On June 9, I preached the final part of the sermon series “United.” It was entitled “United in the Spirit” and was based on Acts 2:1-21.
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On June 2, I preached a sermon entitled “United in Christ” based on John 17: 20-26. This is part two of a three-part series called “United.”
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On May 26, I preached the sermon “United in Love” based on John 14:23-29. This is the first part of a three-part series, “United.”
My latest for the Longview News-Journal
Over the past few years, a new phrase has entered the American lexicon: “fake news.” This term is defined as any news that reported intentionally as false, or someone chooses not to believe.
We now live in a world of skeptics: satire and fake news plague our social media and news reports. People share fake stories and misleading information all the time. There are entire websites such, as Snopes.com and factorfiction.com, devoted to debunking popular memes, photos, or news stories.
Why do people share these unverified stories so quickly and readily on social media? The simple answer is that want to be right. They want to prove their point without having to listen to the other side, without having to consider that maybe (just maybe) they might be wrong. The internet is excellent for this. We have created echo chambers to confirm what we already believe. We return to the same sources of information to confirm our biases.
If we are so quick to do so with news stories, are Christians doing the same thing with the Bible? Are we just returning to the Bible to reinforce what we already believe about God, Jesus the Christ, the movement of the Spirit, etc.? I am not advocating that having constant faith is a bad thing, but we need to consider that our positions may be changing or that we have questions about the faith we hold so dear.
The Bible tells us that after the resurrection Jesus went to the disciples. They were amazed he had come, but Thomas was not with them. Upon hearing the news of the resurrected Christ, Thomas expressed doubt that the event had even taken place.
Thomas gets a bad rap in this text. He is forever known as the doubter. We forget that he was faithful and theologically alert in previous chapters of the gospel of John. No, that doesn’t matter. We treat Thomas like a basketball player entrusted with the game-winning shot to defeat the archrivals and win the championship. But Thomas just dribbles out of bounds as time expires.
Poor Thomas. He’s the eternal punching bag of Christians so we can try to feel superior. We puff out our chests and say we wouldn’t dare falter at the news of the risen Christ; we wouldn’t dare deny the Messiah after the Resurrection. Not us — no way.
No one ever mentions the disciples after the crucifixion were hiding because of the attention their faith brought them, but we remember Thomas. Thomas was not wrong for doubting, but this is. Unfortunately, it’s the tidbit people pull out.
Too many Christians focus on the ways not to be Thomas, but I believe this is the wrong avenue to take with regards to doubt. I don’t think Thomas should be our punching bag or the bad guy of the story. Doubting, questioning, and clarifying our faith is a natural process.
All of our lives, we are trying to connect our faith to the world around us. We begin to see how Biblical principles and teachings line up with what we know to be true. But there are times when things do not fit together as well as we would like; things just do not make sense.
At the core of the Thomas story is the understanding of faith; more specifically believing and seeing, faith and doubt. Questioning is not unfaithfulness. Doubting is not unfaithfulness. If anything, it is the most faithful thing you could do, because you are genuinely trying to ascertain what you know and begin to establish a faith that can withstand the storms of life.
I am proud to be a part of a group of ministers that sees the value of conversation and discussion around important social and theological topics. Thanks to the Longview News-Journal for writing this article and putting us on the cover of View Magazine.
Were the whole realm of Nature mine
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all!
–verse 4, “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross”
My latest for the Longview News Journal.
In a little less than 600 days, Americans will return to the voting booth for another presidential election.
Think about that: 600 days.
We are traveling down a long road many of us remember in 2016 as being ugly, rude, contentious and rhetoric-filled. It makes me wonder: Can we handle another stress-filled election? Will America be even more divided by November 2020?
Already, nearly two dozen candidates have tossed their hats into the ring for nomination by the major political parties. And already, name-calling and smear campaigns are beginning and social media debates are popping up over issues more nuanced than most arguments acknowledge.
Maybe we simply are not ready to have meaningful conversations about policy. So we find ourselves slinging one-liners and memes at others in an effort to prove we’re “right,” to feel superior.
It already feels like it is going to be a long “election” season.
I know this isn’t anything new, but it has become more mainstream. On top of that, many of us have fallen into the trap of thinking we are somehow immune to such behavior; we would never stoop so low as to call adherents to a particular political value demeaning or derogatory names. We would never condense deeply complex issues to 240 characters and an emoji. Would we? I have to admit I do these things from time to time; I struggle not to lash out at those who disagree with me on a variety of issues.
As a follower of Christ, I am called every day to live out my faith in a meaningful and tangible way. Theology of the head is pointless unless it produces faith of the heart. Theologian Paul Tillich once wrote, “There is no faith without participation.” This comes, however, at a great price.
As people of faith, we must examine our beliefs and practices from time to time. Blind allegiance to a belief system is dangerous. There will be times in our walk of faith that go against something else in our world. Maybe it is a political stance or even a previously held theological position. Growing and changing in the faith is a good and natural thing. No one believes the same things they did one, five, seven, or 10 or more years ago.
There is a war of wills happening within people’s hearts. People are finding themselves asking if they can really go against previously held beliefs for the sake of the faith. What will my friends think? More importantly, what will God think? What will my church think, my pastor think? If we are acting out of trying to be right and not trying to live out a position of faith, we have missed the mark.
Before Election Day 2020 comes, conversations about important issue need to take place. These conversations should not be limited to social media platforms where we can hide behind a screen name and block or unfriend someone if they disagree with us. We need to have these conversations face to face. The goal is not to change someone’s mind about how their voting stance is wrong; this is the task of learning, of growing and trying to understand.
Learning from others, hearing different viewpoints, helps us understand their position. Having conversations face to face over lunch or coffee humanizes the other person. Instead of them being a caricature of a political party or idea, they can now be seen as a child of God. This recognition changes the entire framing of the conversation. Instead of being reduced to words on a screen, they are now a human made in the very same image of God, as are we all.
Churches can play a vital role in these conversations. If a church is not the place to ask meaningful questions about how faith can be enacted in the world, then what good is it?
There are many different ways to see an issue and no one has a firm grasp on all of it. On top of that, many people are acting out their faith through their political understandings. How people arrive at those decisions helps us understand the things they deem as important and meaningful.
Between now and November 2020, let’s try to get to know our neighbors, our co-workers, those we go to church with in a better way. I am sure there are people in your social spheres who believe differently than you do. Do not see this as a negative. Rather, see it as opportunity to grow and be pushed to think differently.
If you consume news from one news source alone try to mix it up a bit. Read with an open mind and maybe you will see there is more common ground than you thought.
Sound too simplistic? Maybe. But if we don’t find a way to have meaningful conversations without tearing each other down, it is going to be a long road to Election Day.
One year ago this month a group of ministers in the Longview area started a Theology on Tap group. It has been a great avenue for people to discuss their theology positions and hear new ones to help them get a fuller picture of who God is and what God is doing in the world. Below is a link to an article about the one year anniversary of Theology on Tap.