Thursday, August 9, 2018

Responses to Inclusion

Our inclusion of LGBTQ Christians was most controversial on social media, followed by our inclusion of women in leadership.  We affirm Scripture includes these and all, without exception, who believe in Jesus "are the body of Christ, and members in particular" (1 Corinthians 12:27, KJV), and we reject all arguments to the contrary. Our statement was met with sharp criticism from some and strong support from others:

We invite everyone to share fully in the worship services, life, ministry, and leadership of Briensburg United Methodist Church inclusive of age, race, nationality, gender, LGBTQ, theology, politics, and legal status.   [MORE
We want all who feel unwelcome in other churches to know they are loved, wanted and have a spiritual home at Briensburg United Methodist Church. Further, it is only fair to those who believe in exclusion to know up-front how our congregation feels. We invite everyone to participate fully because that is how we all grow together in the love, knowledge and grace of God.

I rarely argue racial justice,women in ministry and leadership, open Communion, ethnic equality,  LGBTQ, infant baptism, music in worship, religious affiliation, abortion, theology, politics, etc.  The many arguments from all sides of these issues are readily available. I feel it is important to defer to these well-written and thought-out explanations from all sides rather than to engage in spontaneous and incomplete arguments about them. My call is to preach, and to practice my faith to the best of my ability.

Most responses for and against our view continue to be greatly appreciated. "People learn from one another, just as iron sharpens iron" (Proverbs 27:17, GNT). There are differences of interpretation on the Scriptures concerning virtually any issue, and even on the study resources used to delve more deeply into the selected proof texts. To me, this is all the more reason for us to remain in close fellowship with each other, regardless of and even because of our differences. Our covenant in Christ is not defined by the arguments we accept or reject, but by our love for one another:

And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples (John 13:34-35, GNT).

The most vehement objections came from those who believe that only members of their particular denomination will be saved, and several of these were already trolling our social media anyway. Their distortion of Scripture to support their belief in disunity begs the question as to what difference anything else we believe should make to them. Their exclusion of all other Christians effectively diminishes the value of their opinions. By their self-imposed cultic isolation from the rest of Christianity they forfeit  their influence on how we understand the Bible. To the degree anyone excludes another from the compass of God's love and the unity of the Church, they "become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13:1, KJV).

We were accused of violating the United Methodist Discipline by supporting the recommendation made by the Council of Bishops on the "One Church Plan," which would remove the current restrictions on marriage, ordination, and pastoral appointments of some LGBTQ Christians. We have not violated the Discipline by supporting the plan or by our statement of inclusiveness.  I continue to affirm our United Methodist covenant and to live within these restrictions, even as I trust and expect all my brothers and sisters to continue in our covenant regardless of whether the General Conference delegates decide to remove those restrictions.

Most importantly, people know without equivocation they are loved and appreciated in our church for who they are. God loves everyone and so do we. We have received expressions of gratitude from people who have been excluded from other congregations, and of support from those who share the beliefs we are expressing.  The Council unanimously adopted both the Resolution of Support and the Inclusiveness Statement, "all with one accord in one place" (Acts 2:1, KJV).  

We hope you will join us as we continue to live into our United Methodist motto,

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Way Forward

On Sunday, May 6, 2018, I read to the church my pastoral response to the "Way Forward" recommendation of the Council of Bishops.  I also posted it on Facebook and on the church website, and invited everyone to discuss their thoughts about this with me.  I am adding this post to be a collection point for the written discussions that arise from this conversation.  I will include the comments others make and my responses, without identifying other people here in case anyone might not want to be identified beyond the place where they originally have posted their thoughts. I hope additional discussion will happen here in my blog, too!

My Pastoral Response to the Recommendation:

The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church has completed their study on “A Way Forward” and made their recommendation. As your pastor, I fully support their recommendation, and will be asking the Church Council to approve a “Resolution of Support for the Recommendation of the Council of Bishops on The Way Forward.”
Please read more about the proposal and prayerfully discuss your thoughts and feelings with family, friends, me, and others. Here is an excerpt from the article, “Bishops propose plan for Way Forward” on the denominational website at…/bishops-propose-plan-for-way-forward:
[Quote] The plan would remove the restrictive language against the practice of homosexuality in the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s policy book. The plan also adds assurances to pastors and conferences who in good conscience cannot perform same-sex weddings or ordain “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy that they don’t have to do so. Central conferences — church regions in Africa, Asia and Europe — could maintain current restrictions.
The plan “encourages a generous unity by giving United Methodists the ability to address different missional contexts in ways that reflect their theological convictions,” said the bishops’ press release. [End Quote]
Prayerfully yours,
Rev. Bill Lawson, Pastor

Comments in Support

Received Blog comment:

I’m so proud of you for taking a stand on this issue! 

Your friend always!

My pastoral response:

Thank you, Name! Your encouragement has always meant a lot to me.

Everyone at Briensburg church supports this position, to my knowledge.

We want everyone to know, clearly and unequivocally, that LGBTQ people are welcome, wanted, needed, and loved in our church along with their spiritual gifts and graces. 

Thank you for your constant leadership, friendship and support! 

Caring and open arms of Briensburg church

Received Facebook comment:

Brother Bill you are such a blessing! We love you and your family and church you all have a such caring open arms for everyone!

My pastoral response:
Thank you, name, for your kind words.

You and everyone at Briensburg church genuinely do have open arms for everyone else in the church and community, to my knowledge.

Our stated mission is "Helping Each Other Serve to Our Full Potential." Fulfilling such a mission is only possible to the extent we accept and respect and love each other just as we are. We serve Christ together, and are expected to support and encourage one another.

The caring you mention is at the heart of our identity as the people of God. The more we truly care for each other as God cares for us, the less able we are to allow our differences to come between us.

Challenging way of presenting the UMC slogan

Received Facebook comment:

Open hearts! Open doors! But open minds????

My pastoral response:

Thank you names for the challenging way you put those question marks in the slogan of The United Methodist Church .

Everyone at Briensburg church extends open arms in addition to open hearts, open minds and open doors, to my knowledge.

The goal Jesus set for us to love each other as he loves us challenges us to open our hearts and minds and doors to everyone for whom Christ opened his arms on the Cross.

No one is excluded and everyone is included in God's love. While many of God's promises in the Bible include various conditions, God's love is unconditional. Until our love perfectly reflects the love of God as demonstrated in Jesus, then we fall short of the joy Christ invites us to experience.

Loving others and leaving the judgment to God

Received Facebook comment:

I only know that God loves all of his children, no matter what and we are admonished to do that also. But, we are also to hold our leaders to a higher standard because of the position they are in. I'm just going to try to hold love in my heart and leave it to God for judgement.

My pastoral response:

Thank you, name, for sharing your thoughts on this.

Everyone at Briensburg shares a similar view on loving and not judging, to my knowledge.

God does love everyone and expects us to grow into the same love for each other. Even though we all have varying understandings about what is right and wrong concerning issues such as these, Jesus did teach us not to judge and he did admonish us that whatever standard we use if we do decide to judge anyone else is the same standard that will be used to measure us.

I agree with what you are trying to do by letting God be the judge while we do our part of extending heart-felt love to everyone. If everyone would do that, then we could all remain in love and unity with one another while we work out whatever differences we may have on this or anything else.

Loving and welcoming all, with questions about leadership positions

Received Facebook comment:

Bro.Bill ! I believe with all my heart that God loves us all ! I would - and have - loved and welcomed ALL! The position of leadership is one I'm not convinced about yet!!

My pastoral response:

Thank you, Name, for that affirmation of God's love and of yours for everyone. I do know you are welcoming and loving to all, and you both are wonderful witnesses to the faith.

Everyone at Briensburg is like that, too, welcoming and loving toward all. We are also supportive of everyone in their responses to God' calling into any forms of church leadership.

Our local church mission statement, in the context of the denominational mission of making disciples of Jesus to transform the world, is "helping each other serve to our full potential." Through other leadership positions in the church, within the current restrictive framework of the Discipline, and in other less restrictive denominations, LGBTQ people have demonstrated exemplary Christian service to God and the church under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. I strongly feel that if God calls someone and the Holy Spirit empowers them, we should prayerfully support them as they endeavor to fulfill that calling.

The bishops' recommendation does make allowance for those who feel otherwise, providing "more freedom at the conference and local church levels... The plan also adds assurances to pastors and conferences who in good conscience cannot perform same-sex weddings or ordain “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy that they don’t have to do so." Instead of the Discipline restricting people from accepting God's call and empowerment, it would be up to each individual, local church, and conference to decide whether or not to be prayerfully supportive of them in accepting their call.

Comments in Opposition

Leaving the church over this issue
Received Facebook comment:
The day that Methodist churches condone and preform gay marriages is the day that I will leave the church.
My pastoral response:
Thank you, name, for being the first to comment on this. You and your wife mean a lot to me, and I value our friendship very much.

No one at Briensburg church feels that way, to my knowledge.

I have had a number of friends over the years who have joined or left The United Methodist Church over deeply held convictions on specific issues such as this. My thought, though, is that the unity of love overrides any differences we may have in any other convictions or beliefs or practices. 

I also think that those who will be making the decision, and the rest of us who will be praying for them and voicing our own opinions, should do so based on what we believe is right rather than on who will join The United Methodist Church or who will leave because of what is decided on this or any other issue.

I intend to remain a United Methodist regardless of what is decided on this, because of so many countless reasons for loving the people and the support and the mission and the freedom and the ministry and the love of the church. I hope you will stay, too, regardless of what is decided on this issue.

Individual freedom to decide whether to officiate same gender marriages
Received Facebook comment: 
Bill, it's one I'm not in agreement with. It's mealy-mouthed: "If you don't like it you don't have to do it". What kind of a Constitution aka Discipline is that??? It's guaranteed to get a cold reception at the Special General Conference in February 2019.
My pastoral response:
Thank you, name, for sharing your opinion on this.
No one at Briensburg church feels that way, to my knowledge.

We already have that same position on marriage. Each clergy person already has the freedom to decide whether or not to officiate any marriage, according to their own personal convictions, except for same gender marriages. My thought is that we should also have that same freedom applied to same gender marriages as we already have for any others. 

The kind of Discipline that would be, to me, is the kind that would firmly support clergy and churches and members in the freedom of their personal convictions on this issue, as we do on so many other other issues. Rather than the church dictating to us whether we must or must not officiate for same gender marriages, we would each be free to make that decision for ourselves in each case. The Discipline would then back us up either way, just as it does now when we decide whether or not to officiate a marriage for any number of other reasons.

I will be praying that the General Conference delegates accept this recommendation the Council of Bishops has made, and I hope you will, too. I also hope we will continue to be friends either way,and continue to discuss this and other issues of our faith.

Walking together in disagreement

Received Facebook comment: 

Amos 3:3 "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" Can you homogenize right and wrong, dark and light?

My pastoral response:

Thank you for asking me those thought-provoking questions, Durwood.

Yes, we can walk together if we agree that to love one another as Christ loves us is more important than anything else.

We can agree to walk together regardless of our differences on this, just as we already have agreed to do on innumerable other issues. If we were all required to agree on everything, we would all be walking alone. 

Christian unity invites us to harmony as in music, not homogenization as in milk. Each note remains different, unique and distinct, yet all are brought together in beautiful arrangements. The greater the variety of notes and instruments, the more beautiful the music, each component retaining its separate identity. 

I hope that our long-standing friendship, Durwood, is stronger than any differences of opinion we may discover on this or any other issue. We could be a great example of Psalm 133:

"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! ... for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore."

Friday, March 30, 2018

Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Who are we choosing to abandon, exclude, and ignore?

At the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Mark 15:34

                How would it feel to be forsaken? Some of us know how it feels to be forsaken. Some, more than others, have been forsaken to varying degrees and at different times in life. In this cry, Jesus refers us to Psalm Twenty-two, to get a sense of how He felt while on the cross: abandoned, excluded, ignored.
                God promised, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Hebrews 13:5). This is a promise we can trust! But what if something happened to make us feel the promise had been breached? We are the hands and feet of Christ, commissioned to extend this promise to the people around us.
                Who are we forsaking? Who are we, intentionally or unintentionally, choosing to abandon, exclude, and ignore? Christ might ask us the same question He asked our Heavenly Father, “Why are you forsaking me?” Are we forsaking those for whom Christ died? In Matthew 25, Jesus emphasized how we have treated the least among these, among us, as how we have treated Him.
                "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani."

Prayer by Steve Milam: 
                Heavenly Father, we come to you today and thank you for the great and incredible sacrifice that you made for us. As we struggle and suffer through this life, we pray that you help us remember we are not forsaken. We think of the great sacrifice you made for us, and we are grateful. We come to you in prayer, and we pray that you would help us and guide us to live each day in a way that is pleasing to you. We pray that in Christ’s name, Amen.

from the Marshall County United Methodist Good Friday service 
at Calvert City UMC, March 30, 2019

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Hosanna! Don’t You Think It’s Time?

     Our church is positioned with open arms to our community, offering full participation without exception in the life and ministry of the church, reflecting the inclusiveness of God's Kingdom as demonstrated in the love of Jesus. "Don't you think it's time?" 

 "They that went before, and they that followed cried, saying, 'Hosanna! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord! Blessed be the kingdom of our father, David, that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!'"(Mark 11:9-10)
     Hosanna is a prayer of praise, a word that lets us pour our hearts out into an exclamation of a whole wide range of gladness and hope and faith in what God is doing with us and where he's leading us.
     Hosanna! We praise Him. We adore Him. We bear witness to Him. We find ways to express our love for him. We can't just depend on our old clichĂ©s and Bible verses to do that. Those days are fewer and farther between. We have to find additional ways to express God's love.
     Love is like water. If you block water from going one way, usually it finds some other way. If there's even the smallest little channel it can follow, it will. Water will enlarge its path and pool up somewhere else. Love's like that. Love will always find a way somehow to express itself.
     If we love God the way we think we do, then we're not going to let any little thing stop our love from flowing. That's how we need to understand our witness. God's love is in our heart, and our job as the witnesses to that love is to let it flow through us. If it doesn't flow one way, let it flow another, but just let it flow. Trust God's love and praise him for it. Let that be our praise, the way our love flows through the rocks and crevices and crooks and crannies of life.
     Jesus was setting up a new and different community among all the populations of the world. It was in this world, but not of the world, and it had different laws. It had a different vision and way of operating. This community is God’s Kingdom. That means it's his vision, and he’s the One putting it together. God himself is making this happen, and we get to be a part of it today if we will.
     God’s kingdom is a community that includes everyone. The only people who are excluded from this community are the people who exclude themselves. The Kingdom of God is a community of love and grace and peace. People have all their different ideas and views and experiences, but together in love, we work as friends and family to encourage and strengthen and guide each other. We let each other change and reshape us according to the image of God, in which we were created. Everything else gets pushed aside, as this kingdom grows within us and among us.
     Jesus mandated that we love one another, as he has loved us. By this everyone will know whether or not we genuinely are his disciples, by how we love one another.
     If you love like someone else says to love, then you're their disciple. If you're following someone else’s vision and ideas, then you're their disciple. But, if you're a disciple of Jesus Christ, then you love the way Jesus Christ has loved you. That's been our mandate ever since the night Jesus gave himself up for us.

          Love can build a bridge 
          Between your heart and mine 
          Love can build a bridge 
          Don't you think it's time 
          Don't you think it's time
(“Love Can Build a Bridge” Words and music by
John Barlow Jarvis, Naomi Judd, Paul Overstreet.
©1990 Scarlet Moon Music, Inc.)

     Don't you think it's time to replace our walls of fear with bridges of love? Jesus was arrested, spent the night being tortured, and gave his life for us at Calvary. His first words from the cross were, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). In the Resurrection, a great new community rose up with him from the grave and began to form around his new law with this new people, his people. That's success. That’s victory! Hosanna!
     When we shout “Hosanna” and when we praise the Lord, we're praying for victory.  We're not looking to go out and get crushed. We're looking to go out and to stand firm as the people of God in the law of love. As a small congregation, we are uniquely positioned by the struggles we’ve been through together. We may even be able to position ourselves in stronger, fresher ways than some other churches are able to do.
     We've been a church with open hearts, open minds, and open doors. Now we have the opportunity to be the church with open arms. We can make it clear that God's love is here and extended to everyone who will receive it. We’re here to welcome all who will come and be a part of our community of love. That's a beautiful place to be spiritually. Christ is inviting us to take our place as a beacon of hope and salvation. He is delivering us from sin and death into eternal life and restoring us to our rightful place as His children, His heirs.
     That's something for us to celebrate, stand firm in, and build around. We are not constrained by the gains and losses of each week or year. We are looking for the long-term success and victory that Jesus demonstrated in His flesh. Let us show in our relationships the same love and acceptance going forward as the faithful people of God. Hosanna! Don’t you think its time?

Derived from the sermon on Mark 11:1-11 preached March 25, 2018 at Briensburg UMC

Photo "Butterfly on Palm Frond" 2010 by Stephen Case,

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Authority of Christ

Christ shares with us his authority to cast out the evil spirits entering our community in the wake of the tragic mass shooting at our high school. 

And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes. Mark 1:22

                Evil spirits have always been a menace to humanity in the midst of our tragedies and struggles.  The Bible presents the concept of evil spirits in different ways. Sometimes evil is portrayed as coming from within our thoughts and feelings, generated from our hearts and minds, things we think and say and do. Sometimes, as in this passage of scripture, personified as incorporeal spirits, spirits without bodies, who act against us to intentionally bring pain and suffering to humanity.  Either way, they enter through the gateways of our own actions and our own thoughts and our own words. Evil spirits navigate through the feelings we harbor and the attitudes we bear.
                Christ demonstrates his authority over evil in whatever form it may take. Whether the evil is something  we come up within ourselves or something that comes by and happens to us or makes us do it, whether it's personified or not, Jesus casts out that evil spirit. Things happen sometimes by accident and sometimes by intention. Sometimes they're planned out ahead of time, and sometimes they're done on the spur of the moment.  Sometimes they're within our control and sometimes beyond. Almost all the time, if we see something coming then we try to do something to avoid it. If we don't see it coming, we try to respond the best way we know how in the moment.
                Often, as is the case now for us and for our community, there are spirits in some sense of the word that follow in the wake of a tragedy. These also need to be cast out and done away with. Spirits of fear, anger, sorrow, suffering, and all kinds of painful things need to be dealt with and treated and healed. Reconciliation needs to take place. That's what the Holy Spirit is about. That's what God's love is about. That's what the authority of Christ is about. That's the authority we share as the people of God. We are authorized in the name of Jesus to minister healing in the aftermath, the healing that needs to come in the wake of hurt.

Worldly Authority

                Looking at the authority of Christ this way, we get a clearer picture of what we not only should do but can do, and the power to do it by the Spirit of God. The authorities of the world include these three common categories of economic, social and political powers.  They overlap and combine in different orders, depending on what's going on. The Bible promises us that all the authorities of the world are being brought under the authority of Christ himself. Eventually, we are told,
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11).
               Economic power has always had a big say in how things go in the world, as the saying goes, "Money talks." And it does, and people listen. But the Bible encourages us, especially through the teachings of Christ and the apostles, not to be partial to those who are speaking from just their economic standpoint. Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:3). 
               Politics has historically been a part of everything in life. It's all through the Bible and all through our culture. Politics invade the social fabric of our families and friendships and are present in every organization we're a part of. Every kind of human grouping has within it a certain amount of political authority.
                As the people of God, our part around those societal tables is to bring all the authority in every aspect of the world under the authority of Christ. Whether it's the way a business or organization works, the way the money is received or spent, the way political issues are resolved, or the way our social structure is meeting the obligations and needs of our community and the world, all is to be done in the name of Jesus. All is to be done in a way that is Christ-like, and brought under the authority of Jesus.

Spiritual Authority

                Christ gives us spiritual authority. Ecclesiastical authority is the authority of the gathered people of faith. We organize ourselves in all different kinds of ways, but however we structure ourselves, we are "the body of Christ, and members in particular" (1 Corinthians 12:27), and Christ "is the head of the body, the church" (Colossians 3:18).  All we do, how we organize ourselves, and how we minister is under the direction and leadership authority of Christ himself.
                Paul told Timothy, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." That's theology. That is studying about God and what God wants for us. We study God's word to hear what God is saying to us. God speaks to us through his word. We are finding ways to re-express what we hear God saying to us, and to help others come into an understanding of what God is offering to them.
                In the ministry of our gifts, our charismatic ministry, the spiritual gifts and graces are administered by the Holy Spirit through us. We minister in the name of Jesus. We administer the gifts in his power and his authority. This is the same authority by which Jesus spoke to the evil spirit in this passage of scripture. We address evil in whatever forms it takes in our lives in the same way. We command it out. We use our various gifts in different ways, but it's the same ministry and by the same spirit and by the same power and by the same authority. We serve by the authority of Christ and his love.

Authority of Love

               Christ came to us under the authority of God's love to bring salvation. All that Christ did in his earthly ministry, he did through that same love. In fact the Bible says that "God is love." (1 John 4:8).  
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
The apostle Paul wrote that this is how we know God loves us, because "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).   Christ was at work on the cross of Calvary, demonstrating his love and bringing his love into it's fulfillment, a reconciling of all things to himself.   In his hymn, "Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown," Charles Wesley wrote,
’Tis Love! ’tis Love! [You died] for me!
I hear Thy whisper in my heart;
The morning breaks, the shadows flee,
Pure, universal love Thou art;
To me, to all Thy [mercies] move;
Thy nature and Thy name is Love.
                Reconciliation means getting right with God and with each other. Through the love of Christ, we are getting our relationships right, getting ourselves right, getting each other right. We are working to get everything right.  We have been given the authority and power to see what's not right and fix it. We have that grace. God is working in our lives, not just saving us, but sanctifying us. God is bringing us into perfect love. God  is perfecting divine love in our hearts and minds, in our relationships, actions and  words. God is perfecting love in our community. That's what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Our authority as disciples is the authority of love. Jesus said,
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another (John 13:34-35).

                We are called, collectively and individually, to be a sanctuary for each other and for the world around us.  We serve in the name of Jesus.  We love under the same power and authority by which Jesus commanded the evil spirit out of this man's life. We work as Jesus' disciples, to minister the spiritual gifts and graces God has given to us. We labor to resolve any conflicts, and diminish any heartache. We strive to bring healing and salvation to everyone whose path we are led to cross.
             God empowers us to comfort others. This is our job and the job of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. We're not just allowed to, although we are; we're not just invited to, although we certainly are.  We're empowered to, we're commissioned to, we're sent to love our family and our friends and our community under the anointing and authority of Jesus Christ.  We are his personal disciples, "ambassadors for Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:20).  We are sent to minister healing, and to minister wholeness, and to minister love, in the all powerful name of Jesus. 

Derived from the sermon on Mark 1:21-28

preached January 28, 2018 at Briensburg UMC
the Sunday following the mass shooting
at Marshall County High School.

Photo by Patrick Neufelder. “Wave.” 2016. 

Photograph.  Pixabay. Web. 27 January 2018.