It’s a BIG week in the Mt. Haley Youth Ministry as we prepare for the annual Youth Garage Sale at the Grahams. Thank you to everyone who has donated their “treasures” to ensure we make some money with a great sale. The weather calls for sunny and in the 70’s for the sale on Friday (May 1 & 2), so we should be counting our profits by the time you read this. Olive’s yard was also completed this week as 8 dedicated kids worked their tails off and completed the project in two days. Thank you Olive for supporting the youth so generously and providing us a beneficial fund raiser every spring and fall. The Mother’s Day Hanging Basket Sale orders are due this Sunday (May 3) so they can delivered to Mt. Haley on Friday, May 8th. Pick-up will begin at 1:00 Friday afternoon. We will be having one more Gift Card sale the last two weeks in May to help people prepare for Graduations and Father’s Day. With your blessings and help, everyone going to State Youth Convention should have their money earned to pay for their weekend. Continue reading

In recent days, an editorial in the Midland Daily News argued that “conservative Christians need to take a stand” regarding the widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage in our nation. The author compared the present situation to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, in which Rosa Parks took a stand (by sitting down, ironically) against the cultural requirement that she yield her seat at the front of a bus to a white passenger. This editorial suggests that conservative Christians are being isolated, quieted, and accused of intolerance when they speak against current trends in society.

A few years ago, on an Easter Sunday, we had our usual lineup of special services and activities for that day. A “sunrise” service – I use the term loosely because the sun had already been up for a couple of hours – began the festivities. With awe and humility, we celebrated the mystery of the empty tomb. And then we shared in a special breakfast, a celebratory meal that reminded us of Jesus’s post-resurrection breakfast with his disciples. Our children participated in games, hunted down dozens of Easter eggs, and won a variety of prizes. Finally, our regular morning worship was full of praise and adoration of our risen King and Savior.

On this particular Easter Sunday, two middle-aged couples visited our congregation. Both couples visited us with other family members who are regular members of our congregation. And in both couples, the partners are of the same gender.

I’m not sure if others in the congregation realized this at the time, but I was aware – and happy – that we welcomed both a gay couple and a lesbian couple into our Easter Sunday worship service. After all, any time we join in worship, we do so in honor of Jesus Christ, not in honor of our particular worldview or political opinions. Everyone is welcome to worship the Lord.

In recent days, a pizza shop in Indiana closed its doors after its owners stated that they would not serve pizza at a same-sex wedding reception. The intense furor and passion around this story – by those supporting the pizza shop and those opposing it – has been amazing to witness. It seems that everyone has an opinion on this, whether or not they can even identify Walkerton on an Indiana map.

A few years ago, in another place, Tara and I built a close relationship with a wonderful young woman who is now in her early twenties. I’ll call her Nicole. She spent a great deal of time with us due to some instability in her own home. She loved us at least as much as we loved her in return – and probably more. And even now that we are far apart, we still remain in contact with Nicole and count her as part of our family.

Nicole is a lesbian. She “came out” to the world last year. She has shared with us some of the joys and pains of her relationships that have succeeded and failed. Because of her sexual orientation, she has experienced some emotional distancing from some friends at her local church, which I consider an unfortunate development in her life.

Nicole has held down a job for the past few years and works hard at what she does. She has purchased her own car, she pays her own rent, and she contributes to society in a number of ways. Nicole is a regular person, with regular needs, regular laughter, and regular tears. And for some reason, she counts us as part of her family too.

In recent days, the Indiana state legislature passed Senate Bill 101, also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. No small amount of media coverage has accompanied this bill since it was signed by Indiana’s governor a few weeks ago. Again, everyone has an opinion on this, whether or not they are experts in law or politics. I, for one, am not concerned about this law; its worst elements will be corrected and its best intentions will be honored. In any case, I firmly believe that we cannot legislate morality (that is, make people behave by creating laws). Ban same-sex marriage, legalize marijuana, ban assault rifles, legalize gambling: the systems we form do not create morality and goodness. The law is not the ultimate measure of right and wrong. On the other hand, the law should uphold the cause of justice for all people, a goal that is much higher than any Senate Bill.

Many years ago, and in a very different place, a carpenter’s son crouched down and drew designs in the dirt with his finger. The people eagerly awaited his response to the most pressing moral question of the day: what should they do with a woman caught committing adultery? The conservative religious leaders wanted to stone her to death, as the religious law required. And if this carpenter’s son did not give the officially correct answer, then they could silence him as a radical progressive. Rather than taking sides on the issue, this carpenter’s son, this teacher, this divine reformer recognized the humanity of all those around him and called each of them to a higher moral standard:

“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

“Has no one condemned you? Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 7:53-8:11 NIV)

I believe the recent editorial’s appeal to Rosa Parks is inappropriate. After all, people on the other side of this moral question can make precisely the same appeal as an argument to stand up against discrimination. Comparing conservative Christians (or the LGBT community, for that matter) to Rosa Parks is comparing apples to oranges; it is a rhetorical device intended to create an immediate victory. After all, who can argue against Rosa Parks?

But Rosa Parks’s victory was not immediate, nor, indeed, is her struggle finished. The issue of racial reconciliation and justice has not been resolved in twenty-first century America. Similarly, the gay and lesbian couples who visited our church, my friend Nicole, conservative Christians, and other Christians are all involved in an ongoing struggle over the question of homosexuality.

In some ways, this struggle is similar to the conflict in John 8. Jesus’s answer to the question in that story is not “black and white” or “quick and easy.” He understands both the value and the imperfections of each individual around him. He creates a new way of answering the moral dilemma: not by adhering to religious law, not by accepting sexual immorality as the new norm, but by extending love and grace to everyone. He desires justice for all and calls each person to higher standards of righteousness and holiness.

Perhaps we would do well to learn to imitate him in how we think about, discuss, and act on the important moral questions of our day.

Reconciliation is the process of restoring friendly relationships between individuals and communities. It is something that is desperately needed in today’s world, from the streets of Ferguson to the mountains of Afghanistan, from the hallways of public schools to the pews of local churches, from county courthouses to family living rooms.

Reconciliation is a one-word description of the work of God through Jesus Christ. This passage from 2 Corinthians is very important:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5:17-21 NIV)

You might recognize the last verse as the inspiration for the opening words of “Jesus Messiah,” a worship song that we sing with some regularity at Mt. Haley.

Biblical reconciliation – making things right between God and us, and between each other – is the theme of the Anderson University School of Theology, where I am currently working on a Doctor of Ministry degree. In mid-April, I spent a week on Anderson’s campus taking forty hours’ worth of intensive classes for my spring course; the emphasis of this course was all on biblical reconciliation.

In preparation for this course, I read a number of books and articles, as with any graduate-level class. One book in particular stood out: “Mobilizing for the Common Good: the Lived Theology of John M. Perkins.” This book is an anthology of essays about John M. Perkins, an African-American Christian leader who has worked tirelessly in his 85 years of life for the causes of God’s kingdom, social justice, and community development. Perkins founded the Christian Community Development Association in the late 1980s and has promoted “relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution” as three Christian principles that can transform local communities.

I did not know anything about John Perkins before taking this class. Our discussions about his urban ministry efforts reminded me of our time in inner-city Indianapolis. In a way, the issues facing urban areas – issues like poverty, drug abuse, homes in disrepair, and socio-economic segregation – appear in rural settings like ours, as well. This class gave me much food for thought.

On Friday, on my way home after classes ended, I stopped in nearby Muncie to have dinner with an old college friend of mine. She and her husband live in a depressed neighborhood with their two young children. I had not seen this friend for about a decade, so we had quite a bit of catching up to do.

I asked my friend about her church life, which I know is very important to her. She talked about how the core group of church leaders (including her family) moved into that Muncie neighborhood several years ago as a stabilizing force in a very transitional community. She spoke about how everything their church does is aimed toward the goal of reconciliation. And then she asked me a question that made me do a double-take:

“Have you ever read anything about John Perkins?”

Why, yes, actually I had just spent that entire week learning about John Perkins. And now I was sitting in the home of a friend whose church was putting into practice the principles of Perkins’s ministry.

It was like reading a book about baseball and then being thrust into the dugout of the home team during a regular-season game.

What kinds of reconciliation are needed in our community today? How can we partner with God (and with others) to accomplish this great work? It is, after all, the work that Christ left us to do in this world.

You may have noticed that some biblical stories are repeated in two or three different books of the Bible. In our Chronological Bible reading, those stories are rearranged to appear one after the other, on the same page of the book. This gives us the opportunity to compare and contrast different versions of the same story.

Take, for instance, the story of King David conquering the Philistines just after his coronation as king over all of Israel. This story is told twice, in (a) 2 Samuel 5:17-25 and (b) 1 Chronicles 14:8-17. And the two renditions of the story are nearly identical, except for a few minor differences: (All quotes are from the NLT unless otherwise noted.)

  • When David heard the Philistines were coming after him, (a) “he went into the stronghold,” a place of safety and protection, or (b) “he marched out to meet them” with confidence and power.
  • When David defeated the Philistines, he exclaimed (a) that God destroyed his enemies, or (b) that God destroyed his enemies “by my hand” (NIV).
  • When the Philistines fled the scene and abandoned their religious artifacts, (a) “David and his men confiscated them,” or (b) “David gave orders to burn them.”
  • Throughout the story, the God of Israel is referred to as (a) “the Lord,” a representation of the divine name “Yahweh,” or (b) “God,” a translation of the Hebrew term “Elohim.”

The fourth of these differences is not that noteworthy; it simply reflects a difference in authorship, time of writing, and other cultural changes. Scholars have long recognized a significant distinction in these references to God in the biblical text. (You can see this same distinction in the Bible’s two creation stories: the first, in Genesis 1:1-2:3, uses “Elohim” or “God,” but the second, in Genesis 2:4-3:24, uses “Yahweh Elohim” or “Lord God.”)

By itself, the “Lord” vs. “God” distinction is enough to suggest that 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles were written by different people and at different times. The other differences above suggest that these two stories were written with different agendas in mind.

Wait, “with different agendas”?!

Yep. There is no such thing as an unbiased telling of a story. We always tell stories from our own perspectives, from our own cultures, using our own languages and idioms. And what we intend to communicate through a story influences how we go about telling the story.

Another conclusion of biblical scholarship is that 1 and 2 Chronicles were written by an individual (often called “the Chronicler”) who had a very specific perspective on political history:

The Chronicler was a HUGE fan of King David.

You can see this bias throughout the books of the Chronicles, really. But just as an example, take another look at the first three differences noted above:

  • When the Philistines come to attack, 2 Samuel shows David cowering (in fear?) in his stronghold. But the Chronicler shows David marching out (in confidence?) to fight them.
  • When the battle is won, 2 Samuel gives God the credit, but the Chronicler makes sure to note that God did it with David’s help.
  • When the Israelites deal with the Philistines’ religious artifacts, 2 Samuel says that David and his men kept those items (perhaps as trophies, or for their value in gold or silver?), but the Chronicler says that David ordered their destruction (perhaps to prove his religious purity?).

Every story, every news report, every internet article is slanted in some way. Every storyteller has some kind of objective or intention that drives the telling of the story. And that intention is often just as revealing as the story itself.

Another difference between 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles: one of them tells the story of David and a young woman named Bathsheba. I’ll let you guess which one includes that story and which doesn’t.

So pay attention to the stories that you hear in the Bible, in history books, and in the daily news. And pay attention to how you tell your own stories. It may very well be that how we tell stories is just as important as the stories themselves!

We have read some troubling stories lately in our Chronological Bible readings. In the past month, we have worked our way through the books of Joshua and Judges, which contain no small amount of violence and bloodshed. Some of these biblical stories can make your stomach turn with disgust!

One such story is the death by gang rape of an unnamed young woman in Judges 19. So much of this story is unspeakably disturbing. Continue reading