Tuesday, June 19, 2007
1. transgression of divine law. 2. an act regarded as such transgression, or any violation, esp. a willful or deliberate one of some religious or moral principle. 3. any serious transgression of offense. 4. to do a sinful act. 5. to offend against a principle, standard, etc. 6. to do or perform sinfully. 7. to bring, drive, etc., by sinning.
The first definition is the primary religious definition. A sin is any act that violates God's law. This definition doesn't allow for how we feel about it or what society's standards are toward it. It only allows for the fact that God who created the world sets the rules by which we live.
In fact, the Bible tells us that often men and women rebel against God's truth and live in ways that are self-centered and sinful. Society can be caught in the same way. We live within a vicious circle. Our individual self-centered and rebellious lives help create a society that is self-centered and rebellious. This society in turn continues to raise persons to follow its standards.
I believe that God created all that exists - all of creation. As the Creator, God had a purpose, a plan for creation. That is his divine right. His expectations are simple - we will live as he created us to live. We are made for a purpose; we are to live in ways that fulfill that purpose. Only God who created us knows our true purpose. The failure to live as God created us to live goes against the very nature of his creation and is sin.
The Bible tells us that when Adam and Eve introduced sin into the world, they corrupted the very foundation of the world so that it also became sinful. We, in my opinion, see this even within science. As an example, science has discovered that certain diseases are genetic - that the presence of certain genes in an individual leads to the illness. In truth, God who created our genetics did not create them to bring illness or sickness. He created them for wholeness and life. So even the nature of genetics has been effected by sin. Scientists refer to this process as mutation. Something "goes wrong" in the transmission of genetic material and a defective gene results (sometimes a strength is also mutated). The very nature of creation has been corrupted by sin.
I believe that sin is a self-centered way of living that ignores the truth of God through scripture. It is a decision that what "I" want is more important than what God wants. It is placing myself and my opinions above the One who created me. The sad thing is that sin not only affects my relationship with God, but it changes my very nature and nature of the world I live in. One only has to look around or listen to a news program to know that God has a much better way.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
There were some heated moments in our legislative groups. These are small groups which are given an hour to debate issues of critical importance to the church. The issue of homosexuality was given too little time for debate considering what this issue is doing to our church.
The Annual Conference as a whole remained fairly orthodox on this issue. We declined to petition the General Conference to change any of the important rules relating to homosexuality. I was surprised by the vote. I had anticipated it being much closer than it was.
One of the realizations that came to me during the Annual Conference is that there are no "winners" in this debate. The truth is that while there are activists who are promoting this issue, they are not the ones really affected by it. My heart goes out to the people in the pew. My heart goes out to the homosexual who has grown up in the United Methodist Church and must struggle with what it means to remain a member.
My heart also goes out to the orthodox members of our church. They aren't "homophobic", they just have grown up believing the Bible. They are willing to accept that God died for the homosexual and that they should reach out to them in love. Yet, they aren't willing to accept homosexual sin. They also struggle with where they belong in this church in which they have grown up.
Anytime something happens in our church these members are affected. We have lost good Christian people over the years simply because they are tired of the fight. They go somewhere where their Orthodox values are respected. On the other hand, every time we defeat a resolution to change our stance on homosexuality, it must bring great pain to members who are homosexual or who have family members that are homosexual.
The truth is there is no easy solution. Nothing we do will make everyone happy. We learned that 40 years ago when we found our "compromise". I still think that "compromise" was God-given. It states that homosexuality is incompatible with scripture. It also states that Christ died for the homosexual as he died for other sinners, myself included, and that the homosexual has sacred worth. But even this truth has not brought peace to our church.
During the session a friend in frustration suggested that maybe it was time for those who believed that homosexuality was not a sin to simply leave the church. I don't share her sentiment, but I do share the frustration. This issue continues to tear at the heart of a great church. Sadly it keeps us from being all that Christ calls us to be.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Each church belongs to a cluster of churches called a district. Each district is overseen by a district superintendent. A group of districts is called a Conference. A conference is presided over by a bishop. In Nebraska, the entire state is a conference. We gather once a year in our Annual Conference session to conduct the business of the conference.
The last two years have been pretty good. We have worked together toward a common goal of growing in Christ. Our motto has been "Making Disciples - Making a Difference". And I am hoping that it will work.
However this year promises to be a difficult Conference. Every four years we debate issues to take to our denomination and elect delegates to represent us.
This year the issue of homosexuality will again be debated by the church. The United Methodist Church has not changed its stance on homosexuality in decades. Basically stated we affirm that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with scripture. However, the Discipline also clearly states that homosexuals are persons of sacred worth.
In my opinion, that is not just a compromise, it represents a deep Biblical truth. I believe it is accurate to say that the majority of Christians believe that there are passages in the scripture that clearly condemn homosexual practice. Yet the truth is that the homosexual is no less worthy of God's love and grace than any of us. Jesus died on the cross for all our sins.
But this will be a hard debate. And no matter which way it turns out there will be anger and hurt feelings. It is hard to grow a church when people feel like they aren't heard or aren't wanted. The difficulty is that whichever way this eventually ends up, people are going to feel like they haven't been heard and aren't wanted. That's why it is such a painful issue for the church.
I don't have any answers. I just know that I am not looking forward to this Annual Conference session. Whatever happens there will be hurt feelings, pain, and a step backward in our attempt to grow as a church.
Friday, June 01, 2007
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
We began with a tour of the facility. It houses a day care center that provides support to families in the community. It also houses a gym and other facilities that are used by youth in the area. It has programs that minister to single families, youth, senior citizens and children. It is a significant part of the community and has a real impact on lives.
In the morning, we went over to their educational building. This is a place where adults are given training and help in finding jobs. A dedicated team works there to encourage them and provide vocational counseling. Our task was to help clean the facility. We spent the morning cutting grass and pulling out small trees in the yard area. Another team had the task of cleaning all the windows and ledges in the building. A third team was responsible for bagging clothing and cleaning a major storage area. By the time we finished, we were all ready for lunch and a break.
Our task that afternoon was to clean the play areas where the day care children play. They have outdoor swings and play sets that are embedded in a new material that provides cushioning for the children playing. Unfortunately we were told, as the children often play with sand and dirt, it gets carried into the cushioned area. If not properly cleaned, it compacts the cushion until it becomes hard. So our task was to take out the cleaning supplies and begin the process of scrubbing these large cushion areas. It was kind of fun in a way. We first had to soak a section with plain water. Then we had to add a special soap. Then a brush team armed with special brushes had to scrub the area and work as much dirt as possible out of the cushions. In a way it was like watching the brush teams for a curling event in the Olympics.
Of course as we got near the end of our morning time we began to have some slips with the hoses and some fun getting wet. It was a lot of hard work, but we knew the children would wake from their naps and be able to have fun safely on the play area.
We were all tired at the end of a long day working. But we knew that we had helped make these facilities more functional for the people working there and the community they supported. It was a worthwhile day.
Later I will talk about our final mission project of the trip.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
- My impressions of St. Louis have changed. The parts we were in were changing neighborhoods, but they were attractive. It seems to be a nice city with some cultural opportunities.
- St. Louis is changing. The information we have is that many new immigrants are coming to St. Louis from Bosnia and West Africa. This is introducing a large Muslim population and different cultures. The people of St. Louis seem to be responding well to this.
- St. Louis has experienced terrible urban flight - but it is centered around education. Most people that can afford it either home school their children or enroll them in public schools. Many residents have fled the city for the suburbs and the "better" educational opportunities.
Now I need to explain that these are things I heard from the people who continue to live in St. Louis and are working with people in need.
As in any changing community there were wonderful facilities to work with the needs of people. We worked with two of those groups. The first ran child care and preschool facilities and worked strongly with the community. The second was a former church that now housed women who were homeless. I will say more about these facilities and the work we did there in the next two blogs.
Right now, I am proud of our youth and sponsors. They were sensitive to the needs of the persons with whom we were working. They worked hard and accomplished a lot. They didn't always know how their work would affect others, but they were willing to pitch in and get it down.
In fact once again we completed the work they had for us in a timely and efficient manner.
The housing worked out fine. We met a wonderful family that is deeply committed to mission on thier own. They are leaving for a mission trip in South America before long. They made their facilities and hearts open to our youth.
More on this mission trip tomorrow.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Jesus made clear that the Christian was to have a heart for those in need - whether that need was spiritual or material. We have need in our community and our youth do things to help with it. But there is something about going into a larger city and seeing the poverty in which some people live that awakens the soul to Jesus' words that "the poor will always be with you".
Another aspect of the trip is that it helps build our group. As they work together on the projects we have lined up and visit together about the poverty they witness, they share a common bond that begins to draw them closer together.
That's why this trip is worth the time for me:
- Our youth will experience real need and have a chance to respond to it
- Our youth group will become closer because of what they are doing and sharing
- The "Good News" will become real for each of us as we work together touch lives with God's word and personal support.
Just being with our youth is always worth my time. Helping them to experience such a powerful Christian witness is a blessing. So I'm heading off now to make a couple of last minute calls and then a few last minute items I still need for the trip.
Just writing about it, I'm really getting excited about this trip!