The Not So Simple Plan

 

I don’t know how many of you will read this post to the end because…..well because it is primarily about my Tribe, the United Methodist Church.  But I would encourage you to hang with this post because it will have something that is a reflection of our culture….and a challenge to those who are more than fans of Jesus.

Here’s a brief background for this post.  In the United Methodist Tribe, our “official” group that develops our official “beliefs” and “social principles” is called the General Conference and it meets once every 4 years.  These “beliefs” are published each 4 years in what we call The Book of Discipline, or called “The Discipline” for short..  Since 1972 our official “stand” on human sexuality is that all persons are equally in need of God’s grace and are people of worth and should be allowed to attend any United Methodist congregation (we turn no one away).  However, the only form of “sex” that has God’s blessings is that of a monogamous marriage between a man and a woman.  We further believe that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and that no self-avowed or practicing homosexual is eligible for licensing, commissioning or ordination in the United Methodist Church.  This has been our stand since 1972.  Every 4 years attempts have been made to declare other forms of sexuality are OK and that the Bible is wrong.  Yet each time our wording, that I consider to be most gracious yet true to the Biblical Standards for sexuality, has been preserved by the General Conference.

However, in recent years, there has been open disobedience without much in the way of consequences for this rebellion.  Clergy and Bishops have broken their vows to support  and maintain the standards set in The Discipline.  In 2016, this General Conference was facing the same attempts to change our Discipline to declare that homosexuality is now OK.  Some attempts to change our stand had already been voted down by the body when a motion was presented and passed to form what we call the Commission On A Way Forward.  A group of individuals were selected by the Bishops to serve on this Commission with the charge to form a plan that would settle this issue once and for all.

After several meetings they formed 3 plans that will be submitted to a called session of General Conference in February 2019.  I won’t go into all 3 of those plans, but I refer you to the website and you can read for yourself. (Click Here for the Report of Commission on Finding A Way Forward).  But I will give you my summary of those 3 plans:

  1. The Traditional Plan:  Maintains our current wording and belief but with mandatory penalties for those who violate The Discipline.
  2. The One Church Plan:  Every church, every lay person, every pastor, every Annual Conference determines their own view of human sexuality–without fear of penalties for anyone who disagrees.  Summation:  YOU get to choose.
  3. The Connectional Plan:  Regional Conferences would be formed based solely on their views of human sexuality and then churches and pastors select which Conference they want to be aligned with.

I’ve said a lot and could have said even more.  At the risk of sounding like a late night Infomercial Hawker….but wait, there’s more!

Now a group has come up with and will present what they call “The Simple Plan” (Click here for that report).  It will remove all of what is termed “restrictive language” concerning homosexuality and ordination in the United Methodist Church.  Let me say this:  to my gay friends, you are my friends and I love each one of you.  I am not judging you or your relationship with Jesus if you have one.  I am, however, maintaining my conviction that the Bible IN CONTEXT is the source of authority for life and faith.    Furthermore I do not consider you or any gay person an abomination.  I reserve that term for churchians and tenured pew sitters.  After all, it was only towards the “really religious” folks that Jesus was ever tort or gruff.

Here is what The Simple Plan seeks to accomplish, in my humble opinion:

  1. The Elimination of The Bible as the source of morality, faith and life.  If it can’t be trusted in the arena of human sexuality, how can it be trusted anywhere?  Taken to its conclusion–God is nothing at all like the Bible portrays Him and this includes the concept of God being Gracious and Merciful.  The Simple Plan declares that The Bible is unreliable.
  2. It reduces the Creation Saga to a fanciful myth and pigment of the imagination of writers.  In the Creation Saga, God establishes all order, including human sexuality.  The gift of sex is reserved for husband (man) and wife (woman).  Only this act of intimacy has God’s blessings.  All other sex is outside the blessing and approval of God.  Notice, I did say ALL other sex, not just same gender sex.  The Simple Plan reduces the Creation Saga to a mythological context with no real application for today.
  3. It promotes feelings as the final determinant for what is authoritative for life in the Church.  For millennia, the people of God have relied upon The Bible.  Granted, it’s been misused and taken out of context to justify all kinds of immoral behavior and systems.  But it was, and should continue to be, the Guide for determining holiness of both heart and life.  The Simple Plan throws out this Sacred Writ for what we believe about ourselves–not what God says.
  4. It reduces humanity to the status of slaves and prisoners.  I know that some liberal-progressive-ProAgressive (a term a friend uses and I have to agree with it) will argue me that The Simple Plan doesn’t created slaves and prisoners–rather it liberates.  Not so fast, bucko!  You are defining people by whom they want to have sex with–i.e.–that humans beings are nothing more than sexual beings.  Sex creates bondage when it is engaged in outside the place that is blessed by God.  The Simple Plan says that a person is identified by their sexual partner, rather than the whole person.
  5. It closes the door for personal transformation.  This is akin to Point 2, but goes deeper.  The Simple Plan closes the door to the act of God’s Grace to change and transform us from sinner to saint.  It avoids even the hint of sin, ergo, without sin we do not need to experience change.  All we need is to declare that God has created and blessed who we really are.  There is no model for personal transformation, but emphasizes self-acceptance.
  6. Finally, The Simple Plan demonizes everyone who disagrees with the plan.  While insisting that they be heard, they refuse to listen to other views and resort to calling them bigots and declaring they really don’t know Jesus.

In reality, The Simple Plan is nothing really new.  In fact, it’s rather old.  I mean, really, really, really, really, really, REALLY old.  It goes back to Eden.  The Simple Plan promotes the lie that Satan told Eve and Adam.  “Look, you can be–you NEED to be your own God.  Forget what God said.  Be who you want to be.  This fruit is just what you need to be a complete person–and your own God.”

You see, in reality, nothing is simple about sin.  It is convoluted and destroys those who allow it to define them.  My prayer, and my hope, is that the Tribe for which I have been a part of for 62 years–The Tribe where God called me to serve–will adopt The Traditional Plan.  And if not–then I know God will lead me to where I can continue to experience transformation and offer transformation to a world led astray by The Serpent’s Lie.

The Big Lie!

old new clothes

Yesterday afternoon I was at the Opening Session for our Tribe’s thing called “Annual Conference”.  It was my 43rd consecutive Conference.  For “outsiders”, Annual Conference is this thing that when all is said and done, more is said than done.  Bishop Sharma Lewis preached for our opening Worship, and normally I would have considered it a great and powerful message.  She chose the passage from Colossians 3, verse 12 and it was about putting on the new clothes of love and she presented us with a great question:  What are you wearing?

Normally, I know there’s nothing normal about me in many folks eyes, but that’s their problem, I would have really been inspired by the message.  I mean, what’s better than wearing the new clothes of love.  Or, as The Message puts it:

Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. 

But this crisis that the United Methodist Tribe is facing, has caused me to have this deep-seated thought that Bishop Lewis was only telling half of the story–literally a half-truth.  And a half-truth is at its root and core, a lie!  As I was talking to God about this “disappointment” in my heart, it hit me.  She, like so many in our culture today, didn’t talk about the first part of Paul’s letter.  Yes, be clothed in God’s love–after all, it’s His personal label.  But….

But these new clothes don’t fit or look well as long as you keep wearing the “old” clothes underneath them.  He starts off in Verses 1-2

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

It’s one of the few things I remember from my cemetery, excuse me, seminary days–that a text without its context is only a pretext.  Bishop Lewis never mentioned verses 1 and 2.  And there’s more to the context, and it’s summed up in verse 5

And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.

Our Tribe is being asked to change our church polity and order to accommodate what is now called “Progressive” theology.  We are being asked to give up the traditional view of human sexuality in order to not only accommodate our culture–but here’s the BIG LIE–but because of God’s love, it’s OK to be “gay”.  Progressive theology on human sexuality says that God created some people “gay”, ergo, it’s no longer a sin.  Just wear love!

Yet how can anyone put on God’s love, wear these perfectly fitting clothes, IF we continue to wearing the old clothes?  The truth is, the painful truth is, you can’t!  In the south we would say it like this, and for you poor unfortunate souls who aren’t in the south, I will help translate this for you:  Put a silk dress on a sow (NOUN: a female pig) and she’s still a sow, and she’ll get that silk dress muddy.  And we cannot wear God’s New Designer Label of Love until we get rid of the old clothes of sin.

I say this not from the “high ground” of being morally superior to others, but from the “low ground” of realizing that I still have sin in me.  I admit that I’m broken and am always turning back to God to help put shed off the old clothes so that I can be fitted with the right clothes.  Those who insist that sexuality outside of the husband (man) and wife (woman), in other words, being “gay”, is their identity.  There is no offer of personal transformation into the identity that has nothing to do with sex–but everything to do with The Creator.

Progressives offer no hope for a new identity–just put on the new clothes of love without ever taking off the old clothes of, as The Message puts it, “doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.”  I am wondering now, could it be that the suicide rate is above average in the LBGTQI community, especially among teens who feel or believe they are gay, because they are not offered Hope–hope for not just a new identity–but their TRUE identity.  A person’s true identity is found in their relationship with God–NOT with whom they are having sex.

And my heart breaks for the LBGTQI community because they have been told to believe that there is no way to shed their old clothes for the new designer clothes.  As long as we try to wear the Divine Designer Clothes of Love OVER the old clothes doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy you will never be able to wear them as they are designed.

I’m not saying homosexuality is the worst sin.  And it certainly isn’t the only thing that can be called an abomination.  Proverbs 6:16-19 (NLT) describes those things this way:

17 There are six things the Lord hates—no, seven things he detests:
17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent,
18 a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong,
19 a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family.

One time I was asked, “Bro. Randy, what do you think is the worst sin?  Rejecting Jesus?”  I think my response shocked her.  I said, “No, even that’s not the worst sin.  I believe that the worst sin is the one that makes God want to vomit–and that is being lukewarm (Revelation 3:16).  No other condition, no other sin that I can find in the Bible makes God want to puke.  I just noticed something–3:16.  One 3:16 tells us we can have eternal life (John 3:16).  This other 3:16 says we make God want to puke, and thus, be eternally separated from Him.

I am smart enough, wise enough, and humble enough to know that I still have times when I try to wear God’s Designer Jeans over my filthy yard clothes.  They don’t fit, they don’t look good because that’s not the way these “Designer Jeans” are “DESIGNED” to be worn.  We have to put off the old in order to wear the new.  So I pray, pray hard first for me to be sure I’m not trying to wear the new over the old.  Second, I pray hard for the LBGTQI community to stop believing the Great Lie.  And third, I pray for those who are deceiving the LBGTQI community WITH the Great Lie.

Before new life happens–before we can experience the Resurrection Life–there are things that need to, MUST die in all of us.  Otherwise, we’re just an old sow wearing a silk dress.  That’s not how this works!

We Are More Than Our Feelings

emoji-chart-feelings-chart.jpg

This morning I was reading 1 John chapter 1.  My reason was simple:  I was practicing what I preach.  Imagine that, a preacher actually doing what he or she preaches.  I was reading for the sake of listening to God.  No Bible study prep time or sermon prep or looking for my next blog.  Just reading, and listening.  Two things jumped out at me this morning:  Light versus Darkness.  In other words, sin versus Holiness.  And it got me to thinking about a common experience among us humans:  Feelings.  No, not the song (bet that got some of you hearing that song in your head), but that complex and complicated arena of human feelings.  In my thinking this morning, there 4 basic categories of feelings through which any particular feeling would fall into.

First there are what I term Emotional Feelings.  Thanks to this thing called emojis we have a way to express our emotions with a picture–happy, sad, confused, angry, disgusted and so forth.  I believe that God created us to have emotions.  After all God has His emotions–joy and sadness, love and hate, compassion and firmness are just a few.  Unfortunately we are not like Spock, not the infamous child psychologist, but the one on the Starship Enterprise, who could detach himself from silly emotions.  Emotions are our initial response to what happens to us in life.

Second are what I classify as Psychological Feelings.  These are those emotions that we have processed through our thinking and become a resident in our psyche.  Distrust, hopeful, optimistic, pessimistic, prejudice, accepting, doubting, inquisitive–these are just a few of what I would term as psychological feelings.  Often our intellectual reasoning is influenced here more than anywhere else.  Our phobias fall into this classification of feelings.  Phobias go deeper that just an initial response–they are deeply rooted in the human psyche.  This human psyche is another part of how God created us.  These are what influences how we see people and situations.  On the darker side, you see it resulting in sociopaths,  narcissists, or psychopaths.

Third are what I call Spiritual Feelings.  These are rooted even deeper than our psyche–they are rooted in what some call the heart or the soul.  This is our moral compass.  It, more than anything else, shapes and forms our values, of what is right and what is wrong.  Our spiritual feelings also creates our sense of guilt and shame, as well as our feelings of joy (which are deeper than feelings of happiness) and contentment.

And last, but by no means least, is what I term as our “Biological Feelings“.  In our culture, and in my own Tribe, this is a subject of great controversy.  It could easily be argued that biological feelings are at the root of psychosomatic illnesses.  (You know what psychosomatics want on their tombstone:  “I Told You I Was Sick!”)  But these feelings go deeper.  It is the root of the crisis of sexual identity.  Gays and transgendered hold on to that biological sense that they were born with same-gender attractions or were born the wrong gender all together.  Thus, they are free to act upon and direct the future of their lives based on what they call, this biological fact.  I know my gay friends will disagree with my next point but I still love and care about you.  It is still rooted in a feeling, be it biological, it is still a feeling.

And unfortunately, many people self-identify through their feelings.  Thus these words from 1 John 1:5-10 (NLT) speak another word:

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.  If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

Each type of “feelings” bleeds over into all the others.  Unlike Spock who prides himself in being detached from all emotions/feelings, we are humans, not Vulcans.  And this mishmash of emotions are causing people to live beneath and below their created design.  This reliance on feelings has created such things as The New Pharisees, Tenured Pew Sitters, Churchians, people who feel they are worthless, permanent failures, unloved, abandoned, and so many other words that reveal our brokenness.  Moral labels that people wear eventually will destroy them.

And I believe that this has resulted in the sexual crisis in our culture, and in the hearts and minds of those who identify as LBGTQI.  This sexual chaos and confusion, this creation of moral labels as well, is the direct result of this thing called “sin”.  Geneticists tell us that we have our own unique DNA.  But one day I foresee that they will eventually discover that every human being shares one gene equally–that it’s the same gene in all of us.  I hope they call it for what it is:  The Adam and Eve Gene!  While the New Pharisees, Tenured Pew Sitters and Churchians vehemently deny its existence in themselves, it remains true that all of us have that gene–and somewhere we are all broken–in different places and ways–but nonetheless BROKEN!

How we feel, what we think or believe we are, is not final–even in the arena of sexual identity.  Ever since the Adam and Eve Gene formed in their DNA and was passed along to every generation–God has been seeking to redeem and restore us who bear His Image.  When we live by our, call it “feelings” or “beliefs” about ourselves, we live within a lie and deny ourselves the only hope and cure to live life richly and with great purpose.

God invites us on a journey to wholeness–becoming whole emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, biologically and sexually.  He alone, through the Holy Spirit, can transform us into our original intended design.  We do not have to become a prisoner to our feelings, especially sexually.  If you are someone who thinks you have no choice about your sexual identity, I want you to listen to Sam Allberry (here’s a link to part of his story).  All of us are more than what we “feel”–for every feeling, every emotion, every way we self-identify is tainted by sin.

Be more than how you feel–because you ARE more than that.  Get off that “emotional” roller-coaster and sit down, sit down at the feet of Jesus.  Take whatever time is necessary for you to discover the true you, the YOU that God designed and created.  You are more than a label, a feeling, an emotion, or a desire.  Jesus brings the Light of God’s truth.  Follow that light and you will become whole–the person God created to bear His Image!  In Sam Allberry’s words:  Identity is something God gives us.  We do not create it or discover it.  It is GIVEN to us by God.

But What About…???

If you are not a United Methodist, or have not been following “The Great Controversy”, or are simply a United Methodist who has had their head buried in the sand while hoping “The Great Controversy” will just go away, these words from my heart and mind will probably not mean much to you and you will just pass over these words.  As “The Preacher”, called by God’s infinite Grace and ordained by God and my Tribe, I am compelled by the Holy Spirit to speak into “The Great Controversy”.  I do this with great humility because I know I am far from perfect; but I also know that God, through the Holy Spirit, is working on my imperfections.

To my friends who identify themselves as “gay”, and to my friends who support being “gay” as being acceptable to God, I know we are on different sides of this “The Great Controversy” and my heart and mind could cause you to “unfriend” me.  I pray that our connection is deeper than one issue.  I believe it is.

In a recent small group I was leading that focused on the question of human sexuality, the question was asked of me:  “Can a person be gay and be a Christian?”  Because I had spent a lot of time in prayer and meditation in The Bible before we began this small group, I know it was the Holy Spirit that inspired my response.  I replied, “Can a person who cheats on their income tax be a Christian?  Can a person who steals office supplies from work be a Christian?  Can a person who engages in premarital or extramarital sex be a Christian?  My answer is yes.  But one cannot be fully formed and developed in Christ as long as any sin remains in us.”  And to my hyper-conservative friends (and foes), I ask again that you refrain from using that horrible word “abomination” against the LBGTQ community.  Truth is, all expressions of sin is an abomination to God.  Those who insist that they don’t struggle with some recurring sin is not, in my humble opinion, being honest.  What they have done is made peace with their “sin of choice”.  And now the reason I am writing this blog.

That body known as the “Commission On A Way Forward” shared their report to our bishops.   (You can read about this report here.)  While I have been hopeful about the work of the Commission, I am not surprised by their report, nor am I surprised by the response of some of our bishops; and this deeply saddens me.

The article (you can see the entire article here) opens with this line:  “Placing emphasis on the values of unity, space and contextuality – all for the sake of mission – the Council of Bishops (COB) is exploring sketches of three models as possible directions for a way forward for The United Methodist Church over LGBTQ inclusion.”  But what about The Bible?  Does it no longer hold any value?  Is unity, space and contextuality more important than Truth?  More important than God’s Grace that transforms us into HIS image?

Here are the “options” presented to the bishops:

  • Affirm the current Book of Discipline language and place a high value on accountability. The church policy book says the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching” and lists officiating at a same-gender union or being a “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy member as chargeable offenses under church law.
  • Remove restrictive language and place a high value on contextualization. This sketch also specifically protects the rights of those whose conscience will not allow them to perform same-gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons.
  • Create multiple branches that have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization and justice.  In other words, “Choose which branch of the United Methodist Church you like. “

And what about The Bible?  Everything in each “option” is about “their view”.  And thus the source of humanity’s mess that goes back to “the view” of Adam and Eve.  Truth is that our view can and will violate God’s view without a commitment to and trust in God’s intended design and purposes.  I realize that mean and vicious people have twisted the Bible to fit their views rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to renew and transform what can only be called stickin’ thinkin’  so that we may be formed in God’s intent and design.  But alas, it seems the church that God used to save this wretch like me, would rather I and others, even everyone, be formed by “their view” than transformed by God’s truth.

So, as I await the decision coming in February 2019 from the governing body of my Tribe, a Tribe of which I have been in my entire life, I have made my decision.  My decision is to become the person God intends for me to become and be faithful to His design.  After all, HE created me.  Furthermore, as one called out because of God’s grace, I will no longer be tied to a group that emphasizes feelings over truth.  I grieve deeply over this informed decision in my heart, but I will be faithful to this decision with deep humility.  Though I grew up in the United Methodist Church, and have served Jesus for over 43 years in this church, I probably will not finish my race in this life in this Tribe if the decision is “choose your own way”.  As Joshua challenged the Hebrews, his challenge is now before me from Joshua 24:15 (NIV)

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

It is better to serve the Lord…and this is my choice, my only “option”…