SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: Uncategorized (Page 2 of 5)

Christianity, Politics, & #givegrace

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Politics & Religion

I am sure that you have heard the old adage to never speak about politics and religion. Often political seasons come and go and the church remains silent. When issues come up that hit the nerve of congregants the pastor is asked to address them, when addressed there are always those that do not want the church to become political or be political.

In some ways, it would be easier to follow the adage. Not talking about so-called political things stops the pastor from getting into trouble, from upsetting people, and might provide a political free oasis in the midst of all the chatter.

This week we begin a series of sermons that will hopefully provide some helpful context for how Christian people can and should discuss politics. Its purpose is dialogue, the learning of some shared language that will hopefully shape our community towards a different way to speak about difficult subjects.

What is the relationship between politics and God’s kingdom? What does it look like for us to engage one another and our neighbors and friends in political discussions based upon our faith in Jesus Christ? How can we model civil discourse in such a polarized political landscape? What are some key values that should drive our political decisions?

I invite you to become part of this important conversation in the next three weeks!

#givegrace

This coming Sunday we will gather for a preview of our #givegrace campaign. We will celebrate the many that have become members of our body in the last year and the many ways that we have made an impact in the lives of the people around us. I ask you to begin praying for the way that God is inviting you to invest in our congregation so that others can experience Grace in 2017.

We have a generous congregation and I know that each of you will response in gratitude to grace received through your financial investment in God’s kingdom through our congregation. All of us together making sure that others are welcomed, loved, and sent to serve!

Can’t wait for the weekend!

Very Married: A Review

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The problem with marriage is that it ends every night after making love, and it must be rebuilt every morning before breakfast.

Gabriel García-Márquez

The music begins and the couple walks proudly and anxiously towards the future, a future together. Decisions have been made, preparations completed, and now it’s time for covenant making, vow taking, or maybe just contract signing. No matter what, life together begins.

As one who gets the joy of witnessing and officiating at these public/private, sacred/secular, end/beginning type of events I’ve often wondered if there is something that can prepare the couple for this momentous event. Would this couple take vows if their future life together was revealed to them? Would that vision help them discern or prepare them?

Maybe it’s best that Hallmark cards, romantic comedies, Instagram pictures, and the wedding industry monopolize the marriage press! Or maybe we were just waiting for Katherine Willis Pershey to provide us with the revelation that all engaged and married couples needed, a revelation of the beauty and trials of married life.

Very Married: Fieldnotes on Love and Fidelity is not for the faint of heart. Pershey’s poetic prose leads us openly yet carefully through the landscape of married life. As she aptly tells us the “agony, ecstasy, and tedium of wedlock.” (18) This is not the stuff that we are used to hearing about nor the kind of journey that we expect from one who is both married and who officiates at marriages. Yet Very Married is the book needed to awaken all of us to the beauty, reality, and poetry that is life together.

Very Married sets itself apart in how humbly it speaks to those of us who have ears to hear. Pershey’s tone is rooted in the Christian practice of testimony, the humble recognition of God’s presence in the midst of life. This testimony is not just an individual encounter with God but the result of living life in covenant with another. Her vulnerability and honesty are palpable as she guides us through the inner life of one who desires to live life together with another yet found herself ill-prepared for the reality of what that meant.

As she tells her story we quickly realize that all of us come to life together unprepared and yet it is there, in our willingness to recognize the mystery, that grace comes visiting, that blessing becomes activated.

My favorite part of the wedding ceremony is the blessing of the marriage. As I wrap my stole around the hands of the couple I invoke the Spirit. I ask for the Spirit to make them fruitful, to make them one, to help them recognize, like Pershey, that “I know now, and I am known now, in marriage.”

This knowing comes with joys and sorrows. It tests our capacity to be faithful, to stay attentive to our chosen over the long term. It tests our capacity to forgive, to reconcile, and to begin again. It also tests our capacity to love another as we live life with them.

There is yet more for us to know of each other, physically, spiritually, emotionally. And as husband and wife we have the incredible freedom to explore each other without hesitation or shame.

Katherine Willis Pershey in Very Married: Field Notes on Love & Fidelity, 94

The struggles of life together challenge our self-centeredness, immaturity, and desire for control. God uses this way of life to transform us, or as my United Methodist tradition calls it, to “sanctify” us. Pershey’s willingness to share with us her journey in grace allows all of us to identify the God moments in our own relationships and to recognize that “even a family’s sorrows give way to gratitude, eventually.”(164) Pershey’s candor reminds us that perseverance, tenacity, and humility are key components to becoming very married.

Katherine Willis Pershey does not shy away from the difficult topics connected to married life. From pre-marital sexuality, infidelity, and submission to same-sex marriage, divorce, and death, Pershey guides us with humor, humility, and understanding. Like a faithful pastor, she shines a light behind the closed doors of covenant life. Along the way she gives us hope that in the midst of the many challenges that marriage faces today “[t]here’s no shame in needing covenant to live.”(210)

So take up and read! In Very Married we are gifted with an invitation to a new-old way of living life together. Pershey gifts us with a faithful blueprint to the daily rebuilding of this thing we call marriage. Now is up to us, letting our very married life end daily by making love and following the blueprint to rebuild it, again and again, before breakfast!

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Thankful to Herald Press for providing me an advanced copy of the book for this review.

Appropriate Attire: GC 2016


This morning Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey of the Louisiana Area preached on Matthew 22:1-14. She called us to put on the garment of grace that’s available to all. She called us to stop drawing a line in the midst of the conference floor and instead to join together to be agents of God’s transformation in the world. She called us to be open to reversal, to be willing to join the feast!

Those late-comers – the fit and misfit, the ones from the edge of town, the ones from the other side of the tracks, from el barrio, the ones who spoke a different language, the poor, the prostitutes – yea those – were provided appropriate attire when they arrived. 

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, Louisiana Area

So the God that we serve is the God who provides us for the way that leads to life. No trickery, smoke and mirrors, or special knowledge. The challenge is our willingness to take on Christ, our willingness to put on a common identity in the midst of our differences. Our willingness to join the party!

I’m wondering how we do this?

At this General Conference we tried to live into a model of conferencing that was centered on conversations (Rule #44). This model was rejected by this General Conference after much debate about how we guide our legislative life. Yet I believe that if we are to put on the garment of grace that we must begin by gathering together, sharing our stories, our hopes, our fears and our brokenness, our need for forgiveness, and our hunger for new life. The local church, our districts, and our Annual Conferences might be the best equipped communities to practice this way of living life together, this way of trying on Christ, again and again.

I also wonder if a second key aspect is the going out, as Matthew 12:4 (The Voice Bible) reminds us:


I wonder how often we let others know about the banquet? Do we see our life together as a feast worthy of inviting others to? What does this feast look like, how are we celebrating together? How are we flourishing?

This could just turn the world upside down. This is what it means to be people of the cross, people of the resurrection, Easter people! 

People who are ready for a reversal- a world that is turned upside down. A world that is transformed. A world where all God’s people experience an abundant life in Christ.  
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, Louisiana Area

I am thankful for the Bishop’s challenge this morning. I think her challenge is not only for General Conferece but a challenge to all of us as members of the community of disciples. We taking seriously our calling to be agents of God’s love in the world. We agents of the reversal, the healing of the communities we live in, we agents of our shared growth in love, we agents of the grace given to us.

I am ready to go to the party, ready to put on the robe of righteousness, would you join me? Let’s go!

A Sound Roars: GC 2016


Yesterday the church celebrated Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. They were afraid, their savior was not gone, now they were left to live into their call as followers of Jesus. Gathered to pray and to wait as Jesus had told them you can imagine the conversations, the insight, and the struggle. Could they truly fulfill the mission given to them by Jesus?

Jesus knew that they could not! So Jesus sends them an empowerer from on high!

A sound roars! Takes over, overwhelms, oxygenates, lifts up, and takes center stage. The Spirit has come!!

As we gather to begin our work on week 2 of General Conference I wonder if we will hear the roar? The promise of Jesus to be with us, to not leave us alone, to empower us to do Jesus’ work available, ready, present, do we hear the roar?

A sound roars and it wakes us up from our apathy and slumber.

A sound roars and our personal preferences are quieted.

A sound roars and our loud voices are deafened.

A sound roars and our lungs are filled with the breath of God once again.

A sound roars and we together can hear nothing else but the Spirit of God.

A sound roars and we are pushed, prodded, and propelled into God’s mission in the world.

The question is, do hear the sound roar? Have we become so self-centered and so sure of ourselves that we no longer hear the in braking of the Spirit among us?

As we begin this week of work here in Portland and in our congregations the Spirit that came down on disciples long ago is the same Spirit that promises to come down upon us today. This Spirit transforming, renewing, redeeming, reconciling, and sanctifying. The Spirit making us one people, under our one Lord Jesus Christ, and guiding us as we move into the world to be about the work of God’s kingdom. God’s people as the bearers and signs of the Spirit of God in the world, as the ambassadors of the ministry of Jesus.

It is my conviction that Grace Community UMC is ready to live into this roaring sound! We are ready to hear each other and make spaces of the hearing of others. We are ready to welcome people as God welcomes, to grow together in God’s love through conversation and loving accountability, and to serve our community by creating spaces where others can find healing, wholeness, and new life.

I am thankful to be here but cannot wait to go home and continue God’s call in our lives. I can hear the roar! I can hear the roar! I can hear the roar!!

Tone Matters: GC 2016

Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Tolerate one another in an atmosphere thick with love. 
Make every effort to preserve the unity the Spirit has already created, with peace binding you together.Ephesians 4:2-3 (The Voice Bible)

I often tell my children that what matters is not just what you say but how you say it. I remind them often that the way words are said, gestures, and posture communicate more than the words themselves. In other words that tone matters.


Tone reveals deeply what words alone could hide. Our true feelings come to the surface: our anxieties, fears, anger, and annoyance. Tone also tells us if we are being heard and if the other person is truly present to us. In our social media world tone is revealed by the type of font we use (ALL CAPS ANYONE), #snark, sarcasm, and passive aggressive posting. All sending a clear signal that we are not seeing the other as beloved, as one who is the image of God, as one like us.
Tone betraying our character and our harmony with the other or the lack thereof.

As people of faith we are called to holiness of heart and life. Through grace God’s love begins to fill the recesses of our souls. God’s grace allowing us to integrate who we say we are, what we say we believe in, with how we respond to ourselves and the other.

My latest sermon series, Life Between the Lines, has introduced the rules of the Methodist societies, to a new generation of people. Last week we discussed why we needed such guides and this weekend we will be talking about the first rule: Do No Harm.

Attending General Conference has opened my eyes at the ways that our tone towards one another, especially in disagreement, is betraying a deeper issue in our life together. Our tone on the plenary microphone, on legislative committees, and on social media speaks to a lack of charity, suspicion, arrogance, harshness, lies, and a host of other behaviors that are contrary to the faith we proclaim and the values we claim. 

Our tone mirroring the tone of today’s culture instead of modeling what an loving and respectful alternative looks like. An alternative where disagreement is welcomed, where mutual respect is practiced, and where the atmosphere is “thick with love.”

One of the things that the study of Latin American liberation theology has taught me is that we cannot use the tools of the oppressor to bring freedom. If we do then we become the oppressor in its next itineration without even recognizing it as such. True freedom, true liberation, comes only through the tools of the kingdom: charity, presence, humility, gentleness, and peace.

I am not sure what will happen next at this General Conference. What I do know is that I am committed more than ever to return to the congregation I love and shepherd and come alongside them as we practice and model what a Christlike conversations look like. What the harmony of disagreement in love looks like. What it means to be a people of integrity — a people who have integrated their thoughts, actions, and attitudes — in our conversations with one another and with the world. What it means to be a people who are being sanctified.

Sin, Humility, & Mercy: GC 2016


I am a sinner. I do things that I should not do and leave things undone that I should do. Often I only consider myself when making decisions, when engaging others, and when speaking about God. The fruit looks inticing, God might not be trustworthy, my selfish desires often convince me that there is nothing wrong with me following my every whim. I look around and again I am shocked at my capacity to be an agent of brokenness, hurt, and division.

The more stories I hear, the more I pay attention around me, the more I recognize that I am not alone in my brokenness, that all creation seems to be groaning for wholeness. All of creation bound, in need of freedom, in need to be redeemed.

I am thankful that God chose to provide a path to our redemption. It was an risky path, one that required taking on our human form. Choosing a messy holiness (a messy set apartness) instead of choosing perfection, cleanness, neatness, and power. As Paul tells us:

Though He was in the form of God,

He chose not to cling to equality with God;

But He poured Himself out to fill a vessel brand new;

    a servant in form

    and a man indeed.

The very likeness of humanity,

He humbled Himself,

    obedient to death—

    a merciless death on the cross!

So God raised Him up to the highest place

    and gave Him the name above all.

So when His name is called,

    every knee will bow,[a]

    in heaven, on earth, and below.

And every tongue will confess

    “Jesus, the Anointed One, is Lord,”

    to the glory of God our Father! 

Philippians 2:6-11 (The Voice Bible)

Our conviction about our “bent to sinning” and the recognition of our brokenness, should be the catalyst for our growing in humility. Our inability to make our selves whole, our inability to manufacture transformation, our inability to end the enmity that plagues our world, should convict us again and again of our dependence on God and our commonality with one another. It should push us to a willingness to come alongside the other, listen to their story, and begin to build community,  a beloved community, a community of saints and sinners. A community willing to do what God has done again and again, giving power away, being poured out, dying again and again to self while being born again and again to new life, whole life, abundant life.

This morning Bishop Sally Dick (you can read her sermon here) called us to “Go, learn mercy.” Mercy coming from our encounter with it, from our humble recognition of our need for grace. She stirred us up, made us uncomfortable, and challenged us to stop obsessing about the other’s sin and to begin to pay attention to ours. She called us to a willingness to enter a messy holiness so that we as a body could experience salvation.

As we continue in conversation as a church I recognize that this time together can be sanctifying. Us learning to hear each other, us making space for one another in the midst of disagreement, us learning to enter the messiness of our lives (in the messiness of our sin) and humbling ourselves, offering ourselves mercy, and learning to grow in God’s love in spite of disagreement.

The practice for this kind of sanctifying life begins in our local congregations. Can we make spaces where our brokenness is acknowledge, where humility is modeled, and where mercy is practiced? Can we learn to listen and learn to talk to one another in ways that respects the other’s dignity? Can we practice disagreeing with one another in ways that do not question the other’s motives? In ways that does not seek to convince, persuade, or prove wrong?

Broken people, humbly learning mercy and practicing God’s messy holiness . . .

Discernment: GC 2016


One of the continued conversations here is around how a body discerns. How do we hear each other? What does it mean to listen to each other? What happens when we disagree? What does it mean to discern across the many cultures found here in this body? How has the Christian tradition practiced discernment?

I could spend the rest of the day asking more questions. Many of these do not have simple answers. Being in this space is a humble reminder that often my perspectives, values, and worldview are so limited by my own story. It is also a reminder that we must have these conversations as we continue to find ways to live life together.

I believe that the best place to reclaim the practice of listening, conversation, and discernment is the local congregation. Let us make spaces beyond our echo chambers, spaces where we acknowledge our common humanity, spaces where we can share life together.

Discernment is a key practice of our life of faith as we tune our souls to the voice of the Holy Spirit for us individually and for our communities of faith. It seeks to shape our souls to God’s desires, wants, and will. It means that we are able to put aside our personal preferences, our opinions, and prejudices. It means that we learn to listening to God’s voice in one another as we share stories of life and faith, especially as we read scripture together. It means that we take a breath and take an opportunity to look our lives and life together from the balcony, where the weeds no longer distract our view.

I believe that the more that we practice discernment in our local communities, the more that we practice communal discernment, the better we’ll be able to handle legislative matters in our life together. Let’s practice hearing one another as we gather around table for dinner with our families, let us practice hearing another over a cup of coffee with a friend, neighbor, or co-worker, and let us practice hearing one another as we share testimony of God’s work in our lives.

As the pastor of Grace Community UMC in Shreveport, LA I am committed to creating an atmosphere — a culture — of discernment, conversations, listening, and respectful dialogue among our congregation and from that congregation to our families, neighborhoods, and beyond!

I can’t wait to return to Shreveport and live into this way, another 8 days to go. There’s no telling what the Holy Spirit might tell me next!

The Bishops Speak: GC2016 Episcopal Address


One of the highlights of every Annual Conference is the Episcopal Address. The time when our chief shepherd, teacher, and overseer inspires us, convicts us, and reminds us of our identity as God’s people. As we gathered this morning in Portland as a General Church, it was not any different.

Bishop Gregory Palmer from the West Ohio Area delivered a stirring call for unity. Unity through humility, confession, and common mission. Unity through repentance, care for the other, and a common humanity. Unity through re-membering our baptism, our shared worship, and our encounter with Jesus Christ at table.

For me the key moment came when he reminded us that:

“Our credibility and integrity are suspect if we get all the words right but our behavior has little resemblance to our words.”

In his book Integrity, Dr. Henry Cloud reminds us that integrity is not just about being honest but about being a person “with integrated character.” A person whose words, actions, and intentions match one another, a person that “possesses the awareness that it is not all about him or her and the ability and willingness to make the necessary adjustments to the things that transcend him or her at any given juncture.”

As I heard Bishop Palmer speak I was convicted. I realize how often in my desire to follow my call I easily dismiss the other and how often I am unwilling to do the hard work that listening to each other and life together requires. I was convicted of how difficult it is to live a life of integrity, being aware enough to recognize that is not all about me, my personal opinions, or my personal belief system.

As we continue in conversation across our global church the call to humility and unity is a call to integrity. This call is difficult but we serve the God who calls us to be a new creation, whose Spirit lives within us, giving us what we need to live life together in ways that lead to life. A God who continually calls us to conversion.

I pray that we are open, that our body has been convicted, that we not only heard Bishop Palmer speak to those that we disagree with, that we let his words about our witness inspire us to pay attention to the ways that we live life together in these days.

The Church Gathers: GC2016


Each Lord’s Day the body of Christ gathers. We sing songs of praise, hear a word proclaimed, and gather around table. Each week we remember our identity, our call, and our mission. Each time we gather we are gathering with the people of God in all times and places. But often it is easy to think that our gathering is only about those that are present in our particular community at a particular time.

Gathering at General Conference 2016 is a needed reminder of the scope and gift of a global church.

Being such a diverse community is beautiful but it comes with many challenges. Different cultures, customs, languages and different ways of telling and living the story of Jesus. This requires a deeper and more patient listening, a purposeful and intentional decision to make room for conversation, silence, and clarification.

It also requires our willingness to listen to the Holy Spirit in this place. The Holy Spirit invoked by our praise, thanksgiving, and table sharing. The Holy Spirit that makes us one people through our baptism. A people united by our call to be agents of God’s reign of peace, justice, and love.

As we begin my prayer is that we live into our prayer that God’s kingdom will come and God’s will be done. Here in Portland, in Louisiana, around the world, as it is in heaven.

Stay tuned . . .

On the Preaching Life


This week I was blessed to be part of the North Carolina Preaching Festival in Raleigh, NC. I was honored to be part of the preachers for this amazing and life giving preaching event. The beautiful and intimate sanctuary at St. Mark’s UMC provided the perfect backdrop for three days of hearing, talking, and connecting around the preaching life. My schedule was interesting because I had my workshop on Monday and my preaching on Wednesday. This allowed me the opportunity to take it all in and be a participant as well as one of the speakers.

I love preaching! I love the process, the study, and the delivery. Every time I’m about to step into the pulpit, my knees weaken, my heart races, and my stomach turns — I feel the burden of bringing a word of the Lord to the people gathered. The creator of heaven and earth still speaking, still calling, still creating, and I am humbled to listen and to speak. Honestly, one of the reasons why I have not left pastoral ministry is that the call to preach is persistent, insistent, and consistent.

As I listened in on the amazing preachers heard (Tom Berlin, Nadia Boltz-Weber, Tiffany Knowlin, Brian Combs, & Audrey Warren) my soul was made good. With each turn at the Word hope was found again and again. With each cadence, voice, and turn of phrase, a crumb of the gospel made its way to my heart and life. When each sermon was over I marveled at the amazing preaching that is found in the community of faith, marveled that the promise of Jesus was coming true before me: the gates of hades cannot stand against this!!

I was also reminded of the importance of preaching in the life of the church. I became increasingly thankful for Grace Community and their commitment to make the word heard in incarnate ways. I was humbled again and again by the magnitude and finitude of the task. I was called again to proclaim boldly, humbly, confidently, and passionately for the good news of Jesus Christ requires nothing less.

During the difficult moments of pastoral life I wonder, is this was I’m called to do? Then the word of the Lord begins messing with me, prodding, convicting, calling, and compelling me to tell it!

It is then that I am reminded of whose I am, of who has called me, and who I belong to. It is then that I am reminded once again that the world needs the Good News of Jesus Christ and that I am blessed to be a story-teller of Jesus!

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