What’s Love Got To Do With It?

 
We live in a time of great cultural anxiety. Our nation is more polarized today than at any time in my memory. We characterize people who disagree with us as villains. Our politicians consider “dialogue” and “compromise” to be dirty words. As a culture, we are quite willing to kill the killer, hate the hater, and be close-minded to the close-minded. But in the end, hatred doesn’t work. Hatred breeds hatred.
 
And yet, hatred seems to be SOP, Standard Operating Procedure, for so much of the world. We plan and plot how to overcome those with whom we disagree. We rejoice in their failures and mourn at their successes. We write letters, make phone calls, send e-mails and muster up support for “our side” among our friends. We try to get people to side with us and join the team of those who are angry with others. And then, we go to war with them.
 
There is no doubt that the polarization we are experiencing is feeding today’s culture of violence and mass shootings. We’ve even identified a whole new category of “domestic terrorism” to describe events like the Oklahoma City bombing, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Charleston church shooting, the Orlando nightclub shooting, the Congressional baseball shooting and the El Paso Wal-Mart shooting. Our willingness to hate the hater and to villainize those with whom we disagree is part of this national tragedy.
 
So, what are we to do? Is there a way to end the vicious cycle of hatred? How do we overcome the anger people experience when they feel betrayed? How can we prevent the downward spiral into self destructive patterns of depression, anger or revenge that so many individuals experience when they have suffered abuse at the hands of another?
 
Jesus answered that question nearly two thousand years ago. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (See the Gospel of Matthew 5:43- 44.)
 
For Jesus, it is not enough to stop hating your enemy. If you want to experience the blessing of God you have to go farther than that. You have to love your enemy.
 
Jesus didn’t mean that to love our enemy means we support them in what they do. To love our enemy does not mean we have to agree with them, or even necessarily become good friends with them. Loving our enemy means that the cycle of hate, the cycle of revenge, the cycle of retaliation stops with us. You can be angry with a person for what they do, and yet still love them.
 
If the cycle of violence that has become so much a part of our culture today is going to be broken, it will take more than changing our gun laws. It will require the power of love. Join us on Sunday morning to discover how.
 
Jay

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A Place to Belong! A Truth to Believe! A Way to Become!

On July 1, Ashish and I (and our families) will officially begin our third year at UMCL! Happy anniversary to us!
 
In the United Methodist Church, pastors are appointed each year by the area Bishop. Every appointment is for one year at a time. I describe this process as, “having a one-year contract with the option to renew.” At Annual Conference in June, Ashish and I were both re-appointed to UMCL for July 1, 2019 to July 1, 2020.
 
Saying I’m in my third year somehow feels more substantial than being in year one or two. For the first year and a half, it seemed like I was often refered to as the “new” pastor. Being “new” got old after a while. I’m glad to see the “new” description to have been mostly dropped. Dropping the “new” makes me feel like I belong.
 
I came to UMCL believing that God wanted me to be here, so in that sense I knew I “belonged” here. And certainly the overwhelmingly positive response to our arrival here made us feel accepted and loved. But now that we’re entering “year three” I have a sense of belonging in being connected to people, being accepted, being part of the group. There are still names that I do not know, and history of which I am unaware, but I’m glad to be part of such a beautiful community. In a society where people move so often, where we rarely spend our adult lives in the same community in which we grew up, there is a great need to feel like we belong.
 
Feeling like we belong really comes from building relationships. The Biblical word for this is “oikos.” Oikos relationships are the kind where we walk through valleys together, where we find support, where a trusted friend will tell us lovingly when we’ve screwed up, where we can be honest with each other and know we will still be loved.
 
This deep community does not happen if we only interact for an hour on Sunday morning. That’s why it’s so important to be involved in a small group or a ministry. Whether you sing in the choir, or serve as an usher, or you are in a Sunday school class or a UMW circle, whether you serve on a committee or go on a mission trip, we all need to be building faith-based relationships.
A recent Barna survey indicated that Americans frequently interact with each other about their religious beliefs and experiences, but seldom actually change their behavior. The survey reviewed the behavior of Christian adults over a five year period. Even more disturbing is the survey result that more people changed their behavior by moving away from the church than toward it. Only 7% of respondents said they had made a change in their life
that was identified as developing a positive Christian behavior. But 16% of survey respondents said the change in their behavior was away from the church, praying less, reading the Bible less, or generally “decreasing religious activity.” So, it is not enough for us to be a place to belong; we also have to be a place to “become.” We can build on our sense of belonging to encourage each other to become more of what God wants us to be.
 
But, it is the “truth to believe” that ultimately binds us together and moves us on toward God’s vision for ourselves. Because God came to us as one of us in Jesus; because of Jesus’ love and forgiveness; because of the strength available to us each day through the Holy Spirit; we have the chance to be new people and partners with God in making this world more of what God intends it to be.
A Place to Belong. A Truth to Believe. A Way to Become.
 
I believe UMCL embodies all of this. And I am grateful for it. But it’s up to all of us to engage in the process of belonging, believing, becoming!
 
-Jay

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It’s About Love, Not Survival

The trend is hardly even news any more — despite the growth in population in the United States, the number of Christians in America continues to decline. According to the Pew Research Center’s newest report, the United States is a significantly less Christian country than it was seven years ago.
 
The Pew survey shows dramatic shifts as large numbers of people leave major denominations, including the United Methodist Church.
 
In a similar study, the General Social Survey (GSS), reports that while about 30 percent of Americans identified themselves as “Protestant” in 1972, that number is only 15 percent today. In other words, based on the GSS, main-line Protestant churches lost half their people over the last 40 years.

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Hatred, Love and Easter

The world was shocked, once again, by an overwhelming display of hatred on March 15, in Christchurch, New Zealand, as a white supremacist live-streamed the killing of 50 people gathered for prayer at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre. An additional 50 people were injured.
 
A 28-year-old Australian man, described in media reports as part of the “alt-right”, was arrested and charged with murder. The attacks have been linked to an increase in white supremacism and alt-right extremism globally. The suspect published a manifesto and live-streamed the first attack on Facebook Live. It is the deadliest mass shooting in modern New Zealand history.
 
The U.S. has seen a rise in violence by white supremacists, including the murders of 11 people at a Pittsburgh Synagogue last fall. There was also a deadly clash at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, the murders of nine people at a church in Charleston in 2015 and the deaths of six at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012.
 
This doesn’t even count the other mass shootings: Aurora, IL, February 15, 2019, 6 dead; Mercy Hospital, Chicago, November 19, 2018, 4 dead; Thousand Oaks, CA, November 7, 2018, 13 dead; Stoneman Douglas HS, Parkland Florida, February 14, 2018, 17 dead. The list goes on, there were 323 mass shootings in the US in 2018.
 
We live in a world of brokenness and sin; a world where hatred breeds hatred and violence breeds violence.
 
And yet, this is the world into which Jesus came. Jesus came to this world to “put flesh” on the love of God. He came to bring healing to our brokenness, to overcome hatred with love. And for his efforts, Jesus was crucified between two thieves.
 
As harsh as that is, we know that it is not the end of the story. We know that even death could not stop Jesus’ love. Because of Easter, we know that love has the power to overcome hatred. Because of Easter, we know that God offers a forgiveness that overwhelms judgment.
 
Each year, we travel through Good Friday to get to Easter. The crucifixion and resurrection remind us that while our world is still broken, God’s agenda is reconciliation. We are forgiven; we can forgive. We are loved; we can love.
 
To live as Easter people is to live with love as our guide. To live as Easter people is to respond to hatred with love. To live as Easter people is to love so fully and completely that we overwhelm hate. Love is not weakness. Love is stronger than hate, if we choose to truly love. Love can turn an angry young boy into a faithful follower of Christ.
 
Please join us as we make this journey to Easter:
–  Palm Sunday, April 14, at 9:30 and 11 am: We will remember Jesus’ triumphant entry in to Jerusalem with the waving of palm branches.
–  Good Friday, April 19, at 7 pm: We will remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us, share in the Lord’s Supper, and be led      in worship by the Chancel Choir singing Gabriel Faure’s Requiem.
–  Easter Sunday, April 21, at 9:30 and 11 am: We will celebrate the message that love overcomes hate.
 
Easter gives us the power to bring healing to the brokenness we encounter, even within our own lives.
 
–Jay

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Time to Rethink Lent

 
Christians need to re-think Lent. To most people, all this talk about self-denial and fasting is like the talking about astrophysics or nanotechnology. It makes sense to some people, but most people just politely nod their heads and then live their lives as they had before.
 
 
 

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Beyond Cards and Chocolates

Ah, love is in the air! Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, a day for romance and lovers. Or is it? Would the real Valentine (yes, he was a real person, not a cherub who shot arrows) even recognize our February 14 celebration?

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Whose Birthday Is It, Anyway?

The sales have already started! Last year, Black Friday crept into Black Thursday. This year, Christmas “Black Friday” sales started in October! The advertisers’ job is to tell us what we need. We “need” that new technology. We “need” that new toy or that new outfit. It just won’t be Christmas if that one special item isn’t under the tree!

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Called To Do Great Things

Nearly every day at UMCL I hear the story of someone whose life has been touched by the various ministries of this congregation. Whether it is a teen struggling with questions of faith, or a young adult looking for community, or a family needing winter coats for their kids, each story portrays a way that this congregation is “Jesus with skin on.”

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