“When Unity At All Costs Is Too Costly”

 

The link below is from a fellow pastor, mentor, leader and friend.  While his thoughts are directed towards and fitting for my fellow United Methodist Pastors, the principles Paul lays out will fit a variety of situations.  Sometimes we forget that when Jesus walked this creation as one He created, He was one of the most divisive personalities ever seen.  And if any of my readers are United Methodist, please take this blog as being hopeful–hopeful as we follow Jesus.

Click on the picture to go to Paul’s blog…

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HOW DO YOU SEE THE BIBLE?

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I started to title this “How Do You Read The Bible” but something, actually Someone, prompted me to change that word “read” to “see”.  I think this change came about because it is how we SEE the Bible that we READ the Bible.  Among the many things that has created conflict and chaos within the Body of Christ, the Bible, particularly how one sees the Bible, ranks near if not at the very top of that list.

We all bring a perspective, a point of view to everything we think, say or even read.  This perspective brings an influence into our lives especially as we read something, and even more so as we read the Bible.  For centuries people have debated the meaning of The Book and as a result, many today blindly accept these interpretations as immovable facts.  For example, many believe that a leader in the church, be they called elder or pastor, is someone who has never been divorced.  To back up their assertion they quote Paul in Titus 1:5-6 (KJV)—“5 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: 6 if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.”

Where does it say “He cannot be divorced.”?  Other work on translating the Greek phrase in verse 6 like this:  “An elder must live a blameless life. He must be faithful to his wife.” (NLT)  Instead of meaning “He can’t be divorced” could it not mean that he should not be a polygamist or have a mistress?  But most of my fellow disciples would disagree with me, and why?  Because we’ve always been taught way.  I hear someone already thinking, “Now hold your horses, Preacher!  Jesus said (Matthew 5:30-32) 31 You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’ 32 But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.’  What about that verse?”

But what if the context of His words was their “Law”?  This is in the middle of a section where Jesus has been challenging their view of the Law.  Their Law wasn’t just the tablets Moses brought down from Sinai, but centuries of their interpretations, 613 laws to be exact.  Jesus was using their “Law” to show how inconsistent and how far off the mark they were from God’s heart.  Could it be that what Jesus meant was “Look, divorce was never a part of God’s design and you cannot justify it legally.”  What if Jesus was simply saying, “Divorce is a sin, but through God’s mercy and grace all sin can be forgiven”?  And what does God do with the memory of our sin?  Try this:  “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12 NLT) and “I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.” (Isaiah 43:25 NLT)

Since divorce was never a part of God’s intended design, what should I do?  How can I respond to both the rule of God and His forgiveness of my sin?  I can stop doing that thing that was wrong, as in this discussion and in my own life, I should never divorce again.  And in fact, that is exactly what I am doing.  My wife Debbie and I have a prenuptial agreement to never divorce.  If I try to run she shoots me and if she tries to run, I shoot her.  OK, folks, don’t get your panties in a wad.  That’s a joke.  What we are saying is that we will treat each other like we should—as God’s gift to each other.

I’ve said all this (and it’s been a lot) to come back to my original question:  How Do We See The Bible?  What is our perspective when it comes to the Sacred Writ?  What I am about to say, I am not asking you to agree with it, but hopefully you will do some deep self-examination to discover your own perspective in how you read the Bible.  My perspective is rather simple; I call it The Genesis 3 Perspective.  And here is how it works.

For the first 2 chapters in Genesis, everything is really clear.  God created us to live in a relationship with Him, and in this relationship, to participate with Him in what He has just created.  Everything was, as they say in that Liberty Mutual® commercial, “PERFECT!”  There was no fear and no shame at all.  It is all so very simple, live in relationship with God and join Him in the unfolding of creation.  In other words, to start discovering all that God put in place for our enjoyment.

We don’t know exactly how long this lasted, but Genesis 3 happens.  In case you forgot, Genesis 3 is the story of The Fall.  Now that we have messed it up by using the precious gift of free will for our own self-will, how does God respond?  He seeks the fallen in order to restore us back to our original and intended design.  I have come to understand that the rest of the Bible, from Genesis 3 all the way to Revelation 22, is the story of God redeeming us and helping us find our way back to our original design and His intended purpose.  In fact, Revelation 22 is God’s promise and assurance that a moment will come when the process of restoration becomes complete.

For me, this means I cannot afford to take one single passage out of context, nor place a single story outside the Main Story of Scripture, which is God seeking to restore us to our original purpose and His intended design.  This is how I see the Bible, and because this is how I see the Bible, it is how I read the Bible.  There has been so much, too much controversy over how people see the Bible.  I think it is at the root of our current controversy in the United Methodist Church around human sexuality.  Some want to point out the abomination of same gender sex and others want to say that the Bible is wrong because it doesn’t match up with how one feels and that Jesus said all we have to do is love.

Listen people, we are all messed up inside.  All of us are born with the genetic predisposition to some sin.  Think about a toddler who doesn’t want to share their toys with another toddler.  Often they cry out, “Mine!  Mine!  Mine!”  Where did that come from?  And where do disasters and diseases come from?  The act of Adam and Eve brought all of this into God’s creation, including whatever preference of sin that exists inside each and every one of us.

But remember the rest of Genesis 3:  What is God’s response?  He wants to redeem us from our sin, and He also wants to restore us to our original design.  Listen again from this Genesis 3 Perspective to Luke 19:1-10 (The Message):

1-4 Then Jesus entered and walked through Jericho.  There was a man there, his name Zacchaeus, the head tax man and quite rich.  He wanted desperately to see Jesus, but the crowd was in his way—he was a short man and couldn’t see over the crowd.  So he ran on ahead and climbed up in a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus when he came by.

5-7 When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry down.  Today is my day to be a guest in your home.”  Zacchaeus scrambled out of the tree, hardly believing his good luck, delighted to take Jesus home with him.  Everyone who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, “What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?”

Zacchaeus just stood there, a little stunned.  He stammered apologetically, “Master, I give away half my income to the poor—and if I’m caught cheating, I pay four times the damages.”

9-10 Jesus said, “Today is salvation day in this home!  Here he is:  Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.”

When viewed from the Genesis 3 Perspective, this encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus has only one purpose.  To redeem Zacchaeus from his sin and to restore Zacchaeus to his original purpose and God’s intended design.  Greed, power, in short, selfishness, was consuming and destroying Zach and Jesus knew it.  So what does Jesus do?  He invades Zach’s space by inviting Himself to his home.  And Zach’s response?  “I’m going to stop doing what I’ve been doing and start living the way God designed me to live.”  And notice, it’s a life that is centered around others, not self.

The Bible doesn’t exist to prove our views, and truth be known, one can twist any verse in the Bible to justify their view.  How?  Because we tend to read the Bible to justify ourselves rather than to discover the God who loves us so deeply that He and He alone, will justify us in order to restore us to our original purpose and His intended design.  At the risk of sounding like Nick Saban (like that would be a horrible thing), this is a process.

We think we are instantly justified when we can take a few verses (maybe many verses) out of the context of God seeking to redeem and restore us to our original purpose and His intended design to prove our point.  I want to encourage you to “retool” the way you read the Bible by changing the way you see the Bible.  See the Bible for what it is:  the mission of God to redeem and restore us and how we should respond to this extraordinary mercy and grace from God.

I am not saying I have it all figured out and that my understanding of the Sacred Writ is 100% accurate.  What I am saying is that because I now read this wonderful Book from the Genesis 3 perspective I am discovering that some of what I learned about the Bible is wrong.  I have also learned that much I feel about the Bible is also wrong.  Nearly 2,000 years of listening to what others have said about the Bible has tainted us, perhaps even more than our own preference of sin, and blinded us to what God really wants.

And what God really wants is seen in His response to Adam and Eve.  Yes, there were consequences to their wrong exercise of their free will as it is with ours.  But remember that God is also there to redeem and take them on a journey to full restoration of their original purpose and His intended design.  I believe that the Bible, though penned and re-penned by human hands, is preserved for us to discover the God of redemption and restoration.  I believe that even though human minds and hearts determined this Canon for us, I also believe that my God is big enough to make sure that this Canon accurately tells the story of His desire for us to be redeemed and restored to Eden.  If your god can’t do that, could it be you are serving a way too weak god?

I furthermore believe that because this Canon is the story of God’s search to redeem and restore us, it is completely sufficient for faith, life and order.  The Bible has authority over me because it is the story of God’s search to redeem and restore me.  Do I absolutely understand everything about the Bible?  Who are you kidding?  Do I agree with everything I currently understand about the Bible?  No, but I am on a journey with Him who has both a purpose and design that comes out of Eden to become the person created for Eden.  Am I there yet?  Emphatically and absolutely NO!  How do I get there?  I go back to the Book, the one Book that God has persevered for me so that I can fully become who He made me to be.

I leave you with these words of John Wesley, whom God used to help redeem and restore a culture in a time of spiritual blindness:

“I have thought, I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing,—the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. For this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri. Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone; only God is here. In His presence I open, I read His book; for this end, to find the way to heaven. Is there a doubt concerning the meaning of what I read? Does anything appear dark or intricate? I lift up my heart to the Father of Lights:—“Lord, is it not Thy word, ‘if any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God?’ Thou givest liberally, and upbraidest not. Thou hast said, ‘if any be willing to do Thy will, he shall know.’ I am willing to do, let me know Thy will.” I then search after and consider parallel passages of Scripture, “comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” I meditate thereon with all the attention and earnestness of which my mind is capable. If any doubt still remains, I consult those who are experienced in the things of God: and then the writings whereby, being dead, they yet speak. And what I thus learn, that I teach.”

An Open Letter To My United Methodist Sisters And Brothers (wherever you are)

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Dear members of this Tribe,

     There is so very much about our Tribe that I dearly love.  It was here that I was surrounded by God’s indescribable grace.  It was here that God’s Prevenient Grace surrounded me, loved on me and nurtured me.  At the age of 16, it was here where I experienced and after much struggle finally accepted for myself God’s Justifying Grace.  And it is here that His Sanctifying Grace has been at work in my life for the past 44 years and I am confident that this Grace will continue to be at work in me until either Jesus returns or I graduate to the life God intends for all of us to experience, that life Adam and Eve enjoyed until The Fall.

     I have been in the Tribe all 60 years of my life and I have remained here, not because I grew up here, but because God called and planted me here.  I had always believed that I would end this journey still with this Tribe but recent events have now caused me to have for the very first time, to doubt if my journey will end in this Tribe we call United Methodist.  For the past 42 years whenever someone would ask me about joining another Tribe or if I had that thought, the immediate answer from the Spirit was an emphatic “Absolutely NO!”

     But our current situation and controversy over human sexuality has caused me to enter into a season of deep reflection and even deeper prayer.  And now when I am asked about leaving or pondering the thought of leaving my beloved Tribe for another one, the answer that the Spirit gave me caught me off guard.  This time the answer is, “No, not yet.  Let’s wait and see what develops.”  My heart is literally breaking and I am having many restless nights over this issue.  I need to work through this for myself in order to be first His follower and then the leader God created and called me to be.  So to work through this, I want to write a letter, actually several letters, to those in my Tribe, whether they read it or not.  Writing serves as a catharsis for me.  Here goes in no particular order of importance:


Dear Conservatives/Evangelicals,

    Please stop using the word “abomination” when describing and/or addressing the LGBTQ community.  Using the Bible to beat anyone over their head has never accomplished what God’s Word is designed to do.  I once heard that the Bible is God’s love letter to us and that in the front of our Bible we should write “Dear (insert your own name)” and on the back write “Love, God.”  I have done my due diligence  in trying to understand the progressives and LGBTQ views about the Bible, and I have learned much; not that I agree with their views, but I have learned much about the progressives.

     After seeing and hearing many comments addressed by you to the progressives and LGBTQ communities, I can see why they want to reject parts of the Bible.  Homosexuality is NOT the worst sin, so stop treating it like it is.  I made this statement once and I was asked by someone, “Brother Randy, what do you think is the worst sin?  I think it is rejecting Jesus.  Don’t you?”  I think my reply caught them off-guard.  I thought for a moment and replied, “No, I don’t.”  No sooner than those words rolled off my tongue, that person looked at me with an expression that said, “I heard you were crazy, now I know you are.”

     I continued my thoughts, “Sin is sin is sin.  There is no sin that is worse than any other sin.  Sin cuts us off from the relationship that God wants with us and messes up the intended design God has for us.  But I would say there is one particular sin that disgusts God more than any other.”  The question I longed to hear was asked, “Well, which one is it?”  I replied, “For a church or follower of Jesus to be lukewarm.  In Revelation 3:16, Jesus said that a lukewarm (meaning ‘mediocre’) church (or follower) made Him sick at His stomach.  I do not recall Jesus ever saying that about any other expression of sin.”  So to you, the conservative/evangelical members of this Tribe who insist and continue to use the word “abomination” in addressing the LGBTQ and progressive community, I want to say, “STOP IT!”  This tactic is only widening the gap and creating deeper wounds.  Instead, let them see in you the driving desire to be more like Jesus, yourself.  Letting anyone see Jesus transforming our own life is always the best way to invite them to Jesus, and for them to allow Jesus to transform their whole life, which is more than the term “sexual orientation”.  Transformation is about the whole person.


Dear North Alabama Annual Conference,

     I write to all of you–both clergy and laity–individuals and congregations–leadership and those of you in the trenches.  The first thing I would say is to our leadership–please say something definitive about these recent events.  Let me know where you stand on this issue–clearly and decisively.  Please avoid being like the politician who, when questioned about his position on a certain issue, replied, “Some of my friends are for it and some of my friends are against it.  And I want you to know that I stand with my friends.”  Some of you have done so in a public manner, and others have done so privately.  Whether I agree or disagree with your views, I want to hear them, I need to hear them.  You are among the leadership in my life and my local church and in times like these, make up your heart and mind and then speak it.  Even though the concept of “unity” would be great right now, there are moments and situations where unity is not a possibility, or at least unity as we try to define it.  I think this is a time that fits what Jesus said in Matthew 10:34 (NLT), “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth!  I came not to bring peace, but a sword.”

     The second group I want to address are those who are seriously considering pulling out and abandoning this Tribe simply because of what a minority have either said or done.  Do not consider abandoning your post because it seems to be the best or only answer.  And definitely do not abandon your post because you feel like it is now or never–that somehow God is going to judge you if you don’t pull out right now.  I am convinced that God’s guidance for me–“Not yet.  Let’s wait and see what happens first”–is the message He is trying to get out to more of us orthodox Tribal members.  I just recently heard about one of our churches that has already left our Tribe.  If God is actually guiding this local church in a new direction, then they will be blessed because of their faithfulness to God.  But my greatest concern (and heartache) is that they simply have given up hope.  If you are about to give up hope and leave our Tribe, then understand that you will have gone A.W.O.L. (absent-without-official-leave) and are M.I.A. (missing-in-action) at a time when the Tribe needs your faithfulness and your hope.

     And to my fellow Tribe members who simply do not care or have not kept yourself informed, I want to encourage to arm yourself with facts–and not the “Google or whatever blog you happen to read” facts.  Ask questions and share truthful information with each other.  Search for the truth and then pray–pray without ever stopping for our Tribe.  Arm yourselves with other prayer warriors.  In your prayers make sure you take enough time to listen to what God might want to say to you.  If He gives you guidance to speak or act, then be faithful to that guidance.

     And to everyone in North Alabama Annual Conference, please remember that progressives (and for you who are progressive–remember that us orthodox) are NOT your enemy, and neither is the LGBTQ community.  There is an enemy who is trying to uproot our Wesleyan orthodox heritage–but it’s not people.  This is a spiritual battle and it needs to be fought with spiritual weapons against spiritual forces–not against human beings.  And we all need to be accounted for and counted on.


Dear Council of Bishops,

     I hear your call for unity and on the surface, this sounds very nice and good.  No one wants to lead a divided organization.  A general does not want to lead forces into battle who are not of one heart and mind.  And it appears to me that your basis for unity is that progressives accept the orthodox and that the orthodox accept the progressives.  Hey, that would be great IF it could actually happen.  Like some engineering designs, it looks great on paper, but it does not translate well, or at all, into the real world.  And here is why it will not happen and cannot happen.

     You have framed this storm around the context of human sexuality, but this is not the true cause of this storm.  Ask a physician if it is possible for her or him to treat a symptom but not treat the disease and they will tell you not only is it possible, but it happens on a daily basis.  They will also tell you that while the symptoms may become better, it is only temporary.  Eventually the disease consumes the person and hopefully it will be recognized before it is too late.  Bishops, the real storm and the cause of our malady is the rejection of biblical authority.  Does the Bible have authority over us or not?  Progressives answer this question with, “yes, but not all of it.  Some of it is just plain wrong.”  The orthodox answer with, “yes it does over all matters of life, faith, order and action.”  These two views are antithetical and by definition antithetical means “directly opposed; mutually incompatible” (emphasis mine).

     One of the most important ways you can lead us is by ceasing to frame this storm around human sexuality and lead us through this storm by addressing the real disease:  rejection of biblical authority for life, faith, order and action.  You and I were ordained as clergy in our Tribe with a vow and covenant that included to embrace with example and through proclamation a life framed within the Bible.  I do not recall any words that resembled, “do this with the parts of the Bible you agree with and disregard the parts you either disagree with or don’t like.”

     John Wesley once wrote in his private journal, and expanded it later in one of his books of sermons about the Bible, “O give me that book!  At any price, give me the book of God!  I have it: here is knowledge enough for me.  Let me be homo unius libri.” (means: “people of one book”)  Though Wesley loved to read other books, his anchor was and his roots remained in the Bible.  All other books were measured by THE Book.  As United Methodists we have 2 clear choices:  to be progressive or to be Wesleyan orthodox.  And by definition, these 2 views are mutually incompatible.  Make your choice, either lead us to be homo unius libri, or make your decision to lead us away from the unius libri.  It is mutually incompatible to be both a people of one Book and a people of “let’s choose which parts of that one book we like.”


Dear Progressives And LGBTQ Community,

     As I focus my heart on Jesus to frame my words, I have much to say, so where do I begin?  With my focus on Jesus, I want to begin with an apology for the ways that some conservatives/evangelicals have treated you by using the Bible as a billy club and a bully pulpit.  Neither of these are ways that the Sacred Scripture should be used.  I sense many deep wounds inflicted on you and I am praying that God will heal your wounds and that you will be able to forgive these colleagues for their misplaced zeal.  Hopefully you read my “first letter” that was addressed to them who use the Bible in the wrong ways.

     I also need to make a confession to you. I have not taken the time to listen to your perspective and why you believe what you believe.  But in the past few months I have reached out with the desire to listen and ask questions.  Some of you have engaged with me in dialogue and what I have heard has helped me understand your position better.  It was in those dialogues that I became acutely aware of the wounds that religious bullies have inflicted on those in the LGBTQ community.

     But unfortunately most of you end the conversation when I ask the question that no one from the progressive Tribe has answered in a way that adequately described the quest we all share–the quest for that meaningful life, the life that God intended when He created us.  Here’s the question that has ended our conversations:  “What is the Biblical and/or scientific basis for the premise that God created some people to be gay?”

     The only consistent response has been centered around the concept of “feeling”.  “I have felt this way my whole life.”  “I started having these feelings in college.”  And since you have these feelings, then you believe God made you this way and any verse in the Bible that says this goes against God’s intended design for you must be inherently wrong and should simply be ignored.  I had one progressive tell me that when God created Adam and Eve He put the capacity for “being gay” inside them and it was just there, waiting for the right moment to come out.  When I asked if it could be that the Fall messed up God’s intended design for sex, I was told, “Oh no, in fact, the Fall was good because it liberated us to discover and become all that God created us to be.”  When asked for the source and evidence of this theory, the response was yet again silence.

     Feelings are rooted in the arena of human emotions.  Human emotions were given to us in Creation, so they are not bad–it’s in how we use them.  Feelings are unreliable as an anchor or foundation for our life.  My emotions change from the time I awaken in the morning until I lie down to sleep–usually several times during any given day.  The temptation by Satan in the Garden to Adam and Eve was focused on their emotions.  His lie was “You can be a god.”  Being a “god” means you can make up your own rules, be in charge of your own life.  So to my gay friends who may read this, and to the LGBTQ community, I encourage you to not trust your feelings and look deeper.

     Forget what the morons say about you being an abomination to God, for you are not.  But neither are you and I yet what God designed us to be.  To find that design you and I need to look back to the very beginning–that season before sin entered God’s creation and messed me us, messed you up, messed everybody up.  The act of sex was given by our Creator as a gift to be the expression of the deepest, intimate love between 2 people, man and woman.  (I had that same progressive whom I mentioned earlier tell me that sex didn’t happen until after the Fall.  I wonder how Adam and Eve were to be fruitful and reproduce this image of God into creation?)

     I want to ask my gay friends, the LBGTQ community and you who identify yourselves as progressives to carefully read the Creation saga.  Here is what God intended to happen and the life He intends for you to experience.  Do not read the Bible with the echoes of those who misuse and misunderstand the Bible.  Put that garbage behind you and look at the beginning with pure eyes and simple faith.  Do not bring my orthodox view to the table and do not bring the progressive view to your reading and reflecting.  Set aside for that time your feelings and begin to talk with God and also to listen to God.

     And to the progressives of this Tribe who do not “feel like” they are gay, I want to say to you, “Leave the LBGTQ community alone, at least for a season.”  Whether we are orthodox or progressive, we are all broken–somewhere, at some place we are a mess.  My mess isn’t any neater than yours, nor yours than mine.  But this I have noticed about the nature of sin that lives in all of us.  We seek to find some means to justify our messiness, as if finding a justification for our mess makes it neat–or at least, less messier.

     The Bible still has authority over us in all matters of life, faith, order and action.  Just because the bullies and morons misuse it, or because progressives think the Bible is wrong on some points because it was put together by human beings doesn’t we can use our “reasoning ability” to come up with some other way where we can see with fresh eyes how that the Bible, with authority can help us answer the questions of faith, life, order and action in that way which helps us become the person God intended.

     And my final words of this letter to the Progressives and the LGBTQ community is this:  If you cannot find a way to understand Scriptures the way our Wesleyan heritage guides us, then perhaps it is time for you to part paths with the Wesleyans.  If you choose to leave, please know that I will not see your leaving with great joy–but even deeper sorrow than I feel now for our Tribe in this current storm.  Oh, and if some of you from the bully pulpit community are thinking right now, “Yes, go on and leave and good riddance”, shame on you.  If that’s how you feel, go join Westboro Baptist insane asylum, you’re not Wesleyan.  Jesus wept over the unbelief of Jerusalem, and we should weep for those who continue in the way of Adam and Eve as they set out on the journey of deception.  I frame and pen these words not with a sense of spiritual superiority or anal arrogance.  I frame my words most keenly aware of my own brokenness but also with an invitation to you.  I am broken but I am on a journey to wholeness, to restoration at the hand of God who has revealed His plan and His ways for all of us, and it’s known as The Holy Bible.

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