In a previous post, I wrote “If you feel differently and this post angers you, don’t hesitate to let me know. But be sure and let me know why in a carefully reasoned dissent.” I said it and I meant it, and today I had a couple of good, solid conversations as a result. I want to point out that the invitation is not limited to that particular topic, it stands on every topic I say or write something about. I think that such conversations are foundational to our identity as United Methodists.
I believe that I’ve mentioned this before, but for me, the most important phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance is “under God.” The reason I place such importance on this is that:
All political power is the gift of God; but when men deify the state, either directly by a religious cult or indirectly by demanding for it the total loyalty and obedience that are due to God alone, it ceases to be human and become bestial. — G. B. Caird
We must place our nation “under God” for its own good and for ours.
G. B. Caird as cited by Colin E. Gunton, Actuality of Atonement: A Study of Metaphor, Rationality and the Christian Tradition (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark, 1988), 73.
I came across the following quote in the book Half Truths by Adam Hamilton. It was shared with him by a pastor named Ray Firestone. I don’t know who shared it with Ray Firestone, but it rings true and has its own authority. My hope is that it will help you when you experience suffering.
Suffering is not God’s desire for us, but it occurs in the process of life. Suffering is not given to teach us something, but through it, we may learn. Suffering is not given to punish us, but sometimes it is the consequence of our sin or poor judgment. Suffering does not occur because our faith is weak, but through it, our faith may be strengthened. God does not depend on human suffering to achieve his purposes, but sometimes through suffering his purposes are achieved. Suffering can either destroy us, or it can add meaning to our life. 
I pray that the suffering that occurs in your life will not destroy you, but will instead add meaning and draw you closer to God.
 Adam Hamilton, Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 44.
Yesterday was wonderful. It was great to have the opportunity to spend four worship services with you. Yesterday was wonderful, but yesterday was busy. I just now got to my daily devotional for Christmas Eve from Celebrating Abundance by Walter Brueggemann. I want to share it with you. His scripture is from Matthew 1:20:
But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (NRSV)
Toward the very end of the devotional he writes:
The gift of Christmas contradicts everything we sense about our own life. Our world feels unsavable, and here is the baby named Jesus, “Save.” Our world and our lives often feel abandoned, and here is the baby named Immanuel, “God with us.” Be ready to have your sense of the world contradicted by this gift from God. Rest on the new promise from the angel that you may be safe and whole and generous. 
I’ll admit that at first, I was really unsatisfied with this. I read the word “may” in the sense of “might.”—as in it might be safe and it might not be safe. But that’s not what he means. He means “may” in the sense that you can choose. We can choose to be safe in Jesus Christ because Christ will never forsake us or abandon us and with him, we have everything else. We can choose to be whole because God wants us to be whole and God will make us whole if we allow it. We can be generous because God has been generous with us in ways beyond our understanding.
This Christmas day, I urge you to choose to be safe, choose to be whole, and choose to be generous.
 Walter Brueggemann, Celebrating Abundance: Devotions for Advent, comp. Richard A. Floyd (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), 67.
One of the membership vows new United Methodists take is to support the church with their witness. Hal Knight explained why we seek to do this (and that “why” is not the answer usually given) in an article that I’ve been meaning to share for a long while. Here’s an excerpt the summarizes the article:
the primary argument for the gospel is lives and churches who in their relationships, their life together, and their outreach to others is motivated and characterized by love. It is both the reason for and the result of evangelism. 
I encourage you to head over and listen to the whole thing.
 Henry H. Knight, “Great Commandment Evangelism,” Catalyst Resources, April 6, 2016, section goes here, accessed December 01, 2017, http://www.catalystresources.org/great-commandment-evangelism/.
I wrote this post yesterday. I’ve calmed down some, and in the big scheme of things this is not a matter of life and death, but I’m posting it because the potential blasphemy in the service of patriotism disturbs me deeply.
The following appeared in a story at Slate.com and was backed up by an article at the Sports Illustrated website:
“Before the performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at today’s [Sunday, October 1, 2017] game between the Ravens and Steelers, the P.A. announcer at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore asked fans to join and “pray that we as a nation embrace kindness, unity, equality, and justice for all Americans.” When players knelt to observe the prayer, a cascade of boos rained down upon them from the stands.” 
To the fans who thought this was another protest of the national anthem because they didn’t hear the announcement, I say: “Take a deep breath, pause, and make sure you don’t inadvertently commit an offense against God.”
To the fans who heard the announcement, knew the players were kneeling to pray and booed anyway I say: “Repent and believe the Gospel.”
To the fans who missed the whole thing because they were at the concession stand or in the bathroom because the lines are shortest during that national anthem, I say: “That’s the America I know and still love.”
 Nick Greene, “Fans Booed NFL Players Who Knelt to Observe a Prayer,” Slate Magazine, October 01, 2017, accessed October 03, 2017, http://slate.me/2xY74Wz. See also: Chris Chavez, “Ravens Fans Boo Players during Prayer before National Anthem,” SI.com, October 01, 2017, accessed October 03, 2017, http://on.si.com/2xcgIWn.
A friend and clergy college of mine, Heather Hensarling, wrote the following as an introduction when she shared my post from yesterday. I want to share the meat of it with you. I especially want to share the sentiment of “No judgment here, folks. I promise.”
I first met my friend, Reverend John Collins, at Licensing School in York, NE, 1994. … I’m sharing his blog on The National Anthem Brouhaha (always wondered how to spell that word). It strikes at the heart of what I’ve been feeling as I witness the amount of angry energy church members exert over “a game player” taking a knee during the National Anthem…yet somehow feel no amount of loyalty themselves to remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy. I.e., come to church. I’m not thinking of anyone in particular. I’m thinking of everyone in general who call themselves followers of Jesus, yet somehow muster up more energy about taking a knee on NFL game day than they do about taking a seat on Sunday. No judgment here, folks. I promise. The only shoes I walk in are my own. Just curious, that’s all. …
I’m feeling prophetic this morning, and that means that there’s a pretty good chance that what follows is going to offend someone. To avoid possible confusion, let me state at the outset that I’m not writing to argue against standing for the national anthem, I’m writing to argue for weekly worship attendance. I welcome your feedback via email, a phone call, or a face to face conversation.
The current brouhaha over standing or not standing for the national anthem at the beginning of a for-profit sporting event has left me slightly bemused. Here’s why.
I think that there is an analogy to be drawn between the singing of the national anthem at the beginning of a sporting event and the weekly service of worship at the beginning of the week (remember the New Testament refers to Sunday as the first day of the week), but it is an unequal analogy. What I mean by an unequal analogy is this: whatever honor and respect we owe to the country in which we live pales in comparison to the honor and respect we owe the Almighty. After all, it is God who formed the earth upon which we live, the air that we breathe, and without whose continuous grace all that exists would cease to be.
The extent to which many people have gotten upset over the fact that a few professional athletes are refusing to stand for the national anthem is surprising when you consider how everyone takes it in stride when a much larger percentage of the population stays away from the weekly worship service. My country has given me a great many things; my God has given me even more and without the God who made all that is, my country would have nothing to offer me. Any argument that can be made for the importance of standing for the national anthem can be made even more forcefully for attending worship. But despite that fact, we get very upset about any neglect of the first no matter what the reason while being sanguine about the most flagrant violations of the second for any old reason at all.
Obviously, we cannot coerce sincere faith in God by mandating weekly worship attendance any more than we can coerce true allegiance to our country by making everyone stand for the national anthem, but shame on us for being so concerned about the latter and so untroubled about the former. It’s almost a textbook case of idolatry. May God have mercy on us.
Please do not confuse my failure to discuss the reasons for taking a knee for indifference to them. Regardless of the efficacy of their protest, I consider the matters of injustice given by those taking a knee to be of grave concern.
I’ve been trying to keep up with the news of the escalating tensions between North Korea and the United States, but I don’t have much insight to offer or advice to give. I am reminded of all times I have watched controversies escalate to an extreme that neither side wanted in local churches I served. In those instances, both sides spoke and acted rashly and hastily. I pray that won’t happen here, the stakes are just too high.
Still, God is at work in the world and hope is not lost. All that most of us can do concerning this particular crisis is to pray, but that is enough. I am praying, and I invite you to join me. Jesus said, “blessed are the peacemakers.” May we pray (and thus work) for peace (not only with and in North Korea, but for God’s all encompassing peace in the larger world) and may we pray and work for that same peace in the little corner of it that we inhabit and exert influence over.
I’m re-reading When Spiritual But Not Religious is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church in preparation for the Breakfast Club this coming Saturday. In the chapter on prayer, Lillian Daniel talks about the need not only to pray for the high minded things that we would be happy share with other people but also to pray for the little things that are unique to us, the prayers that we suppress because we feel that they are unworthy.
That kind of thinking, that reluctance to ask God for what we really want, is arrogance posing as humility. It seems humble to not ask God for our own desires, and to put other larger matters first. But doing that seems to imply we have power in all this. As if by asking God to cure diabetes before asking for a raise, we might actually affect God’s priorities. Do we honestly think that if no one asked for anything trivial, and everyone got focused on world peace, God would finally see that we had reached some quota and say, “Right, now that four billion and one people have asked for it, I will make it happen. But don’t anybody ask for a cottage by a lake right now, or I’ll get distracted.” 
There is a fail-safe system built into prayer. Prayer is not the monkey’s paw.  God’s not going to do something that not in our best interest just because we were stupid enough to ask for it. Lillian continues:
Sorry, but I just don’t think our prayer requests have that kind of power. So why pray then? Prayer is about connecting with God, about having a relationship with our divine creator. God desires that with us, and because God loves us so much, God actually cares about our trivial wants, our big dreams, and our petty grievances. This is humbling news indeed. We can come to God with anything, and God will work with it. 
So ask away. Take whatever you have to God in prayer and let God work with it and on you.
 Lillian Daniel, When “Spiritual but Not Religious” Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church (Grand Central Pub, 2013), 39-40.
 “The Monkey’s Paw,” Wikipedia, July 22, 2017, accessed July 27, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Monkey%27s_Paw.
 Lillian Daniel, 40.
In his book of Lenten devotionals, N. T. Wright offers the following prayer:
Sovereign Lord, help us to meet the scorn of unbelievers with the evidence, in what we do and who we are, that you are indeed alive. — N. T. Wright 
Perhaps it’s a product of my occupation, but I haven’t met all that many scornful unbelievers. Instead, I’m more likely to encounter what we might call “discouraged, doubt plagued, believers.” Either way, Christians and churches who demonstrate their faith by “what we do and who we are” are the best argument for the risen Christ.
 N. T. Wright, Lent for Everyone: Mathew, Year A: A Daily Devotional (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 147.
Jenny saw this on Facebook yesterday (Wednesday, June 8, 2017) and shared it with me. I’m sharing it with you. The style, tenor, and tone of this response reminded me of just one of the many reasons I’m United Methodist.