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I have struggled with something for quite a while, and today in my reading, I stumbled upon an idea that had been silently germinating in my mind for quite some time. In our culture, we have this incredible tendency to objectify things. We easily draw lines between groups and races and people of different cultures and even the genders by objectifying them. We see them as either objects of competition, objects of our pursuits, objects to be exploited for our own personal gain or objects that are simply disposable and can be discarded when their usefulness has expired.

Several years ago, as I began my doctoral studies, the consort of which I was a part lived in the same dormitory, ate meals together and studied together for more than three weeks. One of the members of the group referred to the relationships that we would establish as “Bic relationships.” Like Bic products (think anything from ballpoint pens to cigarette lighters), we would greatly enjoy the relationships we established, but they would not be long-lasting and would be discarded once we were no longer together. Ultimately, he was right. We had objectified the relationships to the point that, by graduation, we no longer were really in touch with each other and, after graduation, have completely lost contact.

The relationships were objects … not subjects! Had we chosen to develop subjective relationships with each other, we would have invested ourselves in nurturing those relationships. It would have been less about me and more about the other! But in our educational pursuits, we collectively … I personally … placed ourselves (myself) as the subject (the one at the center) and the other as the object (serving only to support that which was at the center).

I have been reading a book given to me following the death of our son-in-law. A loving soul shared Harold Kushner’s recent book Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life. One of the key things he has learned is that God is not a man who lives in the sky. He makes specific reference to Da Vinci’s epic work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and specifically on the part of that work known as the Creation of Adam. In that work, God is depicted as an old, bearded man surrounded by cherubim. While works like this help make God more real for us, they also create serious theological issues and ultimately limit God to the sum total of our own imaginations.

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Kushner then makes an incredible case for the second commandment to create no graven images of God, and he talks about this in such a way that I began to think again about the distinction between subject and object. Who is the subject and who is the object in Da Vinci’s famous work? How do we objectify God by making an effort to cast God in an image limited by human imagination? Is it possible that the second commandment really means that we should avoid objectifying God?

In grammar, the subject of the sentence (usually coming early in the sentence) is acting upon the object of the sentence (usually coming in the second part of the sentence). “Dad is taking Susan to school,” in this analysis, means that Dad is the subject who takes Susan who is the object. The problem is not with labeling people or God as subject or object in grammar. “The congregation worships God” is a good sentence with a great meaning, so this is less about grammar and more about a larger picture.

The larger picture was captured well for me in a work by Dr. Robert Webber, who for years served on faculty at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. His work is titled, The Divine Embrace, and I remembered reading an excerpt of that book in Christianity Today many years ago. The title of the article was God is Not the Object of Our Worship. In that article, he highlights that we think of God as the object of our worship, while we maintain ourselves as the subject of our worship. In other words, the way we worship is so often about us and less about God. It is about how we feel, how we are fed, how we are nourished and how we flourish in our worship. It is about us holding ourselves at the center of our own universe and asking God to serve us and make us whole.

The difference may seem subtle and a bit semantic, but I think it is vitally important. This is where the theme of my life and ministry comes back into play. It is not about us … it is about God. To let go and let God is to see ourselves as the objects of a God who is capable of transforming us and recreating us into God’s own image through our worship. We are the ones acted upon by this one who is the subject of our worship … not the object of our worship. When God is the subject of our worship, we are fulfilled and fed, but in a very different, surprising way than we might ever imagine.

As our family has continued working through a very trying time in our lives, I have been thinking a great deal about the difference between subject and object. In grief and caring ministries at Wellspring, we utilize a diagram that comes from the work of Susan Silk, a psychologist, and Barry Goldman, a family mediator. It is called the Ring Theory of Kvetching. Kvetching is complaining or, in their words, dumping on others. It is the complaint or expression of pain that comes from suffering. The diagram is perhaps best depicted by the Edith Sanford Breast Foundation, and it looks like this:

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In our family, we have made it very clear that our daughter and granddaughter are “ground zero” in the tragic death of their husband and father. While the grief is profound for all of us, I am not the one at the very center of this tragedy. For me to kvetch inward is to objectify my daughter and attempt to make myself the subject (the center) of the diagram, and it is incredibly harmful to my daughter and her family should that happen. Likewise, it is harmful to us when people farther removed from the situation kvetch inward to us and, often very unintentionally, displace us from our rightful role in this circle.

Ultimately, this same circle makes sense in our relationship with God. Instead of caring and dumping (kvetching), it has to do with empowering and worshipping. In this way of thinking, God empowers out to us and we worship in toward the center. We are people who are called to worship, but our worship doesn’t happen without the work of the Holy Spirit. When God is the subject of our worship, then it is God’s Holy Spirit who guides and shapes our worship.

Leonard Sweet, in his book, The Bad Habits of Jesus: Showing Us the Way to Live Right in a World Gone Wrong, tells the following story:

There is an old Hasidic story about a young Jewish lad who lived on an isolated farm with his family. They were quite poor and lived simple lives. One day the boy got to travel to a village with his father. He was drawn to a synagogue where he heard prayers being recited. His heart was touched, so he went in and sat down to listen to the prayers. The boy was deeply moved and wanted to join in the prayers, but he could not read the siddur, the Hebrew prayer book. So he closed his eyes and simply prayed the alphabet, “Aleph, bet, gimmel, dalet, hey, fav …” He recited the alphabet over and over again. Then he said, “O God, I don’t know how to pray or what to say. Here are the letters of the alphabet. Use them to make up the prayer I should pray, the words you would like to hear, and answer my prayer as you see fit for me.”

The boy’s prayer in that story is perhaps the most authentic form of worship. Maybe the best way to keep God as the subject is just to open our mouths, utter the alphabet and ask God to construct whatever it is that needs to be offered in worship.

Jesus, likewise, knew the power of this, and he admonished his followers, “When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given to you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 13:11, CEB)

And Paul likewise carries out this theme when he says, “In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans.” (Romans 8:26, CEB)

So as I finished my devotional and reading for today, it became clear to me that God is not the object of my affections. God is the subject of my entire life. God is not the object of my worship. God is the subject of passion in my life.

How different would our church be if we saw God as the subject of our lives? How different would be our world? How would we treat others if we saw them as subjects and not objects of our affections?

This is ultimately the destination of my decades-long journey of letting go and letting God: discovering that God is the subject of everything in my life and we, the children of God, are the objects of God’s affections! Make God the subject and you will change the world!

At an earlier time and an earlier place, I believed that each event in life contained some good in it. I frequently would refer to Paul’s statement in Romans 8 “that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God” as somehow making my point. The point was that, if we just look closely enough, we will find good in all things. No matter what people faced in their lives, I looked for the hidden blessing in each life event.

Then tragedy struck our own family, and I suddenly found myself at a new place in my thinking. There is nothing good about losing Jeff. There is nothing good about my grandchildren who will grow up without their daddy. There is nothing good about my daughter’s loss of her soulmate and life partner. So Paul and I found ourselves at odds with each other. The great hope Paul speaks of in Romans 8 seemed to evaporate like the morning dew, and I could not see anything good.

At one point, I found myself recounting in my mind all the disappointment that 2016 brought to us. Within our family, we were told no about potential job opportunities. We were questioning whether we had bought the right house because it had more rooms than we really needed. I had applied for a clergy renewal leave grant that was denied. It seemed as if the year had brought nothing but disappointment. The brightest spot of the year was that we had two new grandbabies on the way.

Then on September 23, every disappointment we had experienced was forgotten in a heartbeat. Nothing was as painful as the new reality being thrust upon us.

So as I processed the darkness we were facing, I began to reflect upon all of the disappointment and tragedy that defined this year. Then my mind went back again to Romans 8, and as I looked back through that great chapter on suffering and hope, I saw the phrase again. “We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God.” Only this time, I read it differently.

Nowhere in Romans 8 does Paul say that tragedy or suffering is good. He doesn’t say that all things are good. He said that all things work together for good for the ones who love God. So what does that mean?

It means my wife serves as a principal in a school district with a phenomenal superintendent and staff who more than covered for her and allowed her to be gone for two full months to take care of our daughter and granddaughter. It means that I serve as pastor in a church with a staff and a group of leaders who completely covered for me and protected me in such a way that I could be fully present with our daughter and granddaughter for seven weeks.

It means that we have room in our house for our daughter and granddaughter each to have their own rooms along with a room for a nursery for a baby due in January. It means that, when the baby comes, I will not be on renewal leave but will be fully present to help out with the grandchildren. It means that we have our son and his family living locally to broaden and strengthen the web of support.

It all suddenly became clear. All of these disappointments and seeming setbacks throughout the year had now become our blessings. Every “no” had become a “yes.” They had freed us up to be fully available to our daughter in her darkest time. Indeed, while there was nothing intrinsically good about any of these events, they did, in fact, all work together for good.

So as we discover the “new normal” that is beginning to take shape in our lives, I have come see that I can trust God … I can live according to God’s purpose even in this new reality. And yes, I can see that all things can work together for good and can provide for us a profound hope that, even during times of tragedy and grief, nothing can finally separate us from God’s great love!

 

The events of the last four weeks have greatly impacted my thinking. With the death of our son-in-law while on temporary assignment to Guam with the US Air Force, our world has been dramatically rocked. It has felt like we are free-falling, like the fragile bridge over a great chasm gave way while we were all happily crossing it. In that kind of free fall, we find ourselves grasping and holding onto whatever we can find.

We are holding onto our daughter and grandchildren (the one who is here and the one who is yet to be born). As Layne has dealt with the overwhelming shockwave of grief and the complete dissipation of the map that led her into the future, we have wanted just to hold her and comfort her and somehow protect her from all of this.

The painful reality of parenthood is that protecting our children is a task that is ultimately futile. We live with the illusion that we can always keep our kids from harm, but then we realize that the very nature of our humanity and creatureliness prevents us from the protection we so desperately want to provide. Yet we hold on nonetheless.

We are holding onto memories. Our son-in-law was a thrill seeker and an adventurer. It makes sense, being a fighter pilot. He had this adventurous way of taking any excursion to the next level, and he created memories. Lots of memories. Leah and I first knew this young man when he and Layne were kids in the 5th and 6th grades, and we have specific memories and stories about those days.

He was known as one who would study about wherever it was that they were going to serve next, and it was said at his memorial service that he knew more unique things about the area than many of the locals knew, whether it was Colorado, the Hawaiian Islands, the panhandle of Florida or the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

He was one who also was known for his humor and his antics, and his fellow pilots spent an entire evening telling many of those stories. He was known for how well he loved his wife and children. Some of my greatest memories are of him introducing KB to the wonders of the world. Many more stories are yet to be told, but one of the things we want for their children is to know these great stories about their dad. In every way possible, we will be holding onto these memories.

Finally, we are holding onto hope! This is where an important layer has been peeled back for me. I have always known that grief often includes being angry at God when the unimaginable happens, but I have never felt it. As a pastor, I have experienced those times when people were angry at God and sometimes at me because I represent God. My pastor’s heart has always helped me understand that this is a very important step in grief, and that God’s love isn’t contingent upon our happiness or anger. I just have never experienced that feeling myself … until now.

We keep asking “why?” and there is simply no answer given. It feels like injustice. It feels like punishment. It is a helpless, terrible thing to experience a tragedy and have no discernible understanding as to why this has happened. Because we believe in a God who created heaven and earth, it is easy to turn our anger in that direction. I have now experienced the anger and helpless frustration of banging bloody fists on heaven’s gates demanding to know why this has happened and what I could do just to change it back.

And then at some point amidst the anger and the tears of grief, there is a silence. And there is a sigh that truly is too deep for words. Words only muddy the water. There is no answer, and at some point perhaps there is no need for one.

But there is hope.

Paul says that hope is that gift that moves us beyond our questions and our answers and our words. It is a sigh we breathe when there is nothing else to say and nowhere else to turn. It is in that sigh that we rediscover the reality that is greater than we are. The words in 1 Corinthians 15:19 kept coming to mind in the first days after Jeff’s death:

If we have a hope in Christ only in this life, then we deserve to be pitied more than anyone else.

Our hope is in a Christ that is more. Our hope is in a Christ that is eternal. Our hope is in a Christ who speaks often in soft, silent tones. Our hope is in a promise that there is something more.

It rains somewhere in Hawaii every single day, and the rains came to our part of the island in earnest a day or two ago. Last night we had the greatest amount of rain, and it was still raining and storming this morning as we awoke. Layne’s house looks out over Pearl Harbor, and I pulled open the curtains just in time to see it. It was my Facebook post:

Sometimes hearing the promise is as difficult as finding the end of the rainbow, but the promise still persists. Even in the midst of the storm when we can’t hear it clearly, the promise is still spoken.

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My journey is all about letting go and letting God be God. Today, however, I think I will just hold on. I’m holding onto family. I’m holding onto hope.

In the 3rd chapter of the Gospel of John, we are told about a debate that broke out between a devout adherent to the Jewish faith and those who were disciples of John (the one who baptized Jesus). They were debating about cleansing rituals, and the followers of John came to him and said, “Rabbi, look! The man who was with you across the Jordan, the one about whom you testified, is baptizing and everyone is flocking to him.” (John 3:26, CEB)

I get it. As a pastor, I have always wanted to have that church … that ministry … to which people flocked. I am looking for thousands of people to just flock to hear me preach and teach. I would love nothing more than for our church to experience an explosion of growth because that makes me look really good among the other pastors out there. It is a natural desire built into us. It is how we define success. If we can sustain metrics that show growth in dramatic numbers, that means we are doing our job well, right?

Umm … not necessarily.

While metrics are important to determining the health of ministry, sometimes we get caught up in measuring the wrong things. I have said in church recently that we tend to define our world according what we think are normal standards about wealth, power and privilege. We use these standards often to assign value or define everything. We think of the impoverished as those who don’t have those things and we are responsible for providing for them by sharing some of what we have with them. We even think about issues of inclusiveness in ways that we tend to talk about us and them (with the “us” normally being people on the inside and “them” being the people who are on the outside looking in). What often happens is that we take great delight in offering handouts, but we rarely are about doing anything so radical that it actually changes the power structure.

And John’s disciples are a little upset. There is a shift going on. The crowds that formerly flocked to them were now flocking to Jesus. But John has a very different perspective:

John replied, “No one can receive anything unless it is given from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said that I’m not the Christ but that I’m the one sent before him. The groom is the one who is getting married. The friend of the groom stands close by and, when he hears him, is overjoyed at the groom’s voice. Therefore, my joy is now complete. He must increase and I must decrease. The one who comes from above is above all things. The one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all things. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. Whoever accepts his testimony confirms that God is true.The one whom God sent speaks God’s words because God gives the Spirit generously. The Father loves the Son and gives everything into his hands.Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. Whoever doesn’t believe in the Son won’t see life, but the angry judgment of God remains on them.” (John 3:27-36, CEB)

And the key verse (with my emphasis added above) is John 3:30, and it is one that has been a theme verse of a good friend of mine: “He must increase and I must decrease.” This has become a huge theme of mine over the years, as well. It is fundamental to what I mean when I talk about letting go. It is about seeing that I have work to do, but it is nothing compared to the work of the very one whom my own work is intended to glorify!

The metric most important in this passage is not how many people John is drawing to himself; rather, it is about how many people John is sending to Jesus. This the point of decreasing as Christ increases in the life of the Christian.

So what does that have to do with us here and now? We certainly don’t want to see the church decrease (we have seen too much of that already in our own denomination and other mainline churches). But just having large crowds that fill arenas and stadiums is not what it is necessarily about either. We tend to be a culture that produces rock star pastors. Rock stars rarely like sharing their crowd with anyone else. So often we hear Jesus’s name mentioned in such settings as something that is incidental, but then, if we listen carefully, we will see Jesus recast into an image that is safe for our culture and that is no threat to our own power, wealth or privileged positions. This isn’t the Jesus of the gospels. 

While I love to watch stars on the big screen and listen to rock stars (yes, I love classic rock, but this means the stars in any musical genre), I realize that their own metrics in no way intend for them to decrease. In ministry, however, my job is always to work myself out of a job … it is to make sure that it is less about me and so much more about this Christ whom we serve. It is about realizing that the very place of privilege itself cannot give me the best image of Jesus. I must take Jesus at his word that the image of the face of Christ is found in the least of these our brothers and sisters. (see Matthew 25)

My prayer is that I may be able to decrease to the point that I might truly see Jesus shining on me and perhaps through me. But that will only come when I let go … get out of the way … and let Christ be the one who is glorified!


I talk a lot about letting go, but it isn’t just any way of letting go. It is not letting go of standards about conduct. It is not about letting go of moral imperatives. It is certainly not about letting go of advances we have made in the acceptance and full inclusion of people who are not white, heterosexual males (who typically have held disproportionate amounts of power in western culture). The letting go of which I speak is simply to trust that God will be God and will lead us to that new kingdom.

When Israel left the bondage of Egypt, they were led into a wilderness. In that wilderness, they faced hunger, thirst and, worst of all, the unknown. They were led by the pillar of cloud by day and watched over by the pillar of fire by night. When the Egyptian pharaoh changed his mind, he sent troops to slaughter them, and when they followed God, they were led to the edge of the sea. What a horrible military strategy. They were doomed either to be killed by the sword or drowned in the sea of despair.

And friends, I think that is where we are in our nation. I grew up just south of Dallas, and I learned to drive in Dallas. The killing of black United States citizens at the hands of law enforcement has broken my heart. And the killing of Dallas police offers has brought me to a place of deeper despair.

It feels very much like we have been led to the edge of the sea with evil at our backs, and we have few options. But while the Israelites sat in their despair at the crossroads of evil and death, God asked them to speak a higher truth. It was a truth that, no matter what we face, the truest thing we can do right now is trust in God.

But to get to that truth, we must speak some other truths we know about our world. We have a legal system that disproportionately ends the lives of black men through death or incarceration. We have institutional racism that marginalizes races other than non-hispanic white. We still have sexism that is alive and well as exemplified by margins in lower wages for women who are performing equal work with equal effectiveness to their male counterparts. We continue, through our churches and our statehouses, to marginalize those whose sexual orientations are anything but heterosexual. We have demonized those who are charged to protect and defend us, and we have created deep divisions in our communities.

So we stand at the sea of despair with evil coming from every other direction. Getting across this sea is treacherous, and our fear of the unknown is a powerful force that drives us to policy and conduct that creates deeper divisions among us. I am convinced right now that God asks us to be truth tellers. We must own up to our sin (both institutional and individual), and then we are asked to leave our bias and our bigotry and our hatred on the shore and follow God into the water … as one people who care deeply for one another, no matter our differences.

And letting go now is as simple as taking that step into the greater truth: our God is a deliverer! Our God is one who parts the waters, and when the waters won’t part, our God then sends us a Christ who teaches us to walk on the water. In this time of despair and fear, I invite you to follow Christ as we take that first step. I invite you to follow the children of Israel … because we know there is hope and fullness of life on the other side.

I’ve been overwhelmed lately! The news of terrorism, both on our own soil and abroad, is frightening. I think about what kind of world we live in where we have suffered through so much war and suffering, so much hatred and violence. I read the news, and then I just have to lay it down for a while. It is just too overwhelming.

Today I was reading more stories, and I was just getting more overwhelmed. Then I realized (almost out of the blue) that I have an answer to the all this evil perpetrated in our world from our own local and national politics all the way to genocide and oppression in their most dramatic forms. The answer is simple really … the answer is  Christ.

Many years ago, I remember hearing Cristy Lane singing One Day a Time, and I still think of her words: “it’s worse now than then.” And during my youth, when that song was first released, I accepted that as truth. But as I have studied more about the life of Israel and the ancient world … the stories of Babylonian, Assyrian and Roman oppression … the stories of the world into which Jesus was born, lived and died … the stories of the martyrs of the early church … and many other stories through the years, I am no longer convinced that it is “worse now than then.” We may have developed more sophisticated ways to kill more people faster, but the brutality and cruelty coded into the human condition is not something new to us.

So my question is pretty simple: How did our ancestors of the faith live through the overwhelming evil of their time? How do we have this recollection of those eras in our collective story as somehow better?

And the answer that quickly springs to my mind is that our spiritual ancestors somehow conquered all that was bad with something that was good … not just good, but very good! And what is that thing that is good? It is none other than God! Through the power of God’s grace, the people who have faced the most horrific acts inflicted by fellow human beings have somehow come to the realization there is still something good within us … something that contains God’s image … something God called “very good.”

So yes, it is very easy to get overwhelmed by all that is bad in our world, but today … at least for today … I am not letting that get me down. That is because I know how the story turns out. As a friend used to say to her church when people would gain a new interest in all the atrocities and bloodshed depicted in the Revelation to John at the end of our Bible, “Don’t get overwhelmed by the bloody images and the gory details because, in the end, God wins!”

Isn’t that the fundamental message we proclaim as Christians? No matter what we face in the world … not matter how bad we experience these harsh realities (even those things beyond our control) … God wins. And God wins, not through violence or sword or might, but through grace.

So my question is how I might infuse a little grace in the world today. What simple act can I do that will demonstrate God’s love and grace today? It might be for a person who is likewise overwhelmed with all the bad in their own world, or it might be someone who has simply given up hope in our current political realities. Whatever their reality, my plan today is to bring a simple act of grace wherever I can.

And if we all agreed that perhaps we could, likewise, share the grace of Christ, then maybe … just maybe … the world would be overwhelmed with grace!

Many have heard this story told in different settings and with different characters involved, but I think it has meaning for today:

One morning, a woman was walking on a beach where hundreds of stranded starfish had been washed ashore during a storm the night before. She was picking up one starfish at a time and throwing it into back into the ocean. A man came upon the scene and was overwhelmed by the number of live starfish who would soon die. He saw her throwing a starfish back in the water, and he asked, “Why are you throwing them back? Can’t you see that there is no way to save them all? What difference does throwing one back make?”

At that, she picked up a starfish, threw it back in the water and said, “It makes a difference to that one.” At that, the man picked up a starfish and threw it in the water, and they continued on their journey now saving two starfish at a time.

And my point is that, while her effort seemed small, it was doubled by her sharing with another person who then joined her in her quest.

We are witnessing yet another General Conference caught in a quagmire debating whether to continue excluding homosexual persons (and by implication perhaps those with differing gender identities) from the mainstream of the church. By claiming that the lives of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are somehow incompatible with Christian teaching, I wonder if that exclusion itself might be what is most incompatible with the teaching of Jesus.

We are now raising a generation of young adults, teens and children for whom the reality of differing sexual orientations and gender identities is a part of life and who deem the church as irrelevant when we bog down in this debate. They do so because they themselves see this as something that doesn’t mesh with their image of a Jesus who went way beyond the boundaries without judgment to those who were excluded from the mainstream.

We are frantic. We see this huge mess lying on our shores. We are determined to clean it all up in one fell swoop … one General Conference, but this never seems to effect change as dramatically as we wish it would.

I heard a presentation this past Sunday that talked about using our political connections to effect change. Josh Houston, with Texas Impact, said something that really made sense. He said that we tend to worry so much about national elections where our influence is so greatly diminished, but that our local efforts tend to have both more impact and raise up those people who eventually serve us at county, state and federal levels. Based on typical voter turnout in local elections, when we vote, our one vote can count for thousands of people. His message was to think small on our impact, and we will begin to effect more change than we ever thought possible.

In the 24th chapter of Luke’s gospel, when Jesus authorized his disciples to continue his ministry, Luke tells us that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” Then he taught them what was written about the Christ and that “a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Even Jesus said to start small in order to go large.

Jesus healed one person at a time, even when he was in a large group. The gospels tell us stories about Jesus encountering large crowds, but if you read closely, you realize that most of the stories told are either about his small following of disciples (both men and women who traveled with him) or his encounters with individuals along the way.

In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells us about the disciples as they encountered individuals. Paul began house churches. They were not cathedrals, by any stretch. They were small groups that led to the creation of other small groups. Many of them were underground churches during the time of persecution. Thousands were brought to faith, but it happened through individual relationships.

The interesting thing is that the notion of converting entire nations on a wholesale basis did not happen until after the Council of Nicaea in 325, and that was largely not for religious or faith-based reasons. Emperor Constantine needed to unite his empire, and Christianity had become the tool by which he would do so. Claiming the cause of Christ, people’s lives were in peril if they did NOT convert to Christianity.

In my mind, there is a distinct difference between Jesus and Constantine. Jesus was not about conversion … he was about transformation. Jesus was not about conformity … he was about relationship. And it all began from Jerusalem and moved outward!

In our own time, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was one who exhibited this practice so well. While she later influenced nations with her addresses and her fame as a Nobel Prize laureate, her ministry, from the beginning, was always focused on one person at a time. She founded the Missionaries of Charity, and her work has inspired thousands of others likewise to care for one person at a time.

So where does this lead us? For us to have the greatest impact on the church, it is vitally important to start with relationships and transformation. It is not a secular political process that involves debate, voting and pronouncements. It is a process of faithful following that brings us into conversation, relationship and acceptance of the other. Change comes with each single encounter and then broadens as those encounters lead to other encounters where love and respect are the norm for our conversations.

At Wellspring, we have instituted a series of holy conversations that are aimed at just such encounters. The model we have used is a model where we agree to a covenant of respect and listening to one another. It is a model where we can talk about our differences without debating one another. It is not about debate and conversion; rather, it is about conversation and transformation.

When we share the love of Jesus one person at a time, we create community. It is in that community that we live out our motto: “All are welcome! All are accepted!” And we always add: “All means all.” One precious soul at a time!