More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine

More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine

Photo by Josh Howard on Unsplash

So much of the fun with these things is the build-up. And among these things – Avengers, Lord of the Rings, and whatever the next generation’s will be – Star Wars is both author and perfecter. It is the reason we make trilogies. And in many ways, it is the reason we have build-up.

In the fall of 1998 I sat in yearbook senior year and watched a trailer on the internet. Whatever you believe about The Phantom Menace, know that two minutes and twelve seconds of it were the greatest thing you’d seen in your entire life in the fall of 1998. The fact that you could watch any trailer online back then was amazing. The fact that it was Star Wars, for the first time in 15 years, was even better.

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Naked and Unashamed

Naked and Unashamed

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

Genesis 2:24-25 (NRSV)

Nakedness was the first truth of Adam and Eve’s relationship. And when they ate the fruit, it became the first thing to go.

But I think there’s something in us that wants to get back to that place.

Nakedness is obviously compelling, but it’s so much more than that. It’s the implied intimacy in relationships as much as anything else—the fullness of who we are being seen by someone else without any presence of shame. The kind of intimacy that drives us toward the oneness described in this original relationship between Adam and Eve.

Nakedness, of course, can happen in a moment. Some of the shame that wants to define our sexuality can come from the fact that we sometimes get naked (literally and figuratively) much too quickly.

True intimacy always takes time.

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A Delight to the Eyes

A Delight to the Eyes

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.

Genesis 3:1-6 (NRSV)

Why did the serpent choose this lie?

He didn’t tell Eve that God is really a cruel dictator or a figment of her imagination. And he didn’t tell her the fruit would give her fantastic powers, like flight or x-ray vision.

The serpent doesn’t tell big lies; those are easier to spot.

It’s the small ones that got Eve. The serpent pretending to be on her side. The idea that God might be holding out on her. The thought that there might be something better.

In his commentary on Genesis, Terence Fretheim notes the serpent asked the initial question in a way that is difficult to give a simple “yes” or “no” answer to. Crafty, indeed.

Eve saw that the tree was not only good for food; it was also a delight to the eyes. These facts eventually became the center of her decision-making: If it’s good for food, it won’t hurt me. If it’s a delight to the eyes, it will give me pleasure. And that’s what is best for me.

We’ve been tempted to live that lie ever since.

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Be Fruitful and Multiply

Be Fruitful and Multiply

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them 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.”

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

Genesis 1:26-28 (NRSV)

At what point is one qualified to speak on relationships and sexuality?

When I started doing this job, single and in my mid-20’s, I was amazed that anyone would come sit in my office and ask me about anything. I spent those first couple of years just working on my poker face. (It did improve with every visit.) But 13 years later, I’ve yet to acquire the overwhelming confidence or accompanying facial expression that says, “Oh yeah, definitely tell me about your relationship stuff. I’ve got that down.”

I’ll tell you who I would trust when it comes to relationships:

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A Church Like That

A Church Like That

In the United Methodist Book of Discipline is a section called the Social Principles, which contains our denomination’s stance on seventy-six different issues. From abortion to bullying to sustainable agriculture to collective bargaining…you name it, we have some thoughts.

But the Social Principles are not church law. When you come forward to join our church, we don’t ask if you agree with our stance on any or all of these issues. We ask if you repent of your sin and confess Jesus Christ as your Savior. And we also ask if you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

So you can be a United Methodist (or a United Methodist pastor) and disagree with any portion of any number of our stances. With 76 items on the list, everyone does. This is one of the primary ingredients for the incredible diversity that can exist within our church.

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This Post is Sponsored by Jesus Christ

This Post is Sponsored by Jesus Christ

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

How do you talk about your church?

Last week a church marketing ad showed up in my Facebook feed. I clicked the link and traded my phone number and email address for a template that would supposedly solve all my problems following up with first-time visitors.

Nevermind the two texts, four emails, and one voicemail the company somehow left without actually calling me over the next 24 hours; I figured I was getting into some version of that. I was more surprised by the content of their can’t-miss strategies to reach visitors, like apologetic emails that know you’re busy but hey, could you maybe squeeze in church this week? Please?

Or emails designed to go out on Saturday with some form of, “I’ve been working on the sermon, and I’m excited about it!” Would a more honest version of this actually be more effective?

  • “Hey (name), I’ve been working on the sermon, and I just don’t know about this one.”
  • “Hey (name), it’s Saturday night and I’m convinced my sermon is trash, but sometimes that ends up being a good thing on Sunday morning. Come see which one it is this week!”
  • “Hey (name), I know I’m going to get an email from these three people about this week’s sermon. If you correctly guess how many additional emails I get this week, you’ll be entered to win the new car we’re giving away on Christmas Eve!”

All of this, plus the fact that their template encourages me to follow up with first-time visitors in various ways for six days in a row. If I met anyone for the first time and they contacted me each of the next six days, I would call the police.

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Believing, Belonging, and Behaving in the United Methodist Church

Believing, Belonging, and Behaving in the United Methodist Church

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Around 15 years ago, I attended a workshop led by the late Dr. Stanley Grenz. He wrote the textbook we used a few years later for theology and doctrine in seminary, but that first impression remains the most memorable. Dr. Grenz wrote three words on an old-school white-paper easel:

Believe. Belong. Behave.

And then he asked which order was best when it comes to being part of a church.

If your church is like mine, it often goes in the order listed above. If you want to join our church, we ask if you believe the things we believe. If you do, we’ll let you belong. And once you belong…we hope you’ll behave. It’s not in the official liturgy, but, “Please don’t rob any banks or otherwise embarrass us publicly,” is often implied.

Is this the best way for people to enter into a relationship with a church?

All three of these words are at the heart of the conversation happening right now in the United Methodist Church. In February, the decision-making body of our denomination will meet to discuss our stance on human sexuality. One potential change, on the recommendation of our Council of Bishops, would give United Methodist churches and pastors the freedom to host and officiate same-sex weddings, if they so desired. This plan would also give the freedom to ordain LGBT clergy to each local board of ordained ministry. (The full 231-page report became public last month, which also includes a traditionalist option and a proposal to create multiple branches within the denomination.)

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