When One Door Closes…

I haven’t really mentioned it here or on the various social media outlets but tomorrow will be my last day at my current church in Orange, Texas.  Due to the decline of church attendance and the economy, the church informed me back in May that come September 1 I would no longer be able to be paid.

I have spent the last few months interviewing and traveling trying to find a new placement; it hasn’t been the most pleasant of summers.

I guess it didn’t really hit of the finality of it all until last week when I was writing my second to last sermon.  It wasn’t like I didn’t know that the end was coming, but like most things we dread, we try to put it away from our mind; I think the professionals call it “denial.”

And now on the eve of my last sermon at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Orange, Texas I am struck with the notion that it truly is the final one.  I struggled at times to craft the right parting words and realized that no such words exist.  So I composed a hope filled sermon based on the final words and commands of Christ in John.  (I’ll post the sermon audio tomorrow).  Through it all I was reminded that the words that I write do not matter, rather it is the Spirit’s movement in the moment and in the hearer’s life that makes the difference.

It has been a roller coaster of emotions- anger, fear, sadness, grief, etc. and I am not sure what the future will hold.  I am hopeful and I there are good things on the horizon (more of that to come later).

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

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Sermon- The “Harsh” Message of Jesus

Today I preached a sermon entitled “The ‘Harsh’ Message of Jesus” based on John 6:56-69 (Common English Bible).

Enjoy!

Sermon Link

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

When Did We Stop Caring For People?

Latest article for the Orange County Record


Humans in general are pretty predictable.   We drive to work the same way, we go shopping at the same store, we drink our coffee at the same time in the morning, etc.  However, it generally when things are out of the ordinary that people start to take notice.

A couple of weeks ago, “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day” was met with Facebook posts, tweets, blog posts, rants and more than likely sermons all centered around the notion that a company can support anti-same sex marriage policy.  Many people agreed with this and many people did not.

Like I mentioned in my previous article, the problem with this debate is that no one actually talked about the real issue, same sex marriage.  People were marginalized and stereotyped based on prejudices.  Throughout this entire ordeal I became aware that humanity indeed is quite callous and ego centric.

Only a few days after this outpouring of support for Chick-Fil-A, an armed man opened fire on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.  Six worshippers and the gunman lost their lives.  It was a tragic and senseless event.  However, while there were news reports, there wasn’t the outpouring that was seen with Chick-Fil-A.  This, my friends, is quite disturbing.

When did we stop caring for people?  Can you imagine the outcry if someone would have murdered people in a church in small town America?  There would have been candle light vigils, facebook pictures of memorial, tweets of support and prayer and blog posts flooding the internet.  What does it say about our country and even followers of Christ when more time and effort is spent on a chicken sandwich than on seven lives lost?

People sadly only care about what they believe affects them or threatens them.  Because of this many people failed to have the one thing that Christ himself calls us to have, compassion.  If we believe that all of humanity is created in the image of God, then our hearts should break over the loss of life, no matter their religion, belief system, sexual orientation or background.  Christ’s compassion is given to all people, in all place and all times, not just to people who think like us, look like us, work like us or come from the same background as us.  This goes against the gospel message.  When did the gospel of love turn into the gospel of conditional love?  Was God’s love given to us on conditions?  No it was not.  The love of God is given to all of humanity as a free gift.

As followers of Christ, we are to live our life in a way that reflects that divine, perfect and wonderful love.  For followers of Christ we believe that this divine love was perfected in human form in the person of Jesus the Christ.  As we journey throughout our lives we are constantly trying to find ways to show and give this love away to other, with no strings attached.  Unfortunately, humans have yet again found a way to marginalize ‘the other.’  Too often in churches around the world, people are not met with open arms they are met with a list of ways they need to change before they are allowed to enter the congregation.  While this may not be explicitly said, there is however, an undercurrent of moral superiority that takes place within the four walls of some church buildings.

How is it fair to have been given unconditional love but fail to give it in return?

We cannot claim that God’s love is for everyone and then try to put conditions on it.  That is like saying to someone, “I will only love you fully if you do this for me.”  By giving unconditional love we then are opening ourselves up to the possibilities of what God can do through us.  We are able to see someone for who they are, who they were created to be.

I pray for comfort for the families of the seven who died in Wisconsin.  The loss of innocent life is one of the worst things that can ever happen to a family or community.  May the compassion of God rain down.

Opening Ceremonies = Acceptance?

Every two years the world sets its sights on a different location in the world for either the summer or winter Olympic Games. The Olympics Games showcase the best of athletic skill and poise. As the games begin the Opening Ceremonies show the world that despite the differences between cultures, religions, belief systems and even war conflicts, the spirit of competition and sportsmanship prevail.

Perhaps we as followers of Christ can learn from these Olympic athletes, not in the sense of striving for athletic perfection but for acceptance. Too often we can have preconceived notions regarding a group of people or even a religion. We jump to conclusions, we make wild accusations and claims, all because we believe we have superior views or concepts over others.

Jesus Christ calls us to a different standard. We are called to welcome the stranger, love the other, and pray for our enemy. Jesus’ command is one that made the law of God harder and for some it too difficult to follow. It is easier to think we have it all figured out and that our ways are the best but as followers of Christ we cannot act this way.

If we claim to be followers of Christ, then we must show it all people at all times in all places; we cannot show the love of Christ when we want or when it is convenient, or when we like the people we are around. By doing so we are putting conditions on love, something God did not do to us. I John 4:19 reads “we love because God first loved us.” The author of I John is stating that the only reason you have the capacity to love another human being is because God first loved you; by putting conditions on love we are limiting the unconditional love that was shown to us and squandering a free gift that was given by God. What makes us the moral standard for people? We are sinful and prideful and arrogant, just like other people. We have been given grace and we must show grace, we have been given love and we must show love, we have been given acceptance and we must accept others no matter their race, creed, skin color, socio-economic status or sexual orientation. All are children of God and deserve our love, respect and care. By denying that from people, we are effectively denying the love of God from them. Who are we to deny people the love of God? It was given to us freely, so we should give it freely as well.

Loving others despite differences is hard and it something that can take a life time and some hard work, much like the life of an Olympic athlete.

Let us remember to love one another because God has loved us so much.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

The Problem With The Chick-Fil-A Debate

My latest article for the Orange Leader regarding the on going Chick-Fil-A Debate


It has been all over the news; talking heads from both sides of the aisle have taken to airwaves to voice their opinion  Argument have started between friends, feelings have been hurt, names have been called.   Hundreds, if not thousands of Facebook posts and Tweets have flown through the internet regarding a particular chicken sandwich company– Chick-Fil-A.

Recently, as you may recall, the owner of the national restaurant chain stated on a Atlanta radio show that his company was “guilty as charged” amid reports that he did not support same-sex marriage.  He further explained that he is running his company on Biblical principles and that society has no business trying to refine “traditional” marriage.

Reports have come out that support this; Chick-Fil-A has given millions to organizations who actively oppose same-sex marriages.  With all of these things combined, a firestorm broke out.  Some people are now boycotting the restaurant because they do not want their money to go to causes that discriminate against a certain group of people. Others however  are actually eating there more believing that the more they eat there, the larger the profit, which then in turn will cause Chic-Fil-A to give more money to anti same-sex marriage organizations.

Jim Henson has pulled their toys from kid’s meals at the restaurant. The mayors of Boston and Chicago have spoken publicly about this issue.  Former Governor Mike Huckabee has even started a “National Chick-Fil-A Day” to support Chick-Fil-A’s right to run their company how they want.  All of this is a gigantic mess.

The problem with the Chick-Fil-A debate is that it is just that, a debate.  People once again are choosing sides and are drawing metaphoric lines in the sand and people are hurling their “points of view” back and forth and back and forth.  No one is actually speaking to one another.  The anonymity of the internet and social media is one of the greatest tools that people have in this or any debate.  Someone can post something online with no regard to another person.  It is much easier to speak your mind when there is a monitor between you and the one you are speaking about.  Since no one is speaking to one another how then will a decent, intelligent conversation ever be had regarding the multitude of issues in this particular story?  The answer- it will not happen.

The hot button issue obviously here is same sex marriage.  This is something that people have been debating for years and still each side is getting angrier and angrier.  Where are the civic leaders calling for a forum?  Where are the church leaders calling for a discussion on this topic?  The answer lies deep within our own hearts, minds and souls.  The answer is most people do not want to hear the other side.  This side believes they are correct while this side believes they are correct.

Some churches recently have taken up the task of having faithful discussion about homosexuality and same sex marriage.  I applaud them for at least having the discussion.  Many more churches and Christians need to have this same discussion.  Too often when people tell me their view about this issue the answer generally is “well I am against it because it is wrong.”  No explanation, no interjection of scripture, no nothing.  It is just “their personal belief.”  Well it is time to have the conversation. I call on all Christians from all walks of life and backgrounds to have faithful conversations about this issue that is dividing the church.

By faithful I mean being open minded, wanting to be challenged, wanting to learn more, wanting to grow.  Not just espousing what you have been taught or what you think the Bible is directing Christians to do and become.  Christians today need to stop telling people what the Bible “says” and focus more on what Bible is calling the followers of Christ to become; let’s stop as Brian McLaren says going to the Bible to support want we already know about God.

The reason why people are not doing this is because to have this conversation means that one has to be vulnerable and accept the fact that what you might have been taught or always believed could be incorrect.  Charles Schultz, the creator of Peanuts Comics, once drew a comic that speaks to this notion.  Snoopy informs Charlie Brown that he is writing a book of theology; Charlie Brown asks Snoopy what the book will be titled and Snoopy replies, “Has It Ever Occurred to You That You Might Wrong?”  For many people this thought of being “wrong” has never crossed their mind.

In this Chick-Fil-A debate the key here is discussion.  Not rhetoric, not partisan politics, not conservative Christians against liberal Christians.  It is time that the church stops placing people on the periphery, speaking about them like they are outcast in society or that they have a mental illness.  Let’s talk about it.  Let’s actually have a discussion on why homosexuality is or is not a big deal in the church today.  Let’s talk about a loving God creating people and then turning around and hating them.  Let’s throw away the things that we were taught as children and come to an understanding of the love of God in a new and exciting way.

So let’s put down the chicken sandwich, stop the protesting and debating and come together.  You might be surprised what will happen.

And You Wonder Why People Aren’t Christians: Part VI

In the wake of the tragedy of Aurora, Colorado, I give you another reason why people aren’t Christians.

I could spend all day everyday on why Westboro Baptist Church makes it hard for the rest of Christianity. The members and leader of Westboro Baptist have made waves for protesting homosexuals, preaching that homosexuality is a sin and because of this sin God is punishing the United States by allowing terrible acts to occur and not protecting US soldiers in the country’s current conflicts overseas. Because of this belief, this group has also begun a tradition of picketing at solider funerals which has caused national outrage.

Well the people from Westboro are at it again.

According to their fearless leader, Fred Phelps, the membership of Westboro are going to Colorado to protest during a vigil for the those killed at the “Dark Knight Rises” premiere. See the tweet below and read the story here

One of the many problems I have with Westboro Baptist Church is that in my humble theological opinion they are completely distorting the gospel message. Their message is one that is egocentric and one where to have a relationship with God one must also be completely afraid of messing up. This is not the relationship that God is calling humanity to be in. This theological construct makes God look worse than a bully god, rather this particular understanding of God is one where God is a supreme overlord of hate and destruction. No grace, no love, no care, no forgiveness, no acceptance of others. To the members of Westboro Baptist, God is a God who likes things separated into either this or that, your either in or out and surprisingly they believe they are on the “right” side of God, that they believe the correct theological understanding and they have it all figured out.

In this particular situation, how does protesting a vigil aimed at bringing a community together and remember the loss of innocent life bring people to God? Answer in a nutshell, it doesn’t it. Do they truly believe that the family of the 12 people murdered want to hear that God in punishing America because of their ‘wicked ways’ and this same God chose their loved ones out of the 300 million people in the United States to suffer this punishment? Where do they get off thinking that they have the audacity to speak this vile non-sense to the people of Aurora, Colorado? And who would ever want to worship this particular God? And isn’t convenient that they just happen to believe the perfect belief system that God is calling humanity to follow?

Westboro Baptist has been one of the several black eyes that has plagued the world of Christianity. Their message is one filled with righteous indignation. I guess their Bible left out the whole “speck in your neighbor’s eye and log in your own” message of Jesus and the one about the unity and ministry of all believers. While they are busy wasting money promoting the anti-gospel, imagine what good they could have done if they had saved their money (which by the way was donated to the church) and used it for a cause like stopping poverty, violence, rape. Why not give the money to organization that provide clean water for millions of people who do not have access to it? Is their God a God who is solely concerned with homosexuality and “wickedness” that the rest of the gospel message doesn’t matter? I find this hard to believe.

Followers of Christ from all walks of life are called to bring the gospel message of love, joy, peace, grace and reconciliation to the world. It through this love of Christ and devotion to God that one makes the choice to live a different life. It is not “live a different life so God will accept you”, rather it is accepting God will cause a life change. It will because of the overwhelming presence of God and the awareness of the Spirit that will cause the change. Changing for the sake of pleasing a mean, bully, hate-filled God doesn’t help anyone.

The people of Aurora, Colorado need comfort in a time of complete uncertainty and loss. It is not a time to put salt in already gaping wound.

I hope that the people of Aurora will do what the people of College Station, Texas did and make a wall of people around the protestors so that family members and loved ones can mourn, remember and grieve in peace.

And Mr. Phelps or any member of Westboro Baptist Church if you are reading this, go back to your Bible and count the number of times Christ calls us to love one another despite our differences. You might be surprised… Christ tends to focus on it a lot.

My thoughts and prayers are with all of the people of Aurora as well as those who are going to protest.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

What Is Sacred To You?

Here is my latest article for the Orange County Record.


One of the aims of religion is to determine what is sacred or holy verses what is secular or profane.  Debates have been held to try to navigate this delicate delineation.  In Christianity the understanding of holy is pretty complex.  It is generally understood that the source of holiness in itself is God, but outside of that it is a bit difficult to pin down.

Some people believe that God is calling Christianity to a particular way of life: abstaining from certain actions, alcohol, foul language and pre-marital sex.  However others believe that if the followers of Christ should hold true to the commands of Jesus himself.  Others hold to the teachings of the writers of the letters and epistles more than anything else.  And still others believe in a combination of all three.  As you can see the sacred is not something that one can put in a check list and hope to attain easily.

For every person that proclaims to be a follower of Christ, there are that many understandings of God and expressions of what it means to serve Christ faithfully today.  On top of that, the notion of what is sacred varies from person to person as well.

This however this is not a bad thing when it comes to Christianity.  Too often the church is seen as a place that dictates laws or recites laws that they believe are from God.

The church is not a place that makes rules or establishes what it means to be holy, rather the church is a place where people can come and share their experiences and their expressions of faith.  By changing the mind set about what church is, people might have a better understanding of what Christianity is really about, trying to live as faithfully as possible to the teachings of God and Christ.

The problem that the church has found itself in is that it is trying too much to remove itself and fellow followers of Christ from the secular society, to try to make a holy community.  The problem with is that if we cannot agree on one proper interpretation of scripture then how can we begin to broach the question of what is sacred?

Each person has their own understanding of what is sacred.  I recently attended a seminar in which the keynote speaker stated that every person has their own personal canon when it comes to faith expression.  By canon I do not mean a weapon but an authoritative guide of what is holy.  For Christians the canon which guides their life is the Bible.  But even with that said, the Bible is different between Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant denominations. The word canon comes from a word that means “measuring stick,” so when we claim that the Bible is a canon, then we are stating that we use it to measure our lives and actions against it.

Many things can be sacred to people: scriptures like Psalm 23, 1 Corinthians 13, 1 John 4.  Things like music, art and dancing can bring us to a place of connection with the Divine; they can renew our faith and soul.  All of these things transport us to a deeper relationship with God and you may never have to set foot into a ‘church’ to find it.  During our life when the hard times set in we will all return to that place of comfort and rest; we will go to our sacred canon.  We will return to that place to seek out God once more.

Most people’s canons will grow and change over time and that is just fine.  Our relationship and understanding of God can never be static.  As we mature and have differing life experiences our view of God will change; this does not mean that the central driving message of God’s love for all and the acceptance of all people changes, rather the way that we understand God moving and working in the world does.

What is sacred to you may not be sacred to me.  What connects you to the divine may not connect me.  But by having conversation with the central understanding that we are all serving and worshiping the same God, then we might actually learn from one another.  I might not be a practicing member of an Orthodox church but I can learn from their liturgy, I might not be a practicing member of a Catholic church, but I can learn from their devotion to prayer and confession.

In the week ahead come try to find those places what connect you to the divine.  Do not try to find them in a list of rules or commands, rather in nature or art or in the so called secular world around you.  If we claim that God is everywhere then why are we only looking for God in a set of rules?  God is found a stream in the forest and in a painting by Van Gough.

Where will you see God and experience the sacred?  You might be surprised where you have overlooked God.

Sermon- Man Vs. Wild

Today I preached a sermon entitled “Man Vs. Wild” based on Matthew 4:1-11.

Sermon Link

In Christ,

 

Rev. Evan

America’s Only Hope?

My latest article for the Orange County Record


As the election season is about kick into high gear, the number of political attack ads will increase exponentially the closer we draw to November.  The claims will begin small by showing voting records and then will grow into personal attacks.  There is 141 days until the general election and it is only going to get worse.

One of the claims that political figures like to postulate is that they are the only hope for the future of America, their ideals and the country.  Each side of the isle will believe that they are the sure fire answer for America.  The other day I saw a bumper sticker and a yard sign that caught my attention.  It wasn’t for a certain political candidate or party, rather it read “Prayer: America’s Only Hope- 2 Chronicles 7:14.”

I looked up the scripture and it reads, “if my people who belong to me will humbly pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land,” (CEB 2011). This scripture is taken from a declaration from God to King Solomon.

There are some problems, however, with using this scripture for the sole advancement of the United States.  First, this scripture is taken out of context; this verse is taken from the middle of a sentence that God spoke of Solomon.  The complete sentence is “When I close the sky so that there is no rain or I order the locusts to consume the land or I send a plague against my people, if my people who belong to me will humbly pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.” (CEB 2011).  The author of 2 Chronicles is showing us that to the Israelite people there is a connection between what God is doing and what God can do.  The hinging factor in all of this is the willingness of the Israelite people.

Secondly, what “wicked ways” is this scripture calling humanity to turn away from?  Is there a list somewhere that I am not aware of?  Some would argue that it should be the scriptural laws contained within the Bible, but then which ones do we follow?  Does this mean that every God fearing Christian should be held to the 600+ laws contained in the Old Testament?  Or are these “wicked things” just a smattering of what certain religious communities and leaders believe is the true will of God?  Given the sheer number of Christian denominations and expressions how could one list ever be completely agreed upon?

With this said, this scripture cannot be applied to today and the current American economic or political landscape.  If we are to take the theology of this segment of scripture then we are stating that God is a vengeful, bully God.  We are staying that God is a God who will only do things for humanity if humanity acts a certain way.  Proponents of this theology believe that the problems faced in society and the world can all be solved if the world would just repent and turn back to God, then and only then would God be nice enough to grant the world peace and harmony.  Is God really that mad about so called “wicked things” that the one recourse God has is to send plagues and do nothing?  Is God punishing America for Harry Potter or Magic Mike?   I have a hard time believing this is the case. This is not the God that I know, love and serve.  Where’s the unconditional love that is espoused in churches and what about that amazing grace we proclaim?  Is that out the window because of the “decline of American values?”

God is not a God who sits on a throne and waits for people to mess up so that God may send a lightning bolt to the evil doer.  I am not saying that prayer is not a useful tool to connect with the Divine and to enter into a relationship with God, but thinking that just because you lied or stole a piece of gum when you were a child means that the suffering you are going through is your fault is far off the mark.

In a world where we like facts, to know why something is the way it is, we have a hard time understanding the movement of God in the world.  Why is there so much poverty in such a prosperous land?  Why are there so many cases of disease?  Why are children going to be hungry at night?  All of these questions and many more can keep us up at night but the fact of the matter is, the answer is not that they forgot to repent for some “wicked thing.”  As followers of Christ we called to bring wholeness to the broken, completeness to the incomplete.  This is not done by placing a bumper sticker on our cars or a putting a sign in our yard.  It is done by serving faithfully and boldly in a world that is desperate need of a ray of hope, care and love.

I am not saying that prayer is not needed in the world today, but claiming that God will restore the world when all of humanity thinks one particular way about God is a bit much.  It puts a lot of pressure on the followers of Christ and on God.  Let’s just work for the betterment of the world and stop blaming one another.

And You Wonder Why People Aren’t Christians: Part V

It has been a while since I have had to write in this series… but alas, Christians are giving Christians a bad name… again.

I want to thank my friend Amy for sending me this story, you can read it here.

Today we venture to the state of Alabama, known for its tolerance and racial equality… right?  Think again….

A Christian ministry based in Alabama held a ministry conference.  There was however one stipulation, it was for white people only… that’s correct, a white only Christian conference.

After doing a bit more research and watching some news videos (one posted below) I was shocked (sarcasm) to find out that the conference had KKK ties.

I respect every human beings right to believe what they want but the KKK is one that I have problems wrapping my brain around.  The notion that one particular race is the superior one and that it was ordained from God is logic that escapes me.

For starters, Jesus Christ himself wasn’t white. (I dont care what Hollywood or pop culture tells you… examples here, here and here and even the most popular one here). You would think that if God was going to make the white race the superior one, that God would indwell in a white man.  Secondly, if God is pro-white as these people claim, then why did God create other races to the begin with?  So they could be picked on, ostracized, killed, and tortured because they have pigment in this skin?  Wouldn’t it have just been easier for God not to create the other races and have a pure, white race to inhabit the earth?

Also, where in scripture is this supported?  I can not remember Jesus ever saying “and white people shall inherit the earth…”  In the video below the news reporter tries to ask this question.  The reporter brings up the fact that in Galatians 3 it states that  there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  There are numerous passages in the Bible that speak of the reconciliation of Christ and the unity of all believers.  Sure Christ was seen a counter cultural radical to some, but not a white supremacist.  He didn’t even preach that God was 100% pro-Jewish people either; remember the woman at the well and the parable of the Good Samaritan?  There are other instances where Christ was showing that the God of all the world is wanting to connect with all people of the earth.

The leader of the conference told the reporter that he was taking scripture out of context and was abusing the Bible… isnt that like the pot calling the kettle black? (no pun intended…)  I mean come on… really?  Is this even an argument?  The Bible has been used for and against pretty much every issue under the sun.  However, the notion that in the text there is a decree or teaching that to be a true faithful of God is to have a certain color skin, goes against the foundation of the gospel message itself.  This distorts a text that people have turned to for centuries to connect with the faithful of old, to understand (or try) the movement of God in the world and learn what is means to be a follower of Christ in the world today.

At the conclusion of this event, the white members where going to hold a “sacred cross burning.”   Umm…. OK….

Seriously?  Do they think that if they put the word ‘sacred’ that everyone will be ok with this?  Like sacred murder is ok because it is sacred?  Sacred grilled cheeses taste better because they are sacred?  This is a blatant attempt to justify a practice that has stood as the symbol of hate, racism and bigotry.

All of this is not what Christianity stands for.  Yes, there was a time when the church was on the wrong side of history and supported segregation and even slavery.  But as the church has grown and changed, so have our understandings of God and how God interacts in the world.  For the mast majority of Christians, the idea of burning a cross or segregating people based on skin color is appalling.  Some would argue that the church has not left its segregation roots; many churches today are still prodominately one race or another.  While this is true, it is not mandated by law and there are plently of integrated churches holding worship services together.  Because of this, it shows me that the church has a little more work to do in the area of race relations.  (The Disciples of Christ in 2001 cast a vision of being a “Pro-Reconcillation/Anti-Racism Church, read more about it here.)

The cause of Christ is one that aims to restore all people to wholeness and completeness, to show them a way to connect to the Divine.  Christ welcomed all and so should the church and all of those who claim to be Christ’s followers.

I dont care what color you skin, hair, nails, or clothes happens to be all should be welcomed to experience God.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan