On the Occasion of my 34th Birthday

Today is my 34th birthday.

I don’t say that to call attention to myself or to beg for birthday greetings but rather out of disbelief that I’m already 34. It’s been a while since I’ve posted a retrospective of the previous year but I have done that before. I guess I felt like there just wasn’t enough to talk about that would justify a post. If I were to do a post about my 33rd year on this planet, I think it would make up a large word count.

The only question I would ask myself before making such a post this time would, “where do I start?”

Most people who read this site already know me, at least in some way. The rest of you poor souls who find my ramblings click on a page that somehow pops up in a Google search (If this is you, I’m grateful that you found me and I hope you will come back in case I post something interesting!). For the majority, it would simply be a rehashing of events that have impacted me forever. Some of those events have been things that rocked me and Jessica to the core. Some, such as many of the EMS calls I ran in the past year, are things that I would much rather forget. Others have been wonderful things that I will treasure forever. No matter where any given event falls in that spectrum, one thing is for sure: My 33rd year has been one that will always be remembered and one that has impacted me in many ways.

Throughout everything that has happened – from Hannah’s birth and death to graduating from Liberty University and on to uprooting my and Jessica’s lives and moving to Kentucky – I have been reminded of the amazingly wonderful people who are in my life. My family simply rocks. My friends are amazing. My clergy colleagues – the vast majority of whom are included in the friends category – have been extremely supportive. The people I have been blessed to serve as their pastor have loved me and Jessica more than I could ask. As much as I have ministered to others, all of these people have ministered to me even more. In spite of change and of some events happening which were sad, I count myself blessed and I have much joy.

Throughout all of the events of the last year – good, bad, and everything in between – God has been a constant source of comfort and joy. Throughout His word, I am reminded of His constant presence and how He provides peace. Sunday, I’m preaching on resurrection and the promise that God always breaths new life into things that are dead. Whether those things are our souls, our lives or a world gone crazy, God always breathes new life into dead things. He truly makes beautiful things out of dust and this certainly has included the events of the last year. God has redeemed the bad things and increased the blessing of the good. My cut truly overflows with the outpouring of His grace, mercy and peace.

God has breathed new life into my dry bones!

I am embracing my 34th year with wide open arms. This year will see me continue on my new journey as pastor of Shiloh UMC and will also see me officially become a student at Asbury Theological Seminary. Only God knows what else awaits us. One thing I know for sure: I’m ready to run this race.

Welcome, 34th year. Let’s rock this.

Jonathan

Sin

Who likes talking about sin? No one that I know of actually enjoys talking about sin. Well, no one likes talking about their own sin. We love talking about the sins of other people; maybe we just like talking about other people in general.

I’m getting ready to preach a sermon on Sunday at Shiloh about our belief in the forgiveness of sins. As i have been pondering that message, I think not so much about what is and isn’t sin but rather I’ve been thinking more about grace. Why you ask? Because, as an old hymn proclaims:

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

It’s not uncommon for us to talk about all these “sinners” out in the world but we don’t talk enough about grace and forgiveness that God grants to His children through Jesus Christ. One thing that my fast from Facebook has helped me to understand that many posts – many of my own if I’m being honest – are judgmental. We love to point out the shortcomings – real and perceived – of other people. We love to talk about certain people or groups of people who are bound for Hell, all in an attempt to show off our own righteousness. We attempt to show the world that we are such good Christians that we are willing to condemn people who sin. Many of us think that our “fire insurance” (a term I’ve actually seen and heard) gives us a license to condemn.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says that it’s wrong for us to want to remove the speck from someone else’s eye when we have a plank in our own. In other words, we have no right to judge someone for their sin when we have our own skeletons in our closet to deal with. It is not our job to condemn people for their sins when we are sinners ourselves.

You can’t fight sin with sin.

Southland Church is a multi-campus congregation in Lexington, KY and they broadcast their services on one of the local TV stations. I decided to record their service out of curiosity and as I have been watching this sermon I have found good food for thought. Basically we have three common responses to sin: One one side we judge; on the other we join; and somewhere in the middle we remain joyful in Christ. The right response to sin is actually pretty simple: We are to be light in the darkness of this world. Light drives away darkness.

Trying to fight darkness with darkness only brings more darkness.

I know that some might misunderstand me and think that I’m advocating Christians being weak and “tolerating” sin. On the contrary: I believe we should take action. I don’t believe that action should be in the form of protests, revolts or fire and brimstone sermons on the courthouse steps. Instead, we overcome evil with good by our living. Yes, we take action and instead of proclaiming condemnation for everyone except ourselves we instead proclaim the gospel by loving as Christ loves the world.

“Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good” Romans 12:21 (CEB).

Just some thoughts on my mind this afternoon. Perhaps this will take shape better by Sunday. 🙂

Jonathan

Persecution: What It Is and What It Isn’t

PersecutionWhile I am making an effort to “stay out” of the affairs of Mississippi, I am going to write about a situation happening in my home state. However, I’m not going to comment on the situation itself. Rather, I am going to use it as an example of a bigger issue. The term “Christian persecution” gets thrown around a good bit, especially these days. In some instances it is warranted but I have found that often it isn’t. The TL;DR version of my thoughts will be this: We need to stop claiming “persecution” every time something happens that we don’t agree with. When we claim persecution where there isn’t any, we weaken the meaning of real persecution.

The Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) is the largest governing body for high school athletics and other activities in the state. They have had a bylaw on their books for quite some time which states that an athlete or participant in a sanctioned activity must be a resident of the state. They have not been enforcing this bylaw until recently. The main body of the MHSAA voted to begin enforcement much to the chagrin of the private schools who are/were part of the MHSAA. Several of the private schools situated along the Mississippi River have students who commute from Louisiana. By stating that they would begin enforcing the residency requirement, the MHSAA declared these out of state athletes ineligible. In other words, the private schools could only allow students who actually reside in Mississippi to participate in sports and other activities such as band, chorus and debate.

The result of this was that three of those schools – Greenville St. Joseph, St. Aloysius and Cathedral – have left the MHSAA and joined the smaller Mississippi Independent Schools Association (MISA) which does not have such residency requirements in place.  As far as that situation goes, I wish them well. I remember being a student at Philadelphia and hearing about how great these schools were in sports, especially soccer and baseball. I remember a particular time when I was serving as the manager of the Philly High soccer team and we played a game at Greenville St. Joe. Without going into details, I let the referee know that I did not agree with the call he made and I became the first soccer equipment manager in Mississippi to receive a yellow card.

But I digress…

When the Clarion-Ledger posted a story about this event, the comments were quick to be posted. And then it happened: Posts making allegations that the MHSAA was out to persecute the private schools because the vast majority are Catholic or otherwise Christian schools (note: I wanted to embed some of these posts, however they seem to have been removed. I can not say if it was the posters who removed them or the newspaper but I did see some comments alleging persecution in the comments section of the C-L’s web posting).

I don’t deny that Christians are persecuted and discriminated against everyday. I have no doubt that such discriminate exists in the United States. However, persecution this is not.

Webster’s defines persecution as, “The act or practice of persecuting especially those who differ in origin, religion, or social outlook.” Another definition they list is, “the act of continually treating in a cruel and harmful way.” When I think of persecution, I imagine acts that involve some serious harm such as not being able to buy goods, being relegated to a certain place to live, being imprisoned or even being killed. Persecution happens for many reasons: One’s faith, and race are probably the two biggest reasons that I have actually witnessed persecution first hand. When I thin of persecution I think of people who American citizen and pastor Saeed Abedini who is imprisoned in one of Iran’s most notorious prisons. His crime? Being a Christian.

An organization enforcing a rule that pertains to high school athletics is not persecution. Some may view such decision as not being fair, but such is not persecution. When we refer to such decisions and other events as persecution, we diminish the meaning of what persecution really is. We owe it to those who really do suffer for their faith, their race or because of something else similar  to respect what they have gone through by not claiming “persecution” every time something happens that we don’t agree with or whens someone otherwise disagrees with our views.

Recently I came across a list of the ways some of the apostles were killed. From what I can tell, the accounts were mostly true according to scripture references, historical accounts and church tradition. For example: Peter was killed because of his faith. Tradition has it that when it was decided by the authorities that he would be crucified, he requested to be nailed upside down so that his death would not be in the same exact manner as Christ’s (he is said to have felt unworthy).  Andrew, Peter’s brother, is said to have been severely beaten and then tied – not nailed – to a cross so that he would suffer longer. As he hung there for for two days, he was still preaching the gospel to anyone who would listen.

Persecution.

We need to do better. We certainly need to call out and take action on persecution whenever we find it. We must do everything that we possibly can to ensure that people don’t suffer because of their faith. However, we also need to be careful in what we call persecution. Someone disagreeing with our views or making a decision that causes us no real harm is not persecution. When we claim persecution where there is none we weaken the meaning of the word and marginalize those who really endure harm or even give their lives for their faith.

We don’t do Christ any favors by claiming persecution where there is none.

Let’s be salt and light, not squeaky wheels. Let us show grace and mercy, not disdain. And let’s advocate for those who really are enduring persecution.

Jonathan