through the glass dimly …

church oneIt’s been a tough ten days for United Methodists across the globe. What … you haven’t heard? You mean you haven’t been glued to the live-streaming drama taking place out in Portland, Oregon, known as General Conference? Who needs Jerry Springer when you can watch a bunch of Methodists vocally duking it out over the issue of human sexuality … again.

In case you’re not familiar with Methodism and its way of governing our global church body, here’s the short version:  Every four years representatives gather to hash out perspectives and proposals pertaining to our Book of Discipline (aka “rules” for living/doing life as a Methodist). There is merit to the gathering, if for nothing more than to communally gather as one to worship God, the ultimate tie that binds us.

But we are not “one” as Methodists. We are split, especially on the issue of human sexuality. Current language in the Discipline states, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” (You can read the full statement here).

And while many other issues are dealt with at the General Conference level, it is this one issue that takes center stage every time (at least during my lifetime). So here we are, a church divided on the issue; there are passionate, well-spoken and well-meaning folks on both sides of this debate. Many of them I call my friends. But this issue is dividing us as a church, not uniting us. And as it stands now, my heart tells me a split of some sort is on the horizon. All proposals/discussions on this particular issue were tabled this go around. The 864 delegates who arrived in Portland from around the globe to have passionate discourse on this important issue weren’t allowed much of a forum in which to do so. Instead (through a series of very convoluted events that I can’t wrap my head around), the delegates voted to allow the bishops to form a committee to do further research on how this might all look for us going forward. It was a narrow victory – 23 votes.

Who wins? Hard to say. All I can say is that I feel terribly sad and defeated today. I thought this would be the year (and the time) when Methodists would finally have some closure on this issue, one way or the other. At least then, I could more easily make my decision about whether or not I wanted to remain denominationally connected to the United Methodist Church. I have a lot of skin-in-the-game. It’s not easy for me to walk away. I’ve been a Methodist all of my life; my husband is a Methodist pastor, my daddy as well. I grew up running the hallways of Asbury Theological Seminary, soul-shaped by the sacred echoes of John Wesley and Francis Asbury. My theological roots are tightly tethered therein.

So today I’m wondering how we got to where we are and, really, how much longer I can hold on. I’m tired of the fighting and the harsh words between the two camps. Even more so, I’m tired of the feelings I’m feeling – the anger, the disappointment, the trying-to-make-sense-of-it-all. My attempts at loving my brothers and sisters on the other side of the fence often fail and that, alone, feels terrible. I want to love well. I want to honor God with all my heart, soul, and might, but I’m not sure I know how to do that in the Methodist church anymore.

I stand in agreement with the current language in our Discipline, and I am disliked because of it … by those in the world and even, by some who call themselves my brothers and sisters in Christ. But hatred and harsh words aren’t enough to make me jump the fence to the other side for the sake of peace; instead, it leads me toward isolation – to the safety net of home where I am loved and where nobody is pressuring me to re-think and re-shape my convictions.

But I will not retreat to silence, because that’s not what God is after in me. He has called me to be a living witness to the transformational work of the Holy Spirit in my life. I am not the woman I used to be; God’s love and his holy correction have changed me. I’ve been born again, not in the flesh but, higher still, in the Spirit. He has given me a sound mind, a loving heart, and every now and again, a little strength to get some kingdom work accomplished. Whether I will continue to do so as a Methodist remains unseen. I am tethered, only, temporarily to my denomination. Thanks be to God, however, I am tethered, always, eternally to him.

He is where I will run. He is where I will stay. Thanks be to God, He is where I will end. In the meantime, (and in the words of John Wesley)

“Lord, let me not live to be useless.”

Even so, loosen me from my Methodism, Lord, to use me for your kingdom. Amen. So be it.

Peace for the journey,

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Save Us

12893953_sPalm Sunday.

I’ve been picking up palm fronds at the backs of many sanctuaries I’ve called home for nearly fifty years. The processions and procedures vary. No church does it the same; not all pageantry is created equal. Sometimes the children process with the palms. Sometimes the choir. Sometimes others. The green is there to remind us of the greater good that took place on that first Palm Sunday. Vaguely, we remember … shadows really, a thick film of dust and years surrounding the scene, preventing full disclosure. All we can do is to imagine. And as imagination goes, mine has been dulled over time.

“Hosanna!” they cried. Save us. A clarion call for deliverance … for a king.

If only they knew what would bring them peace.

I know. You know. But do they know – the countless others who didn’t have a palm branch thrust into their hands this morning?

No wonder Jesus still weeps over his world, even as he wept over Jerusalem 2000 years ago. The world is still looking for its king not realizing that his coronation has already taken place. In our hands we hold crowns adorned with precious jewels of preference and passions, and we search for a head that will adequately fill the frame … fit the mold.

But our preferences and passions weren’t … aren’t the jewels of Christ’s crown. His father’s preference, his father’s passion fashioned for him, instead, a crown of twisted thorns that pressed past flesh to unleash the cleansing flow of perfect redemption – one drop after another until all sin was covered up and fully cleansed by grace.   

We need to remember this. We need to press pass the vagueness, move beyond the veil, and take hold of the truth of that moment. We need to pick up our palm branches this week and wave them before our God and shout with fervent faith the same plea that rang out as the Passion Week unfolded.

“Hosanna!” Save us.

Shake us.

Show us.

Shape us.  

This is my King. This is One who has saved me. He is the all the Peace I need.

The time for deliverance is now. Our King is here. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, and blessed are we who hold this truth in our hearts! As always…

Peace for the journey,

Photo Credit: nito500 / 123RF Stock Photo

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Shopping for Seed

30405068_sWords.

Spoken. Written. Thought.

Some beautiful. Some bitter. And others, somewhere in between. All words?

Powerful. Why?

Because they are attached to the heart.

“ … For out of the overflow of his heart, his mouth speaks.” –Luke 6:45

The words that grow in our hearts, sooner or later, flow out of our mouths. Along those lines, it might be wise, then, to be more intentional (and more choosy) about the seeds we’re sowing into the sacred soil of our souls.  

So, ask yourself a question, even as I am asking the same of myself in this season:

From what feed store have you recently made a purchase of word-seed?

Some of my favorite filling stations as of late include: social media, must-see television series, breaking news reports, pages of the latest, Christian-how-to-do-life-with-Jesus books, work-related projects and curriculum, church activity, conversations with family and friends, interactions with students, parents, and staff, and God’s Word.

What are your favorites?

In measured proportion, all of these popular haunts have the potential to yield a harvest of good, gracious, and God-honoring words that can yield a kingdom harvest in due season. But when the scales get off balance because the seeds are no longer weighed for effectiveness and, instead, we fill up on what’s popular rather than on what’s productive, the overflow of our hearts becomes as sludge – a thick, muddy mess of careless words that dirties the landscape of our souls and stymies the ripening of God’s fruit. Those words not only muddy-up our hearts, but often they spill over to muddy-up the hearts of others.

Whatever seeds are growing on the inside of us will eventually move outside to mess with us. For good or for ill, the word-seeds that we are allowing into the garden of our hearts will yield a powerful crop of words to be absorbed by those around us. Shouldn’t we, then, be more vigilant? Shouldn’t we more carefully measure out these word-seeds before we purchase them … embed them? Before we take another dive into the pool of words available to us, could we push the pause button for a moment or two or ten to consider the fruit of our previous purchases?

What seeds have yielded fruitfulness? What seeds have reaped destruction?

Words are, indeed, powerful. They come to us freely from all directions at any given moment in our days. Wise are those who choose to carefully and prayerfully steward those moments alongside the great heart of God. When that happens, all hell does break loose, because we have thwarted the enemy’s plan for the destruction of our kingdom effectiveness by growing, in its place, a garden of beautiful words that yields eternal results.

That’s where I want to live, friends, alongside the great heart of God and his garden of good words.

Choose carefully the seeds that you will sow into the soil of your hearts this year. Along the way and as you plant, live safely, live confidently, and live expectantly next to the heart of Jesus. He will shepherd your steps and he will superintend your garden. I look forward to your many words and to gleaning from your harvest. As always …

Peace for the journey,  

Photo Credit:Copyright: monticello / 123RF Stock Photo

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who shall declare His generation?

9430748_s“He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken” –Isaiah 53:8

Their words brought a chill to my bones, while at the same time setting my spirit on fire. Chilling because of the certain reminder of how powerful and effective the winds of strong words can quickly bring a sleepy soul to shivering and warming because of the certain reminder of how powerful and effective the fuel of strong words can quickly fan into flame the embers of a fire temporarily forgotten.

Isaiah 53. The entire chapter. Twelve verses. Spoken from memory, together and out loud for the first time by sixteen, fourth graders on Thursday morning. They’ve been working on the chapter in sections since the beginning of the school year, and this week, they put the verses all together. I wish you could have been there as witnesses. The further along they went in their recitation, the louder their volume. When they got to the end, a hearty round of applause could be heard, and for the more perceptive, a few tears could be observed in the eyes of their teacher.

This is how we win, students. This is how we defeat the enemy, the true enemy behind all the evil in the world. We may not be able to stop a bullet from tearing into our flesh, but we can stop a bullet from tearing into our spirits. This is how we win. With God. With truth in our hearts and with truth spoken from our lips. Do not ever let these words depart from your heart. Practice them every now and again so you don’t forget. This way, for the rest of your days, you’ll always know that you’re not alone … that there is One who has made his home with you, taken up his cross to save you, and now lives to make intercession for you.

And then I told them that, perhaps, in those hallowed moments of their speaking truth out loud, God just might have called the prophet Isaiah over and, together, the two of them listened in to our morning recitations with a smile across their hearts. I can’t prove it happened that way, but I like thinking about it. So did my students.

Chilling winds; stoked embers; peaceful pause.

This is how we win. This is how we defeat the enemy in times of terror. We may not be able to stop a bullet to our chests, but we can make certain that if one lodges there, it is encased and swallowed up by layers of truth – God’s truth that is lavishly given to us in the pages of holy writ, the Bible. The world would be a better place if it stopped trying to manage and manipulate truth, and, instead, meditated upon it, memorized it, and allowed it to transform each one of us from the inside-out.

Who shall declare his generation? Who will tell his story?

I will. Maybe even a few of my students will. Why? Because his story has become … is becoming our story. Every day we are learning truth, and while it might not all make sense to my students at this point in their journeys of grace, I know one day it will. Why? Because God makes sense and his words have everlasting depth. They strike through to the bone, chilling us when we need to awaken from our drowsiness and warming us when we’ve forgotten the strength of a single, lit match.

Stay in the Word, friends. Stay with Jesus every day. He is how we win. He is how we stay alive, even in the midst of death. As always …

Peace for the journey,


 

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God Rules

DSCN2431“When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.”

Genesis 32:25

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Recently, we celebrated Pink-Out Day at our school – an October day dedicated for wearing pink to honor and to support the fight against breast cancer. In addition to wearing pink, the kids contributed their spare change as a donation to our local cancer center. It was a blessing to walk amongst a sea of pink that day and to soberly reflect on its significance in my own journey of survivorship.

My classroom started our Pink-Out Day as we begin all of our days – in the Word of God. I’ve been telling them their story of faith – the history of their people, the Patriarchs. Rich have been our morning discussions of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. My students are learning a lot, perhaps retaining more biblical knowledge at the tender age of ten than most of the world’s population. It’s a good thing to glean head knowledge. It’s an even better thing when that knowledge works its way down into the heart where it can lodge for a season, perhaps eternally. So when one of my students showed evidence of that movement on that particular morning, I was delighted and humbled to lead her to that place of greater understanding. The backdrop for our discussion was Jacob’s great wrestling match with God at Peniel which, ultimately, led to God changing his name from Jacob to Israel (meaning “God rules”).

“Mrs. Olsen, do you think if God would have healed Jacob’s hip that night, instead of letting him walk with a limp the rest of his life, that Jacob would have forgotten that he wrestled with God and that ‘God rules’?”

Her question interrupted my train of thought and led me down an unplanned path. Tenderly, I knelt at her desk and allowed myself to be vulnerable, transparent at a level usually reserved for adults.

“Class, I want to tell you something about me that, in some ways, mirrors Jacob’s story from so long ago. I have a scar running across the width of my chest, from armpit to armpit. I have scars on my stomach as well – all scars the results of my needing to deal with my cancer. Every morning when I look in the mirror, I am reminded about that difficult journey, and while I’m not limping around the room like Jacob must have, a part of my heart limps along each day remembering the night when I wrestled with God and had to learn that ‘God rules.’”

My words resonated with some … mostly with her. My hope is that, years from now, when those night wrestlings arrive for each of my students, they will remember Jacob’s night, maybe even some of my story so that they might emerge in the morning with a new name, a fresh hope, and a holy reminder that “God rules.” God is not disengaged from our lives, friends; God is engaged with us, willing to split the night sky (if need be) to walk upon this earthen sod, take us to the mat, and wrench our hips with an everlasting reminder that he is God. His thoughts are not always our own, and his ways aren’t always the ones we’d prefer. But his presence in the midst of getting us to where we need to go … who we need to be?

Well, Jacob-Israel would probably tell you a limp is a small price to pay to learn this one lesson of eternal significance. I would voice the same.

God rules. Yesterday. Today. Forever. God rules. We cannot always see his hand in the story. On those days, perhaps, all we really need to see is our personal scars, to lift up our shirts and boldly behold the truth of just how far we’ve come. In our scars, we can trace God’s hand, we can glimpse his grace, and we can know that we’ve been held through the night in his merciful and loving grip.

Your body is not your own. You were bought with a price. Therefore, honor God with your body, scars and all. Limp on, sweet ones. Limp forward. Limp knowing that God rules and that God loves. I’ll meet you on the road. As always,

Peace for the journey,

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