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My son and I

My son and I

An older pic of fun at the fair.

Newsletter Post

Dear Friends of Westview UMC,

It is amazing to me that whenever I get caught up in my own issues and problems and begin feeling sorry for myself something happens that makes me realize the smallness of my issues. I woke up Wednesday morning feeling tired having just finished Annual Conference in Brentwood. While the conference was great and I got to see friends old and new it was still three full days of conferencing. I then woke up and realized I still had all of the responsibilities of planning worship and facing issues of the church. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed then I turned on the news; another shooting.

Our society has taking a sharp turn over the last twenty or so years. There was a time that people could settle their differences through compromise or even agreeing to disagree yet remaining cordial. Over the last twenty years that has changed dramatically. The vitriol and rhetoric coming out of elected officials, televisions, radios, and seemingly every aspect of our society is slowly turning to violence. Why are we surprised that people begin to use violence when society has been demonizing groups of people. Our words have created a climate of us versus them not only in our leadership but in our culture. We have gone astray! Whether we were led astray or charged forth in the guise of righteousness we have gone forth from the straight and narrow that God wishes us to follow.

I truly hope that this situation does not get politicized. People will surely throw stones back and forth, name calling, demanding gun control, or better mental health. However at the core of the problem is our behavior, our dislike, and our having gone astray. It is time that everyone did something to curb the plague of vitriol and violence facing us. Let us get back on the path and behaviors in which God wants us to engage.

We are having a Summer of Transformation at Westview UMC. We are looking at ways to address our own sins, having Financial Peace classes, and doing a book study on Martin Thielin’s book What’s the Least I Need to Believe to be a Christian? The Financial Peace classes will begin in August and the book study will begin the second week of July.

Let us take this opportunity to investigate our lives to ensure we are following the path that God desires for us. Let us delve into deeper relationship with our Savior so that we can help others see Christ (at least glimpses) through our actions.

 

Blessings in Jesus Christ,

Pastor Tom

Why Smokescreens Don’t Work

Doesn't work

I have been talking a lot about smokescreens of late. Some my say I’m talking too much about smokescreens and not paying enough attention to the major issues facing society. I believe that most if not all of these major issues are smokescreens. Remember a smokescreen is anything that keeps us from doing what God has asked us to do. That is love God and our neighbor and to do that we must repent of our sins and strive to be in deeper and deeper relationship with God. I am not saying that the issues facing society are not important nor am I discounting the people in the various groups or their struggles. I’m claiming that if we got rid of our smokescreens and focused on doing what God has asked the people in the various groups wouldn’t have to struggle for the love God is pouring out would shine upon them and the need for the struggle would be solved.

We use smokescreens quickly and we think effectively. The smoke we use spans more and goes deeper than the major issues facing society. We use them in our local churches and even in our daily lives. If we are up in arms against someone else’s issues than maybe people won’t se our sins and issues. The smoke divides and separates us into us who are good, righteous, and worthy and them who are bad, evil, and unworthy. Smokescreens make us judge both them as unworthy and us as worthy yet we are told not to judge. I’ll save judging for a different blog post. The smokescreen is used to divide us into groups. Us that are worthy versus them who are not. That is a false statement. God’s grace is poured out upon us precisely because we are not worthy! It’s grace and mercy. The smokescreens blind us to this truth that negates the reasoning behind our division.

SorryBear No

The smoke we create makes us think that if we could only rid ourselves of them, the sinful and unworthy, all would be right with the world. Thus the division created leads to schism. Bishop Bill McAlilly stated at our Annual Conference that schism is the lowest fruit on the theological tree. Schism destroys and rips apart. Schism in the face of smokescreens is ineffective. Smokescreens don’t work. You see we divide into the two groups of us the worthy and them the unworthy and we work to make them go away. We celebrate briefly as they leave only to find we are faced with the problem of our own sin. Since we are unwilling to look at ourselves as flawed we create another smokescreen because we need the them who are unworthy to distract us from the fact we are not following God as best we can, loving God and everyone who God loves the best we can. Once the smokescreen is back in place we again work to make them go away and the process repeats. It will continue to repeat as long as we refuse to acknowledge our own sins and flaws. For it is only when we work on our own stuff that we no longer need a smokescreen and are freed to fully follow and trust in God and God’s love!

In a conversation with a colleague I was struck by how passionately he demonized certain people. I realized in that moment that a smokescreen had been created and he needed to ask himself a question. What makes whatever “they” are doing worse than what “we” are doing? The answer to that question is found in James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” No sin or flaw is greater than another. We really need to love the sinner and hate our own sin for only in dealing with our own sins and flaws can we be truly free to do the work God has for us to do!

This is this pastor’s opinion and I welcome yours.

Blessings,

Pastor Tom.

More Smokescreens

smokescreen

In a previous blog post I claimed that most of the social justice issues facing our country are smokescreens. I want to revisit that claim a bit. I do not want to be misunderstood. The fact that the issues are smokescreens does not diminish the importance of those issues. Racism, same sex relationships, sexism, and many other isms are real issues. These issues and the decisions that are made around them have real life consequences for people who identify with those groups. I am not trying to minimize their suffering or goals or access to justice. What I am saying is that while these issues are real they are also smokescreens. They keep us focused away from what we should be doing. The interesting thing is that we all have smokescreens just like we all have sin in our lives.

Anything can be a smokescreen. We use smokescreens to our advantage. We create a smokescreen to distract from our own sins, shortcomings, and transgressions and focus attention on what others are doing, which we deem as wrong, sinful, or horrible whether or not that is true. We spin it in such a way that people don’t seem to notice what we are doing. On a side note I find it fascinating that when the smoke clears we are often involved in the some behaviors at which we were pointing fingers. Why do we find it so difficult to face our own shortcomings without looking for a distraction?

I wonder if we try to distract or create smoke so that we are not forced to change. When we discover that we are doing something wrong are we not then obligated to change the behavior? Good mental health would dictate that we need to rid ourselves of maladaptive behaviors or frankly sin. Of course this is easy to say but we are comfortable with our sin. It has become part of us and we are used to them. Change on the other hand is uncomfortable. We don’t know where change will lead us but it will be toward the unknown, new, and unfamiliar. Ridding ourselves of sin is scary! So instead we distract with smoke.

I challenge all of you (and me) to investigate when we start deflecting attention onto someone’s shortcomings. Look into why we begin creating smoke. What are we trying to hide, even from ourselves? What behavior causes us embarrassment? What is it at that moment that we find shameful? Why focus on others’ behavior? We cannot change what others do or do not do. We can only change our own behavior. So when we start creating smoke we need to ask ourselves what we are avoiding or hiding from view. Once we understand and see our own shortcomings we can begin to change those behaviors so that we can be more Christ like in our actions. As we work through our sin, with the help of others and Jesus, we begin to be more and more authentic witnesses to Christ.

That is this pastor’s opinion, what’s yours?

Blessings,

Pastor Tom

Summer of Transformation

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAK9AAAAJGM0NzM3NDg5LTEwOTgtNDA3Zi05OTIxLTc4M2YzMDdlMGYyMwI am excited! This is an incredible time to be a Christian. The work is rewarding, gratifying, and plentiful. The work is so plentiful that one person cannot possibly even make a dent in the needs around them. The work is so plentiful that one person would be tempted to quit being overwhelmed by the struggle. The great thing is that the workers are not alone, being surrounded by God. One would think that the workload would diminish as time went on but like God’s other gifts the workload seems to grow as we work. Are we doing something wrong? Did we not read the will of God correctly? Is something amiss in the way we behave as Christians? Probably.

We tend to allow ourselves comfort. We get comfortable and forget that we are a called people. We forget that we are living in exile. We are simply sojourners here on earth. We wrongly think that becoming Christians and being baptized is the end. Becoming a Christian, becoming aware of the salvation that awaits us, being baptized is only the beginning! We are called to live for Jesus Christ. We are not called to a life of comfort, for that is not life abundant. Life abundant includes others, others that have not yet heard the Good News! So what are we to do? As a church we are called to lead people to Christ but how can we lead if we don’t know where we are going? We must leave our comfort zones, try new things, and mature as Christians.

If Not Now? WhenThis summer I challenge each of you to try something new. Add a spiritual discipline into your faith walk, participate more in church activities/leadership, and resetting your focus on how Christ desires for us to live. To that end Westview is having a Summer of Transformation! We will be offering financial classes, a new version of Vacation Bible School, and a Bible Study based on the book “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?” by Martin Thielen. As we deepen our relationship with God we will gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the gifts that are showered out upon us. I hope that you can attend but if for some reason you cannot attend, like you live far away and are reading this on my blog, please examine your relationship with God. Read, study, and immerse yourself in God’s love for you. The benefits of growing in our faith far outweigh the pains of change and growth.

Transformed-slide-titleI pray that each of you find the deepest of relationships with God and all of the people God came for and to. This is this pastor’s opinion, what’s yours?

Blessings,

Pastor Tom

 

Dude, Where’s My Church?

I am a cradle Methodist. Had I been born several years later I would be a cradle United Methodist. I have found memories of going to church. It was a place that seemed perfect to my childhood self. It was safe, inviting, and nurturing of people. My church was as diverse as my school which was in Denver after desegregation. Everyone it seemed was loved and cared for, valued and respected. Maybe I was simply enjoying the benefit of childhood naivety, maybe I still am.

Last week the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church (UMC) met in regular session. For non-Methodists reading this, the Judicial Council is my denominations highest court. The rulings are not punitive but rather indicative of whether an action by a part of the UMC is consistent with our Book of Discipline. The Book of Discipline is our rule book by which we’ve agreed to abide. The Judicial Council heard the case of Bishop Karen Oliveto. She is an openly gay woman in a committed relationship with another woman. A group within the church charged that she should not have been consecrated a bishop.

The Judicial Council ruled that she was a clergy person in good standing at the time of her election but that it was a violation of the Discipline for her to be a “practicing homosexual.” She remains a Bishop because she was in good standing and would need to be charged with an offence to be removed and that is not the scope of the Judicial Council’s role.

I’ve taken a long path to return to the question posed. Dude (or Dudette) where’s my church? Both sides of the issue have failed to give the Commission on a Way Forward time to come up with suggestions for keeping unity within the denomination. Both sides have amped up actions and rhetoric. Where is my church? Where is the church that tries its hardest to follow the teaching of Jesus Christ? Where is my church the United Methodist Church? Why do we keep letting ourselves get sidetracked by smokescreens?

The Methodist Church has faced many issues over the years. Temperance, women’s suffrage, slavery, equal rights, and racism to name just a few. Some of these issued caused division within the church but all of them were smokescreens! Don’t misunderstand me. These are real issues, with real people getting hurt or potentially hurt. These are important issues but in terms of the church they are smokescreens.

smokescreen

You see smokescreens distract us in a couple of different ways. First a smokescreen makes it hard for us to acknowledge our own shortcomings, problems, or sins for we are busied worrying about someone else. Second smokescreens distract us from what is most important. Keep in mind some of these issues and terribly important but not as important as what the church needs to be focused on.

Jesus told us that the greatest commandment was to love God. We are not to just love God, but love God with our whole being. We need to be all in! Our love for God needs to be reflected in everything we do, everything we say, and everything we are. Second we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are to love our neighbors without hesitation without holding back. We are to love our neighbors, whether we know them or not, whether they’re like us or not, and even if they don’t like us. We are called to love all the people God loves remembering always that God placed a spark of divinity in each of us.

When we love radically and fully the smoke begins to drift away. You see when we live to love and spread God’s love we no longer have time to hate. We don’t have time to judge someone’s lifestyle, race, or creed because we are busy treating them as a person of value. We won’t have time for racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. We cannot love God with our whole being and disregard, minimalize, or outright hate God’s creation! It cannot be done!

You may think that this is optimistic pie in the sky drivel. You may think that there is absolutely no way in the world everyone will drop their prejudices and start loving each other. You’re right. That probably is too optimistic, at least at first. I’m thinking that we can start by dropping our own prejudices, as best we can, and begin loving as God wants us to love.

For those who are wondering where I stand on the same-sex issues you’ll have to wait. I have many people in my life that I love dearly that are on both sides of the issues. I love them all and I try not to judge the people on either side. I chose to love people as they are, who they are, and how they are. As for determining the right path through life I’m too busy trying to keep myself on the path God is leading me down that I don’t have time to condemn others. What say you? Join me in dropping the prejudices and loving everyone in our paths.

This is this pastor’s opinion.

Blessings,

Pastor Tom

Listen Closely

penny

This past week I saw a video on Facebook. The young man in the video, Jefferson Bethke, states that he hates religion but loves Jesus. He claims that Jesus came to abolish religion. The video has gone viral! Many people have responded to the video but I’m not sure many of the responders have listened closely to the poetic prose of this young man. The responders I’ve heard seem to have jumped to a conclusion of what the video was about based on “Why I hate religion.” They claim the man is preaching “cheap grace.” I don’t think so, but rather than focusing on his feelings about grace why not hear his message regarding “religion?” We should listen closely and heed the wakeup call.  His voice is but one of thousands in our communities that are turning away from churches they see as “Religious.”

In preaching through the Sermon on the Mount I showed where Jesus talked about salt that had lost its saltiness and lights hidden under bushel baskets. I related this to what I called “pretend” Christians and “club” churches (that is churches that are really clubs). When I listened to the video I came to the opinion that Mr. Bethke doesn’t have a problem with the Church, he has a problem with people that are pretend Christians or that belong to a club posing as a church.

I’m currently serving my third charge within the United Methodist Church. The first charge had three churches, the second two, and now I serve a station charge meaning one church. In the dozen or so years I’ve been preaching and the forty or so years I’ve been associated with churches and religion I have experienced what Mr. Bethke is exclaiming. Too many people claim the title Christian without allowing Christ into their lives. These pretend Christians go through the motions, proof text the Bible, go to church on Sundays and maybe Wednesdays, and they can mouth the words to most of the hymns. Unfortunately these people fail to act in a Christian manner.

I have a friend that honked at a car that had a “Honk if You Love Jesus” bumper sticker. The person made obscene gestures and yelled at him. Is that being a good witness to Christ? Is that what Jesus would have us do? Maybe the person was simply having a bad day but it served as evidence that Christians are not what they portend to be. This occurs with great regularity. Pretend Christians judging and behaving as if they are something special.

Likewise churches are also failing at their jobs. Too many churches are inwardly focused. It is not that they are not good at loving but rather the object of the love is itself. The people within a congregation are so busy maintaining the status quo and bettering things for themselves that they have forgotten that the role of the church is to reach out to the lost, the marginalized, and the poor. As I was sitting in my office at a previous church a woman came in for help. She told me her story and asked for groceries. I didn’t have any money to give her but invited her to a Wednesday night meal. During the meal the treasurer began a meeting by announcing that the church had $78,000 in the bank. I was so embarrassed. The $78,000 was for a building that still isn’t needed many years later.

Of all the churches I’ve been associated with throughout my life only a couple have had their priorities straight. A tornado went through Hickman County and devastated the Brushy community. Several of the ladies from Littlelot United Methodist Church went and served a hot lunch to the aid workers every day for a week. This church of ten to fifteen people feed almost 75 people a hot meal every day for a week! That is being church rather than being religious! That is being church rather than being a club.

Jesus Christ has set us free. But what have we been set free to do? We have been set free to let other beggars know where they can get bread. We are to witness to the love of God through our actions of being the Church united with Christ, doing God’s work. By doing the work of the Kingdom of God we can lead more people to know Jesus and thus gain help in the ongoing work of easing people’s suffering and pain.

There is a lot of work to do. Won’t you join me? Right now fully commit or recommit yourself to living the live that God desires for you. Begin living in such a way that people can see our Lord and our Savior in and through us. The work is abundant! What say you?

This is this pastor’s opinion.

Blessings,

Pastor Tom

Did Anyone Get the Number of That Bus?

Yellow school bus parked at the side of a road

We all know that feeling. The feeling when someone casually says something that causes us discomfort, embarrassment, or shame. All we see is the taillights of the bus we were just thrown under. Many people seem to do this as a reflex. They seem to be thinking, “People are looking for someone to blame. I’ll deflect it to Mary Joe Bobby Sue*.”

That isn’t the only time people get tossed under the bus. Several of my seminary friends, who shall remain nameless cough Kevin cough Will cough cough**, and I would throw each other under the bus on occasion. Sometimes for amusement and other times to test out new ideas, “Professor, we were talking and Tom was thinking (insert strange thought here.)” I can almost hear the rumbling of the bus.school-bus-pimped-12

Unfortunately most of the time when people throw others under the bus it causes harm. Often it is bearing false witness. We throw them under to deflect attention away from ourselves and what we’ve done wrong. This is sinful behavior not simply because bearing false witness is wrong but because it hurts relationships. It hurts the relationship of the one tossed under the bus and the one who tossed. It also causes problems between the one who got tossed under and the others involved. They may think the tossing is true. This runs afoul of Jesus’ command to love one another.

When we talk about witnessing to God many don’t realize that people are watching us. When we announce or share that we are Christian, people begin to watch how we behave to see if Christianity is something worth their while. When we provide a bad witness through our behavior we may actually be leading people away from Christ. So what are we to do?

On the side of every school bus is a stop sign with flashing lights. We need to pay attention to the stop signals. We need to recognize when we are about to throw somebody under the bus and STOP!!!!! Heed the warning signs, fight the urge, and don’t do it. This may be harder than it appears at first glance. This may involve us taking responsibility for our behaviors including whatever we did that we are deflecting by throwing someone under the bus. Also, I don’t think we can simply cease a negative behavior because that creates a vacuum that has to be filled in. So as we concentrate on not throwing people under the bus let us continue to toss. Confusing right?

busWhat would happen if we heeded the stop sign for the negative behavior and changed it to a positive? For example: Who decided to do that children’s video last Sunday? I did but didn’t Sarah and Jill*** do an awesome job! They really work hard to ensure that the children are included and are getting to know and understand Jesus.

So if we cannot stop throwing people under the bus let us at east make it for positives!

This is this pastor’s opinion.

Blessings,

Pastor Tom

*This is an imaginary name it could have just as easily be John Thomas William Wayne.

** Did you see what I did there? Throwing Kevin and Will under the bus…

***Sarah and Jill do an incredible amount of work for Westview UMC especially the children. They are awesome!