A United Methodist divide

It’s not about you. It’s not about me.

All of life comes down to that.

And we just don’t get it.

The latest example: “Church delegates reject recognizing gay marriage,” according to a headline in today’s local newspaper.

The Associated Press reports:

 

The United Methodist Church, America’s second largest Protestant denomination, faces a likely surge in defections and acts of defiance after delegates at a crucial conference voted Tuesday to strengthen the faith’s divisive bans on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy.

 

I have United Methodist friends – including ordained pastors – on both sides of this debate. It’s tough.

But it shouldn’t be.

The question is this:

Whom do you serve: the God of the Bible, or yourself?

We can’t change God’s law

“Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus told a woman caught in adultery (John 8:11). But Jesus didn’t stop there. He looked the woman directly in the eyes and gave her this admonition: “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

This is the definition of “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

The LGBT community and its supporters do not understand this. When Jesus told the adulterous woman “do not sin again,” he was not spewing hate. He was telling her: You are better than this. There’s a wonderful life out there for you. Go live it.

It’s not about you. It’s about Me, Jesus said.

Everything Jesus says in the Gospels – everything – points to himself. It’s not about the church. It’s not even about the law, since the church leaders had added so much to the Old Testament laws that no one could possibly keep them all. It’s not about feelings. It’s not about justifying sinful behavior.

God made us. He knows what’s best for us. We can’t change the rules, much as we try.

What is love?

Some United Methodists are circulating A Love Letter to LGBTQ United Methodists.

The letter concludes this way:

 

We will:

give you the space and support you need.
listen to you.
share your stories.
work to end the harm caused in the name of religion.
break the silence around gender and sexuality in religious communities.
center your experiences as LGBTQ United Methodists.
fight for justice.
work toward a justice that is deeply intersectional.
not leave anyone behind.
strive to be better allies.
apologize when we miss the mark.
build this future together.
be by your side.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSf88b_G-Efi2xsqA3nvVJkLxIIjj0lvzIw50mf8kQb2BMl44A/viewform?fbclid=IwAR2SjsJ_G9tKaNFm9GpdLfc4f6xjchyEl6ykhQmtmFb0yyy-ACldu7Y3s1k

 

 

The letter doesn’t quote Jesus Christ. It doesn’t even mention the Bible.

It does refer to God, like this:

 

You are …

a child of God.
beloved by God.
beautifully and wonderfully made by God.
the image of God.

 

Yes. Each person is all that, and more.

That section also includes these lines:

 

allowed to be imperfect.
allowed to ask for more than crumbs.
allowed to have a vision for the future.
allowed to speak that vision aloud.
allowed to fight to make that vision a reality.
allowed to take a breather.
allowed to prioritize self-care.

 

Where in the Bible are any of us, straight or LGBT, allowed those things?

Jesus said: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We are not “allowed” to be imperfect. God has so much more of life than that for us.

“Allowed to take a breather?” From what? From God? From serving him? From pursuing righteousness?

Sexual sins are no worse than any other sin, yet every sin affects other people. The #MeToo movement bears this out.

Unconditional love

“…since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus …” (Romans 3:23-24)

But it’s not a gift until we accept it. I can offer you a dollar, but if you reject it, I’m left holding the dollar, and no gift is given.

What’s the point of “redemption in Christ Jesus” if we keep on sinning willfully?

“What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” (Romans 6:1-2)

Sin is doing what God hates. Love is God forgiving us when we sin against him. We love each other by following God’s example.

It’s not about me. It’s not about you.

It’s entirely about God.

That’s why the United Methodist “Traditional Plan” was upheld. United Methodists have been debating the homosexual agenda for half a century, at least. Delegates repeatedly vote to uphold the language of the church’s statement of values and beliefs, by calling homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Supporters of the homosexual agenda haven’t taken “no” for an answer, and continually re-submit the issue. For half-a-century, the church has stood firm.

It’s not about the church. It’s about God.

The church sets policy, but can’t determine grace

If the United Methodist Church ever strikes that language from its doctrine, that wouldn’t make it “right.”

Our opinions don’t count. When we stand before the living God on our Judgment Day, God won’t use a sliding scale. He won’t change the rules for some.

“Be perfect,” he said.

Since none of us can do that, Jesus came to Earth to pay that sin penalty for us. That’s how we are justified – not by approving laws that defend our lifestyles.

It’s not about me. It’s not about you.

It’s about God.

Criticize me all you like because I don’t support the LGBT agenda. My views and opinions don’t matter. I’m not your judge.

United Methodist delegates set policy, but they don’t deliver grace. They don’t decide what’s sin and what isn’t sin.

Only the living God does that.

He didn’t ask our opinion, either.

The United Methodist Church might fracture over this decision. It wouldn’t be the first time a Christian denomination has split over doctrinal issues.

It hurts, because we should know better.

God loves us enough to not let us remain in our sin. He offers us a better way.

That’s what true love is.

We are loved as is, yes. But faith demands change.

“For whoever has died is freed from sin. … So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:7, 11).

Either the book of Romans is true, or it is not true.

We don’t get to decide that.

This is true love. It’s about overcoming sin, not justifying it.

It’s not about you. It’s not about me.

It’s about the living God.

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Going home

Very few of us can time our deaths the way our births are timed.

Nine months from conception, there’s a due date. With a natural birth, that’s a pretty good ballpark estimate. For a Cesarean section, the parents get to choose the specific date of birth.

Rarely does that happen on the other side of life.

Every death is sudden, even if it’s expected.

The guarantee

In the span of two days last weekend, five friends or acquaintances breathed their last breath.

They ranged in age from 81 to 43. Four of them had long-term conditions; two were in such severe pain, I’m sure their loved ones saw their passing as relief.

But still.

The fifth friend shocked everybody. He was healthy, to my knowledge – no one saw his death coming. He was 62. (I’m 58; he’s my generation.)

Two of them lived in Northeast Ohio, the other three in mid-Michigan (my old stomping grounds).

Death is guaranteed for each of us.

Later rather than sooner, we hope.

Unexpected deaths are the ones that make the news – traffic fatalities, drug overdoses, crime victims, that sort of thing. Most of us won’t leave Earth like that, thankfully, but there’s no guarantees about that, either.

Another friend’s granddaughter died about two weeks ago. She suffered numerous health issues from the day she was born. She was 21.

No one ever said life was fair.

Homegoing

Sometimes, those who suffer have the best dispositions. They are thankful for the blessings they have, even if good health isn’t one of them. Our 81-year-old friend was like that. He had debilitating headaches his entire adult life, but he looked on the bright side every day.

His strong faith allowed him to do that.

He is in heaven now with his savior, Jesus. He knows that with certainty. So does his wife. They were married 61 years.

We visited her yesterday afternoon to offer our condolences. She said she’s not planning a funeral for him, but a homegoing. We knew what she meant.

Funerals are sad. We mourn the loss of our loved one. Rightfully so. But that’s where the focus remains.

With a homegoing, family members and friends know that death is temporary – just a transition to a better life. Healing is promised in heaven. Physical, emotional and every other kind of healing that each of us needs.

The end of time

We mourn the loss of our loved one here on Earth and we miss him or her terribly, but we know we will see him or her again.

Earth is a temporary home, full of pain and struggle, as well as joy and laughter. We know this. Good vs. evil. Unconditional love vs. selfishness. Right vs. wrong.

These battles are fought in the human heart and mind, aren’t they?

We play them out in society, but the real battles take places inside each of us.

When eternity comes, those struggles will end. For better or worse.

We’ll either stand with God in heaven, or we’ll spend forever without Him. The Bible talks about a lake of fire. I wonder also if hell will be a lonely place. We may not see our friends and family any more. Ever again.

I can’t imagine a worse fate than that.

My choice, your choice

We get to choose where we live forever. We determine our own fate, really.

I can’t choose for you, and you can’t choose for me. This is personal, and it’s individual. I can give you chapter and verse, but you must decide whether to accept the gift of life forever or not.

Life is a gift.

Life on Earth is a gift. Each of us must thank our parents, both mother and father, for giving us life. You and I had nothing to do with it.

Life forever is a similar principle. There won’t be marriage in heaven, but we will have a Father. He’s the one who offers us that gift of life eternal.

Most of my friends who just died will receive a homegoing, a celebration of life on Earth and the promise of a wonderful, perfect forever future in heaven.

We can’t wrap our minds around forever. The end of time. No more alarm clocks or deadlnes.

Nor can we fathom perfection. Beauty for beauty’s sake. No hidden agendas. No secrets. No pain or suffering, of any type. No getting tired at night. Never a cold or fever, much less any other sickness or injury.

Mental illness? No such thing any more.

The big picture

One day, we will see the big picture of life. We don’t now. Each of us sees only our small part in this big universe. There’s so much of life I can’t see or understand. I write to try to make sense of it all, but as the Bible says, now I see in a mirror dimly, but then (in heaven) face to face.

I have strong views on certain subjects, and you may have a differing viewpoint on those same subjects. We both might be right, because we see the issue from different perspectives. Neither of us understands the big picture. We try, but we just cannot.

That’s why we need to talk, to listen, to respect each other, to learn from each other.

One day, all the issues we wrestle with will come together. The God of the universe, the One who created us and everything else in it, will reveal all to us.

For now, God has given us earthly minds to learn and grow. None of us can know everything about life.

We desperately need this perspective today.

We need each other.

We NEED each other.

We can’t make this life work without each other. Even though we try.

Oh, we try.

The more I learn, the more I discover how much I don’t know. Keep teaching me, each one of you. I’ll do the same for you.

Meanwhile, as we do that, I’m ready for my homegoing, when all will be well. I’m not expecting it any time soon – I’m still relatively young and in excellent health, if I can say that. No guarantees, of course, except that I will die one day. But whenever the day comes, I hope you’ll celebrate it with me.

And I’d love to celebrate yours, too.

Just not for awhile.

In the meantime, let’s celebrate this life on Earth together. And remember with gratitude those who are already home.

Sexual harassment, part 2: The standard

Many of you provided excellent, thought-provoking comments on the blog I wrote last week about sexual harassment. In today’s highly sex-charged environment, I asked for a definition that everyone can agree on.

Several of your comments hinted, and one said directly, that such a definition likely doesn’t exist. Harassment is a very personal issue. What hurts you might not hurt me, and vice versa.

So, coming up with a national standard likely won’t happen.

A former human resources executive reminded me that all companies have a code of conduct handbook that defines sexual harassment, among many other issues, for that company. If an employee crosses that line, termination often is the result. The details don’t have to be made public.

Perhaps Hollywood needs a code of conduct handbook. Federal (and state and local) political bodies, as well.

Perhaps the bottom line is common sense. If something would hurt me, don’t do it. If I even think it might hurt you, don’t do it. If I cross the line by mistake and you say so, I must apologize immediately.

That’s why Garrison Keillor’s situation bothers me. He did that, and still got fired when a lawyer got involved. Perhaps there is more to his story than we know. Perhaps not. We may never know.

Keillor didn’t fight the accusation, so perhaps neither should I.

Searching for the standard

I still wonder:

Is there a standard that we can follow?

Since each us has our own standard, and they aren’t identical, any “true” standard would have to be bigger than ourselves.

This is one reason I submit myself to God’s ways. The one who created us knows what’s best for us, how we should use our bodies and get along with each other.

Since we’ve managed to screw all that up royally these days by ourselves, it’s worth seeking a way out of our mess.

News flash: Neither Republicans, President Trump nor Democrats have the answer. Each may have a part of the answer, but each also misses the mark.

Hollywood is part of the problem, not the solution.

We like to blame “the media” for all kinds of things, without knowing what the media really is.

“The media” used to mean newspapers, radio news and TV newscasts. It’s broadened to include entertainment we see on TV, in magazines and in other places. Newspapers have far less “fake news” in them than other media do. (Disclaimer: I worked in the newspaper industry for nearly 30 years.)

Design, build for productivity

Without getting too theological, God knows us better than we know ourselves, because He created us. When we design and build things, the designer and builder get to decide how those products are used. If we use a product in a way it wasn’t intended, it breaks, or it doesn’t work at all.

It’s the same with us humans. We have limitations. We like to push limits, but sometimes we go too far.

Sexual harassment is a perfect example of this.

So, we need to go back to why our Creator made us in the first place, and what our purpose is.

We were created to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:26) So, we were created to take care of the earth and everything in it.

We also were created to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it …” (Genesis 1:28)

“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) This includes us as humans, too. We were created good – actually, “very good.”

How the product fails

So, what happened?

We as humans decided we wanted to control our own lives. Our Creator wasn’t good enough for us any more.

God said: fine. But consequences go along with that, just like there are when we use a product in a way it wasn’t intended to be used.

There wasn’t any written law from Adam to Moses, but there still were consequences for doing things incorrectly. “Right” and “wrong” are written in our hearts. Laws just explain what we already know.

When Moses came along, we got the Ten Commandments – a controversial document then, and a controversial document today – along with a host of other laws and rules of conduct.

You shall not make for yourself an idol.

Honor your father and mother.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not covet … your neighbor’s wife … (Exodus 20:4, 12, 14, 17)

When Jesus Christ arrived, he expanded on those themes. For example: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5: 27)

Here’s another one: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you … Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 43-44, 48)

There’s our standard. If every one of us followed these “laws,” sexual harassment would become a thing of the past.

Perfect love

Love is not what I think, or what I want. That’s what harassment is all about, isn’t it?

True love is what you want.

The truest love is what God wants, which benefits you and me both more than any love we have for each other can possibly do.

Our standard is perfection. Nothing less.

Jesus knows how impossible that is for us to do. That’s what his life, death and resurrection addressed.

All we have to do is accept Jesus into our hearts and minds, then live for Him the best we can. We still are sinners; we’ll still get it wrong, including on the harassment issue. If you think Christians live happily ever after, well, we don’t and we do. On this earth we do not. In the next life, yes, we will.

As Christians, our hearts should be in the right place; we should live differently than everyone else does, because our motivation is different – to serve others before ourselves. In this sinful, messed up world, we should stand out as shining lights of the way life is supposed to be lived.

Far too many of us claim to be Christians when we really aren’t. We try to justify our sinful desires, rather than try to change to be more like God.

The religious leaders of His day, not the tax collectors and sinners, crucified Jesus. The church people. Those who knew the Scriptures inside and out. Those who should have known better.

If Jesus were to walk in the flesh across the United States today, I’m convinced His message would be exactly the same. And we – the church people – would crucify Him again.

Not all church people would crucify Him, but many would.

Why? Because we reject His standard and prefer our own inferior, sin-infested standards.

Is the church a shining light of God’s pure love? If it is, all of us should want to be a part of it.

That’s the standard.

Someday, we’ll get there.