Tag: Leadership

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.

Are You The Leader God is Calling?


Are You The Leader God is Calling

For three years, Jesus poured himself into a core group of 12 people. These guys had lived ordinary lives, but, after being called, became greater through faith and service, proclaiming a new era through the gospel. Young King David lived as a sheep herder, but was anointed (blessed by God) by the priest and Judge Samuel, and through God’s calling, he became the renowned and beloved king of Israel. His son was considered the wisest man in the world.

Going further back in time, after the time of Moses and Joshua had passed, and judges would rule over Israel, there was a time of warfare and oppression with no one able to bring about victory over their enemies. A young man named Gideon received a messenger from God and soon he would lead his people to major military victories. He mentioned how he was a weak part of a clan that was least of his tribe, and yet he was used to lead a great campaign for God’s work.

Leadership is a hard thing, and Christian leadership even more so. Leadership in the faith community means putting on the mind of Christ, having vision, and being able to take a group of people with you toward a deeper and more holy discipleship in God’s ways.

If we relied on the news to tell us what leaders of faith are up to, it would seem that the bar for faith leadership is very low. That’s unfortunate, because for the myriad people who have given their lives to their calling, whether it is as a pastor, missionary, theologian, worship leader, youth pastor or whatever, the majority have lived up to the high standards held up in the third chapter of 1 Timothy, telling us that overseers of the church are not to be greedy; they are to be self-controlled, hospitable, able to teach and be mature in faith. They are to be bold and dignified in their calling of faith in manner and conduct. Those who fail but are humble are not bad people, though it is regrettable that so many have used ministry as a way to lord their own plans and visions. But the ideal is set high, so when we see a person who is false, they can be confronted.

In testing leadership, there is a trinity of calling that can illuminate the path. 1. Is a person feeling the call to leadership and feeling they have the gifts for it? 2. Has God placed a burden on the heart for others so they give of themselves to the work? 3. Has the community called them and confirmed the gifts of the leader, and that these gifts are needed and affirmed? The community can care for and test the leader, building a bond together as the work of God is done, and the good news is spread.

In our own youth group there are those who are beginning to feel the pangs toward Christian leadership. Each summer we have college aged interns and volunteers who explore ministry and test whether God is really giving them a passion to appeal to the hearts of people and care for the spirit. I am praying for them as they step out in faith and begin to serve. We are in a time of great transition, and many are searching for good leaders to do the work of ministry together.

As the world contemplates the future of faith and its place in society, as the Catholic church prays and convenes in the selection of a new Holy See, as our conferences and denominations appoint pastors, and as each local church calls leaders to shepherd and teach, let us be full of prayer for the spirit of all leadership in all places. God’s spirit is moving, faith is not stagnant, and leadership refreshes itself for each generation. Are your eyes open for new works of grace? Are you the leader God is calling? How will your work find purpose and bring life? How will you respond?

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at http://www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com

Read more here: http://www.islandpacket.com/2013/03/13/2418580/are-you-the-leader-god-is-calling.html#storylink=cpy

Beginning in Youth Ministry: The Art of Pioneering

As a boy, I took part in a group called “Royal Rangers” which operated much like the Boy Scouts but with different colors and awards. Each year that I participated I was invited to attend the big camping event in Maine.  Hundreds of kids like myself would learn basic survival involving making fires, tying knots, lashing together huts, canoeing, and lots and lots of cooking. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the whole roasted pig we would later enjoy as a meal.  In these events, I would imagine myself as a wilderness pioneer exploring new territory.  Surely I wasn’t the best camper, but I had a huge imagination.  I enjoyed stories about pioneers like Daniel Boone, and the danger tales of the adult campers.  I realized that in leaving the concrete and painted world of civilization for the wilderness, there were challenges that one must overcome.  There were also processes and disciplines that kept oneself alive.

This paradigm of imagination remained with me as I began my studies in youth ministry.  Very early in my internships I realized that I was not in safe territory as I entered the world of young people.  Even as a college student, new culture was already being created and I had to ask what some simple exchanges between youth meant.  I felt uncomfortable in that period of time when I was charged with starting a small group Bible Study for Middle School students, which would then intensify in the first few awkward silences that occur when people of different age groups come together.  So I taught my lessons, I took attendance, I ran events and listened and learned.  It was a growing process involving sacrifice of my pride and giving in to the possibility of personal pain.

The same wilderness principles that I had learned from the rangers were applicable to this “survival” situation.  The goal was to create a meaningful series of relationships and programs that would strengthen young people’s faith.  To accomplish this task, I had to admit that I knew very little about this world, and I would have to observe, be patient, and hear the breathing of this particular community.   A process evolved of brainstorming and proclaiming solutions to problems (lack of excitement, lack of interest, lack of connection, lack of kindness, lack of Biblical appreciation and understanding), practicing the idea of the solution in the life of the youth community (being excited and contagiously so, hanging in the hallways and listening and responding to connect others together, being kind and teaching goodness, loving the Bible and teaching God’s ways through study, service and practice), and lastly reflecting on how the solutions fared and returning to brainstorming for the next big thing.  Many call this praxis, and in the beginnings of your ministry, I call this Pioneering.

You are the adventurers who have decided that young people are worthy of discomfort.  You leave you’re civilization and age group for periods of time to build bridges in youth culture to God and make a way.  Like a missionary (which you really are), you forge forward and patiently build paths that others can follow.  It is this process of Thinking, Acting, Reflecting and Acting again that ensures that you’re pioneering will have an impact.

Like Abraham, a call of God is on your heart and He has said, “Go.”  You respond and begin to act, and the seeds you sow will bring blessing after blessing.  Jesus’ disciples heard the call to “Go” to the world.  So I pray for you, new and veteran pioneers, who seek to be world changers by building paths that others can follow to your God.

(This article was originally published in The Advocate, South Carolina’s Connectional Newspaper for the SC United Methodist Church)

Breakup By Texting – Don’t Do This (by Tim Elmore)

Tim Elmore (@TimElmore on Twitter) is a great voice in developing leaders in the Millenial generation.  I was tipped off to his books when I visited USCB while talking about starting a Methodist fellowship there.  The Student Life Coordinator swore by his work and wanted to bring him to campus.  I looked into it and have found him to be dead on.

Here is a video he posted about his new book.  It’s hilarious…but can really be true in a way.  Check it out:

If you haven’t read one of his books, google his name and check him out.  Some really good material.  I’ve followed him on Twitter for about a year.  You won’t regret it.

Snow Boarder Survives Avalanche Using Air Balloon to Surf: This is What Happens When You Think Something Through

You would think that getting caught in an Avalanche would be a 50/50 survival experience.  I’ve seen enough Discovery Channel stuff to know that people who get buried need to be discovered within a certain period of time.  And the process of being tossed about (not pleasant, I’m sure).  So what have snowboarders done to guard against this risk when control falling down a mountain? How about a big orange air balloon – yeah!  This video is amazing:

To me, this is sort of a metaphor for really thinking something through.  Back in the day, you put a board on your feet, latched up and went out.  If you got hammered in an avalanche on a risk taking dive, you had to be rescued.  Kind of like a surfer taking on a 75 foot wave – if you survive, awesome!  But this snowboarder had a backup plan that worked.  The balloon kept her above the snow and let her get up and go.  Maybe a bit sore, but easily alive and ready for the next risk.  What risk taking do you do, and how well have you thought out your rescue plan?

Good stuff.  (Source: Gizmodo)

Foolish Marines: The Imago Dei (The Image of God) is Basic to Integrity and Leadership in the World

There have been a few embarrassments over the years for the US Military, but the recent video of young marines in Afghanistan urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters has me reeling in utter disgust. As a citizen of the United States, this harms every one of us, opens the world up to more conflict, and burns the bridges of authenticity and goodness that the majority of our leaders and people have been trying to accomplish!

It showcases how these young men have no value for the dignity of all persons.

Gen 1:27–28

And God said: Let us make mankind in our image/b’tsalmeinu, as our likeness/kid’muteinu. And they will have dominion over [the animals]…․And God created humankind in His image /b’tsalmo, in God’s image/tselem He created him, male and female He created them. And God blessed them and God said to them: Be fruitfull and multiply, and fill the land and occupy it, and have dominion over the sea’s fish and the skies’ bird and every animal crawling over the land. (source)

If one desires to have positive outcomes in life, if one wants to live in community with people in our own neighborhoods and in the world, if a person wants to have true respect for anyone other than oneself – recognizing that all humans are children of God, and that even our enemies (especially after death) deserve to be given back to God and given the treatment we would want.

In the Old Testament, King David had people in his court who disagreed with how well he treated his enemies.  Then King David had a man unethically and despicably placed at the front of the battle lines to steal the man’s wife.  David’s General saw this and from that point forward treated their enemies more brutally and David had lost the authenticity that would have been an argument against doing harm to others.

Every time individuals make bad unwise destructive vulgar decisions that obviously devalue the humanity of all persons, we slap our allies and friends in the face who are trying to work with us towards stability and peace in the world.

What kind of punishment does this deserve?  When they discover who did this, I hope that it makes a statement that this is never okay.  I hope that it comes from someone who can keep the military accountable and on their toes with some authority, and I hope that the response comes not just from disgust, but from a deep sense that all human beings who die in battle could be treated with respect and buried without desecration.  We would be more than disgusted if it had been the other way around.

We are a nation that is both strong, and good.  These four or five do not represent the Marines, or us.

Actual Video Link Below (Caution: Vulgar Image)


CNN Commentary:

Washington Post Article (Click)

Two Movies on Spiritual Leadership – Cromwell, Book of Eli


It is always an impressive feat when a movie delivers amazing production, high quality acting, action, a deep underlying philosophy to undergird the plot AND a deep spiritual underpinning.  

Two movies, one recent and one older in origin, stick out in my mind as great works that inspire the spiritual person to greater discipline and leadership in one’s own life.

The older movie is Cromwell, 1970, starring Richard Harris and Alec Guinness.  The story chronicles Oliver Cromwell’s opposition to a King who does not listen to the will of the people through Parliament.  Alec Guinness, as Cromwell, does an amazing job delivering faith filled speeches throughout the film.  Not only does his belief inform his leadership of an army rebelling against King Charles’ unjust actions concerning land, and the changes to the Church of England.  While Oliver comes off a bit self-righteous at some points according to modern standards, it is nice that he has standards and justifies them.  He is also the archetype of the leader who does not want to lead.  He is thrust forward by circumstance and despite the desire to retire to a common life, Oliver is thrust into history by great events.  Though the movie and its costumes are all 1970’s level, the underlying principles are solid and the acting is superb.  The musical score is beautiful as well, full of tones denoting the importance of the time period.  For anyone who is persevering in a leadership role and trying to integrate their faith into everyday life – this is highly recommended.  And great for retro appeal. Modern movie goers may recognize Alec Guinness as the Emperor at the beginning of the film Gladiator, or the first Dumbledore in the Harry Potter Series.  

The more recent film is The Book of Eli, 2010 film by the Hughes brothers starring Denzel Washington.  The film is about a post-apocalyptic world of the future after a supposedly religious war that ends in nuclear obliteration of civilization.  Eli is a man who is traveling west to the California coast, despite warnings that there is nothing out there, to preserve a King James Bible, which he received supernaturally after being lead to it by a spiritual voice.  The main antagonist is Carnegie, the leader of a town with a clean water supply and a small military force, who wishes to expand his townships and create a small “kingdom” (my words, not the movies).  He is a literate man but is basically a dictator in the tradition of Musselini, Hitler or Stalin.  He wishes to have absolute power by any means possible and desires the Bible for the words in order to control the hearts of the people.  Having watched this a couple times now, there are many twists and turns – it is incredibly gritty (expect a high level of violence, alluded to cannibalism and basic survival battles).  But Eli acts much like one would expect a person of faith to behave. He makes mistakes, but keeps moving.  He prays, he teaches others the word of God if he sees their receptivity, and he survives when he needs to.  The rise of Eli and the degeneration of those who do evil is a pervasive theme in this movie.  For anyone who wishes to watch a film of spiritual perseverance even in times of great evil and survival ethics – this is a film to watch.  

Both of these films hit me in a deep way. I’ve watched them both several times and find new facets each time.  Each time I am inspired and come to it differently (because I have grown a bit and bring more to the interpretation of the film) than before.  These are great films to watch on your own, or with a group of theological/philosophical friends who would converse deeply afterwards.  A religion and leadership club in college would do well to discuss these films.   Enjoy.

Pass It On: Super Wave of Tahiti in Slow Motion Takes Breath Away and Teaches about Leadership

I watched this amazing footage of surfers taking on one of Tahitis mega-waves and thought two things:

(1) God has made an amazing Earth.  That much water curling and moving with such power really shows off God’s glory.

(2) All you leaders or wanna-be leaders out there, look at these surfers taking on this thing.  There are contests out there for surfers to get 100 foot waves and they drop in with lines from motor-boats.  Surfers go to the arctic to ride frigid waves created by dropping ice cliffs.  All this for the pursuit of excellence in surfing and simply the thrill of doing it.  Makes me feel like the challenges in my day are a lot less dangerous.

What challenges are you taking on?  How thrilling is your own personal ride in this life?  Push yourself further!

Source: @Gizmodo

Grace Chapel Lexington, MA will Open New Campus in Wilmington – Where I Accompanied a Young Lady to the Prom (Former Casa De Fior)

I remember being asked to a prom by a girl in my youth group back in the day.  We were friends, so I accepted.  I remember I had to talk to my dad for directions (before Mapquest Google or Yahoo Maps) and I suited up and jumped in the car, picked up the lady I would be accompanying, and we headed to Casa De Fior in Wilmington, MA.  It was a great place for a banquet, and very beautiful.  There was a fine meal, great videos, and later that evening we danced.  It was a nice affair.

Years later, I’m having a dry week with lots of work responsibilities and I’m trying to take a mind break by reading blogs, and I see a post by Tom VanAntwerp, a preaching and teaching pastor at Grace Chapel Lexington MA where I used to work as a Youth Ministry Assistant in the High School Ministry.  Turns out – they’re launching a new campus with Tom as the Campus Pastor, it will be multi-site, they’ve hired the Youth Pastor, and there is a blog.  I read it and looked at the picture (above) and realized I’d recognized the place.  It was the same Casa De Fior!

Apparently CdF went under which I think happened a while back, not recently.  It fits perfectly.  A building made for hospitality and welcoming, which is a hallmark of the Grace Chapel community.  There are even videos of the reconstruction. Here is the video of the youth space.  They’re having a Pizza Party and launching the space soon and it will be called Gravity, which is great because I was there with Dorian Botsis back in the day when they renamed the group, came up with the Logos, and made “Experience the Pull” the ethos of the HS youth group.  So exciting.

I want to let the folks at Grace Chapel know that I am excited for the growth and vision, I am praying for each of your efforts, and I am so glad that your plans and hard work are coming to fruition.  Be ready for the ebb and flow of pioneering a new worship space – as people come and check the space.  Be ready to persevere through the spikes in attendance and the lows that come after the spikes as you build relationships that will eventually last the long haul.  I realize that a multi-site may not have all the challenges of a new church – but there will  be unique ones and great ones. But always remember, like with Joshua – my favorite verse – “Be Bold and Courageous – for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go!”

Spread God’s word and let the world know of the love of Jesus Christ!

Ministry in New England is Different than the rest of the country

I just read this article on how New England is the least churched area of the country now (at the expense of the also less religious Northwest).  Being from New Hampshire myself, I always think it is weird seeing people talk about my home state and region talked of as a missions field.  But mission is global, so I shouldn’t feel too weird.  Jesus sent his disciples to the ends of the earth – that includes the corners of the United States…yes, even cold places where snow ever falls (aka – the Great Northern Wilderness).

What is also interesting is how there is always guilt about failure in New England.  I actually have a friend that came up to Boston to help plant a church.  I know many others from the South and other regions that came up to New England to start something up.  Problem is – many become self-isolated real fast.

New England is not just one culture – it is a mash-up of many cultures all interacting at a very high intellectual level in some spheres and then in a more folksy hard worker way in others.  In order to minister you need to know how the cities developed historically, the hardness of pioneering in the area, the survival and hard nature of the fisherman, and the history of independent thinkers who see themselves as trailblazers.

Things southerners probably don’t like about northerners.  (1) Blunt and to the point conversations.  Plain speaking is expected up north.  Polite people are probably hiding something.  (2) Arguments are normal.  If you don’t like a good debate that gets the blood boiling you might want to go home.  Debate is good conversation and keeps people sharp when they’re cold.  (3) History goes way back, families have histories in the communities, and you need to listen to the stories.  You will not become part of that history in the first generation.  Start a family, start a church, raise up your kids and through your family minister to those in your sphere.  You may not be a New Englander, but your kids might be.  The best stories of growing churches in New England are started out of prayer groups.  A bunch of ladies getting together, praying together, then calling a pastor to lead their growing flock.  Make sure that you’re not using a method that doesn’t match how New Englander’s do things.  Personal faith is big and the ladies have a lot of power.   (4) Friends don’t come easy.  I don’t know if it is the weather, or the pioneering distrust of others – but it is work making a friend in the North.  You have to be free enough to laugh at yourself if you are mocked when you try to reach out to others – but guaranteed – if you make a friend in New England, you will likely remain friends forever.  Why is that?  I don’t know – just know that it may take years to build  a few good supportive relationships.

Ultimately, the deliberation on why New England is unchurched belongs to the people of New England.  There are movements in our area that are strong and vigorous.  Having graduated from Gordon Conwell and ministered at Grace Chapel in Lexington, I know that ministry can flourish.  The problem is that New Englanders need to own the problem themselves.  Call it indigenous missions or whatever you like.

If we see New England church like the Church of Acts, spreading the Gospel again to people who literally have not heard how God loves them – that’s still powerful and that is a lifelong committment, not a 10 year gig.