Archive for February, 2019

You Belong!

BTCS_Meme_7These past couple of days have been a very trying time within The United Methodist Church as we gathered from around the world for a special called General Conference. This was to address certain areas of our polity in the situations surrounding human sexuality. This was a moment that we could demonstrate to the world what a fellowship of Christian believers should look like and act like. This was a time for us to stand up for all of humanity, regardless of age, race, economic status, and yes, gender equality and identity. This should have been a time when all people could hear the love God has for them, how much God desires to be in a relationship with them, and how the Church can help in every aspect of their lives. It wasn’t.

I am disappointed and hurt that we could not find a way to demonstrate that love which God blesses us with. I am saddened for all the people who have been hurt by these words and actions. I am frustrated by the process in which we can move forward. But there is one thing I will not lose over this decision. I will not lose hope.

I hope and pray for the day when we are truly all equal. I pray for the day when there is no racial divide, no gender bias for employment or pay, no discrimination for anyone, and no oppression felt by anyone. We are all created in God’s image, and that image is one of love. We are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We are also called to love our neighbor as ourselves. How can we possibly do that when we want certain ones, not like us, to be excluded from any aspect of our lives? When did we become the ones to choose who was in or out?

So, let me tell you this. I don’t care who you are, what you might have done, or how you identify yourselves, you are a beloved child of God. And God longs to show his love to you. Romans 5:8 tells us; “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ didn’t just die for a few, but for all. Christ didn’t die for only those who had been circumcised, those who belonged to Israel, those who followed all the commands of the Bible. Christ didn’t die for only those who attended worship every single time or gave a full tithe. Christ died for all of us, and that means me and you, wherever you are.

Paul tells us in Galatians that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We are all one, unified in Jesus Christ for his one mission of making disciples. Helping others along their journey of faith. Can we be unified in this? I think we can and to a certain degree, I think we are.

I follow more of Paul’s words in Ephesians when he tells us to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Forgiveness is offered, and now the mission is before us. Do we choose to take the difficult path and choose to make disciples, regardless of the cost? I say yes! I will faithfully live out God’s call on my life and I encourage you to do the same. We are all God’s creation. We are all loved by God. And in the words of God, we are all very good.

You are a beloved child of God, and I love you.

Joy-Bulletin-ImageWe have been in the middle of a worship series discussing mental health and faith with the help on a popular movie, Pixar’s “Inside Out” We have already looked at fear, disgust, anger, and sadness. Today we turn our focus to the last emotion character in the movie “Inside Out,” joy.

Isaiah tells us in his 55th chapter; “You shall go our with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the wood shall clap their hands.” In the 13th chapter of Acts we find “The disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Spirit.” And in Philippians we find a very familiar verse; “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!”

Joy is a good feeling to have. Joy is something that we all strive for. We want to be happy. We want to be fulfilled. We want to have a life that is full of memorable moments. Why else would there be a huge section of every bookstore devoted to increasing our success, our relationships, our health, which when you add them all together, you get increased joy, right?

It’s the American Dream. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men (and Women) are created equal, and they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Happiness, it’s right in our Declaration of Independence. We desire to be happy, to be filled with joy.

However, as we think about joy in our lives, we do need to acknowledge that there is a dark side of joy. Sometimes this comes through the manic side of the bipolar disorder. These are sometimes short lived, but dangerous just the same. But we also need to see that we don’t have to be diagnosed with this disorder in order to feel some of the same affects. Usually accompanying these manic episodes, we find problems with overspending and shopping, drug & alcohol abuse, and even risky behaviors with sexuality and personal safety. But we can see this even within our lives. I remember many times being on vacation or away for a long weekend. Everything was good, relaxing, and the family was happy. During these times, it’s so easy to just spend money, whether it’s shopping, eating, or just enjoying entertainment. Isn’t this is what Disneyworld is built on? Happiness begets spending. So, I think there needs to be a balance.

Another problem we run into is that too often we try to put on a mask of happiness. We try to fool everyone around us that we are happy, when inside, we are falling apart. On the outside, we can put on our happy masks, and make believe that everything is ok, but where does that get us? It certainly doesn’t get us to true happiness. We need to have the balance of emotions in our lives and at the same time be willing to be who we truly are. We need to be open and honest about our feelings. Be broken, it’s ok. Admitting it is the first step in true healing and the feeling of true happiness. So, how do we get to true happiness, and what does that look like?

I think there is a fundamental problem within our Declaration of Independence. “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Here we find words about pursuing happiness, like it’s something that is constantly moving away from us. We want to be happy, but it’s just over the next hill, around the next curve. When do we finally achieve happiness?

Jesus tells us is the sermon on the mount; “Happy are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst. Happy are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” I hear that these are happy, not that they are trying to be happy. And they are happy because of the reward. They are happy because they will receive the Kingdom of God, they will be comforted, they will be satisfied, they will receive mercy, they will see God. That is happiness, that is joy!

So, how did they get to the point that Jesus is describing? 1 simple truth. They didn’t seek happiness, they sought God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who was imprisoned in Germany, wrote in his book “Life Together;” Seek God, not happiness – that is the fundamental rule of all meditation. If you seek God alone, you will gain happiness – that is the promise of all meditation.” Seek God, happiness will follow.

Are you looking for true joy in your life? Are you tired of climbing that next hill, only to find another mountain to climb? Does happiness and joy continue to elude you?

Why not try this? Try seeking God in all you do. Look for God’s ways and as you turn and focus on your relationship with him, the joy that you desire will fill your heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. So, let me finish today with one simple question…

How are you seeking God today?

Sadness-Bulletin-ImageWelcome to week 4 of our mental health and faith series as we struggle with different emotions and how they effect our lives and the lives of those around us. We have examined fear and worry and how they get in the way of us truly living the life God has called us to. We also have talked about disgust and anger and how they affect our relationships as well.

We talked about some of the disorders that come with some of these emotions and that this is not something, if you’re facing it, that you need to face alone. There are others going through this too. You are not alone, and if you feel you need help, I encourage you to reach out and get the help you need.

One of my hopes during this series is that you walk away with the understanding that you don’t have to have it all together. And as I’ve said before, if there is any place that you can go and express just how broken you are, it’s in the church. The church is a place where you should feel open to share how you are truly feeling. So, take off the mask and really have an open and honest conversation.

Today we turn our focus to another character in the movie “Inside Out,” sadness. Sadness is something that we’ve been taught by society that we shouldn’t talk about. This should be something that we keep to ourselves, but what good does that do? In the movie, there is a moment when Joy has instructions for Sadness. She draws a circle on the floor and calls it the “Circle of Sadness” and wants her to stay inside the circle. Sadness’ job is to make sure all the sadness stays in the circle. How impossible is that. Sadness cannot be contained, it affects all of our lives. We can’t not talk about it.

I think God want us to talk about it. I think that while God doesn’t want us to be sad or depressed, he knows it is a normal part of this life. I know this because of scripture. There are so many places where we find people who are sad, extremely sad. We heard some of those words this past Sunday from Jeremiah chapter 20, verses 14-18.

Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet and here we find his words written down, almost as a journal sharing his feelings. This passage comes immediately after a prophecy to Pashur, a priest and a son of a chief officer in the house of the Lord. He gives Pashur a pretty harsh prophecy, and then, feeling a deep sadness for giving such bad news, he writes this response to God.

Jeremiah was sad, I would even say depressed. These words are written from a deep and dark place. He seems to be battling his life in his calling, in his work, and his private life. In this chapter, Jeremiah seems to be two very different people. Have you felt like you needed to keep up appearances out in the world, even though you are breaking to pieces on the inside? Have you ever been in one of those places?

Moses experienced sadness when he came down from his mountaintop encounter with God. He’s just received the ten commandments and is coming to deliver the word of God to the people, only to find them worshiping idols and doing other things against God’s will. His heart is broken for these people whom God called Moses to lead to freedom. He cries out to God “But now, if you will forgive their sin, but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.”

Have there been people who have broken your heart? Whether it was by things they had done, something they said, or maybe even how they ignored you, has there been someone who has hurt you so deeply, that you find it difficult to forgive them? Do you feel like you have failed them? Maybe it’s a son or daughter that has strayed from the family, and you’re not sure what you might have done or said. It hurts so bad, and you just want them home again. Maybe Moses’ story strikes a chord in your life.

Then we have David who wrote some of the most heart wrenching words in scripture. We find them in the Psalms. Words of pain, loss, solitude, despair abound as David pours his heart out for all to read.

We are surrounded by sadness and depression, but we don’t have to face it alone. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that God is always with us, and sometimes that comes in the form of others that God places in our lives. God places helpers along our journey to help us through these troubled times. They are you friends and family, your neighbors and even strangers. Maybe you are called to be a helper for someone today.

This past Sunday we had a special guest share her testimony with her church family. I encourage you to follow this link to a video of this sermon with her time of sharing. It is a positive reminder about who we are called to be in our churches and the community around us. A huge thank you to Stacy Lamoreux for stepping outside of her comfort zone and listening to God’s call to share this incredibly important message.

Inside Out – Sadness & Depression

Anger-Bulletin-ImageWhat makes you angry? What gets under your skin? What just drives you crazy and makes you want to flip out? Are those good things? We are on week 3 of our series of mental health and faith with a focus on anger. Now, before we get too far into anger, I want to let you know that anger in itself is not wrong. Anger is a common emotion and one that has its place in our lives, just like all of the other emotions we are discussing. The problem comes within our responses to these emotions. It’s how we deal with our anger that creates issues. So, what should our response be?

It’s always a good choice to look to Jesus for these answers. Because Jesus gives us the perfect example of a response to anger when he confronts the people in the temple trying to sell goods and services. He flips over the tables of the money changers and shouts out; “Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.” Can you hear the anger in his voice? Can you feel the righteous indignation that Jesus was feeling as he walked into the temple that day? First, this is the right place for anger, this is justified anger, this is holy anger. Jesus was upset, he was angry, and everyone knew it.

There’s a scripture passage in Mark that talks about Jesus healing a man with a crippled hand on the Sabbath. He is confronted by the Pharisees regarding this breaking of the Sabbath law. And Jesus asks; “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to kill?” You see, there were very strict laws which the Jews needed to follow during the Sabbath. And by healing this man, Jesus, in the eyes of the Pharisees, was breaking the Sabbath law. We find in verse 5 that Jesus looked at them in anger. Jesus was angry. He was angry because they didn’t get it. They were so involved with following the law, that they couldn’t love and care for another person. Once again, a holy anger.

The bible is full of anger. There are passages throughout the Old and New Testaments where we find that God is angry, Jesus is angry, the Pharisees are angry, and even many of the biblical characters we know were angry. But they didn’t always get their anger quite right. They were angry at other things, not the things that make God angry. They were thinking of themselves which brought on the anger.

King Nebuchadnezzar got angry with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego because they wouldn’t bow down and worship him. They got thrown into the fiery furnace, but God saved them. The king’s anger was for selfish reasons. He was thinking about the power that he had and wanted everyone to obey him.

Balaam got angry with his donkey, even beat him a few times, all because the donkey stopped in the middle of the road. Balaam was asked to go and curse the Israelites, but with this donkey trouble, he couldn’t finish his task. His anger came from the selfish reasons, not what God really wanted him to do.

David was one that actually get the anger thing right, and it was towards the beginning of his life. It was in the middle of the battlefield, facing a larger than life giant by the name of Goliath. Trash talking is nothing new, and we can see this as we hear the conversation from the book of 1st Samuel, chapter 17; 43-47. Here we find David talking about a fight, an angry fight, but one that is fought, not for David’s sake, but for the Lord’s. It is fought for the people of Israel. You see the difference? This anger is not selfish, it is not self-centered, it is not looking for worldy things, it is anger after the things of God.

So, if anger is a good thing in this context, where is anger good for you? What makes you angry? What gets under your skin? Are you angered by the way that other person is driving? Do you find the way certain people talk irritating? Do you just cringe everytime you hear a conversation begin about politics? Does the fact that the referee missed that call against the New Orleans Saints still cause heart palpitations and cold sweats? Are these circumstances worth getting angry about, worth spending all that time and effort suffering through emotional stress? In the bigger picture, probably not.

But does the fact that thousands of people in the northern Illinois area sleep outside because they don’t have a home make you upset? Do the news broadcasts of another child being abducted into human trafficking make you sick? Or when you hear of one of our own neighborhood kids getting bullied in school make you want to stand up and say enough is enough? This is righteous anger. This is justified anger. What is our response?

I hope that after hearing about some of the people of the bible and Jesus’ example of holy anger, you will be able to discern between anger that needs a response, and those that don’t. I hope you will have the courage to stand up when you need to, when the anger that fills you, is the same anger that God is feeling.