Tag: theology

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.

Interesting Article: Youth ministry at Clemson UMC: more than fun and games (repost from the SC Advocate)

Revolution Bracelets

Youth ministry at Clemson UMC: more than fun and games

By Ken Garfield

(reposted here)

This was first published in Faith & Leadership, http://www.faithand leadership.com, and The Advocate Newspaper for the SC UMC.

The youth ministries room at Clem- son United Methodist Church in Clem- son, S.C., still has an old sofa, the type that teenagers typically occupy on Sunday evenings far and wide across the faith landscape.But that’s one of the few vestiges of the past in a youth ministry work-ing to educate young Christians in a deeper way. Believing that the role of the church is to mold young people into serious students and devoted disciples, the 1,000-member congregation, located a mile from Clemson University, has shifted the focus of its work with youth.Leading that effort is a Duke Divinity School student who is convinced that his charges are capable of more than fun and games.“It’s about giving students credit for being able to be theologians,” said Jad Taylor, Clemson UMC’s director of youth ministries. “It’s helping students understand their part in this wonderful story.”Taylor, 26, is part of the first class in the Master of Arts in Christian Practice program, a two-year degree track at Duke Divinity School with an emphasis on educating youth pastors and other lay professional ministers serving local congregations.Jeff Conklin-Miller, assistant profes- sor of the practice of Christian formation and director of the MACP program, said the idea is to share this model of pas- toring with youth ministers who aren’t theologically trained so that they, in turn, can help youth understand their role in the broader Christian story.

The old youth ministry model? Order pepperoni pizzas, update the kids on the ski trip, bring up a sensitive topic like dating, toss out a few applicable Bible verses, then repeat, with a different topic, the following Sunday evening.The new (actually, quite ancient) model that MACP is teaching Taylor and the 25 other students in the program?“What is the Christian church about?” Conklin-Miller said. “What is discipleship? What is baptism? This is an invitation for youth to see themselves as part of the narrative of God’s redemptive work in creation.“Suddenly, they have a different way of thinking about what it means to be youth in the church. What’s most important in youth ministry isn’t someone who’s, quote unquote, good with kids but someone who is deeply committed to the church’s ministry of formation.”
Insights from the Youth AcademyThe MACP program and the vision of youth ministry that it seeks to foster draws heavily on insights gleaned by the Divinity School over 12 years of operating the Duke Youth Academy. There, each summer, high school students and counselors gather on the Duke campus for two weeks of worship, classes and dialogue aimed at helping youth appreciate their role in the Christian story. Launched with a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., the youth academy It’s about giving students credit for being able to be theologians.– Jad Taylor Clemson UMC’s director of youth ministries“embodies the philosophy at the heart of the MACP program. The academy’s vi- sion statement puts it this way:“Authentic Christian communities do not isolate or ghettoize youth in a hodgepodge of lock-ins and pool par- ties. Instead they welcome youth into their very center as they seek to embody faithful life and worship before God.“The same graceful means that have sustained God’s people historically – worship, sacrament, serious study of Scripture and theology, prayer, service with the poor, hospitality, self-denial, spiritual direction and accountability – are what youth hunger for today.”In this spirit, Conklin-Miller said, the youth of the church belong in the sanctuary pews on Sunday mornings, and not on those old sofas in the youth room.At Clemson UMC, the young people in the youth ministry sit up front in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings, just below the pulpit, said the Rev. Keith Ray, the church’s senior pastor.“It means they are integrated into the whole of the congregation,” he said. “It’s one of the things we value at Clemson. We feel the youth learn a lot by being with the older folks, and the older folks learn a lot from them.”
Taylor, a native of Columbia, graduated from Clemson in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science degree in biosystems en- gineering. The son of an optometrist and a nurse, he was planning on becoming an eye doctor like his father – until the first summer he spent as a counselor at a Christian camp in Colorado changed everything. There in the Rocky Mountains, he fell in love with the idea of shaping youth and being shaped by youth.“I felt like my gifts and talents and passions were all being used,” he said. “That’s a hard feeling to shake.”The spring of his senior year, a few weeks before graduation, the Rev. Lane Glaze, director of the Clemson Wesley Foundation and campus minister for Clemson UMC, told him that the church was looking for a youth pastor.‘Where I need to be’That very moment Taylor told him- self, “That’s where I need to be.”After another summer at the camp in Colorado, he went to work at the church, in August 2008, and started in the MACP program three years later, intent on infusing his passion with scholar- ship. Clemson UMC is paying his way in return for Taylor’s commitment thathe’ll remain there for at least three years after he graduates this summer, until 2016. This is how a self-confessed “crazy-haired” youth pastor has come to devote himself to Clemson UMC youth in grades 6-12. With his blue jeans and sandals and a mop of curly hair, Taylor looks the part. Conklin-Miller talked about Taylor’s outgoing personality and how he ends his emails with “much love.”
The kids at Clemson UMC clearly embrace him. Charles Withington, 16, mentioned the fall retreat when the entire youth group came together to explore God’s story in some out-of-the- box ways. To express the joy of Palm Sunday, they danced. To ponder Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, they spent time quietly in a garden. At night, they gazed at the stars. Whether at a retreat or the Sunday night gathering, or whenever he needs someone to talk to, Charles always knows where to turn.“I can tell Jad anything,” he said. Another Clemson youth, 18-year-old Hunter Smith, offered similar praise.“Jad is really accepting of any person he comes into contact with,” he said. “To me, his faith is overwhelming.”His ever-present smile notwithstanding, youth ministry is serious business for Taylor. On a rainy evening, the final Sunday before Lent, his upbeat purposefulness came across in a gathering devoted to Jesus’ 40 days in the desert and what that means to teens navigating life in the complicated 21st century.Following a dinner of red beans and rice, church member and New Orleans native Jill Evans talked about Mardi Gras traditions as the youth devoured a king cake, the colorful pastry identified with pre-Lenten revelry.
Several teenagers then read aloud the story from Matthew 4:1-11, how Jesus rejected the temptations of the devil and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Jesus’ wilderness experience, Taylor told the youth as they fiddled with their Mardi Gras beads, reminds us that we are not alone, no matter the temptations and pitfalls we face. He shared what he called his own desert experience, the death of his grandmother and having to see his mother suffer.“The deserts we’re going through, Jesus has been there,” he said. “It’s OK for us to enter into deserts together.”Later, in small groups, the high school boys talked about what they could give up for Lent. Some suggested video games and speeding.Taylor again gently turned the con- versation inward. Our earthly pursuits, he suggested aloud, turn us into some- thing we’re not. They hide what’s really in our souls. By giving up something, during Lent and beyond, perhaps we reveal our vulnerabilities in a way that strengthens us. “Weakness is not un- cool,” he told the boys before the group of 35 came back together to sing a final song. “Being vulnerable is good.”
Intense at the DYAThe MACP program combines intensive, on-campus seminars and Web-based distance learning that allows the students to remain in full-time youth ministry in their home churches. One of the most intense of those intensive on-campus sessions happens at the Duke Youth Academy each summer. During two weeks in June, 45 rising high school juniors and seniors from across the nation unite at Duke to worship, pray, serve, and share meals and conversation. The students participate in service projects, hear faculty speakers from Duke Divinity School and meet daily in small reflection groups. It is all meant to inspire teens to take a fresh look at God, the church and themselves.The experience must be compelling, since youth flock to the DYA, even with the 7:30 a.m. wake-up call each day.The MACP students also attend the youth academy, but not as “campers,” counselors or other staff.“We are intentional about that,” Conklin-Miller said. “They are ‘participant-observers’ and members of the worshipping-learning-serving commu- nity of DYA.”Last summer, Taylor and two youth from Clemson UMC were part of the youth academy. Raven Howard, 18, a senior at Daniel High School in Central, S.C., remembers focusing on the story of God as seen through the five C’s – Creation, Covenant, Christ, Church and Coming Reign.“You learn a lot about how the story of God relates to our story,” he said. “I think it is our story.”Howard loved how they were encouraged to view the youth academy’s daily communion as a thanksgiving dinner filled with conversation and laughter.
Less laugh-producing was the worship service his group was asked to plan.“It was interesting but kind of stress- ful,” he said.Through it all, Howard said, Taylor was there, just as he is each Sunday evening, stirring conversation, listening and, most of all, accepting.“Jad doesn’t force what he thinks on people,” Howard said.‘What ministry will it be?’What’s next? Taylor is committed to Clemson UMC through 2016. Knowing that part of his vocation is working with teenagers, he’s thinking through whether or not to seek ordination. The MACP would qualify him to seek ordination as a deacon in the UMC, but he would have to go back to school and get an M.Div. to pursue ordination as an elder.“The entire question of ordination is new and still unfolding for me,” he said. “Five years ago, I did not suspect that I would be working in a local church, much less considering a call to lifelong, full-time parish ministry.”
For now, Taylor is content to walk beside youth as he works toward his MACP degree online and on campus. He frames his future around a question that Fred Edie, the youth academy’s founding director and now an associate professor of the practice of Christian education, likes to share at the academy, where he still serves as a faculty adviser.“The question is not, ‘Will it be ministry?’” says Edie, “but, ‘What ministry will it be?’”“His words stay at the front of my heart, mind and soul each and every day,” Taylor said. 

Praying for Boston – The Revolution of Mankind against Evil

A Few Words on Boston

 

 A lot of people are having a hard time with the terrorist event at yesterday’s Boston Marathon.  I know this because I see status after status asking “How could someone or group of people do something so evil?”  I think that people are still in shock, especially considering that the victims look like us.  They were wearing clothes that we wear.  The streets of Boston look like ours and the people look just like our friends.  Isn’t this only supposed to happen overseas?  Shouldn’t these events be more distant?  Boston is such a great city?  Why would anyone want to hurt anyone else?

Like in 9/11, when people full of hate hit the twin towers in NY, we are once again faced with the evil, which in this case is really just another word for “sin”.  It is our very human tendency to harm others rather than care for one another like Christ calls every person of the earth to make an ideal: “Love God, Love others” (ALL others – everyone on the face of the globe).

Some good news is that these terrorists have already lost and failed in all their goals.  The second that the bombs blasted, emergency workers, police and ordinary citizens ran towards the destruction and were immediately proving that violence and evil are not the final word in our world.  If there is something that I’m proud of in being American, is that we believe in the dignity of all people and the wellbeing of God’s creation.  It didn’t matter what creed, religion, race, party or philosophy the hurt had – everyone came together to make things right.

Though there have been many injuries, and three people have lost their lives in a senseless act, those who have acted on behalf of others have shown us a parable of God’s deep concern for us.  It was Jesus Christ who gave his life and died on the cross, and only weeks ago we remembered that dark day.  The greatest news is that death ultimately does not win.  The people of God and the good done in His name is victorious.

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever.”

 Galatians 1:3-5

Christ has already conquered evil in the long haul.  Let’s wrap ourselves in His goodness and press onwards in faith. Though these moments test our resolve and can shake our foundations.  Take some time to press into God with prayer for Boston; pray also for our world that continues to deal with the consequences of our Sinful Nature, and personally call out to God in repentance for what each one of us has done to harm others.

  The Revolution of Mankind against evil and destruction continues.  The inbreaking of God’s Kingdom continues onward.  Let’s make sure that we are filled with the Light of God and can give hope to those who are just barely hanging on!  Let’s make Love and even Forgiveness rule over our hearts so we do not harden and let chaos take any ground in this battle.

  “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

God is always with us!

On Hurricane Sandy: Dealing with the Problem of Evil in a Technological Super Connected World

Image Source: causecast.com

Staying connected even when the news is bad

By DANIEL GRISWOLD
info@islandpacket.com
Published Wednesday, November 7, 2012

We exist in a technological world where Twitter and Facebook deliver first hand pictures and stories of disaster to our hands wherever we are.  As hurricane Sandy neared the east coast the last few days, people I know in England were messaging my wife and I letting us know of their prayers for our safety.  Though we live in South Carolina and were safe, we both have families in affected areas, and it was nice to be so connected.

At other times, however, it is quite surreal.  While people were posting scriptures and prayers for those losing power and struggling with the elements, others were joking about “Gungnam Style” dancing (a Korean gone global dance craze) which might be a rain dance, surmising that we’ve brought Sandy down on ourselves.

I suppose the disconnection between what we see online about disaster, and what we are experiencing brings about a bit of melancholy.  It is strange to be captured by something so big, yet feel no real effects in the actual world.  Though it feels like we, ourselves, emotionally, have gone through the tragedy with our brothers and sisters in Jersey and New York with this all access.  How are we supposed to take this all in?  How are we not to become overloaded by the gory details?  How much can we really help?

As workers at a church, we are not immune to these issues, and at staff meeting today, our group discussed how such huge storms seem to a type of evil in our world.  While we realize the natural world swirls and has processes that we seek to understand and find equilibrium with, we simultaneously have to grapple with the suffering disequilibrium brings.  Even with a weeks foresight the devastation is astronomical:  $20 Billion in damages and the priceless lives of 46 people lost.  No time for grieving, cleanup and repairs to this huge swath of humanity begins.

Some say that the storm is punishment.  They point to a sign of God’s judgment on these people, perhaps not particularly those hit, but America as a whole.  This same sentiments were expressed during the Haiti earthquake, the Asian tsunami, after Katrina, and in 9/11.  Being Methodist, my response to this is very Methodist as well.  The United Methodist Volunteers in Mission work in the midst of destruction, poverty and great need, and their reflections mirror my own, and in an article on their mission, they point to the theology of the Incarnation:

“At the heart of this theology is the clear biblical expression of our loving Creator God who, in the words of Jesus, ‘so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ (John 3:16-17) God is in the business of salvation, not destruction–offering healing and wholeness. God is about loving care, not supernatural punishment.”

In the midst of all the brokenness in our world, the Incarnation is God’s presence among us.  This was in the person of Christ, and in the Holy Spirit among us today.  We work to make God’s Kingdom a reality today – redeeming what was once broken and making it whole again.  In this mission we become more like God, as a people – humanity becomes stronger, and we exhibit God’s light in the midst of dark times.

While there is certainly evil in our own times, God is not here to break us further, but He is our Redeemer and we participate in this amazing mission to heal our world.

Music, Youth Group, and Theology: The Development of My Adolescent Theology

I have a confession to make, and it delves into my former self.  When I first became a Christian (a personal decision at age 15), my understandings of God were primordial.  If theology is the study of God, I did not have any, at least not intentionally.  Despite the prodding of my parents, Sunday School teachers, when I became a teen, the only book of the Bible I had read was “Daniel” – because that is my name.  I read it a few times actually, but I’d never read through a Gospel.

Why didn’t I have a theology, or even conceive of a need for God in my life at that time?  To answer that you really need to look at what was important to me around the time I was going from childhood to the teen years.

I was primarily concerned with (1) Making a few good friends, (2) becoming an artist/graphic designer/cartoonist, and (3) finding some good music that I could listen to that expressed how I felt (usually punk and various forms of rock ranging from hardcore to classic).  

It is interesting too, how my goals intertwined.  Music helped me find friends.  Art was usually accompanied by good music.  Friends introduced me to new music.

It was also my desire to make new friends (and peer pressure) that got me involved in our church’s youth group.  I remember the worship, I remember standing on the edge of pre-made friend circles hoping stand side by side in the circle rather than squeezing a small spot to listen to the conversation.  It was through some of my new youth group friends that I ended up going to a huge youth conference in MA (Acquire the Fire), that I saw Christian music that appealed to me for the first time in music video form.  It was POD, SuperChick and a few others.  I was soon led to the local Christian bookstore, where I began listening to the hundreds of cd’s there in a database and deciding that there were Christians who made amazing music…music I could share with my friends in youth group and at school.

It was at that point that my adolescent theology actually began to develop.  In the music, they often pulled from the words of scripture.  At youth group I was hearing scripture, but didn’t have enough unction to actually look them up.  With the music in my head, I suddenly felt the desire to fill in gaps.  Because of bands like DC Talk, Newsboys, and Audio Adrenaline – I was trying to understand God.  A general awaken in my heart simultaneously occurred at a Youth Retreat at a small chapel in New Hampshire and I accepted Christ as Lord.  That blew me away.  I still remember the congratulations afterward from some of the older kids in youth group.  Things were rolling in my faith, and the music drove me on the highway of faith, and I began to see Christ through the art, the words, the people who made the music as they gave testimonies.

A big boon to my early theology was the “Inside Out Soul” Festival in New Hampshire, where I went with my good friends from youth group and we had free reign to listen to about 100 Christian bands who came to play.  We started going to concerts and our youth leaders seemed to be excited that we wanted to do these events (though they often didn’t like getting anywhere near the stage – or mosh pit).

As I continue to grow in faith today, there is often a song or a band that is in accompaniment.  I’ve continued through college and seminary, and now through the ordination process, and having good music playing that speaks theology (though often simple) is important to me.  In fact, when I hear a song on Christian radio (here in the South) that has theology that doesn’t make sense, I get angry – because the words on the medium of music have power.  Music is important to faith development. That is why we sing.

To conclude, here is a list of some of the most influential bands in my early theological development that I felt helped grow me as a disciple.  Perhaps you are looking for some good music yourself, or are just starting out on a quest, or want to share some good music with someone who is searching.  I hope this helps.

Rock/Pop

DC TALK – Their albums Supernatural and Jesus Freak instilled a passion for Christ while dealing with the issues of the world/culture boldly.  Great writing, and three voices that melded well.  All three are now in other bands.  Toby Mac (rapper), Kevin Max (poetry/art rock), Micheal Tate (now lead singer for Newsboys).

NEWSBOYS – Step Up to The Microphone and Take Me To Your Leader are some of the best albums I’ve heard.  Entertaining Angels was absolutely beautiful, and the australian sound got me thinking differently.  They’re still releasing great music today.

JARS OF CLAY – Much Afraid is so beautifully written it is almost like poetry.  The music (and the concerts) are heart wrenching and so well done, it is hard not to enjoy and be transported.  “Crazy Times” music video was probably one of the first Christian music videos I ever related to.

THIRD DAY – All these southern rockers make is good.  Their worship albums are some of the only ones I can listen to and actually worship.  The rock albums are challenging and light a fire of faith in the heart, and the concerts are so tight. Great band.

AUDIO ADRENALINE – These guys were fun, and had lots of energy.  I had all their albums, and each one was different to me.  Bloom helped me appreciate clean rock.  Some Kind of Zombie was more electric and twinged the ear and talked about eternal life.  Underdog seemed more evangelistic and missions oriented.  They’re still around today, though much of the band has changed up.

Heavier Rock

P.O.D. “Payable on Death” – When I heard POD for the first time, I felt something inside me (perhaps some holy anger) come forward, and I felt a different element of God.  It was about survival and thankfulness to God for life every day you are alive.  “SouthTown” is still one of the best albums I have ever heard, and their newer album “Testify” is well crafted.  These guys are solid and their concerts (though I can’t keep up in the mosh pit anymore) are some of the best experiences of my youth.

PROJECT 86 – These guys know how to rock, and their lead singer has the heaviest most constant vocals I’ve ever heard.  Those who like battle music would do well with Project.  Their heavy sound blows you away, and their main themes seem to be about Angst and fighting deception.  Definitely good for those teens who are struggling and want to get pumped up.

SPOKEN – The Echoes of the Spirit Still Dwell is an album with both reverence and awe for God, written with the sounds and stories of Scripture, and had some of the best screams/heavy sound that I was looking for while I was continuing to grow as a young Christian.  Their new self-titled album has matured them quite a bit, and I highly recommend to those who like Screamo, though it is more than that.  Their concerts are amazing and they have a good fanbase.  I hope they don’t go away.  This is a favorite of mine right now.

SKILLET – This band started as a four piece standard rock set, and now they are one of the primiere power bands, with hits like “Hero” being used by the NFL, and having album after album of heavy hitting electro-rock.  The lead singer is also a pastor, and they have never compromised their message.  Well worth the listen.

SWITCHFOOT – This California band isn’t as heavy as the others, but their impact is.  Their song “Meant to Live” is one I show at youth group from time to time because it is a reminder that we are meant to live far beyond how we are currently living.  Their music is sonically pleasing, but challenges your heart and mind.  The lead vocal is unique and they are still touring popularly.  Great music.

THRICE – This band has a song, “Image of the Invisible” which blew my mind in college.  It is on the Imago Dei, or image of God, and reminded me of the impetus of Social Justice in the Bible.  God’s saving grace that leads towards a revolution of dignity for captives, prisoners, and those in darkness.  The struggle comes through the heavy sound in this very tight band.

Ska/Punk:

FIVE IRON FRENZY – My friend Mark loved FIF and I held off for a while, but slowly warmed to them as extremely talented musicians.  Their sense of humor is something that lightens the load of the listener, but the Christian message of growth through struggle, resonated, especially in the post-Columbine age.  They broke up for a time but have reunited and will start touring soon.  They are primarily a ska band with lots of brass, but stand on their own on rock tours.

SUPERTONES – These guys wrote ska that we could dance to and listen to to grow as disciples.  Their writing was almost rapping, and their themes were about Orange Country discipleship.  Having no exposure to California culture, these guys made us move and they were like sunshine in a dark arena.  Uplifting and unique through and through.  They aren’t together, but their albums are solid.

RELIENT K – These guys are still very popular, and had a silly sense of humor, but could get serious as well.  I find that they talk about relationships more than faith much of the time, but I found that ok.  Their stories were about just trying to make it through teen life despite the embarrassments, and to do it with a good laugh.  Their music was tight, and their irony often taught me about the Christian life and pop culture as well.  I recommend their first album highly.

THE DINGEES – This punk/ska band had an album “The Crucial Conspiracy”, that turned me upside down.  Their music was different, but had a way of lifting the spiritual world to your eyes, sometimes without even saying a word.  Their songs about “Latchkey kids” and about the end of things unnerved me, but I found myself soothed as well.  Hard to explain these guys, because they went from Punk to Ska to Reggae pretty fast.  Check it out.

Other/Older:

KEITH GREEN – I read Keith’s wife’s Biography of his life “No Compromise” and my life was changed forever.  His call to go and do the work of God without wasting a moment of life or a moment of your capacity to give to others inspired me and my ministry.  I doubt that he would be seen as current or cool these days, and I actually resisted my mom who gave me his albums, but after reading that book, I cannot get enough of his music.  His work is pure scripture, and he hung out with Bob Dylan, c’mon.  Well worth a try, even if just to listen to spirit of God in the music.

That’s a start, perhaps I’ll return again with some more.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.  By the time I left college I had 300 cds.  Funny, since I now have most of it on my iphone now.  So glad we don’t have to carry around our media like that.  What is nice, is that we can worship through music and appreciate the art of music and theology anytime.  I appreciate that, and I hope folks take advantage of it.  Peace.

Youth Ministry Logos I have Developed and the Theology/Philosophy that Created Them

I attended Flagler College originally for Graphic Design, with a Youth Ministry Minor.  Over the course of my studies I became a Religion and Philosophy major with Graphic Design and Youth Ministry as my minor.  Over the course of the last 11 years, I have worked on several logos for the Youth Ministries I have worked on.  They started out as hand sketches scanned in and used, then I improved over the years, but maintained a love of simplicity.  Here I’ll show you my various logos over the years (from oldest to newest), and I’ll have a brief explanation of the development, theology, and philosophy that went into developing the particular logo.  I do this particularly for the thousands of youth ministers who have checked out my previous post on YM Logos which was a response to someone talking about tacky youth cultures.  This blog is particularly for contemplation and development of your own logo.  So lets get to it.

The Logos and How they were developed

As an intern at Anastasia Baptist Church in Saint Augustine, Florida; I was asked by our Youth Director to develop two logos.  One for “Oasis” the middle school youth ministry, and another for “Powerhouse” the high school ministry.  The Oasis logo was to have a Jesus fish in it and the Powerhouse logo was to have a cross in it.  The ethos was beach culture (since this youth group was near the beach) so we developed the Palm trees, the pond with the fish, the hut and the surf board.  The ideas were sketched in one of my design notebooks (and being a busy college student) I literally scanned the sketches inked out into the computer, transferred them to everything we did via .png and .jpg and boom – Logos.  Surprisingly, despite the hand drawn nature, these logos went well on just about anything, though didn’t do well on stationary and official documents as you might imagine.  I don’t believe that they use these any longer.

As a new hire at Grace Chapel in the High School Ministry, I began working with the HS Pastor who had a vision for communicating the values of the youth group into a logo.  There had been several sketches done by students trying to find an ethos for the already selected name “Gravity” and the slogan, “Experience the Pull”.  The values of the youth group were to grow deeper, higher, wider, lower and the like, coordinating with values such as worship (higher), discipleship (deeper), wider (outreach), and lower (humility).  There were a few more values, but that is the basic flow.  My original concept was a Tree (following the “growth” ethos), but as I doodled for some reason I began experimenting with arrows (probably at the HSP’s insistence, he didn’t like the tree idea much – too Arbor Day like).  We settled on one that had an arrow going down, and an arrow going up connected by a vital stat – to symbolize life.  It was something that just arose in the sketching.  Not having a whole lot of experience with illustrator, I just roughed up my sketches with some filters, and found the font “Broken15” which would become the logo font.  The symbol could point students to the values of the YM, and boom, it was a hit.  It was placed on bumper stickers, all official communications, sweatshirts, tshirts, giveaways and on projected screens each program.  The logo was (and I believe still is) everywhere at Grace’s High School Ministry. I’m pretty proud that this logo has been enduring.  I love to see something that lasts.

Coming to Saint Andrew By-The-Sea United Methodist Church after Seminary (did I mention that, lol), I walked into a youth group that had previously been titles SURF (an acronym for Serving…well, I can’t remember the rest…I’m not an acronym kind of guy).  The ethos of Hilton Head Island, where the church is located is very tropical and beachy, so I thought that the title Surf still made sense as an ethos.  Surfers are confident, they enjoy God’s creation, the waves are a reminder of God’s awesome power, and water is such a strong symbol of the Holy Spirit that it had to stay.  But there was no logo, so I started doodling, like I always have.  Over time, and after getting feedback from students in the ministry, we settled on this three wave format with a semi-circle completed by a solid foundation. The word Surf (in Gipsiero font) and the deep blue color were most favorable over many other selections, and despite my wife’s opinion to the contrary, I believe that the Three Waves symbolize the Trinity (God Father and Holy Spirit), The Arch above is a symbol of Noah’s rainbow which was a covenant from God that he would not use Water to destroy mankind and his/her evil ever again, and that the bottom was a surf board.  Perhaps real surfers out there can contend with me, but I felt the bottom looked like a short board.  Again, my wife contends.  Regardless, this used to be for our whole youth ministry, but as the High School Ministry became more differentiated from the Middle School Ministry it was clear that the HS students needed an identity all their own, so this is primarily used for our Middle School Youth Ministry today.  And guess what, it looks great on just about anything.  I love it.

Here is the last piece, and try to see beyond the added tags. At the moment I cannot find a clear logo .png (merely because the computer I’m currently using), but look at the actual ACDC part.  As the High School Ministry began rising out of missions and service in our state of South Carolina, the High School Students came to me to start up something new for them.  I was quick to meet with them and nudge them in a few directions.  (1) We needed a time and day that we could meet for Christian Fellowship (Food, Fun, Friends, Faith, etc.).  (2) We needed a format, I had one, and I presented it and they were digging it, so we have gone with that and it has been good; and (3) They would need a Logo for communications and promotions that surmised the ethos of the group.  I challenged the two main girls who were at all the meetings to think of some ideas.  While I was at a yard sale (actually having one), I received a text from one of the girls that had a picture of a napkin with ACDC with a cross done in red ink on it.  It was beautiful, the handwriting was brilliant, the bleed was textured and it was balanced. I loved it through and through.  She told me that she wanted the name of the youth group to be ACDC or “Awesome Christian’s Digging Christ” and I think the rebel nature of the band name (which we are reclaiming for ourselves – it is two types of scientific current after all) had something to do with the choice.  I lifted the handwriting with a scan, colored the logo a deep red, and gave it a nice shadow to pull it out, and boom – we have LOGO.  So good, and youth created it.  They own it and have grown the HS youth with it.  Such a cool ethos, and the cross clearly communicates who we are as a Christian Youth Group trying to be disciples of Christ.

Well, those are the main ones I have been involved in.  I’ve done countless calendars, trip art, tshirt designs, fonts and series slides over the years, but for some reason the logos are so satisfying, and it is cool when you see them drawn on a youth’s notebook or see them playing with it and asking what it means.  It adds an element of unity and cohesion in a visual way, and that is such a neat element to have for any group.  Feel free to drop a note if you’re struggling or need some help thinking a logo out on your own.  Peace.

(Image Source for Title Image: http://www.theartcareerproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/graphic-design.jpg)

Just Like My First Year at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary – Just Paste My Face On This Video

A Day In The Life of a Gordon Conwell Seminarian

Probably the most stretching period of my life was while I was living on campus at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, working at Grace Chapel in Lexington, and taking Greek my freshman year.  I remember sitting at my desk at 12:30 am, exhausted, and my mind literally stopped working.  It just didn’t want to go any further.  I had to juggle quite a bit to make ministry and seminary work simultaneously, all while keeping up with Amanda (which is hard to do!).  Three and a half years later (total of four years), I graduated, and felt the cool satisfaction of a hard season of life, but which has rewarded me in every other area and aspect of my life.  Check out this video, and pretty much paste my face onto the main dude:

Thoughts on the Diversity of Baptism

This is a response to a friend of mine who posted this article by The Gospel Coalition on Baptism.  The article talks about baptists inability to accept membership of those who have not been immersed.  I feel that the argument, which boils down to, “Our conscience doesn’t permit it,” and seems to leave out the diversity of baptism forms in scriptures.  After spending three years in the Methodist church, and coming to terms with Infant Baptism, here is my quick thoughts from the scriptures and from early Christian sources (if you want citations post in comments).

This was my comment:

He’s being true to his conscience, and that’s cool, but this whole debate hurts the church imho. I’ve seen churches debate this, and it hurts those who make a profession of faith though have been infant baptized (and that has been special to them).

It seems to me that there are allowed through scripture different types of baptism:

(1) John the Baptist’s example in the Jordan River baptizing adults who repent to live a holy life. This is taken up by the disciples and Jesus tells us to baptize and teach in the Great Commission.

(2) In Acts three whole families were baptized together. Kind of a Covenantal view of grace where the whole household comes under God’s guidance.

(3) If we allow the early church fathers (only a few generations from Jesus and who were under persecution, so were not tolerant of strange new forms) condoned forms of baptism for places where there wasn’t much water. (ex. Sprinkling what water they had, or even using sand if there was no water).

To deny membership to someone who openly professes to be a follower of Christ and who shows it in their life through holy living – and bears fruit of holiness! It seems to me like the time when the disciples saw some people preaching the good news and they went to Jesus and Jesus did not see them as his enemy. In fact, they probably joined up with the same communities the disciples worked in later on.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot the last three years, and I think that this narrowness hurts people who genuinely are seeking the community of Christ.

The Book of Eli: Practicing Faith Rather Than Using Religion

God can be trusted even during hard times

Published Monday, December 12, 2011
‘Book of Eli” is a gritty film, set in a post-apocalyptic world full of brutal scavengers, cannibals and ruthless leaders. The main character, played by Denzel Washington, is named Eli. He’s a rare literate person and appears at the very beginning to be carrying a precious book.

I hope this won’t spoil the movie for you, but the book turns out to be the King James Bible. The book is at the center of the film’s tension because the villain, Carnegie, who manages a tough town, wants that book so he can use the words to control people. In his mind, the religious texts are practical tools to bend people’s wills to his own. In an imperialistic vein, he wants to establish other towns, and he needs to use religion to his advantage.

This practical use of “religion,” rather than the actual practice of faith, riles me to the bone. Carnegie doesn’t care if the faith contained in the religious words is actually true. He just knows that when people are inspired, they do great things. His goal is to harness that power for his own gain. Eli is a powerful hero because he protects the word from this illegitimate use, and tries to bring it to a place where people will protect it and find wisdom from it and share with others for God’s will in their lives.

From the book of Corinthians, Paul tells ministers that Scripture is greater than a tool of manipulation; it is to be plainly spoken and received by rational people:

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1-2).

I believe that practical religion, the religion of Carnegie, is a common thing. I have done it, when I have prayed for something I really wanted. I remember praying for a video game system when I was younger. These days I would probably pray that things go well at work. We all have things we would like to see made real for us.

The problem with practical religion is that it places God in a box. It says, if God isn’t working for me, then what good is God? It is the same mentality one might have in a court case if the judge does not act on behalf of a plaintiff or a defendant. One person in a case will lose, even though both of them may have asked for a win. If the judge acted fairly and honestly dealt with the facts, one can still trust the legal system. It is even more so with the creator of the universe. God can be trusted even when we don’t get our own way; even when the world seems to be falling apart.

There are people with absolutely nothing but the faith they have and the joy it brings them. They bring peace and joy to everyone they meet. I hope this Christmas, you will rediscover your trust in God, and that your happiness will be dependent on God’s goodness, despite how much we have under the tree this year.

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

Read more: http://www.islandpacket.com/2011/12/12/1894067/god-can-be-trusted-even-during.html#ixzz1giAm3mbQ

Seeking Wisdom – Getting Beyond Avoiding Pain

Seek Wisdom

By Daniel Griswold

Director of Youth, Saint Andrew By-The-Sea UMC

danielgriswold@gmail.com

twitter name: dannonhill

 

I was told a story about Solomon when I was young.  He was known as wise, and proved it by appropriately determining which mother a certain baby belonged to.  One mother had lied when her baby died and had determined to steel the live baby.  Sounds horrible to me, but Solomon had been asked to determine.  Who would have the nerve to do what he did.  He ordered that the baby should be cut in half and both women given equal parts.  When the real mother cried out and the false mother seemed unconcerned, everyone knew who to give the child to.

 

Had I been put in that same situation, I would have been frozen.  First thoughts may have been something along the line, “I should have had that extra cup of coffee and my judges could have taken care of this one.”  But Solomon had an audience with God at the beginning of his kingship and all he had asked for was wisdom.  God liked what Solomon wanted so wisdom was granted.  His proverbs and songs were told everywhere.  I still read them today.  Good stuff.

 

After learning about this, I was determined to do what Solomon had done.  In my early days as a Christian I began praying for wisdom.  I never heard a solid reply from God promising anything, but I soon became one who loved to read.  I took philosophy classes in college, and I talked with people about ethics.  You know – things Solomon probably did.

 

But seeking wisdom and having it are two different things.  And the problem is made even more complex because one has to know the difference between knowledge and wisdom.  Knowledge is just things you know.  Facts placed within our mind, and the problem with knowledge is the more you have it, the more you realize you need.  This infinite universe is so complex that the scientist, the philosopher, and the poet could continue their professions without stepping too much on each other’s toes and yet discover new facets of knowledge.

 

Wisdom, on the other hand, is like a confidence based on a good amount of experience.  The scriptures say that it begins with a “Fear of the Lord”   (a healthy fear of someone who made the universe).  Hopefully parents build the first understandings of authority in general in the home.  But it becomes a spirit of confidence in leadership and decision-making.  Some people seem to have it and some just don’t.  When people take knowledge by the reigns and make right decisions for the best desirable outcome, you have wisdom.

 

I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life (recently one involving a cheese grater and my thumb), but even when doing the small things I try to understand the discipline of wisdom.  When I drive, it is wise to make good decisions to follow rules and avoid collisions.   It is not simply good enough to know the rules.  When one is leading, it is hoped that we would grab onto wise principles or in our own failures find the sweet fruit of new understanding.  In other words – don’t hold the cheese grater that way and you won’t lose a piece of your thumb.  And ultimately, it is a connection with God that keeps the path to wisdom flowing like a river.  On this side of heaven we are always in need of refreshment and God is always giving when we come.