Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ramblings on Astonishment and Acceptance

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel …” (Galatians 1:6, NRSV)

You know how Paul usually begins his letters? He usually says something along the lines of “I thank God every day for you in my prayers” or “I have heard of your faithfulness in Christ” or some such compliment.

Not this time. He leads with, “I am astonished!” and it doesn’t get much better from there.

I wonder how it went over …

“Hey look! We got a letter from Paul!”

“Oh sweet! The big kahuna himself! I wonder what he wants?”

“You know, probably wants to give thanks to God for our faithfulness or something. Heh heh.”

“ … ”

“What? What is it?”

“Um … you might want to sit down for this.”

Yeah, it also makes me wonder about us. Today’s church. If we got a letter from Paul, would it start with “I thank God …” or “I am astonished …” ?

I am astonished that people go hungry and homeless in your town while you build multi-million dollar buildings and package it as God’s “blessing.”

I am astonished that you rigidly define who is “in” and who is “out” based on the shallow whims of your own understanding of the ultimately unknowable love of God.

I am astonished that you allow trivial matters to cloud the greater divine purpose to which you are called.

I am astonished that you feel as though being “nice” is all that it takes to be a follower of Jesus.

I am astonished …

I betcha we say and do a lot of stuff that would astonish Paul these days. Take the whole idea of “accepting Christ into your life,” for example.

When it comes to Jesus, scripture talks about hearing and following and loving and confessing and believing. Scripture talks about being given a gift, being liberated from sin, being adopted as a child. But scripture never says, “Hey, it’s really up to you. Jesus isn’t gonna just save you without you chipping in your bit. It’s your life, after all. Feel free to invite Jesus into it, or not.”

I believe that Jesus is already “in your life” way before you accept him. In fact, Jesus is “in your life” before you are even aware of it. Such is the character of grace. To be sure, grace is resistible, but it does not rely on our accepting it in order to be at work in us.

Actually I rarely use the word “accept” when it comes to grace; I more often use the word “realize.” Grace does not require our acceptance in order to work. Upon our realization of what grace is doing, we then choose either to cooperate with it or to resist it. Continued cooperation with grace is what Methodist theology calls the process of “sanctification.”

At a recent Bible Study, we were asking the “so what” questions - the questions that lead us to practical application of the passage we had studied. One person there said, “I guess this passage teaches us that we need to be more accepting of people who have accepted Jesus into their lives.”

The passage (Galatians 3:23-4:7) hadn’t really said anything about people accepting Jesus into their lives. But so pervasive is that phrase, it has almost become the filter through which every scripture is strained.

I replied, “I think this passage does instruct us to be more accepting. But not of people who have ‘accepted Jesus.’ I think this passage instructs us to be more accepting of people whom Jesus has accepted. And there’s a pretty big distinction there.”

“Yeah,” commented another person, “That’s just about ... everybody, isn’t it?”

Yeah, pretty much.

I think Paul would be “astonished” by a lot of things that the church says and does in the guise of the gospel. Galatians was written in order to counteract some false teaching being spread around. That teaching was divisive, legalistic, and contrary to the gospel. And what’s worse, the false teaching was being offered as the gospel. It’s one thing to spread a false teaching; it’s another altogether to claim that false teaching is the gospel.

What do you think? Would Paul write your church a letter of astonishment, or one of praise and thanksgiving? Is your church living the gospel? Are you?

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

I Know Who Teaches the Kids!

This week I wrote and sent the following letter to the editor of the Springfield News-Leader:

I am inspired almost every day by the people I work with. I am the pastor of Campbell United Methodist Church, and one of our most vibrant and fruitful ministries is our Small Wonders Child Development Center. Recently this ministry was featured prominently in an article focusing on unlicensed preschools (Who teaches the kids? 10/7/13).

The article’s implication that a lack of licensing results in an inferior program has compelled me to respond. Our Small Wonders teachers and staff are amazing, and their dedication to our kids is unmatched.

Colorful, creative craft projects hang on the walls of the hallways. The classrooms are filled with bright, colorful decorations, furniture, and educational tools. Kids and teachers share healthy meals together. Magnetic locks, a fingerprint scanner, and security cameras keep our kids secure, in addition to our “Safe Sanctuary” policies and procedures to keep everyone safe. Except for nap time, the kids are always actively engaged, either in learning or play, and our teachers work hard to make sure that every single kid is ready for what comes next.

The laughter and love that fills the hallways of the building are contagious. Every time I stop by for a visit, the kids call out happily, “HI, Pastor Andy!” and run up to me for high fives and knuckle bumps. When there are tears, Small Wonders teachers and staff respond with compassion and grace, and diligently work with parents to address issues that arise.

Academically, emotionally, and spiritually, kids who graduate from Small Wonders leave here ready for Kindergarten. I am happy and humbled by the amazing work that I get to witness each and every day.

Rev. Andy Bryan, Pastor
Campbell United Methodist Church

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

MLB Playoffs

I'm a bit late this year; one of these teams is already gone. However, here's my annual "Major League Baseball playoff picks based on team salaries" post. Here's my source.

LA Dodgers = $216,597,577
Boston Red Sox = $150,655,500
Detroit Tigers = $148,414,500
Saint Louis Cardinals = $115,222,086
Cincinnati Reds = $107,491,305
Atlanta Braves = $89,778,192
Pittsburgh Pirates = $79,555,000
Oakland A's = $60,664,500
Tampa Bay Rays = $57,895,272

So, by my formula, I'll be rooting for the Rays to beat the Pirates in the World Series this year.

- The total of that list is $1,026,283,932. That would open up a lot of National Parks, huh?

- The New York Yankees spent $228,835,490 to not make the playoffs.

- Of course, if the Kansas City Royals had been able to make the playoffs ... $81,491,725 ...
     (The Royals spent a third of what the Yankees spent this year.)
Yeah, I would have rooted for them.

Anyway, GO RAYS!