Tag: spirituality

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

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.

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.

Always On? Always Connected? Our Ability to Transform Reality and Act for Good Starts with Solitude

Imagination and Deep Thoughts

(This is the full text of the article that ran on Wednesday April 4th, 2012 in The Bluffton Packet)

By Daniel Griswold

A family sits together in a living room in front of a television screen watching American Idol.  Every few minutes, someone hears a beep and a phone screen appears.

Actually several phones appear because everyone is reminded of their phones and tablets.  Dad gets on his Ipad checking stock prices and his daughter uses the moment to do a few rounds on the Kindle Fire playing Angry Birds (she’s accomplished 78 of 99 levels) and switching between that and her Facebook app.

After texting a bit with his bud, the son opens YouTube and watches several funny cat videos.  After the television-show ends, the mother is asked what Randy had said about a contestant and who sung the best.  The television has been merely a backdrop for the connectedness that so many screens provide.  The family sits together, but they were all in different worlds on different screens.

And with all this entertainment, education and content streaming to us constantly, I still see and hear this odd statement, “I am sooooo bored.”  I suppose that there is a point in which we have been saturated with media – and yet we still want more.   Our appetites are so large that when a quiet moment comes, we become scared because we have been passive consumers for so long.

I think that the ability to consume entertainment and educate ourselves at any point we choose has given many a feeling of power and confidence.  When stripped from the sources of connectedness, we feel like we are not accomplishing anything anymore.  This fits the picture of the good American – always on – always productive, even when enjoying a morning cup of coffee.

But this “always on” culture is blocking two huge facets of human growth:

(1) Imagination – Our minds are capable of dreaming big, and making new worlds by envisioning better combinations of what we know.  Disciplined imagination changes the world (“I have a dream”), and gives guidance and hope to the individual.  It comes from within and is inspired by the world of the spirit.  When Christ taught us to pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, On Earth as it is in Heaven,” we have a moment to imagine what our world could be like and what it will be like – if we take the time to draw it out in our minds. It is an act of creation that mirrors God’s creation of the universe.  From daydreaming to action, the world is made into a better place.

(2) Deep thinking – After a good cup of coffee or right after waking from sleep or during a walk through the woods, there are moments in life where our logical mind has time to dig deeper into the problems we are trying to fix.  No matter what the commercials say, life will always present intense challenges.  That means that to face them, we need time to process and think through the best course, the best way to act, or the best words for a speech.  Great leaders often need times of sabbatical to read for lengthy periods of time, but not just to gain information, but to make space and time to design the future plans for their projects, whether building teams, skyscrapers, philosophies or contemplating the intricacies of God’s interaction with Creation.  These structures in our mind take time and training to build strong foundations for growth of the individual and the society they plug into.

When Jesus had spent a great deal of time speaking to people and work with the disciples, in Mark chapter 6 there is a picture of Jesus looking for a quiet place.  People were coming and going, so much was going on, so many distractions.  But to grow and assess, Jesus needed moments of peace to process and commune with his Father.  In verse 46, Jesus has to literally climb up a mountainside to find time to pray and refresh his spirit.

We all need quiet times, but many of us are afraid of what might change if we dive deep into our minds and hearts.  There, God waits on us patiently, but we often wait too long, finding new distractions, and our spirit breaks down.  The greatest thoughts, the greatest peace, and the greatest projects are waiting for you there, so step in and see.  You’ll find living water that never runs dry.

Daniel Griswold is the Director of Youth, Saint Andrew By-The-Sea UMC, danielgriswold@gmail.com, twitter name: dannonhill

Is Sex Addiction Real?

With recent scandals (Arnold S in California and Weiner’s sexting) the term “Sex Addict” is coming to the fore.  According to this ABC news article, 1 in 17 adults claim to have a sex addiction.  This is not defined as merely as someone who wants sex a lot, but rather, is someone who has a compulsion towards sexual activity taking risks to fulfill the compulsion that may harm themselves or others.  The harm can be relational, physical, or emotional.  In the case of politicians, it appears that they continue in their risk taking simply because “they can.”  When they get caught, they seek treatment while trying to hold onto the brambles of their career.

A quote from that same ABC article struck me:

The internet and social networking provides an easy way for sex addicts to act on their temptation, experts said.

“It allows for early access, affordable access and anonymous access,” Samenow said. “The internet has caused a huge boom in our business. Unfortunately…it’s the crack cocaine of sex addiction.”

A healthy sex life has many elements for any human being.  The first is having an understanding of what context Sex belongs.  When there is no fence for our mind, we wander.  The beginning of discipline starts in childhood as we grow into puberty and have guidance from parents and role models who interact with us as we experience the often scary changes that sexual maturity bring.

The issue of sex addiction is two fold based on the deterioration in social structures at the early ages in the swirling chaos of American cultural drift.

(1) Adults now idolize Adolescence.  Many perceive their youth (thanks to the romanticization of film and music) as the best times in life.  Nothing to do, restless and the “unlimited” resources of our parents.  Unearned wealth simply given. Now that the youth have gone into adulthood, they yearn to be “free” again.  Free of a job, free from children and free from their own personality.  They throw down the fences and sexuality is released from the discipline it once had.  We reclaim the awkwardness of “innocence” and live as a teen perpetually throwing off the responsibilities of adulthood.  Unfortunately, without fences, anything from food to sex to relationships have the potential to become compulsions.  More, rather than Appreciate, becomes the rally cry.  Everyone is BORED, and enough is never enough.

(2) The fences come down and lack of discipline becomes a cycle.  If adults don’t model good discipline in sexuality (or anything else for that matter) the children play out the drama of the older generation as if it is dogma. Without fences the generations drift.  Ethics go out the window (because the basis of ethics is the discipline of the good person, without which society demolishes itself), and horrors become more normal.  We just shake our heads unable to comprehend how things got so bad.  It started when we decided that the fence didn’t matter.  Drop ethics even for one generation and we open ourselves to more compulsion.  The eyes you see when a child simply has no comprehension of right or wrong, the eyes of a child filled with anger and confusion, the eyes of an adult who has grown up with no direction except towards production of goods for the consumption of goods in a never ending cycle – these eyes become more common.  Without ethical grounding the homeless are beaten, sexual slavery returns to our cities, children are murdered because they are unwanted and we convince ourselves that there is nothing we can do.  We aren’t the murderers or the pimps, right?

The solution starts in the infancy of a new generation and it continues through the maturation to adulthood.  The abandonment of each new generation needs to stop.  Parenting needs to return as a form of art and excellency centered around the nurture and discipline of the young.  Discipline, meaning that there are fences. A safe space to grow and make mistakes, but always brought back to the center for a lesson.

In the case of sexuality, to stave off sex addiction, parents should continue to struggle to communicate values that are important.  Basic respect for other humans is at the center of this.  If we loved all people and tried to make sure we treat every person with dignity we would not even see the paths of compulsion.  Pornography would not be used because it uses the form of another person impersonally for a sexual high much like a drug.  It devalues everyone who is on the opposite end.  The proper place for sexuality would be after the intimacy of a mutual relationship and I posit that the real commitment of marriage (not the charade of marriage that some people put on as entertainment or as a rite of passage rather than a holy connection) is a pre-requisite before the bed.

Only in true intimacy, based on a strong devotion to God in faith in God’s ability to weather our storms, can a relationship model of positive love, and in that context – positive sex – be given to a generation that is dying in confusion because nothing seems trustworthy.  And we cant preach this without living it ourselves.  People don’t trust marriage because it has been thrown away by the people who should have been fighting to keep it right with all their strength.

Even if you fight a million wars across the globe and make the world safe, if we lose our souls in the process, everything will be destroyed anyway.  Like any addiction, sex addiction stops when one person decides to make some good fences and live inside the boundaries, recognizing that we are not God and are not capable of handling infinity without help.

For those who are already in the throes of addiction, there is hope and treatment is much like any other addiction.  A simple Google search on the issue will bring up many resources.  Here is one that looks notable: http://www.sexhelp.com/

The Bible Offers Nourishment to the Soul

Bible offers nourishment to the soul

Published Monday, February 21, 2011

Growing up, I remember my parents telling me that it would be good for me to read my Bible.

My Bible had a soft blue cover and it appeared more worn than it should have — because all I did was bring it to church and then bring it back home. That ride in the car — in an elementary to middle school student’s hand — must have been torture on the pages. I’m pretty sure it was missing the last few pages of Revelations, as well.

I realized that my parents were happy when I read the book, and I was starting to hear more references to Scripture in Sunday school, so I decided to read something. My first choice, because my name is Daniel, was obviously Daniel. I read about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego more times than I can count. Finally, I now know how to pronounce the name Nebuchadnezzar — at least I think I can. But I never really wandered out of that book at that time because the Bible was so big. It intimidated me.

So like many people, I relied on the stories told by my Sunday school teacher to make up my biblical worldview. I knew about Jonah, Noah, Abraham, Joseph and a lot about Jesus and some about Paul and his letters. But the stories weren’t connected. I still didn’t have the big picture.

I was 15 years old when I first believed in Christ, and my whole world changed. In faith, I picked up the old tattered Bible and began to read stories outside of Daniel. The gospels were my starting point, and I moved into Paul’s letters.

To be honest, it wasn’t until college and seminary that I cracked the Old Testament beyond Genesis. I peeked here and there, but it was a world I did not understand until some professors took the time to explain that world to me.

Now I read Scripture like it’s a good piece of fresh bread. It fills me up and gives me energy for the rest of my day. Each time I read through a book, I see something new. My world changes as I understand God’s story in the past and how I am connected to this world that really isn’t so different from my own.

I see Abraham today in a man leading a family that is struggling to survive. I see Joshua on the battlefield leading troops and making a home for the people of the world. I see Isaiah in a woman on television speaking against our excesses and injustice. Like in the gospels, Jesus’ disciples currently surround us. And the spirit of Paul and the early church of Acts are in the people who care for the sick and help those who have fallen somehow, telling them the good news of the kingdom of God.

Great stories of people grappling with a holy God are wrapped in the Scriptures. You don’t have to go to seminary to learn to love them. Simply open the pages and begin to read. Add a quick link to Wikipedia and a study Bible from the bookstore, and you can learn to immerse yourself.

The exploration is much better than any fantasy or sci-fi book I have ever read. The suspense holds you as you hear the world cry out for a savior. God is and was in conversation with his people in the world. That conversation is an important one for us to own for our time and for ourselves.

Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him on Twitter @dannonhill.

How Much Money is a Church Worth? Economically? Spiritually?

When many of us think of how much a church is worth one person might think of the cost of a wedding, others might think of the cost of counseling services, another would think of the cost to build the church building and the property, and another might think of how invaluable the people of the church have been to them.  There are a lot of valuations and ways to value what the church does in a community.  Some, who do not attend, may say the church is worth nothing at all, or very little (to them).

But according to a University of Pennsylvania study (which will likely be contended according to this blog), churches and their impact on the community has a huge quantifiable impact.  They looked at Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish “ekklesia” or gatherings (in Greek) and this is how they did it:

They added up the money generated by weddings and funerals, festivals, counseling programs, preschools, elder care. They tallied the salaries of staff and the wages of roofers, plumbers, even snow shovelers. They put dollar signs on intangibles, too, such as helping people find work and teaching children to be socially responsible.  They even measured the diameter of trees on church campuses.

So what was the worth of an average church? Over $50 million in economic and community benefits.  Considering that most churches run under a $1 million or much much less operating budget, and the property often isn’t worth more than a million or two – that is a huge impact.  It is no wonder that the Puritans made the Gathering Place (aka Church building) at the center of every town in New England.  Perhaps they were onto something.

The blogger, Todd @toddrhoades (and thanks Todd for sharing this), points out that this doesn’t even speak to the spiritual dimension of what a church brings.  Again, many will find that negligible because they do not desire a relationship with God, but for those who do (or are on the verge of coming into faith), this is life giving, and brings more cohesion to a community. On a side note, a recent Gordon-Conwell Theological economic impact study made up to respond to critics of the Seminary’s non-taxable status had a similar result.  The benefits in volunteer hours in the community alone are invaluable.

So looking at your church, does this bring a new appreciation for what God is doing through it (because you are a part of that – or should be)?  Leaders: Do your congregants know how valuable their work as the saints is?

Read the full article here or click the picture.

The Spirituality of Being Sick

Over the weekend I became terribly sick.  After a good meal, the stomach flu sacrificed it all that night to the porcelain king – and I went through some cycles I always do when I get sick.  First, I just felt terrible so I submitted to the experience because in sickness we rarely have true control.  Second, I tried to understand what was happening.  This was so I could determine if I could work the next day.  As a youth minister, I love what I do, and I hate missing what I have planned.  I googled everything that looked like what I had, and did some extensive research when I didn’t feel totally nauseous (and of course my awesome wife was assisting me and bringing me water and asking relatives what to do).  The research, which I was hoping was just going to lead to food poisoning, ended up being “Stomach Flu” and at that determination I was to be bed-ridden for a day, eat nothing but crackers and drink electrolyte water, sleep and maybe watch some movies while feeling terrible (WHICH MIGHT RUIN THE MOVIE!).

Anyways – Despite the terrible symptoms, and the dread, and odd sleep-ish-ness … I made it.  And looking back, I learned a few things about God and I.

When I’m sick:

(1) I talk to God more. I think I realize how dependent I really am…unfortunately much of the conversation is in exasperation

(2) My appetites are quelled, so I am more focused when I pray. It felt a bit like grieving.  If you don’t want to eat or be entertained what do I do?

(3) I felt cared for. My wife took care of me, my best friend called, my church showed sympathy, my facebook friends wished me well, I think people prayed for me.  I was wrapped in a warm blanket of goodness for a while.  I hope everyone gets to feel that every once and a while.

It only lasted the weekend, and though I’m recuperating and getting used to a near normal appetite again, I hope to remember and live out some of the spiritual disciplines that became more easily to me while I was sick.  Peace to you.