July 30, 2010

Confusing Christ with the Church

I have never really heard of author Anne Rice (@AnneRiceAuthor) before this week and must admit that I have never read any of her writings but I have talked to plenty of people who feel the same way she does. On Wednesday she wrote on her Facebook fan page that as a Roman Catholic she was "quitting Christianity" because she was troubled by the scandals that have plagued the Church and its response to such abuse, as well as issues of being anti-birth control and anti-feminism (CBS News article here).

A blog post from friend Andrew Schleincher (@AJSchlei) about Anne's decision got me thinking...Is it possible that people confuse Christ with the Church?

Here's what I mean, people think that the Church and Jesus are the same thing and as a result, wrongly associate things like hypocrisy, being judgmental and hate-filled with Christ. The Church, which is made up of imperfect humans like you and me, is striving to be like the perfect person of Jesus and unfortunately falls short on a regular basis. This fact does not negate the love of Christ or the significance of being a Christian, it does however, remind us that only He is perfect and we are merely trying to be and because of this, the Church is not perfect and won't be until in Him all things are made complete. I hope and pray that people can and will find the perfect Christ through and despite of, the imperfect Church and realize that when the one fails miserably, He never does.

Do I think we, as the Church, unfairly give Jesus a bad rap sometimes...Yes.
Do I think that regardless, He not only loves but uses the Church...Yes.
Do I think this adds a weight of responsibility to the Church today and that we must continue to strive to become more like Jesus...Yes.

July 27, 2010

A Few Thoughts on War

I was working on this essay and honestly had no intention of posting it here but thanks to the encouragement of @jackodile and @nickestelle I decided otherwise. It's a little long for a blog post so I apologize.

****** ****** ****** ****** ******

Throughout history the Church has encountered war on a number of different levels and has responded in a number of different ways, though primarily through the responses of crusade, just war, and pacifism. Each one is unique in its understanding of the use of violence and the teachings of Jesus, which impacts the way in which one reads and understands Paul’s writing in Romans 12:17-13:7. A brief explanation of these three responses to war is important before moving forward.

The crusade response to war is most commonly understood as being represented during the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries by what took place in the Middle East. The thought behind this approach is one that believes war is appropriate and even necessary for the advance or protection of a particular religion or belief. This typically results in a zealous sort of violence that goes beyond what is “necessary” to advance or defend the perceived cause. John Howard Yoder describes the Crusades as going “far beyond the old Roman just war categories to make the Middle East adventures a specifically religious cause.”[1]

The most common response to war throughout Christian history is known as Just War. This belief holds that war should be avoided but at times may be necessary in order to protect and defend a weaker nation. Kennedy explains the just war response well when he says, “sometimes the use of violence by nations is morally permissible, perhaps even required.”[2] He goes on to write, “there are moral rules or criteria which must be satisfied before a war can be considered morally justified.”[3] There are a number of criteria which help to determine whether a war is justified, some of these include: last resort, proportionality, right intention, and reasonable hope of success at accomplishing your ends in fighting.[4]

The third response to war mentioned above is pacifism, which is the belief that war is never the appropriate action and should be avoided at all costs based upon moral or religious grounds.[5] Kathleen De Sutter Jordan speaks to Dorothy Day’s commitment to and example of pacifism when she writes, “For Dorothy it was precisely the love of God and the grace to “see Christ in people” that inspired her radical Christian pacifism and life of nonviolence.”[6] Jordan notes that much of pacifism’s response to war is “based on Christ’s revolutionary commandment (not merely a counsel, or recommendation, Dorothy pointed out) that his followers “Love one another as I have loved you.”[7]

Depending upon whether one sees himself or herself as a crusader, a just war advocate or a pacifist will impact the way one understands and explains Paul’s words in Romans 12:17-13:7.[8] This passage begins by addressing the issue of vengeance or seeking revenge and notes that peace is preferable, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (vs. 12:18). The seeking of justice in one’s own favor is not only inappropriate but not a moral reason to resort to violence or war. Paul gives the challenge to “overcome evil with good” (vs. 12:21) and allow God to be the administrator of justice and revenge by treating enemies kindly because it is the appropriate action of a disciple but may also have the effect of turning one’s heart. This begins first with submission to God, trusting in His promise, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (vs. 12:19) and secondly submission to the authorities that He has put in place to carry out His justice. Paul goes on to write, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (vs. 13:1) and explains that this is expected of Christ’s followers (vs. 13:5, 7).

Attempting to answer the question of when, if ever, it is appropriate to support a war based upon this passage of Paul’s writing may be difficult. The majority of Christians find themselves responding to war with a form of the Just War argument, believing that there may be times when war is the necessary action. While Paul’s words in Romans 12:17-13:7 do not speak specifically to the issue of war, he does address revenge, how peace is preferable and the need for Christians to submit to governing authorities.

As I read this, I understand it to mean that peace is always preferred, should be pursued but is not always possible. It then becomes a matter of trust and faith. Trusting that God, in His sovereignty has put the authorities in place as Paul notes in vs. 13:1. This trust then allows one to have faith in God’s promise that justice will be His and He will use whatever means necessary to see His justice come to fruition. Having said all of this, it seems to me that it becomes appropriate to support a war when peace has been pursued but to no avail and the basic tenets of humanity (opportunities for peace, security, basic necessities) are being withheld or denied from a weaker neighbor or people group. One can also see that support for war based solely upon vengeance or selfish gain is never appropriate. Keeping in mind the broader message found in Romans of God’s justice, freedom and peace over against those of the institutions of humankind will serve as faithful guides in determining one’s response to the issue of war.

1 Yoder, John H. "The Authority of Tradition." From Christ to the World: Introductory Readings in Christian Ethics. By Wayne G. Boulton, et. al. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1994. 98.
2 Kennedy, Thomas. “Can War Be Just?” From Christ to the World: Introductory Readings in Christian Ethics. By Wayne G. Boulton, et. al. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1994. 437.
3 Ibid. 437.
4 Ibid. 440.
5 Webster Dictionary: The New American. New York: New American Library, 1958.
6 Jordan, Kathleen De Sutter. “The Nonviolence of Dorothy Day.” From Christ to the World: Introductory Readings in Christian Ethics. By Wayne G. Boulton, et. al. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1994. 442.
7 Ibid. 443-444.
8 Romans 12:17-13:7. The Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.

July 23, 2010


Have you ever been sitting in church or small group and heard a word or phrase you've heard before but have never really understood? You know, those words you feel like you should know but aren't quite sure about, do you have any of those?

I'm working on a sermon series for this Fall entitled "#ChurchWORDS". The point of this series is to alleviate the uneasiness or confusion surrounding some words we use and hear in different church settings. Whether it is a Bible study, small group or worship service, what are those #ChurchWORDS that leave you wondering exactly what they mean? I would love to hear from you those words that you aren't quite sure about. My hope is to use your input in putting together this sermon series so please feel free to contact me by dropping a comment here (anonymously if you prefer) or email me: matt@castletonumc.org. I look forward to hearing your #ChurchWORDS.

July 22, 2010

The Launch of a Saturday Evening Contemporary Service Part III

It's been almost 9 weeks since the "soft" launch of our Saturday Evening Contemporary Service here at Castleton UMC and so far, so good. The worship band continues to get better as the weeks go by, especially in regards to transitions. They have been introducing new worship songs for our congregation and they seem to enjoy most of them.

The inconsistency of our schedule has certainly hurt us a little over the past few weeks. Due to a previously scheduled wedding, the service started an hour later that weekend at 7pm. We have another late start coming up on the 31st due to another wedding that has been on the books for awhile. There is no Saturday Service this Saturday due to the "Celebrate Our Church" service happening at 10am Sunday. We are combining all 6 of our weekend services from 2 campuses into this 1 service on Sunday morning. I am looking forward to the consistency the Fall calendar will provide in a few weeks.

As we prepare for a consistent Fall schedule, we are working on a marketing strategy for the "hard" launch set for August 14th. Part of this marketing plan involves developing a name for the service, which is proving harder than I had anticipated (any suggestions let me know). Once we settle on a name, we will begin designing a logo and tagline. This will be followed with targeted mailers, online advertising, radio spots, visiting local college campuses, and large banners in front of the church. I'm anticipating the initial marketing cost being roughly $3k-$5k.

One other aspect I have been working on is our online presence via live streaming of the service and podcasts. Neither are great right now but I don't think we're too far from making these happen on a consistent, quality basis.

After meeting for 8 weeks we are averaging 68 in attendance.

July 21, 2010

Forgive & Forget



I'm not talking about forgiving someone else. I'm wondering if you need to forgive yourself....and then FORGET?

Paul was a guy who had a lot of things in his past, both good and bad, that he needed to forget about so he could move on. There may be good things you have done in the past that you hold onto, like a badge declaring worth or perhaps a couple bad things that serve as perpetual reminders of how awful a person you are. Whether good or bad, these things keep you from pressing forward. They chain you to the past making it easy to miss how God wants to meet you in the present. Part of what allows you to move on, to press forward, is to stop focusing on the past and strain toward what is ahead, as Paul writes in Philippians 3:12-14.

So, if God have forgiven you and moved on, why haven't you?

July 12, 2010

"More Than Enough"

Sermon outline from 7/10. As always questions, comments and thoughts are welcome. Be on the lookout for the audio here.

"More Than Enough"

Exodus 35:4-5, 20-21, 29; 36:3-7

*Understood the Purpose
-Exodus 35:20-21, 29
-The purpose of the Church & all Christians is to make disciples who love God, love one another and serve the world

*Shared the Passion
-Exodus 35:21
-Everyone who was “willing”
-God desires willingness not obligation…2 Cor 9:6-8

*More than Enough
-Exodus 36:3-7
-This came from what they already had, there was no need to go get more
-Where do you and I find ‘enough’?
-Lyrics from “Ill With Want” by The Avett Brothers

“The more I have, the more I think
I’m almost where I need to be
if only I could get a little more”

-1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-18
-“love of money” = excessive or insatiable desire for wealth or gain
-Money as security is always a moving target because we never have enough
-Ecclesiastes 5:10: “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.”
-Paul talks about God’s grace as being sufficient, or enough (2 Cor 12:9)
-Where are you searching for 'enough'? My guess is if it’s anywhere other than God, you haven’t found it yet.

July 6, 2010

"Meant to be Free"

Sermon outline from our Saturday evening service of July 4th weekend.

"Meant to be Free"
Galatians 5:1-6, 13-15

-Christ has freed us to be free
-This is something that has already been done, we must choose to live in that freedom (4:4-5)
-Stand firm in this freedom (Philippians 1:27)
-“Yoke” is typically used in the positive sense, as a set of guidelines (Matthew 11:29-30)
-Because we have been set free, we should never tolerate being enslaved again (4:8-9)
-This is not about individualism or inner liberty but about the freedom of Christ coming alive in the forming of community
-It is not “autonomy” which literally means “self-law”, meaning we are at the mercy of ourselves but instead this is a freedom that says “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (2:20).
-This is freedom for life in community, for mutual service in love embodied through the corporate life of the church
-This freedom is a gift, not an achievement which leaves room for genuine diversity
-We are free to interact with those who disagree with us, to love those who are difficult to love
-Freedom in Christ points us to something new

"Caring for God's House"

Sermon outline from Saturday 6/26 which happens to be the first part of a two part series on stewardship as our church prepares to launch a new capital campaign.

"Caring for God's House"

Haggai 1:1-11
-First day of the 6th month in the 2nd year of King Darius I…which tells us:
-Darius I had plenty of time to get things settled
-the 1st day of the month was set aside for sacrifices but w/no altar the sacrifices could not be made
-The project began 18yrs earlier (Ez 1:2-11; 3:1-7; 5:16) and still wasn’t finished
-The houses of the people were finished while God’s remained unfinished
-“sown much but harvested little”
-Speaks to the need for focus, literally “set the heart”
-Before the temple is even finished God declares it acceptable
-God takes pleasure in our process
-Maybe 6% is 100% of what you can give right now
-This doesn’t necessarily mean God will bless you with more money but will help you appreciate what you have
-God will be honored, one way or another
-Is your relationship with God dry? What is your stewardship like?
-Our behavior matters to God
-Drought as a powerful symbol of the brokenness of creation and the need for divine healing and restoration
-It is important for the Church to care for God’s house so we can care for others

Luke 16:10-15
-Wealth is not the issue, it’s what we do w/it
-The question is not whether you will have a master but who or what it is