A Psalm of Revival – A Personal Song of Pain, Salvation, and Hope


In a moment of spiritual burden, I find myself talking with God and in the conversation the Spirit leaves impressions and movements that lead me in new paths of peace. Today I was feeling a heavy spiritual burden and desired to write something down that maybe one day can be reformulated to guitar and become something to share. Those who read the Psalms may recognize that the language is heavily dependent on Biblical language as I’ve been reading the Psalms a lot. They are comforting but also give words to the grief I’ve felt walking with people through so much tragedy and pain over the last 8 years. I think there is a bit of therapy here as I spoke how my spirit felt and the Lord returned a word of hopeful jubilation. My prayer is that there is something here for someone else who is in need of hope. It is not edited thoroughly (those who love grammar may need to avert their eyes) so it is pretty raw and I’ve added some Responses as I may refine it and use it in the Liturgy of the church someday. May we all seek the Lord and find His peace in the cries of our hearts and in the Shalom of resting in His presence. -Dan

The Lord is Great and Worthy of Praise.

The age of the Church of Christ as divisions multiply and the world rushes 

And colonizes the ashes of monuments and pews no longer used to glorify God.

The era of stagnation while viruses chain and spread to close the world

And government hands wrap around sanctuary to close rose windows.

The Lord is Great and Worthy of Praise. 

The righteous cannot escape by fleeing into worldly gardens of emptiness.

Where birds die and the smokestacks rise while ash falls to cover the flowers.

And grey eyes look at the broken earth with no hope of ever breaking through barbed wire fences.

When worry reigns and limbs break and the spirit of mercy chokes on a cough.

The Lord is Great and Worthy of Praise.

Trouble is given like a gift and the children release tears that have no end

And we tremble as the invention and craft of warfare dampen the light of the world.

The sun is gone, the moon has fallen, the clouds flee at an eclipse of blood from the winepress

And wrath is poured into our sight to the wicked, ruling with deception, greed, and malice.

All now hunger for something no food can satisfy, like when God’s Spirit descended

In the prayers of a friend and the touch of a holy hand, sitting in a room so full of love.

And hearing the divine voice speak so clearly as the Spirit repaired the hurting heart.

The Lord is Great and Worthy of Praise.

No one can see the future without the vision of the Almighty God

No human can taste eternity without the fulfillment given as a gift from the Son of God.

No earthly creature will see the face of God without experiencing the pain of this earth.

So within the troubles of this age, as earthquakes break apart the mountains

As oceans crush the pillars of once proud cities and the people of the nations tremble

Those who humble themselves and fear God will see visions and dream dreams, to inherit his favor.

This God, whose Spirit searches the ends of the earth, whose arms encompass the cosmos,

It is in the mercy of this King that all may rest and remain.

The Lord is Great and Worthy of Praise.

This, because we cannot see the future, and it is not in our power to grasp beyond our senses

But as a gift we experience but a piece of the world in a time of God’s choosing, and then we die

We will be made again, by faith that holds, as we seek this one and only Master of all the pathways.

God, it is, who can speak to our land and calm the judgements from the blood of our war.

By the Son, who speaks life and is resurrected, we see the Father, the giver of hope.

As the Spirit goes forth as a comforter who sees the righteous and knows the pain of living,

So across the holy places on the face of the earth, our Lord speaks, and we are called to hear His voice.

The Lord is Great and Worthy of Praise.

I’ve read poems and sung songs and have seen the scriptures about the wolf who seeks to devour flesh and spirit,

We will not fear, nor will we worry, neither will we speak as if the Evil One has power over the land we’ve been given.

The Lord has conquered the enemy, the once great deceiver, whose might is like a vine that is ripped from the earth

And as the evil is unwrapped from the tree, the trunk of salvation has grown and life has not been destroyed or decayed.

Nothing can stop our God! Nothing can break the armies of the King on High! 

We serve the one who rules over the nations of the earth.

The Lord is Great and Worthy of Praise.

The denominations may argue and many will fall; like concrete foundations that lose their water and return to the dust

The invisible church gives witness to what the Lord has done, with hands reaching high in worship and praise.

The peoples of the earth will remember and retell the mighty victories as heaven reimagines the earth and God’s breath spreads

Into many new beginnings and revivals that will spring forth in the Day of the Lord when evil fades

The deep breath of creation will be filled with life and the exhale will be with a shout of jubilant celebration.

The Lord is Great and Worthy of Praise.

Who will stand before God and not be afraid? Let us grasp faith in He who covers our failures in His own blood.

How can we march to this place if we cannot see? The Spirit of God will guide us and we will be filled with knowledge.

What will come of all we have lost and the sacrifices given in His name? The Lord will fill our homes with gladness.

When will the earth be healed and the nations see His glory? When the Lord has chosen we will hear His footsteps.

The Lord is Great and Worthy of Praise!

Hallelujah! God is stronger than fear!

Hallelujah! Those who have died will be raised to new life!

Thank you Jesus! Your name will bring peace to the nations!

God’s greatness will be known and the world will find peace! 

And the dragon will be slain, the earth will rejoice, life will regrow!

The old pathways will once again lead to wisdom. Let us understand the truth of life!

O Holy God: Father, Son, and Spirit; sustain us and seal us in the days of pain.

Set our feet firmly once again on the highway that leads to You.

The Lord is Great and Worthy of Praise!

-Daniel Griswold, February 10, 2023

Struggles in Christian Hierarchies: Napoleon in the Church

My personal news feed is stacked with articles from business research organizations that give thoughts on how to make one’s organization more effective in its missions and purposes. I stumbled across this article on the Graduate School of Stanford Business webpage titled “How Power Struggles Escalate”. It rang a bell in my soul because (1) My denomination The United Methodist Church is in the midst of a power struggle that is leading to a split, (2) every church I’ve worked in as a Youth Director and then as Pastor has dealt with power struggles that needed unwinding, and (3) every human organization I observe in the post-modern era is dealing with deconstruction – meaning institutions are being dissected and roles that were once clear in our political and corporate environment are now unclear because of a vast social review process (aided by social media and the democratizing process of the internet). All of these items have at one time or another caused angst in my personal life and I’ve seen others in stress as a result of the same. So what did this article say that was so helpful in thinking this through?

In human organizations Lindred Greer posits in this article that as high powered individuals move up the organizational ladder they receive more power. In a very Tolkien-esque Lord of the Rings idea of power, Greer states, “Put simply, power changes people.” As power is gained, activity begins to turn towards preserving power rather than working on organizational goals and those with unclear roles in the power structure can actively work against one another to hold their gains which leads to conflict. In the church, the proverbial Church Council split over the color of the carpet might not actually be about the carpet but is rather an all out confrontation of who has the most say and whose voice has the weight that will carry the decision in the end. Not very democratic, but if recent political currents have taught us anything it is that powerful people seek to rally others to their cause not to convince the perceived opposition of their rightness, but rather to take the ball down the field to the goal line in an unstoppable force in great numbers. This is not healthy for a nation, it is not healthy for a business or non-profit, and it is certainly a death knell for a church that throws off the image of Christ washing the feet of the disciples saying in the Gospel of Mark chapter 10 verses 42b to 49: “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” As Christian leaders we are to exemplify the redistribution of power to those who have lost through acts of service as an outpouring rather than maintaining one’s status and role in an organizational hierarchy.

As an illustrative aside, every church I’ve served there have been tales of Napoleons. By Napoleons, Greer does not state that these are bad people, but that unchecked those who seek power will lord themselves over others building a coalition that does not seek to take various viewpoints into consideration and decision making but rather as a bully position that begins to conquer others and take their domains of influence. How does this happen in the churches I’ve worked and served in? Lower in the hierarchy, power struggles are more benign and power is about face time with those they give immediate report or up the ladder. I remember a movie where a CEO name “Teddy K” comes and gives a speech to a particular branch of his company and he knows one man’s name who has an enraptured moment stating “Teddy K knows my name!” In the beginning our instinct to power leads us to desire to be around those and learn from those who have gained the means to their ends. The youth director, who leads without power tests their ability to make decisions by aligning with the values of the Pastor. If a youth director does not align with the one in authority, then a power struggle can erupt and the youth director will usually lose and will either stand down or be fired. I’ve even seen situations where a Youth Director was simply popular and the Pastor felt a threat which led to a one sided power struggle and a narrative was created that led to the departure of the YD. Lots of hurt feelings in those who have sought mentoring and have found that the gates of power are carefully guarded and Napoleon is marching on. From the pastor’s perspective, it is a careful cultivation of servanthood and distribution of power to those with the wisdom and authority to act that leads to a more healthy egalitarian spirit of leadership. Greer notes that a King Arthur style round table with each knight knowing clearly the center of their talent and authority leads to consensus decision making under the eyes of a servant oriented leader. This is the style that most corporations at least aspire to and that which churches also preach towards.

All too often our pastorates and by proxy our Annual and General Conferences in the United Methodist Church (and also among the other denominations and associations of Christianity in America) have been enamored with where power and authority resides and how decision making can be owned by particular groups or caucuses. This mirrors the world and I believe the active splits in our denominations are due to our inability to live as Christ has taught us at the institutional level. The church of Christ has fallen into sin and can no longer effectively speak to the world effectively because we have fallen into the temptation of Napoleon. Each church I’ve served has had to outlive and outlast the Napoleons among them and when they burn themselves out, have sought the leadership of the servants among them to heal and move on. I would like to think that beyond the splitting of our denominations, when the dust settles and most have found the house in which they will reside, that the spirit of Christ’s servanthood would again gain a foothold and give wisdom to the church. When the church acts like the empire, we know that we have walked off the “paths made straight in the wilderness by our Lord.” We will not see life in our own power, but rather death will always be the end of that wide road. My prayer is that wherever we are, we might look into our hearts and reform our own selves so that the round tables may be rebuilt and we might clearly share power again so Christ can be the center and we might serve in His high and holy name.

A Pastoral Message for Pentecost

Dear Friends,

“In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me, ‘Flee like a bird to the mountains, for look, the wicked bend the bow, they have fitted their arrow to the string, to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart. If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?’” Psalm 11:1-3

I write this letter to you during a somber mood. Our last Sunday morning worship reflected on those who have fallen in battle remembered on Memorial Day, but also the heaviness of the deaths of 19 children and 2 teachers in Texas. The shootings in vulnerable (or should I say trust filled) places have begun to increase once again: a primarily African American supermarket in Buffalo, a Korean Church in California, and today I saw that 10 people have been shot in Charleston overnight. We’ve come to the last breadth of a pandemic only to face the evil that was there before only multiplied and seemingly accelerating. Add the destruction of Ukraine and the cultural political battles of our own country, and the outlook seems bleak. The psalmist almost speaks for us today saying “the wicked bend the bow, they have fitted their arrow to the string, to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart.” This lament is our lament as we ask the eternal question, “Why?”

It was during evil like this that every Christian is challenged to answer, “Is there really any Good News?”. It seemed like an impossible task last Sunday. But with God, all things are possible. One of the primary tasks of worship for every believer gathered is to remember what good the Lord has done and in this remember that the Lord has much left to do through us. In remembrance of the evil perpetrated against the Son of God by all humankind, we also remember the miraculous resurrection of Jesus’ body; we remember him walking and talking and eating and teaching. Then Jesus ascended to the heavens promising a Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who would come upon the disciples and empower them to not just face the evil and be willing to die confronting the powers of the world but also “to proclaim Good News to the poor, freedom for prisoners, the recovery of sight to the blind, and to set the oppressed free!” Those who follow Jesus would receive a filling of God’s power from on high. The boldness of God would empower them to stare into the face of the world’s evil and to declare “Victory” over death, the grave, and the claim the Adversary has had since Adam and Eve fell in the garden. It is in this present darkness that the church, covered in the blood, of Jesus truly shines. Yes, those weighted down by evil can even today be released from spiritual sin and captivity. The world can and will change.

This Pentecost Sunday we celebrate the moment in the early church when tongues of fire alighted the heads of the disciples and inspired them to speak to the masses. These who believed what Jesus taught and put love in action into a world that was just as evil, full of disease, suffering, and warfare as today. These persecuted ones by long suffering show us today how to persevere in the day of darkness. They remembered: Jesus is still enthroned, the Holy Spirit is still available to those who seek, and we have agency to confront what evils we see in our own community. By the power of God, deliverance is possible. This Sunday, let us remember how God delivered the Israelites from bondage. Let us celebrate our baptism and new birth, and proclaim victory against the Devil. Let us live into righteousness by not accepting the world as it is nor resigning to its evil. Part of victory is living life with courage; another is advocacy. Let us awaken, rise from the dead, and let the ways of Christ shine.

“The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven. His eyes behold; his gaze examines humankind. The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates the lover of violence. On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulfur; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.” Psalm 11:4-7

Blessings and Peace, Pastor Dan

Read the full North Charleston UMC newsletter here: https://mcusercontent.com/712c6e9464cf06024179e92ea/files/3e3fb332-16a3-a03c-7a04-d9f8f1360757/June_and_July_2022.01.pdf?fs=e&s=cl

A Pastoral Letter to North Charleston United Methodist Church

The Cross on North Charleston United Methodist’s Steeple

Some of our congregation may have noticed that our church was mentioned in a newspaper article intended to be about the current trend of clergy members facing burnout and leaving the ministry. At first I was a bit mad because it didn’t portray our church in the light I have seen for the last nine months. I keep thinking to myself: “a page has turned and we are looking at a new chapter.” I think this may be a Holy Spirit given mantra reminding me that wherever we have been, we are no longer there. The present is here and we are thrusting into the future to face new challenges and experience new joys while working hard to participate in the Kingdom of God.

From my own experience, I’ve seen a church mobilizing to love everyone they meet and doing this task well. I see the mission of the church as it rebuilds and expands quickly (after almost two years of being held back by a pandemic that was beyond our control). I see people coming together to worship Jesus Christ and thank the Lord for bringing us through such a terrible time. I’ve also joined the Care Team and our new Missions and Outreach Committee as they dream big and see new ways to let people see God’s love in action.

In John’s first letter to the church he reminded us, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” (1 John 3:18)

I believe we are living this admonition, and we will continue to activate into this call on our lives. Wherever we have been, regardless of the hardships or the trials, the Lord has an incredible forward motion and we can jump forward in His incredible will for us all.

Holy Week is now upon us and we are reminded that before his Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus was reviled, misunderstood, and ultimately suffered willingly so that we might be redeemed from evil and sin. As our exemplar and model of perfect love we look at the cross and take up the burdens which inevitably come upon us in the journey of discipleship. If Christ was misunderstood and suffered, we also will experience similar times. The good news, however, is that we are people that do not fear death.

To the Corinthians Paul wrote: “We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.” (1 Corinthians 4:10-13)

I know that doesn’t sound like much fun, but being in a trial with Jesus is better than hav- ing all the riches and fame in the whole world without his mercy, peace, and love. I pray we continue to be people of resurrection and bear witness to the greatness of our Lord, and in that, we will be the most beautiful and blessed church we can be. Thanks be to God!

Pastor Dan

Your Politics Are Religious Whether You Realize It Or Not

The American Commons Posted on May 8, 2021

As a pastor in rural America, I encounter the phrase “I’m spiritual but not religious” quite often, mostly when folks are feeling guilty that they are not participating in some sort of religious community like a church, synagogue, or mosque. It is a troubling phrase because it denies that humans by nature are very religious, regardless of whether they attend or participate in a community’s organized religious services. 

For example, one could argue easily that the television is an altar in every home where community values and “truths” are communicated and affirmed. Cars are meditative chambers where we utilize bluetooth hands free devices to connect to one another as an “ekklesia” via technology. The internet creates a virtual space where our highest values are enforced through social media sites like Facebook, Tik-Tok, Twitter, and other companies we give our data to with blind trust of neophytes like any religion. 

We are human beings endowed with consciousness and spirituality, and thus religion comes with the territory. We ask ultimate questions about who we are and why we exist. Being human is often an incredibly mysterious journey with questions and revelations that scientists admit do not have satisfactory knowledge including what composes the non-material nature of the human mind, the interconnectedness of conscious thought, and how incredibly advanced systems compose our physical bodies; also how we understand and connect to a greater reality including our immediate communities and our environment. Philosophers wrestle with our comprehension of reality by postulating that we may be in a cosmic virtual reality. Are we in a video game played by some omnipotent being? How can we explain the presence of love and compassion, empathy and the workings of emotional bonds that are all too contrary to our rational ideals to be useful in a “dog eat dog” survival of the fittest world? The presence of all this may give us pause to consider the great questions: How did I get here? What is my place in the universe? 

However we come at it, these questions are spiritual in nature and draw out our grasping at transcendence beyond the ordinary. When one acts in response to these reflections, as is the nature of being human, we become religious. It is impossible to divorce one from the other. Humanity is inherently spiritual and also religious. 

In the United States, we have come to love walls, and we have constructed a psychological barrier between the world of religion and the world of politics. Not that one cannot be both, but it is civilly off bounds to bring both to bear in any one sphere, probably because one’s political views have become a religion in themselves. Nature loves to fill a vacuum. This puts ministers and people of faith in quite a bind when the universal claims of their faith seek to transform injustices in the world like racism, inequality, inequity, gendered violence, abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty. 

“If everyone is religious in some way, and all people have a part in creating the political environment, there needs to be some way for us to re-evaluate the all-powerful unspoken rules that bind our peoples and collective conscience together. The answer lies in seeking solidarity.”

These are problems that societies from every age have had to muster up moral arguments for in order to make difficult decisions. These decisions affect great swaths of populations and determine in many cases who lives and who dies. A spiritual and religious person would have to form their decision based not simply on intuition or in brute rationalism but also take into account the revelation (such as the Bible, Torah or Quran and scholarly or saintly exegesis of one’s particular faith). The current interpretation of “Separation of Church and State” and the currents that punish those who seek to tear down the wall to have political opinions that affirm life in all its stages and facets reveals that we are not really a pluralistic nation with respect for all views equally, but rather we have an established and growing American civil religion that displaces all other religions in political discourse. How does the person of faith deal with the push back one receives when revealing the traditions and revelation informing their decisions?

The Donald Trump led era of the civil religion took on the conservative values like valuing sacrifice in the lives of our soldiers, but then gave sanction to militant aggression against anyone who critiqued the American war machine and the excesses of our weaponized dominance in the world. The gatekeepers revere the flag of our nation and seethed in anger when a football player took a knee revealing that the stadiums are modern temples to what we value. Strength and the perception of honor meant we uphold a liturgy of standing, placing our hands over our hearts, and participating with the people in the rituals we are supposed to know and never transgress. “We the people,” in the Trumpian vision, are the people who enforce these traditional American rites of passage; all others are demonized and told to leave. 

Then the religion turned over a bit when Joseph Biden became President and was inaugurated with a new political priesthood unveiling the symbols and practices: beautiful poetry, colorful outfits, and a return to pageantry leading a celebration marking the values of the liberal elites. Even a meme of Bernie Sanders spread virally on social media in a humorous sigh of relief. 

The civil religion now seems more relaxed, but the values of the political faith have definitely changed. The removal of the Hyde Amendment from COVID-19 rescue legislation signified that some lives will no longer have protection. Gender identification by the government changes based on non-traditional views on human biology. Our beliefs lead to practices in the life of the individual and to policy in the life of our associations, including the federal government. 

“Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system,” wrote Dorothy Day, the Catholic radical who advocated against inequality and institutional corruption. “We all have learned the long loneliness and the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” 

If everyone is spiritual, and everyone is religious in some way, and all people have a part in creating the political environment, there needs to be some way for us to clear the air and begin to re-evaluate the all-powerful unspoken rules that bind our peoples and collective conscience together. I guarantee it is not by holding rallies and ridiculing those who are perceived as threats nor sending angry mobs toward those we disagree with hoping to scare them into submission. The answer lies in seeking solidarity.

Solidarity is not a benign “Kumbaya” word that makes people feel good but does no earthly good. No, solidarity is grown from the shared needs and interests of the various groups of people in complex societies. In our romantic notions of the past, we understand it as the farmer providing food for the laborers who produce goods and services who make educated careers possible and allow portions of people to become public servants in governments and defense. Every person links together in a chain whether someone is a violin maker, a violinist or the provider of wood. All the chains matter and we find the links and cultivate a sense of interconnectedness. Returning to our earlier conversation, all peoples have religious behaviors and participate through institutions and interact in innumerable ways, but we are alike in seeking the answer to cosmological questions. On that ground we might also find solidarity rather than battles and broken hearts. Dorothy Day, the Catholic radical who advocated against inequality and institutional corruption, said, “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.” She said, “We all have learned the long loneliness and the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” 

With a world heading towards 8 billion people and our own nation growing largely from the hopes and dreams of new waves of immigrant and refugee families, we need to recommit to what binds us all and make a new contract with one another based in love and loving others as we love ourselves. This is where the solidarists can change the world and centrist voices can actively engage people of all backgrounds to remake the American religious and political landscape. We can tear down this wall that forces entire traditions to be silent or to explode in anger and we can learn to listen and act for one another with humility. As a Christian, this is the world I would like to cultivate. I hope I see the fruit of this in my lifetime but I’m glad to invest in this enterprise for my son and daughter and their children as well. The current crisis in culture is an opportunity to be all of the above: spiritual, religious, political, and free.


By Daniel Griswold

Being a Pastor Post Covid-19

What is it like being a pastor of three congregations right now in the midst of such an unusual crisis? What is it like being a rural pastor, where people can tell you more in a hug or a handshake than in an hour of conversation? How has ministry continued in the midst of a complete shutdown of physical attendance in our sanctuaries, and visitation in our homes as we “social distance” from one another? Perhaps I can give a few word pictures of what it has been like as we enter our fifth week of protecting each other from the pandemic while doing ministry.

We usually start off most days with exercise at the YMCA, where I can walk the track and read for upcoming sermons and teaching while the two little ones get childcare and my wife enjoys the gym. Ransom is at school most school days, and Harper is easier when she is alone and can’t bother her big brother. I am usually in the office most afternoons working or doing visitations. Around 4:30 pm, I come home for dinner with the family, then in the evenings there are often meetings or an occasional Bible Study being lead.

There is no such thing as “normal” now.

Days start early with the kids eating, then move into schoolwork, then into play, and then into some cartoons, then into lunchtime, then into outside exercise, then into nap-time. This is the time I am able to have about two hours of uninterrupted writing, reading, communicating, calling, prayer, preaching recording etc. Two hours or less depending on the nap. Amanda is usually gracious when I’m on a deadline but I usually have 3-4 hour blocks to practice guitar, worship, think through problems, pray and meet up. The day goes by quickly, because we are at home more, eating at home more, in spaces more, the house gets messier more which means more cleaning time, more dishes, more time cleaning up after the kids. All things come in randomly, and so work happens whenever it can happen. I have a Kindle I can grasp, Facebook groups for prayer, Live Video at designated times, iMovie on the laptop for quick worship editing, cell phone receiving texts with special music and calls and texts for prayer and comfort while members are going through tough times.

The first two weeks of having no service physically and working from home were two things. (1) A blinding light of “just get stuff done” all over the place. Easter was coming! I watched every news report, read all the articles, followed the Bishop’s communications, prayed with people over the world constantly, and when the smoke cleared, I realized as well that it was: (2) An incredibly stressful experience completely reorienting ministry from a ministry of presence, to being present virtually. Sunday mornings were the toughest. I had to imagine my congregation as I preached, and get into the sense that the Spirit of God would spread the Good News despite the lack of touch – which is the very sign of the incarnation and the center of our theology in Christianity. That God is physical, not just a spiritual entity without a care for our very physical world. I had to learn to give lots of “hearts” on comments, and wish folks “Good Morning” on a video premier and on Youtube comments – while wrestling our very active and loving children, who like myself, are very loud.

And listening to myself preach. Well, I’ll just say that it is very hard to sit and watch oneself – knowing how much better one can be without the distractions. HOLY SPIRIT TAKE THE WHEEL! “Lord I pray you’ll speak through me, but if not, speak in spite of me!” The greatest prayer for a preacher speaking on the word of God.

As pastors, we love our congregations, the people, so much it is hard to convey how it feels to do Zoom meetings that just aren’t as organic or warm as meeting together in a fellowship hall. I also am reminded of the lament of having to cancel our Elder’s Music and Food Fellowship meetings, a Homecoming that would have united one of our church family’s members in dispersal, men’s breakfasts, women’s mission and prayer meetings, youth groups, exercise groups, and servant leadership development, and not to mention the countless ways that God’s saints meet on the side and show love to their neighbor.

But before I lament too long, I have to highlight what the Lord continues to do among us as a Kingdom that is unshakeable. Every evening our young people have been meeting for devotion and prayer and there has been a depth gained from that kind of discipline. Our worship services, which are online now, seem to be reaching between 300-400 people regularly, often with over 1,000 views of the services. Musicians have been sending music, and in the future we will have a stockpile of worship services to share with the community, the homebound, for those in other states of countries. Personally, my mom and dad have joined in worship and Bible Studies on Zoom, and we have had someone from London, England join us regularly.

There is something of a quiet revival happening under the surface, and I pray that the Lord continues to breathe new life into our many currents so that when we return together (oh how glorious it will be!), we will be remade from this temporary monasticism which has been forced upon us by a natural disaster called Covid-19.

God can use this trial to refine us and prepare us for a greater good to come. I say that not to minimize the grieving of the 40,000 people in the us and 160,000 people who so far have lost their lives, but I say it in faith, because I know as a pastor who presides over funerals and also baptizes and also officiates weddings – that God holds us in the palm of His hands in Life and in Death. Nothing can separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus! Absolutely nothing! See this:

“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:31-39 NLT

Right now, I am praying that the Lord would continue to guide us. I also pray that I am being the leader our people need right now. That as we are in this “pause” that we don’t lose the opportunity to reset the clock, and ask the Lord if we truly are doing what God is calling us to do and not our own selfish desires, or what is comfortable. Let us be refined in this fire, and may the same God that got Daniel through the Lion’s Den, and who saved his friends from the firey furnace, the same God who delivered the Hebrews from Egypt, the same God who gave us his own presence through Jesus Christ, and who laid down his own life – lets be listening and ready, because on the other side of this hill is a promised land we can’t imagine. We simply have to keep moving, and we will get there.

As a pastor, my jobs is to remind everyone of the faithfulness of God through the ages, so that we might remember and see the future more clearly. Certainly, we now have the time for reflection. Let’s take the deep breath together and feel out what this all means for our churches, our families, and our communities. May compassion flow from these old riverbeds, and may new life grow in the deserted places, as a pathway for the Lord is laid, and the wilderness prepares to bloom again. God is good, and is always with us. Let’s stand and see what’s to come.

-Pastor Daniel R. Griswold,

The Ridgeville Charge of the United Methodist Church of South Carolina

Why I Support Women In Ordained Ministry Biblically

I’ve been asked why I support the Biblical case that women should be ordained into the ministry, I realize that this is something that is hard to consider when the tradition we have grown from doesn’t accept this case. At one time I wondered but I don’t after much study into the scriptures (including the few parts that seem at first to exclude women from teaching men) which is the ruler to teach us what God would like us to do in all things concerning salvation.

A few points:

(1) Deborah was not a fluke in the Old Testament. I have read her portion I’m Judges several times. The scriptures say she was a prophetess (given her authority by God) and she judged Israel. She had her own Palm to govern from, and the people would come to her. As I read this, it seems like she is a template for Samuel’s ministry in that he then was also a Priest (Prophet Priest and Judge) who would listen to God and give pronouncements. Her story is reachable because there is no irony about her leadership. When it comes to leading up the Military, she searches for a man to lead, and when the man chosen doesn’t lead, she appoints him anyway – and they battle for God’s people. As a template, she shows us that those who are gifted, even in a male oriented leadership society, should lead when God prods them.

(2) The women who see Jesus first as Resurrected Lord, are the women who followed him. NT Wright emphasizes this rightly, because as witnesses in that era, it would make more sense for Christ to be revealed to the male Disciples. NT Wright in a Podcast also mentions Mary and Martha when they served Jesus in their home. Mary sits at the learning position at Jesus’ feet, which disturbed Martha who was preparing the hospitality. Mary was being prepared by listening to do ministry and it was showing how Jesus was revealing God’s will for both man and woman as image bearers who ought to serve according to their gifting.

(3) There are so many women leaders in the New Testament who lead House Churches, were deacons (servant leaders), and who lead missionary charges and supported the growth of the church through the businesses they ran. One that really grips me is Junia, who was greeted with two other men as among the “apostles”. Apostles main function is to go to new areas and teach what Jesus had passed to the church. There were efforts in later documents to write “Junius” rather than Junia, but a good study shows that the name Junia was common among women at the time and there aren’t records of Junius as a used male name. Junia was an apostle (There was The Apostles, then there were 500 who became apostles, then the church grew that role into a sort of position, which is likely what Paul is talking about). Looking at Lydia, Pheobe, Junia and Mary and others who must have grasped Paul’s teaching that in the New Creation there is no “Man and Woman” concerning the Kingdom to come. Not to gloss over gender differences of physicality, but those objections don’t come into play with the mind and the passion which is given by the Lord.

I could go on, and I’ll say that this conversation and the questions I’ve received predated the controversy w John MacArthur and Beth Moore. I’ve had to look into my predispositions and make sure that the Bible really did speak and affirm women in ministry, and I believe and affirm the ministry of our sisters in Christ.

For your further reading, here are some Evangelical Scholar’s thoughts on the topic which may be interesting.

Prominent Biblical Scholars on Women in Ministry

Note: I will delete any comments that are not thought through or are inflammatory. I’m not looking for a flame war, but glad to civilly discuss. Thanks for your consideration and discernment.

A Great Speech: “Men Have Forgotten God” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

“Men Have Forgotten God” – The Templeton Address
by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 

More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat:  Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entiretwentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again:  Men have forgotten God.

The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century. 

The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century. The first of these was World War I, and much of our present predicament can be traced back to it. It was a war (the memory of which seems to be fading) when Europe, bursting with health and abundance, fell into a rage of self-mutilation which could not but sap its strength for a century or more, and perhaps forever. The only possible explanation for this war is a mental eclipse among the leaders of Europe due to their lost awareness of a Supreme Power above them. Only a godless embitterment could have moved ostensibly Christian states to employ poison gas, a weapon so obviously beyond the limits of humanity. 

The same kind of defect, the flaw of a consciousness lacking all divine dimension, was manifested after World War II when the West yielded to the satanic temptation of the “nuclear umbrella.” It was equivalent to saying: Let’s cast off worries, let’s free the younger generation from their duties and obligations, let’s make no effort to defend ourselves, to say nothing of defending others-let’s stop our ears to the groans emanating from the East, and let us live instead in the pursuit of happiness. If danger should threaten us, we shall be protected by the nuclear bomb; if not, then let the world burn in Hell for all we care. The pitifully helpless state to which the contemporary West has sunk is in large measure due to this fatal error: the belief that the defense of peace depends not on stout hearts and steadfast men, but solely on the nuclear bomb… 

Today’ s world has reached a stage which, if it had been described to preceding centuries, would have called forth the cry: “This is the Apocalypse!”

Yet we have grown used to this kind of world; we even feel at home in it.

Dostoevsky warned that “great events could come upon us and catch us intellectually unprepared.” This is precisely what has happened. And he predicted that “the world will be saved only after it has been possessed by the demon of evil.” Whether it really will be saved we shall have to wait and see: this will depend on our conscience, on our spiritual lucidity, on our individual and combined efforts in the face of catastrophic circumstances. But it has already come to pass that the demon of evil, like a whirlwind, triumphantly circles all five continents of the earth… 

By the time of the Revolution, faith had virtually disappeared in Russian educated circles; and amongst the uneducated, its health was threatened. 

In its past, Russia did know a time when the social ideal was not fame, or riches, or material success, but a pious way of life. Russia was then steeped in an Orthodox Christianity which remained true to the Church of the first centuries. The Orthodoxy of that time knew how to safeguard its people under the yoke of a foreign occupation that lasted more than two centuries, while at the same time fending off iniquitous blows from the swords of Western crusaders. During those centuries the Orthodox faith in our country became part of the very pattern of thought and the personality of our people, the forms of daily life, the work calendar, the priorities in every undertaking, the organization of the week and of the year. Faith was the shaping and unifying force of the nation. 

But in the 17th century Russian Orthodoxy was gravely weakened by an internal schism. In the 18th, the country was shaken by Peter’s forcibly imposed transformations, which favored the economy, the state, and the military at the expense of the religious spirit and national life. And along with this lopsided Petrine enlightenment, Russia felt the first whiff of secularism; its subtle poisons permeated the educated classes in the course of the 19th century and opened the path to Marxism. By the time of the Revolution, faith had virtually disappeared in Russian educated circles; and amongst the uneducated, its health was threatened. 

It was Dostoevsky, once again, who drew from the French Revolution and its seeming hatred of the Church the lesson that “revolution must necessarily begin with atheism.” That is absolutely true. But the world had never before known a godlessness as organized, militarized, and tenaciously malevolent as that practiced by Marxism. Within the philosophical system of Marx and Lenin, and at the heart of their psychology, hatred of God is the principal driving force, more fundamental than all their political and economic pretensions. Militant atheism is not merely incidental or marginal to Communist policy; it is not a side effect, but the central pivot. 

The 1920’s in the USSR witnessed an uninterrupted procession of victims and martyrs amongst the Orthodox clergy. Two metropolitans were shot, one of whom, Veniamin of Petrograd, had been elected by the popular vote of his diocese. Patriarch Tikhon himself passed through the hands of the Cheka-GPU and then died under suspicious circumstances. Scores of archbishops and bishops perished. Tens of thousands of priests, monks, and nuns, pressured by the Chekists to renounce the Word of God, were tortured, shot in cellars, sent to camps, exiled to the desolate tundra of the far North, or turned out into the streets in their old age without food or shelter. All these Christian martyrs went unswervingly to their deaths for the faith; instances of apostasy were few and far between. For tens of millions of laymen access to the Church was blocked, and they were forbidden to bring up their children in the Faith: religious parents were wrenched from their children and thrown into prison, while the children were turned from the faith by threats and lies… 

For a short period of time, when he needed to gather strength for the struggle against Hitler, Stalin cynically adopted a friendly posture toward the Church. This deceptive game, continued in later years by Brezhnev with the help of showcase publications and other window dressing, has unfortunately tended to be taken at its face value in the West. Yet the tenacity with which hatred of religion is rooted in Communism may be judged by the example of their most liberal leader, Krushchev: for though he undertook a number of significant steps to extend freedom, Krushchev simultaneously rekindled the frenzied Leninist obsession with destroying religion. 

But there is something they did not expect: that in a land where churches have been leveled, where a triumphant atheism has rampaged uncontrolled for two-thirds of a century, where the clergy is utterly humiliated and deprived of all independence, where what remains of the Church as an institution is tolerated only for the sake of propaganda directed at the West, where even today people are sent to the labor camps for their faith, and where, within the camps themselves, those who gather to pray at Easter are clapped in punishment cells–they could not suppose that beneath this Communist steamroller the Christian tradition would survive in Russia. It is true that millions of our countrymen have been corrupted and spiritually devastated by an officially imposed atheism, yet there remain many millions of believers: it is only external pressures that keep them from speaking out, but, as is always the case in times of persecution and suffering, the awareness of God in my country has attained great acuteness and profundity.

It is here that we see the dawn of hope: for no matter how formidably Communism bristles with tanks and rockets, no matter what successes it attains in seizing the planet, it is doomed never to vanquish Christianity.

The West has yet to experience a Communist invasion; religion here remains free. But the West’s own historical evolution has been such that today it too is experiencing a drying up of religious consciousness. It too has witnessed racking schisms, bloody religious wars, and rancor, to say nothing of the tide of secularism that, from the late Middle Ages onward, has progressively inundated the West. This gradual sapping of strength from within is a threat to faith that is perhaps even more dangerous than any attempt to assault religion violently from without.

Imperceptibly, through decades of gradual erosion, the meaning of life in the West has ceased to be seen as anything more lofty than the “pursuit of happiness, “a goal that has even been solemnly guaranteed by constitutions. The concepts of good and evil have been ridiculed for several centuries; banished from common use, they have been replaced by political or class considerations of short lived value. It has become embarrassing to state that evil makes its home in the individual human heart before it enters a political system. Yet it is not considered shameful to make daily concessions to an integral evil. Judging by the continuing landslide of concessions made before the eyes of our very own generation, the West is ineluctably slipping toward the abyss. Western societies are losing more and more of their religious essence as they thoughtlessly yield up their younger generation to atheism. If a blasphemous film about Jesus is shown throughout the United States, reputedly one of the most religious countries in the world, or a major newspaper publishes a shameless caricature of the Virgin Mary, what further evidence of godlessness does one need? When external rights are completely unrestricted, why should one make an inner effort to restrain oneself from ignoble acts? 

Or why should one refrain from burning hatred, whatever its basis–race, class, or ideology? Such hatred is in fact corroding many hearts today. Atheist teachers in the West are bringing up a younger generation in a spirit of hatred of their own society. Amid all the vituperation we forget that the defects of capitalism represent the basic flaws of human nature, allowed unlimited freedom together with the various human rights; we forget that under Communism (and Communism is breathing down the neck of all moderate forms of socialism, which are unstable) the identical flaws run riot in any person with the least degree of authority; while everyone else under that system does indeed attain “equality”–the equality of destitute slaves. This eager fanning of the flames of hatred is becoming the mark of today’s free world. Indeed, the broader the personal freedoms are, the higher the level of prosperity or even of abundance–the more vehement, paradoxically, does this blind hatred become. The contemporary developed West thus demonstrates by its own example that human salvation can be found neither in the profusion of material goods nor in merely making money. 

This deliberately nurtured hatred then spreads to all that is alive, to life itself, to the world with its colors, sounds, and shapes, to the human body. The embittered art of the twentieth century is perishing as a result of this ugly hate, for art is fruitless without love. In the East art has collapsed because it has been knocked down and trampled upon, but in the West the fall has been voluntary, a decline into a contrived and pretentious quest where the artist, instead of attempting to reveal the divine plan, tries to put himself in the place of God.

Here again we witness the single outcome of a worldwide process, with East and West yielding the same results, and once again for the same reason: Men have forgotten God.

With such global events looming over us like mountains, nay, like entire mountain ranges, it may seem incongruous and inappropriate to recall that the primary key to our being or non-being resides in each individual human heart, in the heart’s preference for specific good or evil. Yet this remains true even today, and it is, in fact, the most reliable key we have. The social theories that promised so much have demonstrated their bankruptcy, leaving us at a dead end. The free people of the West could reasonably have been expected to realize that they are beset · by numerous freely nurtured falsehoods, and not to allow lies to be foisted upon them so easily. All attempts to find a way out of the plight of today’s world are fruitless unless we redirect our consciousness, in repentance, to the Creator of all: without this, no exit will be illumined, and we shall seek it in vain. The resources we have set aside for ourselves are too impoverished for the task. We must first recognize the horror perpetrated not by some outside force, not by class or national enemies, but within each of us individually, and within every society. This is especially true of a free and highly developed society, for here in particular we have surely brought everything upon ourselves, of our own free will. We ourselves, in our daily unthinking selfishness, are pulling tight that noose…

Our life consists not in the pursuit of material success but in the quest for worthy spiritual growth. Our entire earthly existence is but a transitional stage in the movement toward something higher, and we must not stumble and fall, nor must we linger fruitlessly on one rung of the ladder. Material laws alone do not explain our life or give it direction. The laws of physics and physiology will never reveal the indisputable manner in which the Creator constantly, day in and day out, participates in the life of each of us, unfailingly granting us the energy of existence; when this assistance leaves us, we die. And in the life of our entire planet, the Divine Spirit surely moves with no less force: this we must grasp in our dark and terrible hour.

To the ill-considered hopes of the last two centuries, which have reduced us to insignificance and brought us to the brink of nuclear and non-nuclear death, we can propose only a determined quest for the warm hand of God, which we have so rashly and self-confidently spurned. Only in this way can our eyes be opened to the errors of this unfortunate twentieth century and our bands be directed to setting them right. There is nothing else to cling to in the landslide: the combined vision of all the thinkers of the Enlightenment amounts to nothing. 

Our five continents are caught in a whirlwind. But it is during trials such as these that the highest gifts of the human spirit are manifested. If we perish and lose this world, the fault will be ours alone. 

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “Godlessness: the First Step to the Gulag”. Templeton Prize Lecture, 10 May 1983 (London).

My Personal Thoughts on Division in the United Methodist Church

3 Sections

  1. Where I Am Coming From
  2. The Church and Our Divide on Scripture
  3. The Beginning is the End is the Beginning

Where I’m Coming From

God called me into the United Methodist Church only 10 years ago. I was reading a lot of John Wesley and had read a bit of the discipline. I had observed the polity and practical theology, and seeing that the movement was geared towards getting people into mission for Christ through a great network called Connectionalism, I joined the family. Being a history guy, I became fascinated by the movements of reform in Methodism and how it has continued reviving hearts; especially in the United States post Revolution and into the greater Pentecostal movements as great-grandchildren of the revival from the Anglicans. The doctrines seemed clear enough and I read the Book of Discipline 2012, delving into the continuing movement with wide eyes looking forward to contribute to this work of the Spirit stretching back a few hundred years.

Backing up a bit, I was baptized and came to faith in the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination emphasizing the charismatic gifts, especially the gift of speaking in tongues. I had never experienced the outpouring of these most visible gifts; but rather, in my reading of the Scriptures found other gifts of God in me for the eventual work of ministry. I found it refreshing that there isn’t a hierarchy or a “Queen of the Gifts” in Methodism. I believe this is more in line with the scriptures. I remember leaning into Mercy, Teaching, and Shepherding – all deeply embedded within and tested as a youth ministry volunteer then as a lay minister pre-ordination. I’d also discovered the issues with congregational government in the Pentecostal church, and the harm politics could inflict on a church at the local level. Later I would work at a “mega-church” in New England which had Wesleyan emphasis but also was congregational in government and without a wider connectionalism though with more of a global, theological, and historical lens. I noted the polity was still a bit harsh at times with meetings that could be condescending between “parties” who felt strongly about cultural issues.

When I entered the United Methodist Church, the polity didn’t feel so heavy and I could be Arminian, affirm women as Pastors and leaders, teach and experience robust Trinitarian worship and theology, have episcopal accountability in leadership, be focused on the work of the Holy Spirit in mission to all in a parish, and there were resources to do it across this network – it all was incredible! And as I breathed it all in, I was completely naive to the politics of the greater church as I joined. I started working as a Youth Director and joined the denomination on a literal island. The disconnection was good for the trenches of ministry, but I eventually entered the ordination track towards Elder. That is when the issues of the denomination began to percolate to my attention (especially human sexuality and marriage) and the modern world’s power struggles between liberal and traditional positions. I’d not known until I took my Methodist courses that the denomination had been experiencing battle after battle since the merger of the United Bretheren/Evangelical Association and The Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1960s –my eyes were opening.

This naivete was a great shield as I did ministry in the trenches as a youth minister on that island but as then I began to live stream the General Conferences starting in 2012. My eyes opened wide, and today, I’m an Elder at a 3 point charge. I’m responsible to people who have lived their entire lives as Methodists, some who have recently committed and are doing ministry with us, and some who are testing us out. I hear and feel their questions about what is happening at the larger institution and I pastor in a rural context yet incredibly adept at knowing every detail of what is going on – because they love their churches. The pain of the battles became more real and I have sought to understand so I might pastor well through these storms. I did a lot of research, and now I teach Polity for the District Lay School for love of this frail yet fascinating system that I believe God is still using in so many lives. In my own Methodist Studies courses for ordination, in the midst of the academic and personal study on the organization at the church, district, Annual and General Conference levels, I still believe what is practically built in Methodist Connectionalism is a great ideal for how we might govern ourselves in a way that Wesley intended. This Revival Movement that inspires, equips, then sends ministers for mission and equips the laity to own their common ministry as an outpouring of their baptism. I’m still in awe at the potential and on the ground in our churches I see how much life comes from the Spirit enlivening us. The faith within our people is robust. Then again, there is quite a bit of bloat in the structure, as anything that has been around for a while naturally gets “gamed”. Language gets learned and definitions change slowly over time. Sometimes the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. This is too true in our case.

I make my observations as a pastor mostly through my own experience with the ordination process and personal observation of the overall polity. I’ve read every news article I can about the nature of the church’s dilemmas as well as her celebrations and victories. I love data and have a deep seated belief that wisdom is essentially seeing patterns and making good decisions based on them, and that ultimately the Spirit gives us discernment and leads us when we begin to surrender and give God glory rather than glorifying our own system or our history or our own selves. I know, even as an outsider who came into the family, it seems that Connectionalism has broken down. It is a painful and a slow motion tearing of the parts and it is so excruciating to the connection because the relationships are the lifeblood of the Wesleyan – Global – Methodist – Holiness – Revival – movement/s. It is how the family tree helps grace to grow and gives life to its members – through accountability and the very connection that is now being ripped into pieces.

I also believe it will be the connectional strand of catholicity posited within Methodism by John Wesley’s own theology that might eventually be a balm for the pain. Perhaps when some sort of schism occurs, the connection will not be completely severed and the “Oneness” that Christ which calls us to in this emerging Post-Denominational world, will still be possible through our prayers, our presence and our service. We will all still be members of the world-wide body of Christ, though in deep disagreement with one another of how to live in fidelity to the Lord. There may be new ways to work out the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As rural kinfolk might – in households across the street from each other with mutual fields all around their homes. We have lots of family compounds like that in the agricultural areas of South Carolina, and though family members may disagree on many things, the common work and the mission to grow something that brings life remains the same. I do not believe those differences should be minimized or the truths conceded, but merely recognized and presented charitably when needed and when appropriate for differentiation of theological method, Biblical interpretation, and understandings of the nature of our mission have opened chasms that have us looking at one another as enemies rather than siblings in the household of God.

The Church and Our Divide On Scripture

I have slowly realized and watched this dividing and experientially have run into the reality that there really are several factions, but mainly there are two vocal and major tribes warring each other within the family called The United Methodist Church. This is obvious and I barely need to state it. Though I hate the terms, for brevity’s sake, they are called Progressive and Traditional branches of the tree. I’ve struggled with the meanings of these terms, and I recognize that there are people who associate with these camps but because of the depth of connectionalism and common love in the family, many are wary of associating with a “side”. These folks have been called Centrists, though it mainly means that they do not want to break up the family so they try to keep quiet or encourage both sides.

The last General Conference, as I’ve been grafted into this family, I’ve felt the pressure of being from a Residency group with friends on all the different angles on these issues. Having friends on the ends of the issue of sexuality has caused a lot of pain all around. Spiritually, mentally, even physically in some cases. Even as I prayed over General Conference, I saw the behavior of delegates at the microphone and the intentional chaos which was openly spoken by some caucus groups… my body became literally sick. I delved into prayer for this family that has welcomed me but I’m now in the midst of a civil war which I at once was not aware of but now actively have a stake in as a shepherd with a group of people who ask me, “What is going on up there? Do we need to do something?” I’ve done my best to encourage, teach, truth tell, speak from the scriptures, and be pastoral all at the same time.

I’ve had to wrestle with my own responses, and for full transparency, I fall into the “Traditional” understanding. I cannot minimize the importance of seeking to understand the entirety of scripture and I push back on those who say we all only “pick and choose” what portions of scripture we live out or teach. I may not know all things, but the goal is to be so thoroughly immersed in the study and reading of scripture, and then to live it out so fully, that we delve deeper into the life of God. In the wholeness of deep and time intensive hearing and responding, the Spirit transforms us as the text witnesses to the saving power of Jesus Christ – and our own frailty and sinfulness fades in the sanctification process. I do not see any evidence that we should not take the whole revelation of scripture as we grasp at it and apply all the themes and courses within it into the ordering of our spiritual, physical lives, and relationships.

On the issue of marriage from the beginning there is a purpose for sexuality which is to bond a man and a woman together for life-long commitment to one another. The redefinition and opening up this union to same-sex spouses is something from the greater culture and is nowhere in either the Old or New Testament portions of the canon. Scholar after scholar notes how many forms of sexuality were practiced in Egypt, Canaan, Rome, and this same spirit continues today. N.T. Wright, in a recent podcast clearly debunks the conception that our modern ideas of sexuality are completely novel by citing the “Symposium” by Plato, and Roman writings on Juveniles as sources that obviously show the kind of same-sex relationships we are seeing today. We don’t give the ancient people enough credit for dealing with the same issues humanity has always been dealing with. We simply should not drift from the revelation of God simply because we we want people to feel accepted. The truth is, they are accepted by God – salvation is free – but the sanctification process afterward asks all of us to put our conceptions of self including our own sexuality on the altar and to seek God’s plan for each of us called into the Christian community. This may not be what we had originally or conceptually intended in our own imaginations.

The desire to make sexuality primary in our identity (which should rest primarily in the Spirits work within us by Christ) is not new. Monasteries in the ancient church have had to address monks who were attracted to men, and they called those celibate people to reside in their identity in Christ. Of course they were celibate anyway but it has import for us in an incredibly sexualized material world. The Bible has one line of argument of what an ordered marriage is, that those not bonded in it are to be celibate, and that sexuality is not our chaos but part of the Lord’s grand design. Dr. Kevin M. Watson, Assistant Professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies at Candler School of Theology, who in a debate with a former professor of his, Dr. Kendall Soulen, in a civil debate, stated;

“‘Simply put, the Bible is concerned with sexual ethics. Deeply concerned with sexual ethics. The well-known Jerusalem Council, where the early Church agreed to remove as many burdens as they possible could from Gentiles who were coming to faith in Jesus, particularly circumcision, so that as many people could follow Jesus as possible, still emphasized right living when it came to sex. The Jerusalem Council concluded: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.’ (Acts 15:28-29) The consistent concern expressed for sexual ethics in the Old and New Testaments from passages like Acts 15 cannot be cut away from the other passages in the Old and New Testaments that concretize what particular sexual practices Christian are to abstain from.”

Full video of this debate is on youtube here: https://youtu.be/XkNCmsatTlE

The debate was civil, and I enjoyed listening to the two take questions and answers from folks afterwards, both Dr. Watson and Dr. Soulen being very pastoral in all things – it was very Christian in nature – I couldn’t help but notice that Soulen’s positions on becoming more laid back on divorce were grounds for our continual cultural accommodation. Just “one more thing” [not his words, my summary of the ethos]. I don’t believe his framework and the foundation of many modern Christian’s view of Biblical interpretation are taking the revelation of the scriptures serious enough nor do they plunge deep enough into the depths of their context, morals, or teachings. This view doesn’t take into account that our hardness of heart to one another in divorce and the laxity on marriage in our culture is a condemnation of our modern world and should not be a virtuous rule! We should be repenting of the implosion of marriage in our culture because it is a covenant made before God. The evil which spouses have beat upon each other due to our sinfulness need corporate and individual acts of repentance rather simply losing all of our Christian ethics and then redefining what a marriage is.

Dr. Watson, grounded in the scripture, began with a deliberation of the passages in Genesis where man and woman are brought together to become one flesh and states, “the witness of Scripture regarding marriage consistently describes marriage in terms of a union of one man and one woman. And it never describes marriage as between two people of the same sex.” As I’ve delved into the texts, this is always apparent without much study and under scrutiny it holds up, which makes me wonder why the Methodist world is succumbing to the fallacy of losing all Christian teachings simply because they are from antiquity and they’re really hard to live into.

I don’t worship the Bible nor hold it up as an idol between the Lord and His ability to speak but I do hold it as the inspired Word of God. It contains God’s road map and revelation for us to be lead into salvation. It is how we come to know Jesus Christ in a very personal way and then are conditioned to hear His word by the Spirit which we have living within us. I also hold to the scriptures as a standard by which we can judge extraneous revelation, in which our experience and interpretations of the workings of the Spirit within us and without us must be brought into focus by this ruler, the Word of God, and of its plain understandings.

The Beginning is the End is the Beginning

Overall, I was encouraged by some movements at General Conference 2019 to affirm the teachings of the church which at a point long ago had been codified in The Book of Discipline -long before I was even born. Recently I watched in shock and awe at our South Carolina Annual Conference 2019, and seeing not one traditional clergy going to General Conference (one to Jurisdictional). I saw how gamed the system was. Local Pastors wondering why they had no say in their denomination, computers with spreadsheets out analyzing coordinated votes, and realizing that the polity had simply moved the messiness of Congregational polity from the local church, to the higher echelons where the same pettiness reigns. It was a somber realization of the pendulum we are on and how our congregations are constantly being gaslighted by obvious political maneuvering. I’ve seen both sides consolidate a power base and retreat into echo chambers. I don’t necessarily condemn having groups for support – we are human and need to support one another. I am guilty myself of having stronger relationships with those I doctrinally align with. But the lack of charity is intense right now, and I really wish the power brokers would lay down their power, repent, and allow the streams of Methodism to be free to go their own way. Build a new connectionalism in a Global sense but lets let go of the vicious bear hug.

Personally, I feel strongly that there is a right interpretation of scripture, and I strive to grapple with that through the Spirit and in the accountability of community. I also desire that our denomination would continue to acknowledge the teachings of the church through the ages which are in line with the witness of scripture and connected to apostolic witness. My heart is still hurting and I feel the brokenness of the denomination even though I wasn’t born into it. I think the Holy Spirit as a person is bringing these pains to the fore in all of us because folks on the ground level are feeling all the stages of grief as we mourn what was and in a clumsy way, envison what might be – even though most like myself do not have the power to really guide us to a new horizon. We can simply keep following Jesus Christ and remain humble as we minister to those we are entrusted to do ministry among.

While I feel a separation is coming, I hope that those with power will be gracious with each other, speak kindly to one another, and stop the shame game and marketing that comes with this kind of warfare language. This is a major disagreement, but we are not enemies. This is not the way John Wesley would have us walk and talk. I’m new to this, but seriously, if I was making a call I’d say, “let’s make a decision and find a way to live with it.” That’s called leadership, and the world needs to see leaders stick their necks out and say what they’re thinking whether they lose their jobs and their pension or not. Actually, that’s why this mess has gotten so large. Some folks who think very differently than I do decided to lead. Unfortunately they’ll find a stand still until a real conversation about our differences and chasm of how theology is done is clearly on the table and because of the hardness of our hearts -a mutual separation is negotiated under truce. We need more transparency, more humility, more thinking and listening and less warfare on the grounds of the Holy Conferences. I’m praying for The United Methodist Church and I will keep my vows. Whatever happens we will all make our decisions. Let’s not manipulate ourselves into a dystopian future.

I think institutions as large organisms can be saved but the heart needs to be malleable. If a division occurs, may we send each other in peace. It seems the problems of Congregational Polity have found their way to General Conference. The system like any is gamed over time. I preached recently on King David’s census and the plague that ensued. It seems like we want the same sense of control David wanted and I fear that there is a path to failure if we fight over control, resources, and power. I’m still an outsider mainly because I’m still learning this whole system. I still know where I stand, which is in line with the Book of Discipline as it is today. My hope is that we continue to uphold the teachings of Christianity and find a way despite the current culture. I know that one “side” eventually will be discouraged enough to leave if the table doesn’t have good actors looking each other in the eye. It doesn’t have to be this way. If amicable division costs money, it is what it is. I saw a figure for an Annual Conference that it would cost $18 million dollars to deal with pension liabilities and then the line was “That’s impossible.” Are you kidding me. I know we are frugal, but if something needs to happen you make it happen. Are we fighting over treasure or releasing each other for fruitfulness in ministry? There is a way. It seems to me that we’ve just stopped talking to each other and are now trying to destroy the reputation of the opponent in order to take all the marbles. That’s not Wesleyan, it is certainly not Christian, and that’s not the way of the Spirit. I’m here to see what happens and I’m praying for wisdom in the years to come. But in the meantime – back to ministry! The trenches in this world need workers to preach and spread scriptural holiness. May I be faithful, and may the Lord bless our work. May we all be humble servants who wash each other’s feet and look at Christ and kneel. God is with us and always will be. May we be with the Lord. Amen.

Father’s Day: Sparring with the Spirits

DemoniacOn Father’s Day I was challenged and honored to preach on Jesus’ encounter with the Demoniac.  A man oppressed by a legion of evil spirits.  Jesus came off a boat into the area of the Geresenes, and immediately the encounter brought new life to the man.  The power of our Heavenly Father, God Almighty was made manifest through Jesus Christ.  In this sermon, I explore what that means for us today.

Click to Hear Rev. Griswold’s Sermon: “Sparring with Spirits”

Scripture: Matthew 5:1-19

The Gerasene Demoniac

They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes.When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones. Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; and shouting with a loud voice, he *said, “[a]What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!” For He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he *said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there was a large herd of swine feeding [b]nearby on the mountain. 12 The demons implored Him, saying, “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them.” 13 Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea.

14 Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They *came to Jesus and *observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened. 16 Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine. 17 And they began to implore Him to leave their region. 18 As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might [c]accompany Him.19 And He did not let him, but He *said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them [d]what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.”