About thejohnstephens

Senior Pastor of Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. Husband, father, pastor, and friend. When not working, I enjoy spending time with family and friends and teeing it up on the golf course.

When Being Right Is More Important Than Being Reconciled

1 Corinthians 13 has taken on new meaning for me in the context of church division. The Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Corinth with 13 distinguishable disagreements on a variety of subjects. These aren’t disagreements over the color of the curtains in the fellowship hall. They are disagreements rooted in identity, culture, politics, practices, and relationships. Paul sees a basic failure in relating as Christians ought to relate to one another and a dramatic failure of the local leaders. There is no kindness, gentleness, or love. There is arrogant theological reasoning on the part of some that is amateurish and overconfident, and there are tensions rising from the pressures over Paul’s teachings about sexual relations.

Paul does not merely intend for 1 Corinthians 13 to make marriages better. This chapter on love is Paul’s attempt to hold a fractured community together. It also shows his desire that the Christian community’s witness to the world is driven by love. For Paul, a community held together by love is a community that witnesses to the power of Christ to the world in the midst of deep division. This chapter is intended for a divided church dealing with serious conflicts. The passage speaks to the kind of love that allows the church to be united in purpose, even when its many members are different and divided.

What holds the community together according to Paul is not agreement…it is love.

Love has nothing of self-centeredness, self-interest, self-seeking, or selfishness about it. According to Paul, love is virtually impossible when a person’s first or sole concern is self. Love is centered around God. And love’s field of concern is not self, but others.

Mercy and forgiveness are at the heart of what it means to love and that is only possible because love respects and honors other people. These two qualities amplify the virtue of love, and give some specificity to it. Mercy and forgiveness speak to the relational nature of love, for we do not love in theory or as a concept. Love has to do with the messy work of relationships, grievance, and interpersonal strife.  Patience and kindness are forms of mercy practiced in our relationships with others . . . two traits that seem to be sorely tested in our days of argument and advocacy for a particular position.

The biblical love Paul is talking about respects and honors others. Love is not theory or concept, but is actionable . . . experiential . . . put into practice in real, everyday relationships and divisions. Love is to be desired and sought over every other quality, because Paul knows that love is at the heart of who God is and what God does.

Two things really stood out to me this week:

First, verses 4-8 say something like, “This is what love looks like when it takes over your life: You become patient . . . you become kind . . . you stop boasting . . . you let go of envy . . . you are no longer prideful . . . you accept others as they are . . . you rejoice in what is true and real, both in yourself and others.” 

Second, the beginning of the chapter says (my paraphrase), “if I speak with tongues of angels (pretty persuasive and eloquent), if I have prophetic powers (I can see what is coming in the future more clearly than others and I know what is true and right), if I have more and greater faith than the others do (I am on the right side of this thing when it comes to the pure faith), if I am more generous and more willing to stand my ground as a martyr for the cause (I’m willing to put myself out there to take the slings and arrows)…but if I don’t have love, the real kind of love that Paul describes and Jesus embodies…then I am nothing”

What saddens me is I see very little love in church division. Our witness to the world is severely damaged – not because of a lack in the quality of our belief, but because of our lack of love for one another. This is what it looks like when we’d rather be right than reconciled.

The United Methodist Church: What We Know and What We Don’t Know

On our podcast, Pod Have Mercy, we’ve talked about the UMC with a variety of folk – Ted Campbell is most recent. But we’ve also shared time with Bishops Scott Jones (Texas) and David Graves (Alabama West Florida and South Georgia) and others. I’ve linked to our most recent with Professor Ted Campbell, Albert C. Outler Professor of Wesleyan Studies at Perkins School of Theology. His understanding of Methodist connectionalism as a part of our theological formation is fascinating.

There are a lot of meetings going on in The United Methodist Church in the USA. Unfortunately, many of these meetings are one sided – depending on what area or region you are in. One of the biggest topics of discussion at conference and district meetings is: What does the future for the United Methodist Church look like? What will stay the same? What will change? As I’ve listened to the answers, there is a lot of misinformation coming from both sides of the aisle.

There are a few things we know absolutely and some things we don’t know yet.

WHAT WE DO KNOW

  • Our Articles of Religion and our Doctrinal Standards that have been in place since Methodism began will remain unchanged and in place in The United Methodist Church. The UMC cannot revoke, alter, or change our Articles of Religion or establish any new rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine. We also cannot change our Confession of Faith. We cannot change the General Rules of our Societies. These are all available in the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, along with our Doctrinal History and Standards, in paragraphs 102-105. If anyone infers that these aspects of our church will change, they are incorrect. And, if you look at the new Global Methodist Church’s Book of Doctrines and Disciplines, you will see the exact same doctrinal standards, articles of religion, confession, and general rules. They are the same in both churches.
  • The United Methodist Church will have plenty of space for people with traditional beliefs on human sexuality. The conversation of whether someone leaves The United Methodist Church or stays has been presented as a binary choice – a false dilemma – and that is unfortunate because it is not a binary choice. As Bishop John Yambasu wrote me before he died, there will be traditionalists, centrists, and progressives in The United Methodist Church (he also added that Africa will remain UMC, but that is the next point). I know many traditionalists who will remain in the UMC. The vast majority of lay and clergy people that I am friends with and been in ministry with for 30 years in the Southeast and South Central US are traditional in their understanding of human sexuality and they are remaining in the UMC. I am traditional as is Bishop David Graves, Prof. Ted Campbell, and many others. In an October 2021 meeting of large churches and young clergy, 750 people were present from across the US. They stated that 53% of the churches represented were traditional and would remain in The United Methodist Church. The breakdown of clergy was close to 50/50 split as well and are remaining UMC.
  • The United Methodist Church in Africa will remain United Methodist. They have already publicly stated this fact. They are traditional in their views on human sexuality and will not change their views. Their conferences can actually vote to leave now if they choose (even if American conferences cannot), but they have stated that they are not leaving the UMC.
  • There will be contextual space for differences on human sexuality in the UMC in the USA and in other places around the world, but our doctrines, articles of religion, and other doctrinal standards will not change.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

  • We don’t know how long it will be before the UMC removes restrictive language around marriage and ordination in the Book of Discipline. It is very possible that it does not change in 2024. It is important to remember that the UMC position on human sexuality has not changed and cannot change until General Conference decides something else.
  • We don’t know how the future of the UMC will be organized globally. I believe our Central Conferences – in Africa, Philippines, and Europe – will lead the way in what the new global UMC looks like and how we are organized as a connection.
  • We don’t know how the number of conferences and the number of bishops will change in the US. There will be realignment and restructuring that will need to take place, but in my opinion, this is not a bad thing at all.
  • We don’t know how many churches will leave the UMC and join the Global Methodist Church or the Free Methodist Church. A lot of people say with certainty what percentage of UMC churches will leave. I have no idea and neither does anyone else.
  • The last thing I will say is that we don’t know the depth and nuance that exists in each local church around the issues of human sexuality, but especially around the idea of leaving the UMC vs. joining the Global Methodist or Free Methodist Churches. Just because the pastor may have a strong viewpoint, or a handful of leaders, I would encourage each and every church to engage in some pretty deep listening and discernment before any decisions are made. This will keep as much of the local church together as possible.

    I’m sure there are many other things we know and don’t know and I’m glad to add to the list. For now, I leave you with some wise words from my Bishop Scott Jones. He is convinced that churches in the Conference can move forward with grace and mutual respect. He quoted John Wesley: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.

Emptying Ourselves

The word ‘humility’ comes from the root ‘humus’ which means dirt or soil. To be humble is to be aware of the dust from which we have been created. We are connected to the soil from which we were created. We are created to be grounded and sober about our human condition.

But dirt also reminds us that we are planted in the soil of God’s heart. Meister Eckhart, the 13th century Christian mystic, was fond of referring to God as the ‘Ground of our being’. God is the ground in which we are planted. So, our humility is both the very humanity that causes our frailties, but also the humanity that is planted in the Ground of all our being. Yes, we are fragile humans with selfish ambition. But we are also created in the image of God and we are empowered for so much more.

True humility understands both aspects and holds them together without the exclusion of the other. People who are humble see themselves honestly. They are aware of their weakness and selfish ambition. But they are also aware of their giftedness and strength.

In Philippians 2:6-7, Paul uses the word ‘kenosis’ which literally means ’emptying’. “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied [kenosis] himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” Several other translations say it this way:

He gave up everything and became a slave…” (Contemporary English Version)

He gave up his place with God and made himself nothing.” (New Century Version)

“He set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave…” (The Message)

He made himself nothing…” (New Living Translation)

This week is Holy Week. It is both a sacred and solemn week. Jesus entered Jerusalem knowing the cross awaited him at the end of the week. Jesus empties himself as he moves toward the cross. He had to set aside his own rights and privileges. He had to recognize the dust and the ash of his humanity. He had to let go. We started Lent six weeks ago with Ash Wednesday. We received the mark of ashes on our foreheads and we were reminded, “From dust you have come and to dust you shall return.” We were reminded of our mortality and dependence on God.

I pray that this Holy Week will call us to take our cues from the life of Jesus. Just as Jesus gave himself for others, we must do the same. We must wrestle with setting aside our own desires and our own quest for worldly success in order to move downward into the grist of real life with real people.

This move downward- emptying ourselves- is the antidote to division and disunity according to Paul. Paul wasn’t interested in everyone being on the same side of the political debate. Paul did not believe that everyone had to be in the same place on social issues. Paul is not interested in having a church vote on an issues facing a church or denomination with the groups with the most votes winning.

The source of unity, Paul says, is God. And the one who has lived out a life of union and harmony before is God’s Son, Jesus.

What Does ‘Jesus is Lord’ Mean?

One of my daughters was famous for always responding, “I know” and “I will”. It didn’t matter what you said or asked, she already knew how to do it or she already knew about it… and if you asked her to do something she ALWAYS said she would do it. I imagine this is not a characteristic of my kid only. I think it’s a universal kid thing.

In Luke 6:26, Jesus says, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” I love Eugene Peterson’s translation that reads, “Why are you so polite with me, always saying ‘Yes, sir,’ and ‘That’s right, sir,’ but never doing a thing I tell you?” This sounds like a parent speaking with their teenager!

Churches have done a disservice by over-spiritualizing the term ‘Lord’ that Jesus uses here. In Jesus’ day, this word ‘kurios or kyrie’ wasn’t a religious word. Everyone used it in society to acknowledge someone who had authority or position over another (the masculine is used because in Jesus’ day authority in most situations was held by men). A king or governor – someone with ruling authority – was a kurios. An employer would be kurios to those who worked for him. If a household was wealthy, the servants would refer to the head of the household as kurios. In an educational setting, the teacher was the kurios to the students.

I grew up thinking of the term Lord as a religious title for Jesus and only him. He was kurios to his followers – any rabbi would have been. But, it is extremely important for us to know that Jesus is intentionally playing off this cultural understanding of kurios when he asks this rhetorical question. The very nature of the question itself demonstrates how absolutely ridiculous it would be in that culture to have a kurios and refuse to do what the person in authority tells them to do! To call someone your Lord and refuse to heed their words would be offensive at best, and at worst would indicate that the person was likely not your kurios/Lord after all.

When we hear the term Jesus is Lord, what do we think? I’ve thought so many things in my life. When people would ask, “Is Jesus Lord of your life?” They were often asking about a certain set of beliefs. If I didn’t align with those beliefs in the way presented, then Jesus wasn’t really Lord of my life. It was used as a tool of conformity to certain beliefs and behaviors that were laid out by churches and leaders, not always the teachings of Jesus. I now realize that Jesus is reminding his followers that it would be unheard of to have a Lord and not do what the Lord instructs. It would be unheard of to not follow the guidance of the Lord. And it would be unheard of to not give yourself fully and attach your life to the Lord. And most importantly, if would be unheard of to have a Lord and live, speak, or act in any way that would be contrary to the Lord you represent.

Modern Christians are really good at saying “Jesus is Lord!” But Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6 and throughout the Gospels, is that if you call Jesus your Lord but you are still in charge of your life, Jesus isn’t really your Lord. If you are still living life your way, Jesus isn’t really your Lord. If you are still following your own desires and pursuing your own ideas, Jesus isn’t really your Lord. If you continue to resist shaping life according to the words and actions of Jesus, then he really isn’t your kurios. Something else or someone else may by your kurios, but it isn’t Jesus.

And you know what really stings in this lesson for people who claim to be Jesus followers? Jesus isn’t speaking this line to the crowds. He isn’t speaking to the institutionalists and religious authorities. This lesson is for those who have attached themselves to him as disciples. These words are for those who are friendly to Jesus and open to what he has to say. He is challenging the orientation of his closest followers, those who chose to follow him…the very people who most quickly call him, “Lord, Lord.”

What It Means to Me to Be UMC

Several years ago, a friend was extolling the virtues of a particular social issue on which he felt he needed to take a stand in his daily life. He felt like he had to take this stand because he was a Christian. He said, “You’re a minister . . . so I know you agree with me on this.” In fact, I did not agree with his stand and did not share his conclusion. My faith in God, connection to Christ, and reading of holy scripture led me to a different conclusion. He was flabbergasted. He could not imagine that a Christian could end up thinking differently. From the way the rest of the conversation went, I think he felt like I was a flawed Christian.

My friend presented me with a ‘false dilemma’. A false dilemma is an informal fallacy based on an assumption that if the first part of something is true, your options are limited to a single course of action or a single result. A false dilemma says, “If A is true, then B must be true” or “If A is true, you must respond in this particular way.” If you do not respond in the way another feels is appropriate in their original “A” statement, then you must not be “A” – it only limits your options because the other person chooses to limit your options.  A great biblical example is Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. The devil challenges Jesus’ identity with, “If you are the Son of God, then…”. Jesus refused to be limited to only one way of affirming His identity. He passes the test by refusing to be limited by the false dilemmas presented to Him.

I am a United Methodist Christian. I am an orthodox Christian – which has been defined by the history of the Church as one who aligns with the historic creeds and affirmations of the Church. I am an evangelical Christian – which means I believe a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the central aspect of our Christian faith. I have a high view of Scripture – it guides my daily personal life and the congregations I serve and have served. As an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church since 1992, I’ve served churches in both the South Georgia and Texas Conferences of the United Methodist Church. In every United Methodist I’ve encountered, I’ve seen the same deep passion for Jesus, a desire to impact the community, and a belief that grace is at work in broken lives. 

I am a United Methodist who is compatible on many issues where United Methodists have historically disagreed, such as; divorce and remarriage, women in ministry, and the many changing cultural and social positions the church takes. The United Methodist Church has always been a big-tent church. We often land in different places on some theological positions. It doesn’t mean anything goes…it simply recognizes that in 2,000 of Christianity, we have often found ourselves in different places on theological issues.

Is it easy to be a part of the United Methodist Church? Of course not. But I have always believed that if we keep Jesus as our center, around which all other loyalties orbit, we can remain a United Methodist family even when we have significant disagreements.

I am excited to be a part of the United Methodist Church and to keep serving in this denomination. We live in a great country, and we are blessed to be a part of a diverse denomination where committed and deeply connected Christ followers engage in faithful mission every day. I love our United Methodist Wesleyan theology, our heritage, our history, and our amazing connectional footprint that equips us to make a much more powerful impact in the world together. United Methodists number over 12 million with half in the United States and half in Africa, Asia, and Europe.  We are a global Methodist church. The mission we undertake through Jesus Christ spans more than 130 countries engaging in evangelism through health and welfare ministries, education, and financial support. And, I love that we have many deep ecumenical relationships across the USA and the world.

In October 2021, over 700 United Methodists gathered to discuss our future together. Over 150 young clergy were there. And over 250 of the largest 400 United Methodist churches were represented. When we discussed what we value most in The United Methodist Church, five top values were clear: emphasis on God’s grace, passionate faith in Jesus Christ lived out by serving others, theology shaped by scripture interpreted with the aid of tradition, experience, and reason, a wide welcome for all God’s children, and a church for thinking people. The over 700 gathered viewed themselves as orthodox and evangelical. We were clear that the doctrinal standards of The United Methodist Church must be retained. And the large group self-identified as traditionalist and progressive.

When we discussed what needs to change in The United Methodist Church the top four responses were: reforming the general church structure to be more effective at making disciples of Jesus, inclusion of all persons into the life of the church, reworking apportionment formulas, and creating a simpler Book of Discipline to be a more effective church in our current day. Those present had differing views on controversial issues like same-sex marriage, but over 92% of those gathered believed that same-sex marriage should be ‘allowed, but not required’ of any church or clergy person. 95% of those gathered considered themselves compatible on the issues we disagree about, and 95% of those gathered said they would remain in The United Methodist Church even though there are things about which we disagree. This became even more clear when we asked, “how would your church define themselves on these issues of disagreement?” It was almost exactly a 50/50 split between ‘traditionalist’ and ‘progressive’. That is a pretty amazing image of the kingdom of God.

United Methodists live the Gospel of Jesus in our various contexts. There is a richness in this theological diversity where we hold together in essentials, show tolerance in non-essentials, but always love one another with the love of Jesus Christ. I am proud to be a Christ follower and I am proud to be a United Methodist. I have been and will continue to be the pastor of a church where we don’t agree on every issue, but we deeply love each other.

I am a United Methodist Christian. I am an orthodox, evangelical, traditionalist with a high view of scripture. I am, and I plan to continue, to be United Methodist. #BeUMC

It’s Okay to Press Pause

At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them.” – Luke 4:42

At daybreak the next morning, Jesus goes to a solitary place. This is the regular practice of Jesus, highlighted all through the Gospel accounts. I find it fascinating that Jesus does not engage the crowds constantly. There were always needs around him. But he is not in continuous interaction with either his own inner circle or with the masses of people. At significant moments in his life, he withdraws from the press and pull of other people, in order to have time alone in silence and solitude with the Father.

This is an essential part of who he is and an essential part of his life-rhythm. This is his time for prayer, his time for meditation, his time to reflect on the trajectory of his ministry, his time to reconnect in a tangible way with the Father. In these moments, he is reminded of his center, the connection to his Father that anchors his life.

When Jesus, in other places, says “I only do what I see the Father doing” and “I only say what I hear the Father saying,” these are the moments he is referring to. It is only in this kind of silence and solitude that you can truly hear the still, small voice of God. It is only in these moments of meditation and spiritual reflection that you can see what God is doing in the world and then integrate that into your own life.

These moments of pause, when he is not surrounded by people, are essential for Jesus as he steps more fully into his mission and ministry.

The ‘Gospel’: It Means More Than You Think

“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” (Lk. 4:24-27, NIV)

Jesus mentions two stories from the Old Testament that represented an unpopular strand of Jewish tradition. Jews believed that they were the recipients of an exclusive choosing; that is, they believed that God’s choice of Abraham and Sarah, God’s choice of Israel, meant that God did NOT choose anyone else.

Story of the widow of Zarapheth in Sidon is significant that the Hebrew prophet Elijah is sent to a foreigner . . . and perhaps more radical to the audience, that he is sent to a woman.

Elisha is sent to heal the Syrian commander, Naaman, of leprosy. The reign of God extends beyond the borders of Israel, even into the land of Israel’s enemies, the Syrians.

Elijah and Elisha were Hebrew prophets, both Jews who were part of the chosen people. Yet in these two Old Testament stories, it is clear that the chosen people were chosen not to hoard the blessings of God, but to bring the benefits of the one God to all people. The focus is not on Israel and what Israel can receive from God, but on what they can offer to others…how they are to embody the blessing of Yahweh to all the peoples of the world. Elijah and Elisha, two prophets who were committed to God’s covenant with Israel, knew this.

Jesus’ words suggest that the people of Nazareth must come to realize this, also. Their own sense of what it means to be the people of God needs to be transformed. They are not God’s children in order to receive all of God’s blessings merely for themselves. They are God’s children in order to bring blessing to all people of the world. To be chosen by God means to be sent to others…even those outside the circle of inclusion you have drawn.

And this good news is accepted and embraced by the church, right? No. Not even close. The Nazarenes’ appraisal of Jesus changes with the telling of these two stories. They move from amazement to becoming so enraged that they drive him out of town and then seek to kill Jesus.

If we are going to follow Jesus, we have to come to a fundamental understanding of Jesus’ mission as the Son of God. We must also come to a fundamental understanding of God’s heart for the entire world. Because Jesus came for the entire world, as those who follow the path of Jesus, we are called to bring love, peace, blessing, and salvation (wholeness) to the entire world.

A Strange Game: The Only Winning Move is Not to Play

Greetings Professor Falken…

When we follow Jesus, our God-given identity unfolds within us and animates us with purpose and intention for living our days.

The evil one’s strategy with Jesus in the wilderness intentionally follows the baptism, where in prayer Jesus heard the voice addressing him from the heavens: “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Lk. 3:22).

The temptations in the wilderness focus on Jesus’ identity. As proposed by Satan, they attempt to lure Jesus with wrong ways of framing what it means for him to be the Son of God. In both Luke’s account and Matthew’s Gospel, two of the three testings begin, “If you are the Son of God…” (Lk. 4:3, 9, NIV). The conditional “if”…Satan’s way of trying to move Jesus away from his core identity, from the center of his personhood.

Philosophy calls what is happening here creating a ‘false dilemma’. It is a near relative of a false dichotomy. A false dilemma is defined as an “informal fallacy based on a premise that erroneously limits what options are available.” This kind of false dilemma says, “If A is true, then B must be true” or “If A is true, then B must happen in this way.” Options are limited to a single course of action or a single result.

Most all of us think and relate to others in this – devilish? – way everyday. We live with this kind of presumptuous thinking that seeks to control and manipulate others into a particular way of acting and being in the world.
• “If you are my friend, you will do this for me.”
• “If you really are a Christian, then you will believe this or that.”
• “If you want to see social change, then you need to align yourself with this or that movement.”
• “If you are a REAL Republican, you’ll vote this way . . . or take this stand on issues.”
• “If you are a REAL Democrat, then these things must be important to you.”

All of this “if-then” thinking limits options…says that there is only one, straight-line way to express your sense of personhood…and tries to force persons into a kind of logic that is false from the beginning. And as I said, those who think and act in this way may not intend it, but they are behaving in a very “devilish” way…for if you do not respond in the way they feel is appropriate in their original “A” statement, then you must not be “A.” (the word for devil in the New Testament means ‘one who divides’)

In the case of Jesus being tested by the evil one in the wilderness, he is told, “If you are the Son of God, then you will act in certain ways.” The evil one tries to limit his options and choices. As far as the devil is concerned, there are no other ways to be the Son of God. And if Jesus chooses other ways to be the Son of God, then the devil can say “see, Jesus is not truly the Son of God.”

The good news is Jesus doesn’t take the bait, and neither should you. You will be confronted with many false dilemmas in our world. Some will be about faith, others politics, and others more personal issues. As long as you are grounded in your divine identity and willing to look deeper beyond the surface of the false dilemmas presented, you will will discover the kind of faith that truly transforms us at every level of life.

Affirming Your True Identity

The Baptism of Jesus

At his baptism, as Jesus was praying, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended on his in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
 
Jesus’ identity was often challenged throughout his life. In fact, he will move directly from baptism into the wilderness for 40 days of fasting and to be tempted and tested in the desert by the adversary, satan. It is no coincidence that two of the three temptations begin, “IF you are the Son of God,…”
 
Years ago, Maya Lin, the designer of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., was interviewed by a TV reporter. The interviewer noted that her remarkable work seemed to have such a strong grip on people . . . that it moved those who visited the memorial with a deeply emotional experience. The reporter asked Maya Lin about why that might be so. She replied, “It’s the names. The names are the memorial. No edifice or structure can bring people to mind as powerfully as their names.”
 
It is important to be named . . . to have a name . . . to know your name . . . to have your deepest, most authentic identity affirmed. Jesus heard that from his Father. We must hear that from God as well in our baptismal identity. “You are my son/daughter, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
 
The world and society around us are seeking to deconstruct us everyday and rebuild us into something we were not created to be. I believe that a major part of the Christian spiritual life is about hearing again the name that is foundational to the personhood each of us are invited to live into. We forget who we are. We forget what is fundamental to our personhood. We forget the basic nature of our very DNA. In some sense, Christian spirituality is about remembering, then living more fully into our God-given, God-ordained identity.

What Am I Afraid Of? Learning to Release Anger

What does it feel like to live afraid? Afraid of the world? Afraid of people? Afraid of the pandemic? Afraid of politics? Afraid of conflict over anything and everything? What does it feel like to lose friendships that are special to you? What does it feel like to feel as if you’ve failed at the very thing God called you to do in your life?

I recently asked a wise friend, “Why am I angry all the time?”  His response shocked me. He said, “Anger and fear cannot share the same space. None of us like to be afraid and so we fill those spaces with anger – it pushes the fear away.”  He then asked, “John, what are you afraid of?”

Unfortunately, there are a lot of answers to that question. If I want to resist anger and not let it take up so much space in me, I must confront the very things I am afraid of. I can honestly say (whether I am blind to this or not) that I have never lived my life afraid. But over the past 20 months, there have been many things that I fear. I am afraid of losing friendships. I am afraid of losing church members. I am afraid of being ill-equipped. I am afraid of failing.  But here is the rub: It is true that if I lose these things, it will hurt deeply. But loss and pain are not the end of life in Christ. As a matter of fact, Christ taught us that loss, suffering, pain, and even death are not the end. I may be afraid, but the loss of these things does not mean the end of life in Jesus.

So, I am giving some space to my fears…not so they have power over me or so that they debilitate me…but so that I can remember that I can be afraid, and trust that God’s got this. I’m ready to be done with anger.  Maybe you are as well. But we must first acknowledge we are afraid.  I’m finding that as I do this, I can hear God’s words about fear in a new way.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” – Psalm 27:1

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” – Psalm 46:1-3

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” – Luke 14:27

“He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.” – Psalm 91:4-5