On Blame and History

cross-and-flame-color-1058x1818Yesterday, a sister in Christ and clergy colleague shared a link to a blog post regarding the upcoming Judicial Council decision regarding the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto at the last Western Jurisdictional Conference. Bishop Oliveto’s election is being contested due to her being a married lesbian, which is against the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. The post was written by the Rev. Jeremy Smith, an Elder serving First UMC in Portland, Oregon. Rev. Smith has been an outspoken proponent of changing of the BoD‘s current language against the practice of homosexuality by clergy so I was not surprised by his expression of support for Bishop Oliveto. What I was surprised about was his attack on United Methodists from the south.

To take him at his word, Rev. Smith feels that southern UMs are to blame for all of the ills within the denomination.

I am a native Mississippian and I certainly acknowledge that the south is not without blame in a lot of incidents of intolerance, especially matters of racism and other discriminatory practices. I have been outspoken about such myself. Laying the blame for any of the ills within the United Methodist Church squarely at the feet of the faithful from the south is disgusting.

This assessment could not be farther from the truth.

Rev. Smith’s attempt to paint the south in such a poor light comes across as an ad hominem attack on the entirety of the southern US. His insinuation that the South Central Jurisdiction is a “jurisdiction behaving badly” by challenging the election of Bishop Oliveto is ridiculous. Our Discipline allows for declaratory decisions to be sought by bodies within the UMC and this is what is occurring. No, the SCJ can not interfere in the ordination of clergy elsewhere but the fact that Bishop Oliveto is now a bishop – and thus part of the Council of Bishops – means that she is now accountable to the entire UMC, not just her annual conference or jurisdiction. The SCJ were well within their rights to challenge this election for that very reason.

Regardless of how one feels of the current language regarding homosexual practice in the Book of Discipline, the fact remains that at least for the moment practicing homosexuals are not allowed to be ordained as clergy (Bishop Oliveto has repeatedly had charges filed against her under church law – even by people within her own jurisdiction – but I will not speculate as to why these charges have not been dealt with as they have been in other annual conferences and jurisdictions). There are avenues for changing church law but the Western Jurisdiction – which due to their relatively small membership do not have as many delegates as other jurisdictions at General Conference do – have instead chosen to buck the system. The message they have sent to the rest of the connection is, “We’re going to do what we want no matter what anyone else says.”

With that in mind, perhaps the SCJ is not the “jurisdiction behaving badly.” And if such is not a schismatic action, I do not know what is.

Rev. Smith may also do well to be reminded that the election of Bishop Oliveto occurred on the 18th ballot. The position that Bishop Oliveto now occupies was the only open office within the episcopacy in the Western Jurisdiction… and it took 18 ballots to elect her. Let that sink in. This tells me that the majority of the Western Jurisdiction is not of one mind on the homosexual issue, contrary to what Rev. Smith seems to feel.

Rev. Smith also points out that the south is ultimately responsible for the current jurisdictional structure of the church, and that the segregated Central Jurisdiction where African-American congregations, clergy, and other leadership were concentrated. Unfortunately, history proves that this is true and I agree with Rev. Smith when he states that this is an ugly stain on our church. With that said, I have more bad news for Rev. Smith: The northern Methodists agreed to this and went along with church-sanctioned segregation for nearly 30 years, in spite of the clear anti-racism and anti-slavery teachings of John Wesley.

Why did the north agree to segregation – simply to grow the Methodist Church? My own experience previously living in a non-southern state is one of even deeper segregation than I witnessed in modern Mississippi. I agree that racism is a blemish on our church’s history, but the blame is not solely on the south especially when it was the northern branch of the church who agreed to the Central Jurisdiction compromise.

Both groups are equally guilty of allowing it to happen.

Here’s a history lesson: The groundwork for the desolation of the Central Jurisdiction was laid by many Methodists, including clergy from the Mississippi Annual Conference. The Born of Conviction Statement was written and signed by clergy in Mississippi to decry segregation within the church and in schools. They faced much opposition and many had to leave Mississippi after the statement was published. Rev. Smith would argue that the election of Bishop Oliveto may be a similar action, but I do not agree with such thinking.

All of this to say: The southern jurisdictions are not the ones to blame for all of the issues within the United Methodist Church and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous. To paint southern Methodists in as poor a light as he has is just as ridiculous.

Let me be clear: I have nothing against Rev. Smith. His posts have generally been thought-provoking and I find myself agreeing with him on several issues. My issue here is Rev. Smith’s opinion that the southern UMs are the ones being the “sticks in the mud” as we say back home within the United Methodist Church. I can not agree with such thinking and find such thinking to be offensive on so many levels, not to mention untrue.

Thoughts?

Sermon: Love One Another

Here is the sermon I preached this evening at an ecumenical Holy Week service here in Stanton.

Love One Another
A Sermon Preached at Grace Fellowship Church – Stanton, KY (PCMA Holy Week Maundy Thursday Service)
Rev. Jonathan K. Tullos
April 13, 2017

John 13:1-7, 12-17, 31-35 (NLT)
Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end.[a] 2 It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas,[b] son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.

12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. 16 I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. 17 Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.

31 As soon as Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man[a] to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. 32 And since God receives glory because of the Son,[b] he will give his own glory to the Son, and he will do so at once. 33 Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going. 34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

There is an old legend that after his death Judas found himself at the bottom of a deep and slimy pit. For thousands of years he wept his repentance, and when the tears were finally spent he looked up and saw, way, way up, a tiny glimmer of light. After he had contemplated it for another thousand years or so, he began to try to climb up towards it. The walls of the pit were dank and slimy, and he kept slipping back down. Finally, after great effort, he neared the top, and then he slipped and fell all the way back down. It took him many years to recover, all the time weeping bitter tears of grief and repentance, and then he started to climb up again. After many more falls and efforts and failures, he reached the top and dragged himself into an upper room with twelve people seated around a table. “We’ve been waiting for you, Judas,” Jesus said. “We couldn’t begin till you came.”.

On the traditional church calendar, today is Maundy Thursday. Maundy Thursday is where the church traditionally remembers the last supper in the Upper Room just before Jesus was betrayed by Judas. In addition, we remember that Jesus came not to be served but to serve. He demonstrated this by humbling himself and washing the feet of his best friends. In doing this, Jesus demonstrated what it means to truly show someone love. It was after he washed their feet that he revealed that it was by the way we love one another and how we love the entire world that people will know that we are his disciples. Love is the first and most visible fruit that a Christian can and should display.

Last night at Shiloh we concluded a study of a book called Final Words From the Cross by a pastor and theologian named Adam Hamilton. During last night’s lesson, we discussed metaphors and how much metaphorical language was used in Jesus’ teaching and ministry. A metaphor is a figure of speech. If you were to look at me and say, “He’s as big as an ox!” Well, I am big but I’m not as big as an ox. I don’t think my wife, Jessica, would allow oxen in her bed. But my point is, to compare me to an ox is a metaphor for my perceived large size.

A lot of what is contained in scripture is metaphorical in nature but not all of it. I’m a student at Asbury Seminary in Wilmore and there is a coffee shop just off campus called Solomon’s Porch. I go there between my morning and afternoon classes. Being in Wilmore, there is almost always a discussion about the Bible going on. One day I overheard two people talking and one of them made a statement like this: “I think everything in the bible should be taken literally, just as it was written.” The other person said, “Well what about where Jesus said to love everyone, including our enemies?” The first party thought for a moment and said, “Well, I think that was just a metaphor. Jesus couldn’t have possibly meant to love everyone.” I couldn’t help but laugh. It seems funny that people feel this way. They believe everything in the bible and believe it should be followed to the letter… Until they come to a part they either don’t like or don’t agree with, suddenly it’s open to interpretation. Yes, some things are metaphorical in nature and are there to illustrate a point, but the overall message of scripture is sound.

Either you believe that the message of the whole Bible is true, or you don’t. You either believe the entire spectrum of the teachings of Christ or you don’t. And put your steel toes on because now I might step on your toes: This includes the teachings that you don’t particularly like. Did Jesus often use metaphors in his teaching? Of course. But when he says things like “they will know you are my disciples by your love,” he meant just that, full stop.

I happen to believe that one of those things that is far from being a metaphor and that is part of the very message of the gospel is contained right here in John 13. Jesus made it clear to me that we, as Christians, are to love one another and to love all of the beloved of God – hint: It’s everyone! – and that is far from being a metaphor. Jesus said himself after he washed the feet of the twelve: “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” The example that Jesus gave is one of ultimate sacrifice on the part of putting aside our pride and even casting aside what society considers to be normal in order to truly love someone. Just as Jesus humbled himself, we are expected to do likewise.

Now, for us, showing love to someone may not actually include washing someone’s feet. Don’t touch mine, believe me, you don’t want to anyway. But what Jesus did was put on a seminar about how to wash feet but he demonstrated the kind of love that we are to show to all people and by not only saying that we are willing to do this, but by actually doing it, we are proclaiming His love to a world that no longer knows how to love with true sacrifice. The kind of Jesus that Jesus demonstrates and wants us to show to others does involve sacrifice, being willing to show a radical form of hospitality even to a stranger. In order to fully understand this, it may be helpful to know the significance of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

In the New Testament times, there were no planes, trains, or automobiles. The only way to get from one place to another was to either beat feet or to get there by donkey or camel. There were no paved roads back then, either. The roads were dusty, dirty, and even had animal droppings on them. And if you stepped in it, well, you just stepped in it. It was because of these dusty conditions that it was expected hospitality for a host to provide water so that a guest could wash their feet off. Actually loosening a person’s sandals and personally washing their feet was considered the work of servants, or submissive wives or children. In other words, it was something that was not done by proper people if you will. Jesus actually wrapping a towel around himself and bending down to wash the feet of his disciples was a big deal because this just was not done. It was a scandal in Jerusalem for him to serve the people who respected him the most. This was a big deal because Jesus was actually foreshadowing the nature of his coming death: He was the suffering servant.

Even those of us who think ourselves to be above certain things should remember that as disciples of Jesus Christ we are to count ourselves as servants first. Jesus laid out the example of how we should treat others by being willing to humble ourselves and show people the most powerful love that we can muster. Jesus being so willing to humble himself is an example for us to follow. Can you show someone love so radical that it could even harm your reputation? Such would have done that in Jesus’ day because social rank was important and a person of high stature just did not wash someone’s feet. And yet, Jesus did. What does this tell us?

Here’s something else to chew on: Jesus did not give us a choice this matter. It is not optional for a Christian to love someone. Let me say that again: It is not optional for a true Christian, a committed follower, and disciple, to love others. It is a must. Jesus reinforced this by using such strong language in verse 34 when he said, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” The usage of the word “commandment” gave his words all the much more authority. The Greek word that is translated “commandment” can also mean “orders.” Jesus has given us our orders and those orders from the table at the last supper are to go love as I have loved you and that is how people will know that you are my disciples. It’s not by who you vote for, by what bumper stickers you have on your car, how much of the Bible you can quote, or even by how much you pray. Jesus has said, “your orders are to love. Love is your mark, your signature stance as a Christian.”

I mentioned a few minutes ago that in the traditional church practice, today is known as Maundy Thursday. That seems like a very funny word and for a long time, I had absolutely no idea what it meant. I always thought it was just a funny name that some Pope or bishop or monk gave to this day hundreds of years ago because he must have liked that word for some reason. But, given the context of what we remember on this day in Holy Week, there is a very good reason why today is called Maundy Thursday. The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word “mandatum.” Let me say that word again: “mandatum.” If that word sounds a little familiar, that’s because mandatum is where we get our English word “mandatory.” Mandatory refers to something that is absolutely required, like a mandatory meeting or a mandatory assignment in school. Here’s where the Latin plays into what this day is called: It’s taken from the Latin translation of verse 34 which begins with the word “mandatum.”

James said, “Faith without works is dead.” To put it in the context of Jesus’ words in John: Faith without love is dead!
For a Christian to love is not optional, it’s not something nice to do, it’s not even just a good idea. For Christians, to love as Christ loves us is mandatory! And to make the choice to not love others for any reason is

or a Christian to love is not optional, it’s not something nice to do, it’s not even just a good idea. For Christians, to love as Christ loves us is mandatory! And to make the choice to not love others for any reason is a sin. If we have hate in our heart and we are not willing to love, then we have some problems that only repentance – asking forgiveness and turning away from the desire to hate – and embracing the mandate to love will solve.

Do you have hate towards anyone? Whether their family, people who were once friends of yours… People who are different than you… Christ requires us to love them sacrificially and intentionally. Just as Judas would be welcomed back to the table as in the story I told at the beginning, so we must welcome all people to our table, no matter what, period, full stop. If we want revival to sweep across our land, and I think we all do, then it starts with us taking this new mandatory commandment that Christ has given us seriously. We don’t have a choice. We must love. Let’s pray.

Cultural Christians

widetableDuring my first break from class today, I found an article published by The Babylon Bee that, while a parody, also had a ton of truth to it. If you’re not familiar with the Bee, this is a blog that lampoons the most cliche aspects of Christianity, particularly to the culture of Christianity. In this instance, the article is entitled “Local Pastor Longs For Good Old Days When America Pretended To Be A Christian Nation.” Here is a quote:

“’I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit,’ Reverend Frank Baxter of Garden Falls United Methodist Church reportedly lamented to parishioners at Wednesday’s potluck. ‘On Sundays, Americans used to close their businesses, shine up their shoes, and wear their very best clothes. Sure, they were sin-laden enemies of the Almighty and objects of His wrath, but at least they had the common decency to act like they weren’t.’”

While this is a completely made up statement by a completely made up figure, the sentiment expressed is all too often heard. I have heard similar statements from a variety of people, lay and clergy. When such statements are made, I think it’s a sign that the person saying it has missed something major that is occurring within our churches and within the Christian faith. First, it should be pointed out that congregations should not base their effectiveness solely on attendance figures. It’s not merely about numbers.

The “decline” we are witnessing in American Christianity is actually the death throes of cultural Christianity. This is a cutting away of the dead branches from the vine.

Jesus used such an analogy in John 15 when he told the parable of his being the vine, we (his followers/disciples) being the branches, and the Father being the gardener. Jesus makes it clear that the branches that do not produce fruit are cut off while the ones that do produce fruit are pruned and tended to. The fruits include such things as patience, love, kindness, works… all of this in response to our faith.

Simply showing up to church because “it’s what we do” (in other words, going through the motions) does not generally produce spiritual fruit.

Jesus did warn of the dangers of being a “lukewarm” Christian. John of Patmos recorded these words of Jesus to the Church in Laodicea:

“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” Revelation 3:15-17 (NLT)

I believe that the church is going to be much stronger than she is now. Contrary to what many of us want to believe, this is not all about numbers. This is about the discipleship fruit that is produced by believers. Cultural Christianity contributes nothing to the well-being of one’s soul because simply doing what is expected is not going to cause one to be made new. Yes, the church hit its heyday in the 1950s in terms of numbers, but this was also largely a cultural phenomenon. One was expected to go to church. One could lose business relationships, elections, and other standing for either not attending a church or by not attending the “right” church. Many used Christianity as a means to an end, thus many of these cultural Christians had no faith whatsoever. I won’t presume to judge the destination of their souls, but I will say that scripture is clear on the consequences of unbelief and non-repentance. If one is merely using their church as a means to an end, what does this say about their faith? (I understand this is strictly between God and the person, but the truth of the matter remains)

If one is merely using their church as a means to an end, what does this say about their faith? (I understand this is strictly between God and the person, but the truth of the matter remains)

The dying away of cultural Christianity is actually a good thing. Those who remain faithful will be proven to be the ones who truly love God, truly follow Christ, and who want to go out and make disciples. I actually welcome the time where not everyone attends worship or believes in God. I would rather someone truly believe because they have faith rather than claim to believe because they feel that claiming a faith will benefit them somehow.

Let’s remember that faith is not about numbers, bur rather it’s about transormation and dedication.

The Power of Words

powerofwords“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” Yehuda Berg

We see them everywhere. You’re seeing them now: Words. Whether spoken, written, posted, shared, blogged, tweeted, or even thought, words are powerful things. Words can build up, words can tear down. Words can encourage, and words can discourage. There is a reason that an English author by the name of Edward Bulwer-Lytton quipped, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

As a pastor, I am constantly searching for the right words to communicate a message that will give God a smile and help someone grow closer to the Lord. Sometimes I feel like God helps me to find the words easily, while sometimes I find myself searching for a long time. The words that I use as I preach and pray are vital and I want to make sure that I’m using the best ones possible. Words shape our perception of everything from food to God.

Our words carry great power, therefore we have a great responsibility to use them properly.

One of the biggest pet peeves that I have is the use of corporate jargon. Phrases such as “going forward,” and “best practices” sound like nails on a chalkboard to me. When I hear people say these kinds of things in everyday conversation, I can’t help but look at them as if they are crazy. Buzzwords in general really bother me. My experience has been when one uses such phrases they are only trying to make themselves sound educated and well-versed in whatever business they are engaged in.

Unfortunately, I have noticed the same in ministers.

More and more, I’m noticing pastors, lay ministers, and churches using more and more jargon. A lot of these words seem to be derived from the corporate world, but there are also a lot of “churchy” buzzwords making their way into the fray.

Here’s my question: Why?

Being a seminary student, I seem to be exposed to a lot more of these buzzwords compared to everyday folks. Walking around the quad and overhearing conversations containing words and phrases such as “intentionality,” “creative discipleship” and of ministries being “transformational” is a nearly everyday occurrence. It drives me crazy.

It needs to stop.

The reason I feel this way is not just my personal disdain for buzzwords but a concern I have that using such language simply does not meet people where they are. That in addition to the fact that I think using such words sounds pompous and otherwise just plain stupid. People who are seeking Christ are not going to care what our latest “discernment” (which, let’s be honest, is typically nothing more than an attempt at polite manipulation) on how to properly “do life” is. And they certainly are not going to give much thought to exactly what it means to “be intentional” about prayer, scripture reading, or eating fried chicken at the next potluck.

I don’t have to tell you that Jesus excelled at many things during his ministry, but one thing is really excelled at was truly meeting people where they were. He often used parables so everyday people without temple education could better grasp the point he was attempting to make and used language that people could easily understand. Perhaps I’m crazy and not hip to the latest ministry trends, but I feel that we should “go and do likewise.” It’s great that I and others like me are in seminary (or have been) and are getting (or got) great educations, but at the end of the day, people have to be able to understand what in the heck we’re trying to tell them. Using buzzwords is not going to advance the cause of Christ one bit.

I admit, I’m guilty of using some of these terms, but really it was an attempt to fit in. One piece of advice I received when I first began to preach was not to “use ten dollar words when a word that cost a dime will do.” As pastors, we must make sure that people feel like we can be approached and sounding too smart for the crowd is only going to alienate us from the people we are supposed to be ministering to.

Outspoken and very much non-traditional Lutheran pastor Rev. Nadia Boltz-Webber had this suggestion for using such buzzwords:

Let’s make sure that in seminary classrooms and at church conferences and in congregational life when we use a term or a phrase, that it points to an actual thing, or person or event and is not just a string of words that sound like something meaningful but in fact, lack real meaning. There is a reason that my computer does not recognize the word Missional.

When it comes to using churchy jargon and buzzwords, let’s keep it simple and weigh the cost of our words carefully.

Well Done Good and Faithful Servant

17098646_10202750955530329_99281674997685426_nPicture the south in the 1960s. Many people would tend to imagine a vision that may be encountered on an episode of the Andy Griffth Show. Unfortunately, there was a system in place that kept blacks and whites separate and considered African Americans to be inferior. Schools were segregated. Water fountains were segregated.

Even churches were segregated.

The Methodist Church (this was before the “United” was added to that name in 1968) was a prime example of the segregated church. Just within Mississippi, there were separate annual conferences for whites and blacks, with separate bishops and separate clergy. These congregations all worshipped the same God, but could not mingle or have any official tie other than the word “Methodist” on the sign. It was a dark time in the history of the church, to say the least.

A group of young clergy decided that enough was enough. With increasing racial tensions of the early 1960s approaching a fever pitch, these men sensed that the time had come to take a stand that was not popular within the white Mississippi Annual Conference. Several of them gathered in a cabin in the middle of nowhere to craft what would become known as the Born of Conviction statement.

One of the signers of this document was Rev. Keith Tonkel. Keith went on to the Church Triumphant this morning after a prolonged health battle. Many of the signers of the document were forced to leave Mississippi but Keith refused to leave. He spent much of his pastoral career at Wells Memorial United Methodist Church in Jackson, Mississippi. Keith was also famous for appearing weekly on the United Methodist Hour where he would teach a brief Sunday school lesson. People always seemed to look forward to learning from Keith, with the style and delivery that one could say would remind them of their grandfather.

His loss is tremendous but his legacy will live on for generations. It is thanks to his witness that we often saw a glimpse of how eternity hopefully will be – full of people who love all just as Christ loves them. May we continue to learn from and follow his example and to allow his legacy of love and acceptance for all of God’s people to live on.

Well done, good and faithful servant.

Abuse is NOT a Christian Value

bible-wedding-ringsI have to make an acknowledgment: My home state of Mississippi does not have the best reputation in the world. We rank at or near the bottom in most of the good quality of life indicators and at or near the top in all of the bad ones. One of the negative areas where Mississippi frequently ranks highest is the rate of domestic violence.

When I was a paramedic in Mississippi, domestic assault calls were common and frequent. There was rarely a week that went by that I or another crew working on my shift would not be sent to a home because some dude decided to hit his wife (I acknowledge that men are victims of physical abuse as well, but I do not recall being called to any such situations). I simply could not fathom how such could be tolerated. I can not understand how a man could raise his hand to a woman after he vowed before God and a congregation to love her as Christ loves the church, which is what a reflection of marriage is intended to be.

And then I read this. Knowing that a pastor believes this helps me to clearly fathom how someone could think that abuse is OK and even biblical.

Andy Gipson is the chair of the Judiciary B committee in the Mississippi and has refused to allow the committee to take action on a bill which would have made domestic violence a grounds for divorce in Mississippi. Citing moral convictions, Gipson – who is also a Baptist pastor – refused to even allow the committee to take up the bill. When asked why this is what he had to say:

At a time I think we need to be adopting policies that promote marriage and people sticking together, I have some serious concerns about opening the floodgates any more than they already are. I think the floodgates are already open and this just tears the dam down.”

We need to have policies that strengthen marriage. If a person is abusive, they need to have a change in behavior and change of heart.

How dare he.

While there is certainly room to debate what grounds for divorce should be valid, domestic violence is not one of those issues to be debated. Domestic violence is never OK and should never be tolerated, especially by clergy.

Let me shout this from the mountaintops: DOMESTIC ABUSE IS NOT A CHRISTIAN VALUE!

No pastor should ever ask a spouse to remain with an abuser because divorce is a “sin” or because marriage is intended to be forever. As pastors, as Christians, we should do all we can to help that person get out of that situation (and pastors, in most states we are mandatory reporters and failure to do so can carry jail time).

Scripture makes clear what a marriage is supposed to look like:

For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. And we are members of his body.

As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Ephesians 5:25-33 (NLT)

These words do not sound like a condoning of abuse to me. A man does not love his body with violence, therefore he should certainly not “love” his wife by raising his hand to her. For any pastor to suggest that allowing domestic violence to be used as a grounds for divorce will somehow “open the floodgates” for divorce is just plain ridiculous and inconsistent with biblical teaching.

I pray Rep. Gipson changes his views and realizes that Christ wants better for his children.

Revival Starts With Me

Shiloh-UMC-logo-final-webFor a good while now, I have been trying to discern what God’s vision is for Shiloh. I have several things that have entered my mind, several possibilities, lots of ways we can serve Powell County and even how we might improve our building and grounds. I feel like God has a great mission and vision for Shiloh and wants to use us to show the love of Christ to many people. But how?

Figuring that out begins with me on my knees.

Lent is coming up and my Lenten prayer focus (really starting now) will be on Shiloh’s mission and how God wants to use us. Whether you’re part of Shiloh or not… Will you join me?

“Starts With Me” by Tim Timmons has been on my mind as I have been pondering how I can prayer for my congregation. Any sort of revival begins with me. It begins with all of us. Read the lyrics, or listen to the song, and remember that God uses us to do his work and that any sort of discernment in his mission begins with us in prayer.

What can I do to leave a legacy?
How can I speak with authority
When I can’t see You, I can’t see You
How can I know the dreams You have for me?
How do I believe beyond what I have seen?
When I can’t hear You, I can’t feel You now
Oh no, no, no

[Chorus:]
You’re my revival song, You start where I belong
On my knees, on my knees
When I am weak you’re strong, You meet me here
When I’m on my knees, on my knees
Oh, it starts with me

Why do I try to work outside of You?
Knocking down doors I shouldn’t be going through
Well, I’m so tired, I’m so tired
You take my burdens off of my shoulders
You break the lies that hold me back
So I’m not sure enough
Oh, oh, oh, oh

[Chorus:]
You’re my revival song, You start where I belong
On my knees, on my knees
When I am weak you’re strong, You meet me here
When I’m on my knees, on my knees
Yeah, it starts with me

I really wanna change the world
I really wanna sing Your song
But I know revival’s got to start with me
I really wanna change the world
I really wanna sing Your song
But I know revival’s got to start with me

[Chorus:]
You’re my revival song, You start where I belong
On my knees, on my knees
When I am weak you’re strong, You meet me here
When I’m on my knees, on my knees
You’re my revival song, You start where I belong
On my knees, on my knees
When I am weak you’re strong, You meet me here
When I’m on my knees, on my knees
It starts with me

In a State of Grief

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Credit: Rev. Giles Lindley

Yesterday as I was driving into Stanton to run some errands, I heard my phone chime with a message. When I reached my destination, I checked my phone before I went inside. It was a message from a friend and clergy colleague in the North Georgia Annual Conference with a link to the website of Getwell Road UMC in Southaven, Mississippi. Her message was, “Have you heard about this?” When I clicked the link, it was voting results of a congregational vote (the page has since been removed). The result of the vote, overwhelmingly, was that the congregation would seek to disassociate from the United Methodist Church.

I was floored.

Then resident bishop of the Mississippi Annual Conference, James Swanson, Sr., issued a statement confirming not only Getwell Road was exploring a disassociation but that The Orchard in Tupelo, Mississippi was also discerning leaving.

Lead Pastor of The Orchard, Rev. Brian Collier, stated that, “he doesn’t want to get involved in the debate. ”

The argument is going to be a long, drawn out one. And we think it’s an enormous distraction and we don’t be distracted. We want to get on with the ministry Jesus has called us to.

I think Rev. Collier and I would have to agree to disagree.

While wanting to concentrate on ministry without a “distraction” is commendable, I am disheartened that he and Rev. Bill Beavers (Getwell Road’s lead pastor) and their congregations have not given the Commission on a Way Forward time to complete their work. I believe that we should see the process through, wait for General Conference to decide what course of action the denomination will take, and then make decisions on whether to stay or go. I have heard rumors that other churches are also considering taking similar actions and this causes me even more disappointment. While I do not agree with unity for the sake of unity, I also don’t believe that the Body of Christ should be unnecessarily further divided.

Now is not the time to be making our exit.

I intend to remain a pastor in the United Methodist Church at least until this process is finished and wait for General Conference to make their decision. Then, and only then, will I further discern how I live out the calling that God has placed on me. Right now, I intend to continue to pray for the United Methodist Church, our congregations, and all who are involved in the decisions as we discern how we understand scripture and seek to live and minister together. I am watching, listening, praying, and waiting. To do anything else at this point, in my opinion, is not prudent.

I hope you will join me in praying for Getwell Road, The Orchard, their pastors, parishioners, and everyone within the Mississippi Annual Conference who are involved in these discussions. And pray that we exercise restraint and not jump to premature conclusions.

Now is not the time to abandon ship.

Prayerful Hope for President Trump

prayer-blocksI have to be very honest: I have had a lot of mixed feelings about the outcome of the last presidential election. Today I had many of those same mixed feelings as I witnessed the inauguration of (now) President Trump. While I did not vote for Mr. Trump (who I voted for is irrelevant and it’s likely not who you think), I do have to acknowledge that he is the President of the United States and should be given the opportunity to govern and to finish establishing his cabinet. As such, my hope is that his term in office is one of peace, grace, mercy, and that the hope that many Americans have of a better life will come to fruition. I hope you will join me in sincerely praying for President Trump as he seeks to lead this nation.

Today as I was pondering all of the events of the last few months, I thought of three passages of God’s Word that I would like for President Trump to keep in mind as he shapes his policies and chooses his advisers, department heads, secretaries, and others who will fill crucial positions within the government.

The first is Matthew 25:34-40 (NLT):

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

If the United States is to continue claiming to be a Christian nation, one of the things we must do is show mercy and generosity to those who are in need of it. I’ll give you a hint as to who that is: You and me. All of us. It matters not what we look like, where we come from, or even what deity we place our faith in (if any). Christians are called to show mercy and to provide for the needs of all people, all of our neighbors (that would be everyone), and people who are even from outside of our borders. God’s kingdom is much bigger than the United States. The reality is, we are not special in God’s eyes because all people are chosen by God and are worthy to be at His table.

All of this to say: We are called be generous in caring for the needs of all people, especially the poor. Let us not forget later on in Matthew 25 God judges the ones who fail to care for the “least of these.” My hope is that while Mr. Trump makes decisions that will especially impact the poor, he keep in mind that caring for them is part of the calling of all Christians.

Next is Micah 6:8 (NLT):

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.

To really understand what the meaning of this verse is, we need to look at whats going on the larger context. Through the prophet Micah, God is chastising the people of Israel because they have forgotten who they are and whose they are. They have forgotten that God was the one who brought them through the wilderness and made a way to freedom for them. It was not a king or even Moses, it was all God. They have been deep in the mire of sin and what God is telling them is that trying to buy His forgiveness with offerings and then returning to their selfish ways is not going to cut it. Instead, God – more than anything else – simply wants them to live in a way that reflects the life of those who claim to love Him. Jesus summed this up when told us (more or less) to love God above all else and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

My hope for President Trump is that he remembers that we are called not only to be generous but to be just and to ensure that we truly have “liberty and justice for all.” That is not just the closing words of the Pledge of Allegiance but it’s a biblical mandate. All people for whom he now assumes care for are entitled to justice and he should do all within his power to ensure that justice is truly available to all people.

Finally, Proverbs 15:22 (NLT):

Plans go wrong for lack of advice;
many advisers bring success.

This should go without saying, that failure to seek wise counsel and to heed their advice is a recipe for disaster. Mr. Trump has been very outspoken on his views about… everything. He has made promises and certainly seems to be set in his ways. My hope is that he surrounds himself with many who are wise and can offer to him the advice he needs to truly consider all angles of an issue, the people his decisions will impact, and how not only our citizens but how the world will react. While I do agree that nations should be free to place their interests first, we must also be mindful that our actions as a nation do make waves all over the world. Not to mention that any decision he makes on issues such as healthcare will certainly impact us all in positive and negative ways. May Mr. Trump have enough people wise enough to help him keep the pulse on what the American people need and how to best meet those needs.

Bonus: 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NLT):

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.

I certainly hope that President Trump will pray for discernment, but this one is more for you and me. Regardless of how we feel about President Trump, Christians are called to pray for our leaders. Note that Paul did not differentiate between kings we agree with and kings with whom we do not. If we truly want to call ourselves a Christian nation, we must be people who pray for our leaders regardless of our political ideology. In keeping with what I said above about God choosing all people to come to His table, we must practice the same love no matter what. It is not only in our best interests to pray for our political leaders but it is also our duty. Let’s take it seriously.

Letter to the Kentucky Senate Delegation on Betsy DeVos

2000px-us-senate-unofficialaltgreatseal-svgHere is the letter I sent to Senator Rand Paul and Senator Mitch McConnell regarding my gross concerns about Betsy DeVos. If you have not done so, I encourage you to contact your senators to vote against her confirmation as Secretary of Education.

Dear Senator Paul/McConnell,

I hope this email finds you, your family, and your staff well. I am writing you today to express my grave concerns regarding President-Elect Trump’s nomination for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. I feel that she is grossly unqualified to serve as Secretary of Education and would indeed be a danger to the public education system of the United States.

As has been widely reported in various media outlets, Ms. DeVos did not even attend public schools or a state university as a student. When it comes to her own children, she has never sent them to public schools. While the decision of how to best educate one’s children is certainly one’s own, Ms. DeVos simply can not relate or empathize with the issues surrounding public schools due to her refusal to participate in the public education system. When asked in her hearing if she had ever attended a public school, Ms. DeVos’ answer was “No but I mentored in one once.” This hardly qualifies her to be the chief policy maker for our country’s public schools. Ms. DeVos simply does not have the best interests of our public schools in mind.

Additionally, she has been very vocal on her support of charter schools operated by for-profit education companies. Charter schools have not been shown to be any better at educating children than traditional public schools, and in fact have been shown to do a worse job in many cases. Simply stated, charter schools are not the answer. Beyond that, Ms. DeVos has multiple conflicts of interest by which she could potentially use her office to benefit private, for-profit education companies.

The thing I find most disturbing about Ms. DeVos, however, is her implication that states should not be made to comply with the IDEA Act. Children of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds should have the same access to educational services just as their typical peers do. The suggestion that schools ought to be able to refuse to provide services to disabled students is repulsive and offensive on so many levels. Quite frankly, I was very disturbed to hear Ms. DeVos’ comments on IDEA. Such a stance is unacceptable for the person charged with overseeing education for all of the children of the United States.

Senator, I am a pastor in Powell County. As such, part of my duty as a clergy person is to look out for the best interests of all of God’s children. Policies and stances such as those of Ms. DeVos would only harm the students of Powell County – and beyond – and I simply can not condone such actions. Jesus Christ considered children to be a special blessing which must be protected and provided for by the entirety of society. As a Christian and as a pastor, I can not support Ms. DeVos’ nomination and I urge you to vote against her confirmation. By doing this, a message will be sent to President-Elect Trump which states we demand better for our children than a billionaire with no experience or passion for public education.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I pray for God’s guidance and blessing for you.

Sincerely,

Rev. Jonathan K. Tullos