Navigating Religious Diversity

I'm the founding pastor of a wonderful church in Kansas City named Mercy Church. We are an Non-denominational christian church. We are what you would call Evangelical, though I find that we are unique in many ways, especially in our approach to theological differences and our position on some social issues in culture today. We allow for *theological differences, even on our leadership team. From my personal experience this is very unique.

I remember going to church as a teenager, even young adult, where if I was going to volunteer I had to fill out and sign a form on the 17 things the church believed that I must believe too (not all the things were even theological) before I could volunteer. This form was required to be re-filled out and signed every year. And what I later learned is that most people in that environment just checked "YES" and then signed whether they agreed or not, it was just easier that way. I could not do that, it seemed to me to be an integrity breach to say, "Yes I believe that" when secretly I did not believe that.

At Mercy Church we have nearly every religious background present. We have Jewish congregants (not messianic either), a couple people from a Buddhist background (still practicing), a Jehovah's Witness (which if you know anything about JW's they are not allowed to be a part of anything other than JW churches) ...we even **had an Atheist attending for a year. This is fascinating to me, especially since we teach from a Biblical perspective a Christian message of hope through Jesus Christ and Him alone. I believe it to be our loving approach and the way we allow for questions, discussions and differences to exist while maintaining unity in faith. I believe in a loving God who understands all our journeys, no matter where we are.

Our primary membership is made up of mainline Christian denominations, with a heavy splash of Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist. A true melting pot of religious diversity. And I love that. I never set out to start an all Republican-Voting Baptist-Hymn-singing church. (Nothing wrong with being Republican or Baptist or singing Hymns! Just sayin!) I wanted a church that would rally around the two main messages of Jesus, which is found in Matthew 22:37-40 where Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

1) Love God!
2) Love People & Love Yourself!

And in my 20 + years of ministry I have finally come to except that not every church needs to be like Mercy Church. We are who we are, other churches are who they are ... we need all flavors to be about fulfilling the mandate of our Lord Jesus Christ in this world, and that's to "Make disciples!"

Matthew 28:19 "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ..."

For me, more than anything, I want Mercy Church (and my life in general) to be a reflection of Jesus' love for all people! I want Mercy Church to be a place where anyone and everyone feels loved and accepted; whether they are Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist or from some other religious group.

*Theological Differences: We are a Christian church, so when I say, "theological differences" I am referring to what falls under the acceptable Biblical views and positions of our Christian faith. Make sense? Frankly, views that have been argued over and discussed in the church for thousands of years. I think it's a bit prideful for one group to feel they have all the answers and have God all figured out.

**Had: He eventually accepted the message of Jesus, though we never pressured him, ever! One Sunday he just confessed to me that he decided that everything I was teaching was good, and that he finally felt the boundaries that were keeping him from faith came down. And like I said, we never made him feel like he didn't fit in. I actually found his atheism fascinating.  

Pervert? Or Just a Guy? (2 of 4)

I know there are other nasty kinds of porn out there that are just completely disgusting and the people who produce it and even those who watch it should be put in prison (or at least punched in the throat, and maybe a kick to the groin,) i.e. child porn, animal porn, any abusive porn, rape porn, incest porn, gang bang porn, any porn that is degrading to women, etc. If your man is into any of that crap I would say, “Yes, he is a pervert and needs help!”

 “My man likes to be kinky, is that okay?”

I am not sure just what your definition of “kinky” is? I think it means different things to different people, but most guys, and girls too, are not happy with having sex in the missionary position only. (This is referring to the sexual position of man on top) Some people would think that “oral sex” is kinky. Some people feel that anything not under the covers, in the dark to be “kinky.” So this is a tough question! I think that “Kinky” can be good (long pause) as long as it is between you and your spouse only! And no one is being forced to do anything they don’t want to do. I believe anything that is forced on someone who is unwilling is completely wrong! And anyone who finds pleasure in that has issues that need counseling!  I also think there should be no other people involved. I know that this is most every guy’s dream (a threesome (2 girls, 1 guy) and though I understand this desire, I feel that it is not good. I have counseled many couples over the years who have experimented with this kind of stuff and it only brought pain and confusion into their relationship. And many of those same couples ended up getting divorced.

I do not find anything wrong with sex toys, if you and your partner agree to it! Obviously I think that you should explore a variety of sexual positions. Oral sex is good. Dressing up is fun. I think couples should have fun in the bedroom, or kitchen, or living room, or wherever. Keep it interesting, keep it fun, keep it fulfilling, but keep it sweet. Nothing wrong with passionate, even rough sex, again, as long as no one is getting intentionally hurt. You do not ever want your sexual relationship with your partner to become stale, boring or predictable.

I have received many questions from people who are in to S&M. Here is what Wikipedia says: 

Sadomasochism is the giving and/or receiving of pleasure—often sexual—from acts involving the infliction or reception of pain orhumiliation. A subset of BDSM, practitioners of sadomasochism usually seek out sexual gratification from these acts, but often seek out other forms of pleasure as well. While the terms sadist and masochist specifically refer to one who either enjoys giving pain (sadist), or one who enjoys receiving pain (masochist), many practitioners of sadomasochism describe themselves as at least somewhat of a switch, or someone who can receive pleasure from either inflicting or receiving pain.

I’m sorry; I just feel this is off. A little slap on the tosh is one thing, but really … inflicting pain?! Humiliating someone?! Receiving pain?! Obviously a person who is in to this is going to say, “Timmy it’s not your thing, and that is why you don’t agree with it!” And that can’t be further from the truth! Cause if Jesus said, “Timmy it is my will for you to have 12 wives!” I would be genuinely thrilled to fulfill the will of God for my life! Believe me, there are things that “I would be in to” if I felt that they were good, honorable and pleasing to God and others!


Tomorrow's Teaser: "How often should I be having sex?" and the big "M" question:"Is it okay to Masturbate?" 

Homeless Are People Too


I just finished up my 24 hours in the shoes of a homeless person experience on the streets of Kansas City. It is my 6th year to do, and I learned yet more new and exciting things about the homeless. Each year it is an adventure, and a glimpse into the life of the homeless lifestyle.

 

There is one primary reason I do this each year and it’s to raise awareness for the plight of the homeless and help the Kansas City Rescue Mission before the holiday season, and to tell the story of the homeless.

 

This year I, along with the fellas who traveled with me, learned more than expected from a homeless young man named Phillip. Phillip (guy in middle of the picture) is from Miami, Florida and is really homeless by choice. He is college educated, well spoken, clean cut, not a drug user and very interesting to talk to. He decided he wanted to get away from it all, so he walked away from his job in graphic design, sold his car, let the lease on his apartment run out and bought traveling gear and hit the road. 7 Months after leaving Miami wound up in Kansas City. Jumping trains and hitching rides with truckers is his means of travel. I do not have the space here to tell you all he shared in our 10 hours together, but one word to describe it would be ‘fascinating.’

 

I do not know the statistics of homeless who are like Phillip and those who suffer from addictions, substance abuse, or mental issues and those who have just been down on their luck. If I was to guess I would say he represents 25% of the homeless? A total guess, but from my very limited experience that’s what I see. Most homeless have real issues and would really struggle to enter back into society and desperately need a place like the Kansas City Rescue Mission to help them get back on their feet gradually.

 

WHAT I LEARNED THIS YEAR

 

It sucks to be homeless! Basically that is what I came away with. It’s know vacation, and it’s definitely no life to envy, especially when most homeless are dealing with loneliness, cold, rain, hunger, sleeplessness, depression, and so much more on a daily basis.

 

And the one thing that is reinforced each year for me is that I have nothing to complain about! Life is good, truly I am blessed! And you are too!

                                                                                       

Watch the full WHAT I LEARNED LIVING HOMELESS video here: https://vimeo.com/48728150

Ash Wednesday


Ash Wednesday, in the Western Christian calendar, is the first day of Lent and occurs forty days (not counting Sundays) before Easter. It is a moveable fast, falling on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter. It can occur as early as 4 February or as late as 10 March.

Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a sign of repentance. The ashes used are typically gathered after the Palm Crosses from the previous year's Palm Sunday are burned. In the liturgical practice of some churches, the ashes are mixed with the Oil of the Catechumens (one of the sacred oils used to anoint those about to be baptized), though some churches use ordinary oil. This paste is used by the minister who presides at the service to make the sign of the cross, first upon his or her own forehead and then on those of congregants. The minister administering ashes recites the words: "Remember (O man) that you are dust, and to dust you shall return", "Repent, and believe the Gospel," or "Turn away from sin, and be faithful to the Gospel."

Lent is also a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline.

Not all Christian churches observe Ash Wednesday or Lent. They are mostly observed by the Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican denominations, and also by Roman Catholics. Eastern Orthodox churches observe Lent or Great Lent, during the 6 weeks or 40 days preceding Palm Sunday with fasting continuing during the Holy Week of Easter. Lent for Eastern Orthodox churches begin on Monday and Ash Wednesday is not observed.

The Bible does not mention Ash Wednesday or the custom of Lent, however, the practice of repentance and mourning in ashes is found in 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21.

MY PERSONAL THOUGHTS

I was not raised in a church culture that formally observed Lent Season. But over the last 5 years or so I have come to appreciate it to be a meaningful time to reflect on my own spirituality. I do use the Lent season as a time for concentrated prayers, fasting, and repentance and I would encourage you to do the same. Start TODAY! Or you can do as I do; take a week, ten days, or 21 days within the forty days to really focus on your relationship with God.

Gaza

We recently had a special speaker in to speak about Israel and the current conflict in Gaza. I am sure you have heard about the stuff going on there in the Middle East since it is all over the news these days.

I will be straight up with you - I am not well versed in Middle East issues. And I understand that it is vast and complicated! And what little I do know is from what I hear from the news and others … so when I received a comment card this past Sunday that asked for us to invite someone in to give us a “Palestinian” view I guess in their mind the speaker we had in was one sided, siding with Israel.

Now this is my assumption, or at least how I read the comment and needless to say they did not leave their name on the comment card for me to further investigate their comment … I normally do not even give “nameless” comments my time … but this one I felt deserved a reply.

So, here is my attempt to address the “no name” comment:

I hear people who stand on one or the other on this whole “Israel/Palestine” conflict … there are people who feel that Israel is acting like terrorists and the Palestinians are the victim. Then on the other side you hear those who are in total support of Israel’s actions saying that they should retaliate and that they are the victims here. So basically what I am hearing is one is right and the other is wrong. And this is just scratching the surface … I believe there are many layers to be peeled away … and I do mean layers of spiritual content.

Personally I am pro-people! Palestinian, Israeli I don’t care, and I believe that God is also pro-people… this is clear in scripture as we see in John 3:16 “For God so loved the WORLD…” that leaves no one out. I actually talked to Darren (our special speaker) about this and he agreed 100% and wished he would have had more time to clarify. And in his comments to me he said, “Timmy the Palestinians are indeed the victims of the Hamas terrorist group … it’s a terrible situation and very unfortunate for all involved.”

Let’s be honest here … just like in any war or conflict there are always two sides and blame often falls on both sides.

Okay, now I just wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t mention that scripture does seem to show a special favor on God’s chosen people the Jews; Abraham’s seed. Now listen, I did not write the Bible so you can’t take issue with me over what the Bible says … you would need to take that up with the Lord.

I don’t fully understand it all … hence the reason I brought in a special speaker to talk about it.

I would be ignorant if I didn’t recognize that most the people groups we are even talking about here are ALL Abraham’s seed … Abraham did have 2 sons; Isaac (which is where we get the Jews) and Ishmael (which is where we get the Arabs). Isaac was the child of the promise that God gave to Abraham and Sarah, but God also blessed Ishmael descendants. And for whatever reason God decides to carry the promise of redemption through Abraham’s son Isaac and his descendants AND He also gives them the land (the very land that is being fought over right now). But we must remember that God made this choice not because one people group being any better than another or that God liked them more … this is what we call an act of the sovereign will of God. And this is something we can not comprehend!

Genesis 17:21 “But My covenant I will establish with Isaac…”

Bottom line: I think we all need to pray and pursue peace in the Middle East! And we should be PRO-PEOPLE!

Scriptures: Genesis 12:5-9; 13:14-18; 15:18-21; 17:21; 21:8-13. Exodus 23:31; Deuteronomy 11:24-25

Prayer: God I ask that you would help us all to be people who seek peace, help each of us to be seekers of truth and givers of love! In Christ name, Amen!

Economic Uncertainty – 2 of 2

My thoughts hear are very scattered … I am all over the place here … but once you read it all you’ll get the gist!

I continue to be brokenhearted when I hear of yet another company needing to layoff employees because of a decline in company sales.

There are no easy answers here … I wish there was. BUT I do think that if WE would take control of our personal spending and live according to a budget with MARGIN we would be better off.

Many of us “Americans” live above our means, spending MORE than we make. Now, that is not everyone, but many … far more than should. I don’t see the problem being the government - which means I do not see that this is something the government is going to be able to fix for us. We must take action ourselves – personal responsibility.

Just a thought … if you and I had NO DEBT or at least limited debt (no car payment, no credit card debt, etc) and had 6 months of living expenses in the bank this current economic crunch might not hurt as bad.

Now, before you get mad at me – I am preaching to myself as well, but I think you and I need to hear the truth!

Many people have HUGE car payments, HUGE house payments, and spend a good chunk of money eating out, drinking Carmel-macchiatos, going to or renting movies, buying the latest gadgets, toys and other excesses that are not absolutely necessary for life.

I recently watched a heart wrenching video about people in another part of the world who live in little 500 sq ft huts with dirt floors that they call it “house”, eat steamed rice for nearly every meal, they have no running water, no electricity, etc. Then I think of the excesses in my life and in the lives of many Americans … truthfully it breaks my heart. I am honestly sad and distressed and wondering how I can alter my life so that I can help the less fortunate.

All this to say … we all need to make changes in our spending habits so that there are margins. And what I mean by “margins” is that we trim our spending so that we don’t spend everything we make each month buying things we do not need, getting control of our money … making the necessary adjustments in our budget that frees us up to give to God’s work here on earth.

Challenge: Sit down with your spouse (if married) and look at your budget … what’s coming in, and what’s going out and what changes can be made to match your ultimate desires for life. And make the hard decisions if necessary to put you in a better spot financially.

I wish you well!

Economic Uncertainty – 1 of 2


2 Timothy 1:7 “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” - KJV

I have wanted to throw out my “spiritual perspective” on the current economic state we find ourselves in but have waited to hear other people’s thoughts and perspectives before I did blog about it. Not that “other people’s perspectives” are going to change what I feel and know … but just to get a feel for the pulse of the people, if you will… And I have decided I shall hold my tongue no longer.

From the conversations I have had over the last couple months I see that there are people on the extremes of both sides; One extreme is seeing the end of the world as we know it…. A total collapse of the economy … they see only doom and gloom … they talk much of a repeat of the Great Depression of the 30’s. Then on the other extreme people have no concern for the current state of our economy, a flippant "I don't care" attitude, sloughing it off like a mere gas bubble you get after eating a chili-dog. I believe both extremes are missing it!

Now, as always I welcome your comments BUT I want to say, I am aware that this is VERY real and people are being affected in a very real way; loss of employment, your 401K is now a 201K, retirement is gone, lay offs, down sizing, business is slowing down and even stopping all together. I get it, I watch the news and hear what is going on and it is real.

But here is the deal, as a pastor, a teacher of God’s word I feel obligated, actually called by God to be a voice of God for not only our local church body (Mercy Church) but for our nation … just as the prophets of old we see throughout scripture.

I would echo Dave Ramsey’s words when asked recently about the current economy, “What should we do?” he said, “Just Breathe”.

Here is what I do know – God has not given us a spirit of fear, and that is what I see running rampant right now. People are scared! I know how they feel!

I recently had a brief moment to watch CNN or one of the news channels and within a few minutes I felt short of breath, and felt compelled to take all my money out of the bank and stuff it in my matress, and buy a bunker in the mountains of Montana. Then the spirit of the Lord spoke to my heart and said, “do not fear, for I am with you…” Then as I reflected on what I was experiencing it was a “spirit of fear”. And I know scripture well enough to know that fear isn’t from God! Nothing wrong with a “healthy concern” … but there is a HUGE difference between the two! Fear makes you do some nutty things!

Example:
Fear of driving a car keeps you from being in a car. A healthy concern about driving leads you to wear your seat belt and be attentive. HUGE difference!

I will blog more next week about this topic


I leave you with this:

Philippians 4:6-7 "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

What is Happening?

I woke up this morning thinking about the over-all theme of the Bible; the story of God's love for humanity (you and me) and our falling short of returning the love. You see this clearly in the story of God’s people in the Old Testament. God kept coming through and people would soon forget the one true God and turn to foreign idols.

Honestly, if I can just be forthright here, I see this today in our society and in or churches too! And please, I am not pointing a finger here … I am including me in this conversation.

We are a culture who has in a general sense forgotten God and have turned to idols. And I think it’s for the same reasons the Israelites did it back in their time … God didn’t always ACT in the manor or in the timeframe that THEY wanted, they thought mostly of things in the context of THEIR COMFORT, rather then God’s PURPOSE. And here is the problem with this … just like for the Israelites when they turned away from God it wasn’t good, I believe it is the same for us here today, in America (supposedly a Christian Nation) … Yes, there are many Christians in America, and many Christian leaders, even our current President and President elect our professing Christians … but as a whole, we’ve got some changing to do if we are going to truly see the blessings of God on our Country and the people who make up our beautiful Country.

Sorry to blast you and me this morning … but I hope this blog drives you to your knees in search of the one true God.

Shalom!