying to “restrain the wind”?

Do and share:

  • Listen to 30 minutes of a quality news source different from your typical leaning.  Note the feelings that come up in you.
  • Find a story of faith positively impacting politics.  Share it in our Facebook group or on Twitter (@dpumc).

 

What’s Up With Judging (Follow Up)

Hey friends,

We had a great time Sunday kicking off our What’s Up with That sermon series and playing with a new tool called Mentimeter.  I love that you all got to respond and ask questions live.  I couldn’t get to all of them during the service, so I wanted to follow up with a couple of answers here.

1. Didn’t we invite accountability when we joined the church? Or does it have to be explicit?

Great question!  Sunday we talked about the difference between judgment that condemns and accountability among believers is :

  • Accountability presumes equality
  • Accountability always benefits the person receiving
  • Accountability has to be invited

Yes, I do think we invite accountability when we become a part of a faith community.  For instance, in our baptismal vows we pledge to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves; and in our membership vows we pledge to uphold the congregation with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness.  Those are very explicit expectations and it is good to hold one another to those standards in love.

It is fair to hold each other accountable for explicit and widely shared expectations.

For less overt expectations or expectations that are held mainly in a subgroup of the congregation, I think the depth of relationship you have with the person dictates whether on not you need an explicit invitation.

2. How do we find that log without judging ourselves to much?

Another good question.  Some of the answer depends on where the fulcrum is in the question.

If the issue is you have trouble seeing yourself as you really are, then sometimes its helpful to ask others you trust.  Don’t respond to what they say immediately, but write it down and over the course of a week, record times you think this is true and times you think its false.  Try repeating several times.

If the issue is that you are prone to self-criticism or shame try the activity in reverse.  Ask your inner critic what they judge to be “wrong” with you.  Then share that with others you trust and let them provide some balance.

It can take a while to sift out what we need to work on and what we need to accept.

This coming Sunday we are talking about What’s Up with Politics.  They’ll be less Mentimeter, but it will be available at: https://www.menti.com/8af99638  for you to send in your questions.

[Beyond Sunday] What’s Up with Judgment

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s[a] eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor,[b] ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s[c] eye.

-Matthew 7:1-6

A person who makes no judgments in a day would be like a body without a skeleton.  We have to judge, but Christ calls us to judge ourselves first and to view others without contempt or condemnation. [hear sermon audio]

 

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • Think of a time in the last week when you found yourself judging someone’s behavior.
  • How did you measure what was “right”?  Was the standard your own behavior or something else?
  • Search scripture, are there words from Jesus that apply?  Do they speak to you or the other person?

Do and share:

  • Journal about a judgment you passed this weak.  What in you felt threatened?  Did your attitude help the other person?
  • Share a story of overcoming judgement in our Facebook group or on Twitter (@dpumc).

 

[Beyond Sunday] Reaching Out

Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. 41 Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, 42 for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying.

As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. 43 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians,[l] no one could cure her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. 45 Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter[m] said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” 47 When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

49 While he was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.” 50 When Jesus heard this, he replied, “Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.”

-Luke 8: 40-50

We heard from Rev. Jim Bankston about what it takes to reach out to our neighbors.  This is part of our church’s 2 year Vibrant Church Initiative [hear sermon audio]

 

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • How many of your neighbors are like you? (age, race, income etc)
  • How often do you come into contact with people who are unlike you?
  • The woman who was healed had suffered long with a bleeding, odorous illness.  When you come into contact with people like that, how do you respond?

Do and share:

  • Journal each night about every person you talked to that day.  Note how they were like you and how they were unlike you.  Based on your notes, how well do you deal with those outside your comfort zone?
  • Visit a sick friend or elder this week and share a story or picture in our Facebook group or on Twitter (@dpumc).

 

[Beyond Sunday] It is Well With My Soul

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.[a] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

-Luke 10: 38-42

Everything about our culture encourages us to side with Martha.  We are told that if we work hard we will succeed.  We are told everyone should do their fair share.  We are told that if you don’t have something it is because you didn’t work for it.  Yet God’s favor cannot be earned by our work.  Grace is given and calls us to rest at the feet of the Lord.  Our lives should balance both activity and contemplation in their turn. [hear sermon audio]

 

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • Describe a struggle you encountered that you could not work yourself through.
  • How do you spend time resting with God?
  • What happens to your soul if you do not rest?

Do and share:

  • Set aside a whole 24 hours for rest this week.  Document how keeping a Sabbath changes your week.
  • Find a video of your favorite praise music and share in our Facebook group or on Twitter (@dpumc).

 

In the Promise Land Justice is Extended to All [Immigration in Scripture 2]

I started this series to briefly look at six ways scripture talks about immigrants and immigration.  The treatment of migrants and asylum seekers in the US, especially along the southern border, is a daily conversation in the media and among friends.  Several excellent books have covered these topics more extensively than I can here; a few recommendations are listed at the end.

Theme 2: There Shall Be for Both a Single Statute

Migration has been a part of human life since before recorded history.  We move around.  We get pushed out by drought or famine; we flee war; we trade goods; we seek better weather; we get curious about what’s on the other side of the mountain/river/canyon/forest.  As we discussed last time, the ancestors and people of Israel were themselves, migrants.

It is while living as aliens in Egypt that Israel grew from a clan to a nation, a people.  When that people was oppressed, God led them out of Egypt and back to the land that was promised to their ancestor Abraham.  It is during the sojourn in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan, that the Law of the Israelites began to take shape.  Many Christians will recognize Exodus 20: 1-17 as the Ten Commandments.  These are the gateway into the law that would form the basis of the Mosaic covenant. (so called because it is made under Moses).  The entire section is comprised of chapters 20-23 and sets the conditions by which Israel will be the people of God.  In Exodus 23:9 the law gets around to the question of how immigrants and strangers should be treated.

You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.  In the promise land justice is to extend to all.

In the promise land justice is to extend to all.  That theme of equality under the law continues through Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers.  As the law is retold, expounded and interpreted, the status of immigrants to the land remains the same.  Leviticus 19 lays out what it means to be ritually and morally holy.   According to verses 33 and 34, to be holy means to treat the stranger and the alien the same way you would treat a citizen of the land.  That command is echoed again in Numbers 15 and Deuteronomy 1.

An alien who lives with you, or who takes up permanent residence among you, and wishes to offer an offering by fire, a pleasing odor to the Lord, shall do as you do. As for the assembly, there shall be for both you and the resident alien a single statute, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you and the alien shall be alike before the Lord. You and the alien who resides with you shall have the same law and the same ordinance.
– Numbers 15:14-16

Distinctions between citizens and aliens would develop over time (more on that next time) but the intent of the law seems to be that Israel’s special status as a chosen people did not entitle them to a higher class of rights, but rather placed on them the burden to treat all people as creations of God.

It is interesting to see how the New Testament writers sometimes picked up the metaphor of strangers in a land.  The idea of being a resident alien came to describe how the Church–whose home was the kingdom of God– operated in the world.   For instance Ephesians 2:12-13 reads:

remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

This metaphor serves the dual purpose of strengthening the Church against outside pressure and uniting formally distinct people into a single Body of Christ.  The identity of “Christian” comes to trump nationality or ethnicity especially in regards to how we treat a brother or sister in Christ.   We are no longer strangers or aliens to one another but citizens of the Kingdom of God and members of Christ’s family.  This does not erase whether one was born Jew or Greek, but eliminates the notion of privilege status for either.  In an extension of the Law, we treat all our brothers and sisters as creations of God, redeemed by Christ and therefore entitled to our love.

What It Means Today:

All due respect to Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Paine, but the truth is a stateless person is a rights-less person.  Without a government, an individual’s rights exist only as far as their fellow humans are willing to recognize an obligation towards them.  This theme of scripture argues that because the people of God (first Israel and now the Church) know what it is to be foreign and alien, we must honor–and even fight for– the basic dignity of every person regardless of race, nationality, or immigration status.  The issues surrounding immigration and the law may be more complicated, but that does not change the Biblical assertion that all people are created by God and should be treated with a measure of equality.

There are people who will argue that if someone crosses the border illegally, that to be arrested and separated from your children is equal to the treatment a citizen would receive if they broke a law.  This is less than have true.  Yes, if I as an American citizen broke a law, I could be arrested, imprisoned and, if I had children, they would not be imprisoned with me.  However, the conditions under which migrants are detained at our Southern border, the way that children are treated and the lack of a coherent system for tracking and returning children who are separated makes this a false equivalency.

While the treatment of children with incarcerated parents is far from perfect, the first attempt is often to place them with family as soon as possible.  In the event they do enter the foster care system, records are kept.  Their location is known and (at least in theory) their welfare is monitored.  They are not housed in tents or overcrowded barracks.  They are not frequently taken across state lines without a parent’s knowledge.  When parents leave prison, there is a process by which the can locate and be reunited with their child.  The fact that our Department of Justice and HHA have no records connected children to parents and attempted to require parents to pay for DNA testing to recover children the DOJ stripped from them and lost in the system speaks volumes about how unequally we view migrants and citizens.

The central question Christians should be wrestling with is not, “What did they do?” but “Who are we?”.  Are we a people who enshrine inalienable rights as an endowment by our Creator; or do we hold rights humans rights to be a part of the rule-of-law contract and thereby forfeit if a law is transgressed?

For Reflection:

  1. Take a look at news stories about immigration from the past two months.  Where do you see scripture or faith invoked?  Is it used to argue for equality or distinction?
  2. In the letter to the Colossians, Paul writes:  

But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive[d] language from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

What bearing might those words have on our present struggles?

3.  Are there recent immigrants in your family?  What was the experience of their first few months in America like?

For a more in-depth look at migration in general, check out Global Migration: What’s Happening, Why and a Just Response by Elizabeth Collier and Charles Strain.  For reflections on immigration to America specifically, pick up Christians at the Border by M. Daniel Carroll R. or Welcoming the Stranger by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang.

 

[Beyond Sunday] He Still Does (Miracles)

They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him.  He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?”  And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.”  Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.  Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”

-Mark 8:22-26

The ways in which God works can be strange.  Sometimes, they are all but invisible.  Maybe the reason we don’t often experience miracles isn’t that God is absent or silent, but that we are blind to see what’s going on around us. [hear sermon audio] 

 

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • What is something you thought you knew, but later learned you were wrong about?
  • How did learning you were wrong change your view of the world?
  • What might make it difficult for the Disciples to see Jesus as he truly is?
    • What about the crowds who followed?
    • The Pharisees?

 

Do and share:

  • Be the miracle: This week keep your eyes open for someone who might need assistance or kindness.  Let God use you to be the blessing they need.
  • Share the story of a miracle God has done in your life in our Facebook group or on Twitter (@dpumc).

 

[Beyond Sunday] How Great Thou Art

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

-Psalm 29

In the midst of life’s storms, it’s easy to lose sight of how God is working in our lives.  We focus instead on the winds of worry and the waves of emotion.  But God is Lord of all.  And if we truly believe that is true, then nothing else can be lord of our life, not even our own fear. [hear sermon audio]

 

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • What storms are you facing today?
  • When caught in the storm’s onslaught
    • What do you fear?
    • What do you give power?
    • Where do you see God at work?

 

Do and share:

  • Draw or paint a picture of your storm and share it on our Facebook Group.
  • Find a video of your favorite praise music and share in our Facebook group or on Twitter (@dpumc).