The following is a blog post from a fellow church planter, Rev. Travis Garner. With permission, we share Travis's thoughts on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage:
Unless you’ve not been paying attention to anything going on in the world, you know that this week was a landmark week in the United States, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could no longer ban marriage between same-sex couples. In many ways, the way the decision was reached and the response on social media are more indicative of the current state of our culture than the decision itself. It was a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court, and the justices were very divided in their writings on the decision. If you’ve been reading social media (and who hasn’t?), you’ve seen incredibly divided responses as well. I have good friends, people of faith, who fall across the spectrum on their response to this ruling.
The question I’m pondering this morning as I prepare to head to church is this: How do you pastor a congregation in a 5-4 world?
The fact of the matter is that we are a divided nation, a divided people. In today’s culture, every possible division between people is emphasized and expanded and exaggerated and exploited. Everything is turned into an “either/or” scenario. Either you agree with me, or you’re a bigot. Either you agree with me, or you’re completely immoral.
This week, there are people who, in the midst of their story and their struggle are celebrating equality. But this week, there are also people who disagree, people who have a different story and a different experience. The reality is that there are not “two sides” on this issue. There’s not a singular gay experience or a singular straight experience. Each of us has a different story, unique experiences, particular struggles, and when we make anything a simple “either/or,” we greatly miss the mark. When we proclaim from our soapboxes that you’re either in favor of this decision or you’re a hateful bigot, we’re being shortsighted. When we say you’re either against this decision or you’re championing immorality, we’re failing to understand the complex reality in which we find ourselves.
What I’m feeling this morning as I prepare to head to worship in such a divided time and cultural landscape, is a deep sense of gratefulness that I believe in a God who loves all people. I’m thankful to be part of a church that has an open table: all people are invited to sit at God’s table. Which means, by the way, that people with whom I strongly disagree are loved by God and invited to sit at God’s table. People who are and have been hurtful to me are loved by God and invited to sit at God’s table. After all, Jesus died for bigots. Jesus died for the immoral. Jesus died for all of us.
Every single one of us in the family of God are a mix of saint and sinner, of struggle and victory, of lost and found. None of us, singularly, have it all figured out. We need each other, the people who think and act like us, but maybe even more particularly the people who are different from us. For it is in our difference and diversity that the body of Christ finds its true strength.
As a pastor, I’m a pastor to both the 5 and to the 4. I’m a pastor to people who sharply disagree with one another. And the bottom line is this: all are welcomed in my church and loved unconditionally by God. And all are asked and enabled to become more than what they are when they walked in the door – a person who is continually growing and transforming into the likeness of Christ. I am grateful that this morning, at my church, there will be space for everyone; all are invited.
From Ephesians 4: May we all be rooted and established in love, completely humble and gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Remembering that there is one body and one Spirit, and one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
To read more of Travis's thoughts, visit his blog at www.travisgarner.net. To learn more about his new church plant in the Nashville-area, visit www.thevillagenashville.com.
This past Saturday, our Launch Team held its first meeting. It was a Spirit-filled time together as we sat in a living room, sang hymns, prayed prayers, listened to a message from Danielle Strickland (a church planter with the Salvation Army), discussed important dates, and planned future events for when Peace Tree launches this year.
As we began our work together, I thought of the quote from the philosopher, Lao Tzu, that you see above: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." I honestly believe and have faith that God is planning to do something special with the people who will make up Peace Tree. We have yet to hold a House Group worship gathering. Neither have we hosted a Celebration Service where we will come together, worship God, and celebrate all the amazing things that God has done over the past week. But we have taken our first step in that direction. I do believe that the journey will be one of "a thousand miles," not just a half-marathon, or a walk around the block. There is much to do, but we have taken a single step down the path that God has prepared for us.
Sitting in that living room, talking with the enthusiastic members of our Launch Team, I also thought about Christ and the original disciples. God started a movement with one person named Jesus, who then shared God's mission and vision with others who came alongside him to do the work of God's Kingdom. And before you knew it, there were 13 where there was once 1. All of us are following Christ and being discipled to Christ, and thankfully our numbers are slowly growing as well. We all look to Jesus to be our shepherd, and I am grateful that I have the awesome responsibility of serving as the Lead Pastor.
God may be calling you to join us. God may also be calling you take on another task, another project, or a different type of ministry. Whatever it is, whether it be great or small, remember that your journey will also begin with a single step. May God give you the courage to take that step.
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
Today, my heart is saddened as I think about my brothers and sisters living in the Palmetto State mourning the loss of nine South Carolinians who were killed while attending a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. In times of unspeakable tragedy, we ask the question, "Why?" Why did this happen, why were good people murdered, and why did God allow this to happen? While the stock answer is "Everything happens for a reason," I want to suggest that this answer is not fair to the families and community experiencing this great loss, and perhaps this answer is too quick and easy an explanation for such a complicated world created by such a mighty God.
Fellow pastor Adam Hamilton wrote a book in 2011 entitled Why? Making Sense of God's Will. In it, he shares, "The sweeping message of the Bible is not a promise that those who believe and do good will not suffer. Instead the Bible is largely a book about people who refused to let go of their faith in the face of suffering." Already, the people of Charleston have shown us that they refuse to let go of their faith in the midst of this tragedy. Christians, city leaders, and members of the community gathered this morning at Morris Brown AME Church for a prayer vigil. Others gather on the street in front of 'Mother Emanuel' to pray with one another and to comfort one another. The people of Charleston have rightly showed us that, while there may be no answer for these thoughtless killings, true comfort and hope is found in God. When you are asking the question "Why?," turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Even as we hold onto faith, we ask why tragedies occur in a world that was called "good" at its creation. For this, Hamilton supplies three foundational ideas:
I have often said that God's answer for the injustices of the world is humanity! Human beings are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. The Church serves as the Body of Christ. And the redemption of the world came in the Son of Man. We are responsible for this world, but at times we choose what is evil over what is good; we choose the wrong path as opposed to choosing God's path. But with God's help, we can choose what is just and good; we can right the wrongs of this world and help usher in a day when God's Will shall be realized on earth as it is in Heaven.
During the writing of this post, the suspected gunman, Dylann Roof, has been apprehended. Many will call for swift justice and will want to take his life for the lives of those he murdered. As a Christian, I first seek out Peace, and today I call for Peace with Justice. We have a responsibility to choose good over evil and to walk the Way that Jesus walked. How can we look upon Dylann the way that God sees him? How can we treat him as a Child of God who must now live with the consequences of his actions?
I challenge the stock answer "EVERYTHING happens for a reason." I see no reason in last night's mass murder. And I do not believe that God willed this event to happen. But I do know that God will never leave my side, and I do trust that God is with the members of Emanuel AME Church and the people of Charleston at this very moment. For those of you who do not know where to turn, I encourage you to look to God. Adam Hamilton writes, "Rejecting God doesn't change the situation that has caused our suffering; it only removes the greatest source of hope, help, comfort, and strength we have." Remember that evil and tragedy do not have the final word. God is Love, and Love Wins.
+Peace with Justice from Pastor Kris
When I was growing up as a teenager in South Carolina, my family loved watching the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? We never knew what was going to happen next since it was "the show where everything is made up and the points don't matter." The art of improvisational comedy intrigued me and further held my attention as I attended seminary. A group of fellow pastors-in-training formed the improv troupe Axe of the Apostles, and during one of their performances, I got called up on stage as a volunteer from the audience. The lesson I learned that day is one that can serve very useful and helpful to all Christians as we answer the call to ministry and take up our cross to follow Christ: always say Yes!
There are several stories in the Bible where individuals are called by God to perform a task or deliver a message. Some of those individuals say Yes! while others have fought God and initially say NO. Two persons who said NO come to mind; their names are Moses and Jonah. Moses cited his speech impediment to excuse him from delivering God's message to Egypt, and Jonah did not want to travel to the wretched city of Nineveh and had pre-judged them from the outset. The long story short is this: God is able to lead us from No to Yes. God finds a way to take our excuses and seemingly solid justifications and shows us how God's way is truly the best and most righteous path to take. God has a way of turning our No into a Yes. I consider all the people who said Yes! to God from the beginning and the outcome of their stories - Samuel, Isaiah, Mary, and the disciples as they were invited to follow Jesus. If you are new to Christianity, then Google "the Gospel of Luke" and read Mary's response to God's angel in the first chapter. I pray that your response to God's call on your life will be like Mary's. Keep reading through that gospel to see how the disciples drop everything to say Yes! and follow Jesus.
In her book Bossypants, Tina Fey continues to build upon the improv rule of "always say Yes!" when she adds, say "Yes!...And..." Sometimes, simply agreeing to a task or situation is not enough; we have to say, "And..." This keeps an improv sketch alive so that everyone continues to pretend that Drew Carey's belt is really a snake and that Wayne Brady can actually speak German. Without saying "And..." the entire movement of the bit would come to an awkward halt. Watch the revival of Whose Line on the CW this summer, and you'll understand the power of agreeing to a situation with YES and the momentum of building upon previous events by saying AND.
All of us who have breath are being called upon by God for a task of one sort or another. Turn to the examples of Isaiah and Mary and the disciples to see how people have been blessed by answering YES to God. But don't just stop there; be sure to keep the story going by saying "And..." Whenever we say YES, we become part of God's larger story. By saying AND, we get to add our God-given talents and abilities to the situation. Just imagine the conversation: Yes God, I will feed the hungry, AND I will work with local organizations to start a new soup kitchen. Yes God, I will follow you to the inner city, AND I will invite others who may be wrestling with the same calling in life. Yes God, I will share the good news of the Bible, AND I will help train up new leaders to share their God-stories as well.
Take a page out of the improv comedy playbook: don't be afraid to answer Yes! to God. But don't just stop there. Keep God's story going with your AND.
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
How often do you think about breathing? For almost all of us, breathing comes naturally and happens without thought. Not much effort goes into breathing in and exhaling out.
Now, how often do you think about prayer? I confess, that most of my prayers come before meals, at night as I prepare to sleep, and if a major need or emergency arises and I need God to do something for me right now and right away! The truth is that most of us don't pray every moment of every day, and if called upon to pray for a meal or for a friend most would say, "I'm not qualified to pray!"
But a pastor that I greatly respect recently met with me and others and shared the concept of a Breath Prayer, something that anyone can do and can do well. Breath prayers are meant to be short and constantly repeated until they become second-nature (just like breathing). And breath prayers are simple enough to complete in three steps:
1. Claim the need that you have in life. For some, the greatest need is for Patience. For others, it's Understanding. And yet for others still, the need is for Peace. Whatever it is, the first step is claiming the thing that you need most.
2. Address God with the term you most closely identify God with. For some, it's Lord Jesus, Messiah, or Christ. Or it can be as simple as Father, Creator, or just God.
3. Ask God to fulfill your need. It's as simple as that!
We recommend addressing God as you breathe in, and then petitioning God for the need you named earlier as you breathe out.
So, a breath prayer can look as simple as: "God, give me peace," or "Lord Jesus, help us to understand." Jesus himself prayed a breath prayer while dying on the Cross: "Father, forgive them..."
I encourage you to try it out for yourself. Follow the three steps and create your own breath prayer. Now, start praying this simple prayer, this most basic request, for a full 24-hour day. You'll be amazed by the impact it'll have on your day and your outlook on the future. And you'll realize that God is with you always, just a breath away.
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
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