Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Render to Caesar, or Render to God?

If you've read any of my blogs, you know that I am a political cynic, and a registered Independent (you have to register as something, they told me at the County Clerk's office). And in this presidential election, quite frankly I have no wisdom in knowing who would make the better president.

But a news article caught my eye yesterday: "Obama dismisses Dobson criticism about Bible." I read the article and immediately thought as I always do, "media spin." So I listened to Dobson's speech that he gave on Focus on the Family's radio program, and thought to myself that Dobson (and associate Tom Minnery) had made some very bold claims about Senator Obama. So I then found the 2006 Obama speech in question that Dobson is so critical of, and read it.

I have always been appreciative of James Dobson's work with raising children in a Christian home, child development, and Christian-based sex education for children and youth. But as the years went on, Dobson became less of a Christian child psychologist and more of a political figure - yet cloaking himself as an evangelical leader. I think for the most part he has been reputable, and while I might not always agree with some of his holdings and beliefs, I think he's honest. At least I did... until now.

I would like to be able to put Dobson in the same category as Rush Limbaugh, Al Franken, Sean Hannity, and Alan Colmes. But I can't. Those guys are entertainers, pundits, and not to be taken that seriously in the grand scheme of things. But Dobson should know better. He is an evangelical (I claim that term myself, as all Methodists historically should). And evangelicals place the truth and Word of God above all. Even above politics. Even above presidential elections.

If you read what Obama said in 2006, and read what Dobson said yesterday, Dobson is not just distorting or spinning the truth; he's lying in a few places. I will concede that perhaps Dobson didn't actually do the research or write what he read and/or said on his broadcast, but he is responsible. You don't throw around the term evangelical lightly - to claim the term means to claim the responsibility and calling. Moreover, it is quite possible that Christians - especially evangelical Christians - have no business in such banter and media coverage.

Three scriptures come to mind when dealing with secular governments and Kingdom work. One is from Matthew 22: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s." Another from John 18: "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” And the last from Acts 5: "We must obey God rather than men.”

Does Dr. Dobson have a right to speak his opinions? Of course. Can he tell people how to vote? If he wants (you do have to be careful about 501(c)(3) regulations, though). Can he even distort the truth and engage in political rhetoric? Most certainly. But can he do these things and claim to do it as an evangelical? Well, I'll let his own conscience be his guide.

The most damning thing Focus on the Family did to itself was say this: "Without question, Dr. Dobson is speaking for millions of evangelicals because his understanding of the Bible is thoroughly evangelical."

Does that include not speaking the truth? Proverbs 6 tells us that there are seven things that are an abomination to the Lord: "Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that hurry to run to evil, a lying witness who testifies falsely, and one who sows discord in a family."

How many of those did Dr. Dobson ring up? And in light of that, how many Evangelicals want him speaking for them?

Not me.

Am I an Obama fan? No. Nor am I a loyal Democrat. But whether I like a candidate or not, if I am a proclaimed Christian and evangelical, I have no business scheming and lying just to get folks to vote for the other guy. That's the job of pundits and entertainers. Christians, particularly evangelical Christians, should always speak the truth. To lie, especially under the umbrella of Evangelical Christianity, is an abomination to the Lord. God knows the motives of our hearts.

There is no excuse. Shame on you, James Dobson and Focus on the Family. You've just modeled bearing false witness and hypocrisy for our children.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Gasoline, Work, Stewardship, and Unexpected Surprises

Last night, I was eating a very late supper with two friends that I officiate basketball with (one of them grew up in a Methodist parsonage). We had officiated several ballgames at a summer high school camp, and the three of us had ridden our motorcycles to the games - both for fun, and to save money on gas. We were remarking how hard our parents and grandparents worked, and how much easier by comparison that we have it. Sending kids to college, paying bills, and the like are still not easy, but we were telling these stories while eating a pretty good meal in a nice restaurant.

There are all kinds of political, social, and economic reasons and theories about why the price of oil is going up, that the government should intervene, etc. I am not fluent enough in any of those areas to risk an opinion there. I just know that the reality is that gasoline costs over $4 a gallon. For some, it is going to be an economic hardship. For me, I am having to reassess priorities and travel.

I can't get around the fact that I have to drive a lot to do ministry. It is never a stretch to drive as many - if not more - miles that I am budgeted to be reimbursed for; it doesn't take long at 50.5¢ a mile! And while my old BMW gets 24 mpg, my old motorcycle got 40.

My old bike had a lot of miles and years; it was a 1993 model. So I finally quit being so cheap and bought a new bike about a month ago: a 2008 Kawasaki Vulcan Classic. It averages 45-50 mpg, and has a much bigger tank and engine than my last bike, and is already paying for itself at the pump: I pay half what I used to pay for my car to go the same distance! The weather has been outstanding this past month, and I have ridden to work, on errands, and in making pastoral and hospital calls. Yes, I occasionally run into the occasional storm - that's why they make rainsuits. I also realize from my trip to England that pastors have to be very creative in their transportation because of costs. So instead of just riding for fun, I tend these days to ride out of economics. A strange thing has happened in the process.

I used to loathe driving during work hours - I hate the waste of time that driving takes. You can't run an errand or make a hospital call in less than an hour in Paducah, and if I have someone in the hospital at Vanderbilt, I have just lost a whole day just by driving. It is certainly work that needs to be done, but I often wish I could snap my fingers and be transported directly to my destination instead of wasting the hours driving there.

But I have started enjoying the drive now. Riding a motorcycle is glorious, and the sights are always seen with a 360° view. I get a few stares when wearing a clerical collar, but that's an inconvenience at best. The strange things are the conversations that emerge. Motorcycles are always conversation starters, i.e., "Nice bike." "I'll pay for your gas if you'll pay for mine!" When it gets more interesting is when someone asks, "What do you do for a living?" When I tell them, the reactions range from uncomfortable silence to wide grins. And that sometimes leads to very interesting and blessed conversations and opportunities.

Who would have thought a little evangelism would save me money?


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Radical Hospitality – Just Don’t Say It, Do It

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." - Matthew 9:35-38

My good friend and colleague Johnny Jeffords recently wrote on his blog about our Annual Conference’s theme, “Radical Hospitality.” He makes a great statement:
Radical comes from the word from which we get "root." Too many of us think of radical as being whacked out - on the fringe. Radical hospitality is the opposite - it moves us to the essential nature of our being - the foundation of who we are. And for the Christian community, that root can be none other than Jesus of Nazareth.

Dr. Jeffords warns us, though, that it doesn’t need to be practiced as the latest action plan or evangelism program – it needs to be practiced in our daily discipleship. In short – practicing radical hospitality is to practice being the essence of Jesus Christ.

Will it get you into trouble? Most assuredly. There was a reason that Jesus was called a drunkard and glutton: he was seen eating meals with prostitutes and publicans, and probably had a glass of wine or two while he did it. When people disapproved of his messages and ministry, they used these things against him. Since he was unmarried, I am sure some of his critics liked to think (and say) that he was either a womanizer or gay.

So, if we’re radical in both our hospitality and our discipleship, we may need to be prepared and prayed up to face the critics and naysayers. Some will say you’re crazy to welcome “those folks” into your church or Sunday School class. Some outside of our church will see our new parking lot and wonder, “I wonder who died and left them the money to do that?” Radical hospitality and discipleship is liable to get Reidland United Methodist Church labeled as “the crazy church.”

I hear RUMC’s preacher has a beard and rides a motorcycle, too…


Thursday, June 05, 2008

Annual Conference 2008

I am always tired after Annual Conference, but I must say I am very excited about some new direction for our annual conference.

Five new Annual Conference Priorities were announced – and this time not just with words, but with a plan and mechanism in place to implement them:

1. Intentional Discipleship with Wesleyan Distinctiveness
2. Congregational Vitality and Revitalization
3. Leadership Development
4. Faith Community and New Church Development
5. Outreach Advocacy

A Lay Resource Leader (LRL) will be identified in each District. Then, a unique partnership will be formed between the District Superintendent, LRLs, District Lay Leaders & Director of the CMT to address ministry needs. The emphasis? On the local church! We have conference staff in our own district!

Thanks to our own Jerry Severns and James Brockman for representing us at Annual Conference. James also stuck around an extra day to hear Adam Hamilton’s presentation on Wednesday.

It was all a very good celebration of ministry. But it’s good to be home.