Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Rumor Control"

One thing I want you to keep in mind is that as God leads us to do ministry, there is also that force in the world that will work hard to prevent us from going forward. We will be tempted to give in to the powers that divide and bicker and fight and gossip which tears down and does not build up the body of Christ. We will be tempted to act and react sheerly out of raw emotion--and that does not do any of us any good. We need to keep focused on God and focused on our calling to be a church that lives the reality of the love of God.

I am amazed at all the "stories" that have circulated about Appalachian MCC, its pastor, and some of its members. I have come to realize that this is a part of life; and when anyone is trying to do what is right in following God's calling, there will be those who circulate stories that just aren't true.

When I am presented with humorous bits of "gossip”, I can't help but laugh. It gives me a real chuckle. Unfortunately, when some people hear such gossip and rumors that circulate, not everyone reacts like I do. Some people will accept it at face value, or they will dismiss it or they will do what others are doing -- believe the stories and spread them to others . We need to guard ourselves from being drawn into such things that can cause us to become divided.

You see, there has been a lot been said in the past that I have had to deal with that is simply not fact. It is nothing more than gossip and tale bearing. Let me share with you some wisdom from the book of Proverbs. These are some verses I love and hope you will enjoy them as well. "Listening to gossip is like eating cheap candy; do you really want junk like that in your belly?" (Proverbs 18:8) Get the picture? You wouldn't want something that is bad for you--so why listen to gossip that is just as bad for you--spiritually?

I learned a long time ago that one wonderful way to bring gossip to an end was to do this. Someone will come to me and start out by saying something like this, "I've heard" . . . or . . . "Have you heard. . . " and then go on to share their bit of gossip. I respond, "Wow! Where did you hear that?" and usually the person will tell me. Then I always say, "Well, I am sure you won't mind if I ask 'so and so' about what you say they said." Almost always, the person sharing their bit of information will start to "spurt" and "stutter" and back peddle and ask that I not check their sources. Why? Because there is no basis in fact in what they are sharing.

You see, gossip is something that can do more harm to a ministry than most other things. It stirs up people’s emotions (usually the wrong ones) and causes division and strife where once there was peace and harmony. Another verse from Proverbs that might help illustrate this:
"When you run out of wood, the fire goes out; when the gossip ends, the quarrel dies down." (Proverbs 26:20) I think the point of the Proverb is quite clear--don't load “logs” on a fire that doesn't need to be built!

If there is a fire that needs to be built, it is the fire of the Spirit of God that calls us to work as one, to love as Christ loves us, and to seek to build each other up in God--not try to bring other down. It is what Paul told us in the letter to the Ephesians:
"Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with God and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that." (Ephesians 5:2) And also, "Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, 'How can I help'?" (Romans 15:2) Let us live lives that reflect the life and love of the Christ we claim to believe and follow. This is a time to prayer harder, believe more in the power of God's love, and to work together to bring the peace and unity of the Spirit of God that is ours in Christ!

So, if you want to know more about the stories or rumors that are floating about, you can always contact "Rumor Control." Or better yet, don't let the "logs" be put on the "fire" by not giving place to rumors or allowing a gossip to waste your time with their "cheap candy."

Let's keep our eye on the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus and let us run with patience that race that is before us to the glory of God.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"If You Talk the Talk, Then Walk the Walk!"

"Here's another old saying that deserves a second look: 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' [39] Is that going to get us anywhere? Here's what I propose: 'Don't hit back at all.' If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. [40] If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. [41] And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. [42] No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously."

These words come from what we know as “The Sermon On The Mount.” They are the collected sayings of Jesus directed to His followers—from the time they were first stated, until our time, and for all the ages. These words stir within us the challenge to rise above present circumstances and to show the grace that is ours in Christ as a testimony of the living presence of Christ in our lives.

Jesus was challenging us to make a difference. We can continue living like all those around us, and blend in, and simply demand our own way and will all the time at the expense of kingdom love and grace. Or, we can dare to make a difference by living the kingdom principles that we profess to believe.

This is never an easy thing. But it is sometimes a very necessary thing in light of the world in which we live and because of the fact that the eyes of the world are upon us. We can choose only to live like we are Christians when no one is watching us—when it is convenient for us—or we dare to live by the principles we profess all the time—day in and day out, 24/7—and in times when it inconvenient for us.

Jesus’ words to his followers are not “easy street” living. They are words that call upon his followers to be better than those who mistreat them and take advantage of them. They are words that call his followers to live by His example and His teachings—by doing no violence by word, thought, or action. It is so opposite of what we sometimes want to do. But Love’s demands upon us calls for us to reach within us for that Strength that is not our own and allow it to energize us and rule us and win through us.

We are called upon to be followers of Christ in all areas of our life and in every day of our life. That means when times are good and when times are not so good. The question is—will you reflect Christ in your life by living Christ’s example and teaching or will you reflect back the world’s values and thereby not make a difference in the life of those around you and who may be mistreating you?

The world is no friend of the all inclusive, unconditional love of God. And as children of God, we are called upon to be all inclusive and unconditional in that same love as we deal with people in our lives. The challenge is, who will people see when adversity comes—the reflection of God or the reflection of one who can mouth the words but not live the reality?

Just some pastoral musings from my heart to yours!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

“To Be The Church Or Not -- That Is The Question!”

God has blessed us and allowed us to see some exciting times in the life of AMCC. But one question I want to pose to you to consider is this—“What is church?” This question has come to mind in the last few weeks, and it is something that I have taken time to really stop and think about.

God has truly blessed us in many ways, especially being able to have our own building to be used as a means to reach out to our community. But with that comes great responsibility, and the question that arises, “what or who is church.” To be honest, we went from a people not having a “building” to a people having our own building in which to meet and from which to minister. For me, this is both exciting and it is also challenging at the same time. And maybe you feel the same way. And it's interesting to listen to conversations as we talk about Appalachian MCC.

And I've also heard some interesting phrases used in the conversations we have had and it's interesting to hear some of the conversations. I have heard it stated in many ways, but it sort of sounds like this—“Wow! Isn’t it great! God has blessed us with our own church!” Maybe you have heard that or maybe you have even said it. Oh, it is an innocent enough statement, but it does not convey the full truth about who we are. You see, God has blessed us with our own building—not our own church. The reason is that WE are the church. Those who have identified with Jesus the Christ and have come together to found and form Appalachian Metropolitan Community Church and those who are yet to come through our doors are the church. The building is simply another tool that God has enabled us to acquire to reach out into the community and to share God’s message of all-inclusive, unconditional love in Christ.

Oh, I know that saying that God has blessed us with a church is a very innocent statement; but I am challenging each one of us to think beyond today and think beyond ourselves and envision the future that God is calling us to create—not just for us, but for the community at large and future generations of MCC’ers.

Another phrase I have heard in passing is this—maybe you’ve heard it or said it yourself—“This looks just like the church I grew up in!” And that is great! It looks like something that triggers, what I hope, are pleasant memories of the past. But therein lies the danger. Behind the statement lies the temptation to want to create the past. We tend to want AMCC to look and feel and be just like the church that we left. But that just isn’t going to happen. A phrase you may hear me say is, “This ain’t your momma’s church!” Or “It's not about me!” By that I mean, it is easy to slip into the mindset that there are certain “conditions” or “requirements” for Appalachian MCC in order for it to be “church” and it has to center around what I want. Such things as, a church HAS to have pews, a church HAS to have stained glass windows, a church HAS to have an organ, a church HAS to have services 3, 5, 7, . . . times a week, the church HAS to sing only the “old” hymns of the church, the church HAS to sing and play the most current praise and worship music, the church HAS to make me “feel” something or I haven’t been to church, or the church HAS to have an altar call to be church, or the church HAS to . . . you fill in the blank. But does the building have to have anything to be church?

Actually, no! You see, if we were to meet in the middle of a field sitting on a blanketwe have church! If we were to meet in someone’s home where we are practically sitting on each other’s lap—we have church! If we meet in a building with nothing more than a few folding chairs—we have church! It is not the building, the pews, the piano, the pulpit, the altar, etc., that constitute what church is. It is the gathering together of God’s people to sing and praise and worship and minister that church occurs.

The danger in wanting to have a church that “looks like the one we grew up in” is that we are living in the past and not living for the future. One thing I have appreciated about MCC is that it is a forward thinking, future living denomination. We realize that what we do today is not for us—but for the future generations of folk who will find MCC and finally realize there is a Church that makes a difference and is serious about living out the living reality of the love of Christ.

Think about this for a moment. Why were we able to purchase the building in Saint Albans? Did the building become too small for the former congregation and they had to buy a larger building for them to continue their ministry and grow? Or is it because it was a congregation that lived in the past and did not have a goal of being a church for future generations and thereby end up dying?

Well, you know the answer to that one—I don’t believe I have to tell you it was for the later reason. And for that reason alone, it should send a chill down our spine as a reminder of what happens to congregations that live in the past and don’t readily accept change and adapt for the future.

You will be challenged to grow in the next few weeks, months, and years as Appalachian MCC chapter in our journey with God. Having our own space means we need to change the way we do things—not simply for the sake of change—but to remain effective as a beacon of God’s love in the community. New structures will be put into place to help guide us on our new journey. New positions and new leadership will be raised up to help guide us into the future. New challenges will meet us day by day as we try to following of God in our lives.

This is not a time to “get comfortable”, but be ready to minister in new and exciting ways to new and greater numbers of people. And for that reason, we have to put into place now the things that will help us to grow. We need to live today the church we want to become—not the church we always have been.

Secondly, MCC recognizes that when churches are called by God to take the step of faith and envision the future that it is also a call from God for leadership to rise up and take responsibility of the physical needs of the building. Just as the Pastor has oversight of the spiritual part of the church and the Board has oversight of the financial and policy making part of the church. As such, there are going to be changes and new encounters that you may never have had in your former churches. Part of those changes is making sure that the building is completely accessible and inclusive to the full community—not just a part of it. What am I referring to? I am referring to making sure that our building is accessible to the physically challenged, the hearing impaired and the sight impaired. I am talking about a part of the community that is so often overlooked and neglected when it comes to building considerations—those people in our community who are differently abled. If we are to become a truly welcoming and inclusive church body, we need to carefully think of how we can make that become a reality and not just a passing thought.

In the past, the Denomination sent out a survey on accessibility issues. This survey was not one that asked us what we thought about the issues of making accessible spaces of worships—it was asking us what we are doing to make sure our places of worship are accessible to the full community. The opening sentence of the letter read, “The denomination of Metropolitan Community Churches is committed to ensuring that our churches and ministries are accessible to all.” So we seriously need to consider how we can truly make Appalachian MCC a place that is a welcoming, inclusive, safe, home. The physical changes to the building are a matter of justice to a part of the community that is still looked upon as “second class” citizens.

Folks, for too long our community of GLBT folk have faced that. That is one reason MCC came into existence—to fight for justice for a folk who had been told for too long that they were less than, or inferior, or not acceptable simply because of the person that they loved. Too long our community was told that places of worship were not accessible to them simply because of who they were. And we are not going to do the same thing to a segment of the community that had been done to us in the past by not making our worship space accessible to the differently abled community.

That is why we need to be aware that a lot of the changes need to be done to break down physical barriers, attitudinal barriers, communication barriers and architectural barriers to truly make AMCC accessible to the full community. As was stated in the survey, “MCC is dedicated to full accessibility in our churches. We understand that the barriers to accessibility are many and varied. We define "accessible" as full inclusion and participation. We are working toward a future that removes physical, attitudinal and architectural barriers. We envision worship spaces that allow all to use their God given abilities to the fullest, thereby enhancing the blessings that MCC receives from and gives to the communities we touch.”

MCC is a denomination that is forward thinking and reaching toward the future and making a home for future generations. AMCC is dedicated to doing its part in making that future a reality.

Change is never easy. We, by nature, resist change. But something we can do to make the transitions and changes a little easier is to love more as Christ loves us. This is not a time to insist on one’s own way or to become upset when you feel “you didn’t get your own way” or that someone “isn’t listening to everyone when a decision is being made.” The ones we are listening to are not always the ones present with us. The ones we are listening to are the voices of the future generations of MCC members desiring to find a spiritual hope and a spiritual home-- a welcoming, inclusive, safe, home.

I am calling upon all friends and members of AMCC to really pray hard for God to give each of us a loving, accepting, compliant, forgiving, moldable heart as we move on with God. Nothing will help make the enemies of God more gleeful than to see a church divided or bickering over trivial matters. Let us always remember who the church is. Friends, let us keep our eye on the prize—let us reach forward to that high calling of God in Christ Jesus—let us run the race that is before us with patience and love and understanding and acceptance. You can make a vital impact on the future of AMCC at this time—pray that it is a positive one. As I used in a sermon illustration once, there are two different kinds of “crews” in every church—the building crew or the wrecking crew. Which one are you?