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Don’t Be Like “Them”

Don’t be like them.

People are rude.

Don’t be rude.

People treat others poorly.

Don’t treat others poorly.

People don’t have filters.

Have filters.

People are not generous.

Be generous.

People are unforgiving.

Be forgiving.

People have no moral compass.

Have a moral compass.

People break promises.

Don’t break promises.

People run when things get tough.

Don’t run when things get tough.

People give up on the verge of their victory.

Don’t give up in the verge of your victory.

People lose faith and stop dreaming.

Don’t lose faith and stop dreaming.

Like I said, don’t be like them.

Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.

Rethinking Happiness

If things ways need to go “your way” to be happy, you will never be happy. And when you are happy, you won’t be happy for very long.

Let’s face it, we live in a fallen world, control is an illusion and things are sometimes really hard. People do dumb crap, bad things happen, relationships get cross threaded and folks seldom do what you want them to do.

The key to happiness is to lay aside immature and unrealistic aspirations for your life and simple learn to love, enjoy and find meaning in what is in front of you.

Happy people focus on what they have. Unhappy people obsess about what they don’t have.

So be happy today!

Count your blessings!

Lean into what is beautiful, good and life giving.

There simply is no downside…

Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.

Post Annual Conference Advice (To Traditional United Methodists)

 

In the aftermath of General Conference 2019, many Progressives were reeling.

 

In the aftermath of recent Annual Conference elections, many Traditionalists are reeling.

 

In many conferences, Progressives have posted significant gains concerning 2020 General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates.  In these areas, supporters of current church teaching are now woefully underrepresented by their delegations or not represented at all.  Some conferences and clergy sessions formally voted to ignore church teaching on the issues upon which they disagree all together.  I honestly didn’t know you could do that.  If Progressives get control in 2020, they will overturn church teaching on human sexuality and quite possibly close the exit ramp out of the denomination.  If they get control of the United Methodist Church, I am convinced they will immediately demand conformity to the new Discipline.  Obeying church law will suddenly become the most important thing in the world.  For many conservatives, this prospect is untenable.

 

Many traditionalists are smarting.  I didn’t personally run but I completely get it.  It never feels good to lose but we must separate our bruised egos and hurt feelings from our collective reality.  The United Methodist Discipline is still in force and our denominational positions have changed on nothing.  That some bishops and conferences will not uphold the Discipline is not new either.  That being said, recent elections have left many wondering if the future United Methodist church can still be a home for warm hearted, orthodox Methodists with traditional beliefs.

 

Here is the deal: We don’t know yet.    

 

I went into my Annual Conference with a simple prayer for clarity.  I didn’t pray to win or to lose; I just prayed for clarity.  Our WCA delegates were defeated.  Not by much in terms of votes but defeated by a well-organized effort that essentially ran the table.  As I write, things seem most clear.  My conference has made a sharp turn left.  I grieve on one hand but on the other, God has answered my prayer.  Thanks be to God!

 

At present, I am being bombarded by two important questions:   1) How do we respond?  2) What is the plan?  

 

Let’s begin with the first:

 

1) How do we respond?  We must be realistic about what we are feeling but we can’t go squirting weak sauce everywhere.  If we must mourn, we must mourn among friends.  If we must process, we must process among friends.  If we must vent, we must vent among friends.  Public space isn’t safe.  Never has been.  Let’s face it, almost no one wants to hear it and those who do will be glad we are miserable.  We do best to keep to ourselves what we can.

When my elementary aged grandsons take a whooping in baseball, I tell them:

 

  1. Stop crying
  2. Don’t whine about the umpire
  3. Get your chin up
  4. Realize losing is a part of life
  5. Don’t get used to losing
  6. Put a smile on your face
  7. Be better prepared next time

 

I would offer the same advice to my disappointed colleagues.

We got beat.

Shake it off.

We will be just fine.

God is still on the throne.

 

2) What is the plan?

 

Here are my thoughts in the short term:

 

  1. Control your impulses We do well to associate frustration with silence.
  2. Join the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) or Good News or the Confessing Movement Go to their websites. Read their stuff for yourself.  Look at the quality and integrity of their leadership.  If you resonate; join.  If you don’t; don’t join.  It is a good time to network.  It is a good time to find a “herd.”  It is a bad time to be playing “Lone Ranger.”
  3. Wait to get accurate information We don’t have the “big picture” as of yet. There are people who are “counting the votes” and assessing things.  Give them time and hang tight.  We will get information soon enough.  There WILL be a plan.
  4. Don’t make long-term decisions based on short-term emotion You can turn in your orders, transfer to another denomination, retire early, withhold apportionments or lead your church out of the dysfunction but such decisions are not to be made lightly. And there will be ramifications.  Make no mistake about that.  Such weighty decisions require data, well conceived strategy, discernment, networking, fasting and prayer.  Seek the heart of God for a long time before you quickly do something you may live to regret.
  5. Stick together I am on record supporting a strategic separation of the United Methodist Church: (https://revshanebishop.com/2019/05/23/shaking-hands-while-we-still-can-umc/). We need to shake hands and go our separate ways while we can still shake hands.  These recent elections have widened our divide, exacerbated the tension and fried our trust receptors.  2020 may be our last shot at still shaking hands.  For the sake of our mission, traditionalists can not long remain in this climate…and we shouldn’t.   Whatever we do, we need to do together.  Where ever we go, we need to go together.  Whatever we form, we need to form together.  We sons and daughters of John Wesley are sticky by nature.  Always have been.
  6. Get back to work Don’t let this stuff consume you.  There is nothing going on in the United Methodist Church that can keep you from telling people about Jesus, proclaiming the Gospel or making disciples.  I know many of our churches are deeply divided and tired of the scrap and others are entrenched.  I know many pastors are feeling beat up and discouraged.  That being said, there is no down side to re-focusing on your mission and doing effective ministry in your local context.

 

Courageous people know they may die for their convictions but cowards die a thousand deaths.  If we are called to sacrifice and suffer persecution for the historic Christian faith; we must be ready to do so.  Joyfully.  If God calls us to a new collective future, we must stand ready to embrace it.  But until we have all the facts, hear God clearly and are ready to move collectively; we do well to, “Wait upon the Lord.”  And let’s face it, we could all use a renewing of our strength right now!

Take a breath.

Exhale.

God has this.

Always has.

Always will.

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-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.  Christ Church was featured as one of Outreach Magazine’s Fastest Growing 100 Churches in America in 2018.

 

The Ministry of Encouragement (Do you feel called?)

 

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.

10 In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. 11 All power to him forever! Amen.

-1 Peter 5:6-11 (NLT)

 

When I was a kid, there was such a thing as western songs.  The genre was called “Country Western.”  George Strait sang a few like “Cheyanne” and “Amarillo by Morning” in his early years but you don’t hear many of them anymore.  Now days country music is about beer, girls and suntans but it used to be about cowboys, horses and rodeos.  I remember sitting with my grandma in her house trailer listening to Marty Robbins singing El Paso and The Streets of Laredo.  Western songs tapped into the American West and one of the first I learned as a child was “Home on the Range” which was adapted from a poem written in 1972. “Home, home on the range.  Where the deer and the antelope  play; where seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day.”

One of the features of our culture circa 2019 is that “often is heard a discouraging word and the skies can seem cloudy for weeks on end.”  Discouragement occurs when people are disappointed, hurting, desperate or disillusioned and can find no relief or source of hope in which to tap.

Whether you think people should feel the way they do really doesn’t matter.

Whether you think people made their own problems really doesn’t matter.

Whether you think our culture has grown soft doesn’t really matter either.

People are discouraged today, many for good reason and most have no idea where to turn.

Since many do have faith; God is neither an outlet nor a source of hope.

Since so many families are dysfunctional, family is neither an outlet or a source of hope.

Since many don’t have any real friends, deep friendship is neither an outlet or a source of hope.

So where do they turn?  Cowboys had horses to talk to but we have the internet!  Almost everyone has access to a computer and Social Media is free…and if you have ever spent one minute on Social Media you know this, “We are not home on the range anymore!”  I often read things that spew like a well shaken soft drink spews out of its can when it is opened.  The internal pressure is just too great and the second it has a chance for release, everything rushes to the exit.  My temptation is to just unfollow, unfriend and block people who spew but perhaps the Christian solution is not quite so easy.  Loving our enemies is different than ignoring them and praying for those who persecute us is different than avoiding them.  Both love and prayer are active stances; as counter-cultural as they are messy.  May I share an uniquely Christian thought with you?  What if we accepted God’s call to be encouragers to the discouraged?

Encouragement is actually a gift of the Holy Spirit that is found in Romans 12: 8 and embodied by the ministry of Christ.  Jesus met people where they were but he never left them that way.  Jesus never went up to a demon possessed person and said, “You are just fine the way you are and don’t ever let anyone tell you different.  God made you like that so you just keep on with your destructive behaviors, hanging out in cemeteries and freaking people out.”  Jesus would cast the demon out, gave the person their life back, tell them to sin no more and send them home to a new life.  Jesus reminds us that encouragement isn’t afraid to tell the truth.  Encouragement tells the truth in love and the way, the truth and the life is found only in Jesus Christ.  In fact, a failure to speak truth isn’t encouragement at all.  

We have a large back yard containing a fire pit.  I love to build camp fires in the spring and fall and just sit out back and chill.  Keeping a fire going is easy but getting a fire started can be difficult.  You need kindling.  You have to start with small and highly flammable things and then use them to ignite larger and less immediately flammable things.  And once you catch a couple pieces of full sized fire wood on fire; you are set!  Encouragement is kindling the love of Christ in the life of someone else.  It is seeing something good in someone and placing energy there.  It is as transforming as it is counter-cultural.

Let’s take a look at some counter-cultural ideas concerning the ministry of encouragement and what it takes to keep encouraging when encouraging is hard.   First of all, when is encouragement easy?  When people are doing what you think they ought to be doing and thinking the way you think they ought to be thinking.  When is encouragement hard?  When people are not doing what you think they ought to be doing and not thinking the way you think they ought to be thinking.

Imagine your kid or grandkid is playing baseball or softball this summer.  One night they go 4-4, drive in 3 runs, score two, make a defensive gem to save the game and the team wins by two.  You are watching all this, people are nodding at you approvingly for providing such wonderful genes and you are happy you had children!  After the game, you go celebrate with the team and your kid is the star of the show.  You relive each moment, tell stories from the past, animate, laugh and get ice cream…with sprinkles.  It is like an encouragement camp fire and everyone share in its warmth.

NOW imagine your kid goes 0-4, strikes our 3 times, makes two errors and the team loses 12-1.  To make matters worse, said child make the final out…with runners on base…looking at a pitch down the middle.  The umpire calls strike three and there is an awkward moment.  You are in your lawn chair correctly suspecting the other fans wish your whole family was on vacation this week and had missed the game entirely.  They don’t know what to say and you don’t know what to say but it’s bad.  You really want to just quietly leave and go home as quickly as possible but can you really do that with your kid crying in the dugout?

So you say something loud while you’re are folding up your lawn chair like, “That’s okay” but it is like those people on Family Feud who answer the question, “Name something in a house that is green?” with the response, “The Bible” and the other family members condescendingly say, “Good answer” which really means “Terrible but we love you.”  (BUZZ)  What is really going on in your head as this game ends is those old Southwest Airlines “Want to Get Away?” commercials.  But what you do is find something encouragement to build on.  You say, “Stop crying.  You did your very best and you played really hard.  That one ball you hit will get through next time.  It wasn’t your best night but I am still very proud of you and I love you very much.”

So here is the deal: When it is most difficult to encourage someone is often when that person needs encouragement the most.

Despite the fact he made the Hall of Fame, the apostle Peter was an inconsistent player early in his career.  There were games he was 4-4 and occasions he struck out all four times.  There is not one person in the Bible Jesus scolded more than Peter.  There is not one person in the Bible into whom Jesus invested more than Peter.  Sometimes the only encouraging thing you have going is having someone in your life who loves you enough to not give up on you.  Let’s explore what Peter has to say about encouragement.

V. 6 Humble yourselves under the power of God and in good time, you will be rewarded If there is an upside to failure, it does keep you humble. I was more open to coaching after an 0-4 game. Peter was humbled time and time again but Jesus wouldn’t give up on him!  Jesus said, “Peter, I see something special in you and I refuse to lie to you on one hand or to give up on you on the other.”  Over the course of a couple of days, Peter had told Jesus he didn’t need to die, gone to sleep on watch in the Garden of Gethsemane, publicly denied Jesus and abandoned Jesus during the crucifixion.  0-4.  Can you imagine how Peter felt when he saw a resurrected Jesus for the first time? 

Peter wrote to a church he led that was suffering both internal and external pressures; as a man who had suffered both internal and external pressures.  It was a difficult time to be the church and like today, there were times when it seemed you couldn’t win regardless of what you did.  Being a leader of any kind in 2019 is like walking across a Midwestern cow pasture; you are going step in something and some of it is going to explode all over your shoes.  Peter’s church was discouraged, but Peter was discouraged as well.  What does a discouraged leader say to encourage a discouraged church?  He encourages them by sharing something greater than how we feel right now or what is going on around us.  The Word of God! First comes truth and then comes love.

 

Let’s explore the truth and then the encouragement!

 

 V. 8 A warning for the church

          #1 Be careful

Counter-cultural movements must be intentional.  We are going against the grain.  In challenging times, we have to be careful about what we say, what we post and what we do.  In a time when all things are taken in the worst possible way, Christians must be most cautious to “do no harm.”  We must realize the Gospel sometimes offends but we must not proclaim it offensively.  We need to work to say the right things in the right spirit and in the right way; pray before we speak and especially pray before we post.

          #2 Watch for attacks from Satan (roaring lion)

Counter-cultural movements must be vigilant.  Lions in the wild attack the weak, the sick, the young, the vulnerable and the isolated.  When we remove ourselves from regular worship and community we become spiritual stragglers inviting attack.  We must stay aware and stay in the fellowship of the church.

          #3 V. 9 Take a firm stand

Counter-cultural movements must be clear.  If we don’t stand for something, we will fall for anything.  There are some things that are non-negotiable for me.  Among them are the active existence of a God who loves absolutely everyone, the centrality of Christ for salvation, the power of the Holy Spirit to conduct ministry and the authority of Scripture to speak into our lives.  We must stand clearly and firmly on these things.

          #4 Be strong

Counter-cultural movements must be resilient.  In our flesh, adversity make us weak but in the spirit adversity will make us strong.  I learned as an athlete, what makes you sore will soon make you strong if you stay at it. I am not going to argue with anyone and I am not going to return evil with evil but I am not backing down either.

          # 5 Remember other Christians are suffering

Counter-cultural movements must keep the bigger game in mind.  Self-pity is a weapon of Satan.  The great prophet Elijah spoke the word of the Lord and king Ahab wanted him dead.  Now in hiding, he says, “God, I am the only prophet you have.”  God replied, “Stop it. I have many others.”  Among the things Jesus promised is that his followers would be persecuted and hated by the world.  Self-pity makes us fold when we ought to raise the stakes in our spiritual lives.  Next time you are squirting weak sauce into the eye of God, just hear him say, “Stop it.”  He has said it to better people than you and me.

Encouragement for the Church

  1. 10 After you have suffered for a while God will… Counter-cultural movements must realize suffering is part of following Jesus. I don’t know of a single Christian or a single church that has not had great challenges, disappointments and let downs. But when we are faithful in the hard times, God does some very specific things us!

          #1 Restore us

          #2 Support us

          #3 Strengthen us

          #4 Place us on a firm foundation

And what seals all this?

 11 All power is his forever Because Jesus holds all authority in heaven and on earth; power is his to give. We do not weakly stand in our own strength, we triumphantly stand in the power of the Holy Spirit! 

Here is the formula:

  1. Learn to spot the good in people
  2.  Verbalize what you see to that person
  3. Speak truth in love 
  4. Repeat

The world has far too many critics.  Critics tear down without building up.

People are discouraged.  We need encourageers.

We need people in our lives who absolutely refuse to give up on us.

Might you be one of these people?

Might God use you to speak truth and love into the life of someone today?

Do you feel the call? 

Let’s encourage each other, even…no especially when it is hard.

Valley of the Doves Shane

Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997

Telling the Truth (About Jesus)

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.  And you know the way to where I am going.”

 “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.

– John 14:1-6 (NLT)

I open with some bad news and some good news.

The bad news is that Christianity in its traditional form now stands outside mainstream American culture.  For those of us over fifty, this is relatively new.  Cultural observers saw it coming for decades but it arrived more quickly and with greater force than any of us had anticipated.  Because of this, adherents to orthodox Christianity, will increasingly experience the kinds of overt and covert persecutions reserved for cultural outsiders.  The false narrative is because we stand firmly in Biblical values that we are intolerant; even haters.  The false narrative is that we want to persecute and discriminate against those who reject our values and that said offenders are not welcome in our families, our lives or in our churches.  According to the false narrative, traditional Christians have become terrible people overnight simply by believing what Christians have always believed and standing where Christians have always stood.  The world changed; we didn’t and we are the problem.  We know that narrative is absurd but sub-cultures are forced to live with the narratives forged by the larger culture.  That is our new reality and if you don’t yet feel it, you will.

The good news is that Christianity thrives as a counter-culture movement!

When Christianity becomes counter-cultural, four things tend to happen:

 

  1. Nominal Christians drift away They don’t quit or formally renounce their memberships; they just slowly disappear. There can be all kinds of reasons for this but in the end, it just got too hard to hang on to something you didn’t believe all that much in the first place.  We would call these folks “non-practicing Christians” or “inactive members.”
  2. Pragmatic Christians accommodate Historically, this is a well-intended play to make Christianity more palatable to the dominate culture.  Self-appointed scholars, theologians and pastors sort of negotiate with the culture to get the “cultural barbs” out of the Gospel.  They attack the credibility of the Bible, reinterpret consistent and clear teaching and claim to know the true meaning of God’s intentions better than any Christian who has ever gone before them.  The theory is that you save the faith by softening it.  It never works for very long and is often a slow exit ramp out of Christianity.
  3. Cultural Christians disaffiliate. This explains the rise in the statistical category “None.”  Much has been made in the increase in Americans claiming “None” as their religious preference but these folks were never attending, volunteering or giving to churches anyway.  They were not even C and E Christians.  By shifting from a “Christians” to a “none” they just checked a different box on a religious survey without changing anything about the way they think or believe.
  4. Committed Christians lean in In challenging times, Jesus followers are more apt to truly become disciples. They ask hard questions like, “Do I really believe this stuff?” and “Are my sources for belief reliable?”  They go deeper into the Bible, make a greater priority of their faith, get in small groups, volunteer more time and give more generously to the work of the church.  They are more apt to lean into the power of the Holy Spirit, take their prayer lives to the next level and relentlessly evangelize.  Disciples recapture the simple notion that the Gospel is “Good News!” And who doesn’t want to share good news?

 

When I talk about truth, I am referring to the truth about Jesus. The big “T” truth.  When the New Testament offers the specific conditions for salvation, it nearly always centers around the concepts of “Believe and Receive.”  We must believe that Jesus is who he says he is, act upon that belief and live in accordance with that belief.  So what is it that we are supposed to believe about Jesus?  So let’s begin by exploring what the Bible has to say about Jesus.

A part of the genius of Jesus was his refusal to be culturally “relevant.”  The hot button issue of his time was Roman occupation and he frustrated people by his refusal to engage.  When they tried to lure him into a political quagmire concerning paying taxes to Rome, he simply said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.”  When they tried to frame him as a political revolutionary, he spoke of another Kingdom entirely.  Instead of talking current events, Jesus dealt with universal principles like love, sin, forgiveness, restoration, use of resources, how we treat people and devotion to God.  Jesus seemed to think if we got the big stuff right; the little stuff wouldn’t be all that hard.  Jesus was right.

Let me tell you about the Bible’s witness to Jesus.  Jesus wasn’t rich or enfranchised.  There are no documents in existence that bear the claim that “Jesus wrote this” nor are their serious rumors about lost material that he may have written.  What we know about Jesus’ life are primarily contained in four short biographies.  Mark was written first, Matthew expands Mark; Luke is a different style all together and John was written much later and to a different audience entirely.  That four people over a period of decades wrote many of the same things is compelling evidence to not only the physical life of Jesus, but what he actually said and did.  There is almost no rational person in the world who believes Jesus did not exist.  But what is the Biblical truth about Jesus?

Jesus entered the world in the very early years of the first century in the Galilee region of an Israel occupied by the Roman Empire.  He was raised by his mother Mary and her husband Joseph in a Galilean village called Nazareth.  Jesus came from an artisan class and devout Jewish family.  Sometime around the age of thirty Jesus emerged as a teacher or Rabbi and his ministry quickly trended.  The reason?  Miracles.  Jesus of Nazareth gave people their lives back.  He could turn water into wine, calm storms, multiply fish and bread, cure incurable diseases, make the blind see and the lame walk, cast out demons and even raise the dead.

In addition to the forty plus recorded miracles in the Bible, we have a significant body of his teaching.  If you read the red letters of the Gospels, and I suggest you do, you will find that his teaching style was provocative, his message counter-intuitive and his moral force was anti-establishment.  Jesus seemed most sympathetic to those furthest from God and most critical of the religious establishment.  Jesus’ teaching seemed to unravel people and his audience was often left bewildered or just plain angry.  The disenfranchised flocked to him and the religious elite intuitively understood he was a threat.  It doesn’t take long to see that Jesus was on a collision course with power.  He was eventually charged with blasphemy by the Temple, convicted by an unconvinced Pontius Pilate and sentenced to death on a Roman cross.

It seemed like a tired plot with a predictable ending.  A charismatic populist leader arises and he becomes too popular, too brazen and too difficult for the establishment to control.  When he can’t be bought, the authorities kill the leader in a public spectacle and the rest just dissipate.  But what they didn’t figure was that Jesus was going to raise from the dead.  With Jesus undeniably alive; he commissioned his disciples, promised to return for his church and summarily Ascended into Heaven.  In the aftermath, the Holy Spirit arrived, the church was born and all the sudden the stuff Jesus talked about and no one understood, made perfect sense.  That is the claim about Christ but what was the claim of Christ?  What did Jesus say about himself?

Our text outlines six claims like no others.

 

CLAIM #1: Jesus is God   V. 1 Don’t be troubled.  You already believe in God, so also believe in me. Throughout this section of John Jesus is consistent that “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”

CLAIM #2: The way to God is prepared  V. 2-4 There are many rooms in God’s house and I am going to prepare one for you and when everything is ready, I will come for you and you will be with me and you will know where I am.  The life, death and resurrection of Jesus prepares the way.

 5 Thomas said, “We have no idea where you are going so how can we know the way?”

 6 Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to God except through me.”

CLAIM #3: Jesus is the WAY  Finding our way to God is the essence and aim of religion.  Jesus said, “I am the way.  You want to get to God, you believe in me, live by the values of my Kingdom and get involved in my work.”  The earliest moniker we have for Christians is “The Way.”  Our culture finds this claim exclusive and offensive but the Bible just can’t seem to care.  We want Jesus to be “a way” or the “best way” but he leaves us no room to so categorize him.  Jesus is either “the way” or “no way” but he is not “a way.”

CLAIM #4: Jesus is the TRUTH Truth in the Greek means completely true.  It is the opposite of spin, which contains some truth.  If you cut Biblical truth into a thousand pieces, all one thousand would be 100% true.

CLAIM #5: Jesus is the LIFE  There are two features here, Jesus is absolute life and Jesus is the restorer of absolute life.  Life in this sense is an existence teeming with God.  This God-life was diminished by the Fall but is restored in Christ.  Jesus said in John 10: 10, “I have come that you might have life and have life abundantly.” 

CLAIM #6: No one comes to God but through Jesus  No one comes to God but through me  So there you have it! Who is Jesus?  Jesus is the only way to God.  Being good is not the way.  Being an activist is not the way.  Being religious is not the way.  Being political is not the way.  Having all the right answers is not the way.  Being moral is not the way.  Being right is not the way.  Jesus is the only way to God!  He doesn’t show us the road to God; he IS the road to God.  That is the truth about Jesus.

We live in a time when telling the truth about Jesus hurts people’s ears but tell the truth we must.  Our culture is manic, desperate, unhinged, outraged, addicted, lost and dying.  Jesus declared his mission to be to, “Seek and save the lost.”  And that is why we have to tell the truth about Jesus when telling the truth is hard.  Only churches serving Jesus at full-strength will have the fire power to see lives transformed!  Jesus is who he said he is or he is a total impostor.  Jesus is either everything or nothing.  There is no in-between.  We can accept Jesus or reject Jesus but we don’t get to modify him.

I am not ashamed to tell the truth about Jesus Christ.

He is my everything.

He is the hope of the world.

Salvation comes from Jesus alone.

There is no other.

And that is the truth about Jesus.

Shane 2017 tie

-Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.

 

Shaking Hands (While We Still Can) #UMC

General Conference 2019 was a disaster.  Our fallen natures were revealed.  Our brokenness exposed.  Regardless of your thoughts on the outcome, the process revealed an undeniable level of dysfunction witnessed by thousands on live stream.  The secret is out.  We are not just a declining denomination; we are messed up.

Remember St. Louis.

We can’t do that again.

Ever!

The United Methodist denomination is currently engaged in a series of micro-battles in which we will elect delegates for the 2020 General Conference; our next macro-battle.   I assure you there will be no winners.  Regardless of the outcomes.  The gloves are off (a hockey metaphor), civility is a distant memory and we are significantly more angry, cynical and battle hardened than we were a year ago.

The mantra seems to be, “It’s all about politics.”  Even in conferences where it has never been all about politics; it is all about the politics.  Slates are determined and strategies are agreed upon; the games have begun.  We will await the outcomes (which will be interpreted through a political lens) and build a narrative for 2020 but it won’t matter.  Relationships will be further damaged, crafted rumors will circulate, conspiracy theories will abound and any remaining trust receptors will be fried.  Guaranteed.

The question is not, “Can we find a path forward despite very different understandings concerning human sexuality?”  The answer is “NO.  No we can not.”  We have determined this through our own processes and our collective response to the outcomes.  That is SO last spring anyway.  So we can: 1) Stay and fight or 2) Divide, speak peace to the crap-storm and try to find our way back on mission.

I choose option number two.  

The current question before us is, “How do we peacefully and strategically part ways?”  It is actually a very different question than we asked this spring.  It is the only functional question at this point in our history.  Dividing up a huge denomination is complex but it begins with a clear decision to do so.  And what is my hope for General Conference 2020?  A clear statement indicating, “We will peacefully divide and strategically reorganize for the good of our mission.”   It is time to stop doing harm, defying church law, pressing charges, holding mock trials and playing this endless game of “ecclesiastical chicken.”  It is time to allow pastors, congregations, conferences and perhaps jurisdictions, to graciously move on to whatever is next for them.

Here is what seems clear:

  1. Our differences are irreconcilable 
  2. Our present is unsustainable
  3. Our dysfunction is ingrained 
  4. There are mutually exclusive visions of the future 
  5. There is no middle ground 
  6. Trust clauses are anachronistic 
  7. The exit path needs to be gracious, fair and standardized 
  8. Fear, coercion and legal threats are not functional ways to hold a denomination together 
  9. We failed in our attempt to stay together
  10. It is time to separate 

I must confess that I am tired.  Gut tired.  I didn’t get into ministry to fuss with other Methodists.  I got into ministry to tell people about Jesus.  The dysfunctions of our denomination are adversely affecting our ability to connect people with Jesus Christ in our local church contexts and that is unacceptable.  I don’t want to sit and spend my life propping up an institution.   I want to be swept up in a movement of the Holy Spirit.

As we vote for 2020 General and Jurisdictional delegates, I completely get supporting people who share our respective positions; but might I suggest one additional filter? Let’s ask candidates about their vision for the future.  And might we even consider supporting a candidate who shares a clear vision for amicable separation regardless of where they sit on a theological or political spectrum?

We need to shift our narrative from “entrenched conflict” to “strategic separation.”  If we don’t act quickly, the next question will be, “Who wants to stay in a dysfunctional denomination?”  I am guessing that line will be getting shorter by the day.

Sometimes you just need to shake hands and go your separate ways while you can still shake hands…

Shane Valley of the Doves II

 

 

-Rev. Shane L. Bishop is a Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church (2010) and has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.  Shane is the author of “Love God. Love People.  Don’t Do Dumb Crap.”

The Work of the Holy Spirit (Part II)

BAPTIZED BY FIRE:

THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (Part II)

Text: Romans 12: 6-8

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

– Romans 12:6-8 (NLT)

Last week I launched a six part blog on the Holy Spirit.  My purpose in taking on such a daunting topic had to do with disconnect and firepower.  The disconnect is that standard practice in most churches does not even remotely resemble standard practice in the early church.  The firepower issue has to do with orthodox theology.  If we don’t believe God can actually change people, we have nothing to offer.  The rest of this series will be spent unpacking these two ideas.

You are going to get some of my journey with this, so with a short trailer from last week, let’s crack at it.  I was raised in a tradition that taught the active presence of the Holy Spirit in time and space essentially concluded with the completion of the Bible.  But as I grew older, my parents morphed toward embracing a more active view of the Holy Spirit.  They were swept us in the “Charismatic Movement” that started around 1960.  The basic tenant was that ideas concerning the Holy Spirit that had formerly been exclusive to Pentecostals, were making their way into Mainline Protestant, fundamentalist and Roman Catholic congregations.  Charismatic comes from a Greek word denoting something given by God that is unattainable any other way.  It is what you know that you were not taught and what you achieve that is beyond you.  Charismatic expression combined a rediscovery of the spiritual gifts with a strong belief that people needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit as a second act of grace after salvation.  In a theological sense, an ecclesiastical shift occurred from emphasizing the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace) as the highest Christian aspiration, to the gifts of the Spirit.   In an era where the Mainline church was just beginning its decline and Vietnam era America was shifting rapidly, some Christians began to wonder if there might be “more” to Christianity than they were experiencing; they certainly hoped so.   As many began to lean into the gifts of the Holy Spirit; they started reading the New Testament through new eyes and that is where the disconnect occurred.  “Why does what we do in our churches look nothing like what they did in the Bible?  They didn’t even have bulletins!”  This movement, like all historical revivals, caused significant disruption in many theological traditions and local churches; not to mention the careers of many professional clergy.

I was a bad fit for a 1980’s style charismatic.  Because the theology seemed shallow; the use of Scripture selective and the methodology manipulative, I rejected the movement in whole.  I would not go forward with them but I couldn’t exactly go back either.  I was in the theological no-man’s land at the age of twenty-one.  Perfect.  My journey was further complicated by my marriage to a woman with more spirituality in her little finger than I had in my whole body; graduation from college and my first big boy job in Louisville, Illinois.  Leaving home to start my life seemed like a good time to re-approach things and hopefully find a place to land.  What did I do in the meantime?

Like all significant historical revivals, great music was emerging that soon was called Contemporary Christian Music.  This genre took the sights, fashions and sounds of the Woodstock era and refocused the themes of “sex, drugs and rock and roll” to “holiness, worship and rock and roll.”  Melissa and I received spiritual sustenance through musical ground breakers like Larry Norman, prophets like Keith Green and poets like Rich Mullins.  The message was clear, “This isn’t your grandpa’s Christianity.  This is fresh, new and relevant.” 

Determined to find a faith tradition Melissa and I could call our own, we visited every church in Louisville which took three Sundays.  Mainly because there were other young couples our age, we ended up being a United Methodists.  After teaching history and coaching baseball and basketball for two years, I accepted a Teaching Assistantship at SIU-C, focused my Master’s work on 19th Century Revivalism hoping to figure some stuff out and took a staff position at the Herrin Methodist Church.  At Herrin I met a retired missionary and product of the “decidedly non-rock and roll” Wesleyan Holiness movement named Sylvia Culver.  Sylvia would have been in her seventies and she seemed to gracefully embody everything I believed the Holy Spirit should do in a life.  She had a warmth and a glow about her but most of all there was a spiritual force in her that was undeniable.  She was what I wanted to be in the unlikely event I ever grew up; she had something I both lacked and needed.  When I took a class she offered about the Holy Spirit; she taught in a methodical fashion that spoke to me and I found my heart strangely warmed.  For the past thirty years, I kept her notes in a file labeled “Holy Spirit” that I carried with me through seminary and my subsequent years of ministry.  I never preached or taught on them; I just kept them in the file.  And then early this year, I got them out again.

So what you are getting is a morphing of Sylvia’s stuff, my stuff, Methodist stuff and especially Bible stuff.  I am also drawing off some of my dad’s experiences because he was on the tip of the spear in a very influential historical movement.  I believe the movement is over but the sustained revival that it torched may still forming.  The Mainline American church is on hospice right now and I don’t see that as a bad thing; it ran its course and I would like to be a part of whatever is next.  I am not advocating a return to the Charismatic Movement, I wasn’t crazy about it when it was here.  I am advocating a Wesleyan and Biblically based openness to the Holy Spirit concerning our beliefs and our practices.  I want to eradicate the distance between what we do and what Jesus and the early church did and tap into every ounce of the power available to us as the New Testament church.  Some of the things we discuss might make you a bit uncomfortable; I assure you they make me uncomfortable.  My prayer is that God makes us all uncomfortable in the ways we most need to be uncomfortable.

Let’s meet the Holy Spirit:

THE PERSON OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

  1. The Holy Spirit is a person. Orthodox theology describes God in terms of the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit is God and equal to the father and the son.  The Holy Spirit is a person in substance though not in body and is not an “it” or an “influence.”

The United Methodist Articles of Religion describe the Trinity in this way: 

Article I — Of Faith in the Holy Trinity

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

  1. The Holy Spirit is distinct from the Father and Son
  2. The Holy Spirit is everywhere present
  3. The Holy Spirit doesn’t stay where not welcome He departed from men when disobedient. David “Take not thy spirit from me”
  4. The Holy Spirit is all powerful In the Old Testament he empowered men for service.
  5. The Holy Spirit is eternal He is seen in the work of Creation in Genesis.
  6. The Holy Spirit came in a new way at Pentecost
  7. The Holy Sprit interacts with the church in the same way until the return of Christ

The letter to the Romans was written around 58 AD by Paul from Corinth to a Roman church he had neither founded nor had visited.  My guess is the church at Rome was started by people who had experienced the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Jerusalem and had returned home.  Paul wrote the Roman church to outline the emerging theology of the Christian movement.  Paul’s theological conclusions have changed the world at least three times when the will of God, a great leader and new technology formed the perfect conditions for long term change.  All true revivals are initially torched by movements and are disruptive forces to the status quo.  I pray a fourth will happen in my lifetime.

First, aided by Roman innovations in transportation, Paul helped Christianity emerge from a localized Jerusalem movement by spreading the Gospel all over the Mediterranean world.  Hundreds of thousands of first century Gentiles were converted to Christianity as they responded to his message of salvation by faith.

Second, Martin Luther’s encounter with Romans in sixteenth century Germany touched off a revolution called the Reformation in Europe.  Challenging the corruption and works based theology of the Roman Catholic Church, Luther argued that salvation was found through faith in Christ alone.  Luther translated the Bible into German and aided by the technology of the Gutenberg Press and put the Bible in the hands of regular people for the first time.

Third, in nineteenth century England a discouraged young Anglican Priest named John Wesley was reading Luther’s preface to the Romans when he found “his heart was strangely warmed…I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation and an assurance was given to me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”  Wesley’s willingness to go outside the church building, Spirit fire and methodological leadership nurtured a revival of feeling in the midst of the industrial revolution and connected the church to the culture through cutting edge music, bold preaching and the formation of small groups.  Methodists were standardized, preachers were interchangeable and the Holy Spirit burned like wildfire.

I believe we may be on the threshold of a fourth movement of God that is going to ride the waves of the World Wide Web.  My heart’s desire is to be a catalyst in that revival.  Such a revival will not happen without a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit and our collective openness to be a part of it.

Personal Revival Positioning (PRP):

  1. Receive Christ
  2. Receive the Holy Spirit
  3. Recognize your gifts
  4. Put your gifts into play

6 God has given us unique spiritual gifts to be used in accordance with our faith You are gifted. You may not currently know what those gifts are so let’s precede Paul’s list of seven gifts with a prayer: 

Holy Spirit,

Awaken my heart to the gifts you have given me.

And give me the courage to use these gifts

For the good of the church and the glory of God.

In Jesus’ Strong Name…Amen!

 Seven Spiritual Gifts

  1. Prophecy (v. 6) Proclamation of the Gospel with authority and effectiveness. Do you love apologetics, Bible study and Biblical proclamation?
  2. Service (v. 7) Practical service; doing what needs to be done. Do you love the feeling of doing necessary things?
  3. Teaching (v. 7) Explanation of the Gospel with clarity and conviction. Do you love to preach, teach and instruct?
  4. Encouragement (v. 8) Lifting up other people in life giving ways. Do you love helping people see the good in themselves?
  5. Generosity (v. 8) Sharing resources with a simple kindness that flows from a generous spirit. Do you love to give of your tithes and offerings?
  6. Leadership (v. 8) Leading with zeal, passion and willingness to sacrifice for a greater good. Do you love strategic planning and seeing a plan come together?
  7. Kindness (v. 8) Acting toward others in faith nurturing, loving and non-judgmental ways. Do you love being there for others, especially in their difficult times?

 

The question isn’t whether or not you have gifts, the question is will you use them for the work of the church and the glory of God?

Tie Black and White

-Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.