Preventing Doubt

"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."~ John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11-12

"What comes to minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us."~A.W. Tozer

I began a study on the gospel of Matthew for the new year.  I have read the book of Matthew countless times and have studied using many different well-accepted Biblical tools for analysis.  While those have been very useful and have blessed me, I decided to read through the gospel differently.  I was not reading for information, but reading for spiritual formation.  This requires an approach where the focus is on listening. Spiritual formation is a growth process.  It is the process of becoming whole through mystical, mental, and moral transformation the comes through the dynamic engagement of scripture and the Spirit of God.  

This is my formational nugget from this morning

In Matthew, chapter 3, we are introduced to John the Baptist.  He is identified as a prophet who was prophesied about 700 years before he was born and that he would "prepare the way for the Lord's coming".  He was sort of an eccentric guy but deeply respected.  He is described by Jesus himself as "among those born of women there is no one greater than John." (Lk 7:28).  This highly esteemed prophet understood his historical role as the herald and servant of Jesus.

Interestingly, what struck me in today's reading was John's understanding of the person of Jesus.  You see, in the back of my mind, I am thinking about the end of John's life when he would question if Jesus was really who he said he was (Mt 11:2-6).  This is the same John who would baptize Jesus and be with Jesus when he is confirmed by God publicly by saying audibly, "This is my Son whom I am well pleased".  How could John be unsure?

John describes Jesus ministry in terms of salvation for the righteous and judgment towards those who are unrighteous.  John openly challenged religious people of his time and declared them as "brood of vipers" and states that the coming Messiah would collect the good toward himself and burn/destroy the unproductive and unrighteous.  It is the emphasis on the conquering Messiah portrayed in not only liberation of the righteous, but on punishment and retaliation against the unrighteous and unjust.  

As Jesus' ministry progressed, he was constantly upending conventional expectations.  During his ministry, he did provide hope for the righteous" but spent a majority of his time ministering among the "unrighteous" and "the sinner".  Jesus exercised grace over judgment.  He preached and practiced the "love your enemies" and the non-violent approach to horrific violence and oppression. 

John, despite his being filled with the Holy Spirit since birth (Lk 1:15) experienced a misunderstanding in the nature and person of Jesus.  He began to experience significant doubt in the mission and identity of Jesus because he simply mischaracterized Jesus.

How often do loose faith because we have mischaracterized the object of our faith.  We understand Jesus as our "genie in a bottle", or maybe our "means to prosperity", or even our superman who saves us from badness but has no relationship with us.  When Jesus fails to meet our superimposed expectations, we experience crisis.

Jesus wants to know us and be known.  He is not beholden to the image that others, including very well meaning people, place upon him.  Our role is ask the subversive questions within our own contexts where it is tempting to design a Jesus that meets our desires and  does not challenge our presumptions about ourselves.  When we truly seek the authentic Jesus, we find that Jesus will surprise you because:

Colossians 1:15-20
 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 

I pray that we do not fall into doubt or crisis because our understanding of Jesus is flawed.  After all, according to A.W. Tozer, our understanding of Jesus Character is the most important thing about us.

God bless you,


Recognizing Jesus

“Jesus Christ is God's language.”

– Leonard Sweet And Frank Viola in Jesus: A Theography

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7 NIV)

I am writing this from the deck of the Carnival Dream luxury liner.  It is literally a floating luxury hotel.  Along with 3000+ other passengers, we are speeding our way to Honduras on the first of 3 stops before returning to New Orleans.  

This break has given me the opportunity to just stop.  To simply stop.  There are no sermons to write, reports to return, people to visit, or projects to work on.  It's the gift of rest.  With rest, comes reflection.  Not the strained disciplined dissection of every action, motive, and thought, but the organic consideration of the meaning of things, the purposes of life, the mysteries of spirituality, and value of relationships.

The week prior to this trip, my world was rocked.  One of my favorite people in life died in a tragic accident.   He was a member of the congregation in which I serve on pastoral staff, a campus missionary to colleges in the area, a father, husband, and probably one of the most impactful people I have seen.  Anyone who ever met Jake liked him. He lived soooo well.  At his memorial service, which lasted over 4 hours but had over 1500 people from every spectrum of life there testifying to his impact and influence.  

HIs life in essence was a life of love.  Not the fluffy, emotive affection that we often regard as love (although, his wife shared that he did have some of that too).  No, it was the fierce, sacrificial love that evokes a response.  The kind of love that relentlessly pursues the object of its love.

Coincidentally (but not accidentally), I was reading Old Testament Scholar W. Brueggemann's book "An Unsettled God", devotionally.  One of the many premises that he reveals in his excellent study of the attributes of God is that due to Israel's misunderstanding of the person of God, that God uses language in his redemption to reveal his character in a way that is unmistakable.  The language he uses are "action words" that reveal the true character of God.  (Redemption literally means to "buy back", and in the case of Brueggemann's study refers to the return of a conquored, scattered Israel back to his own land in the 6th century BCE).  These words are ultimately revealed in Jesus and his body, also called the church.  And I am going on record by saying that Jake Baxter exemplified what should be authentic in the church.

Four words:

1. Gather:  God spoke of "gathering Israel".  The nature of God is to gather people together and unify them in community.  Jesus came to "break down" the dividing wall between people, people groups and even that with God.  Jake Baxter was a master community developer.  Beginning with his home that housed friends, outsiders, the marginalized, and the opportunistic.  All were welcome, all felt like they belonged.  He showed hospitality as a lifestyle, not simply an event.  Jesus revealed...

2. Love: God talked with Israel in romantic love.  In the book of Hosea, God sees himself as husband to an unfaithful Israel that he will woo back through sacrificial acts of love.  The Greek Scriptures tell us that God demonstrated his love for us in this: Christ (Jesus) died for sinners.  Jake loved people in a way that cost him.  He lived frugally and literally, everything he had materally, was open to be used for others in need.  Some people stole from him, misunderstood his generosity, and took advantage of him,  He understood that and was never angry or bitter because the purpose of the actions was not appreciation, but the demonstration of a God who is sacrificially geneorus to others, regardless of their ability to return the favor.  Jesus revealed...

3. Heal: God promised to "heal Israel".  There is a commitment to make Israel whole.  This is different than making Israel wealthy or preventing affliction, but it's a commitment to make them complete.  They would recognize that God has accepted them and that he deems them as both significant and secure.  Jake ministered to many with addictions, character flaws (writer included), illnesses, and injuries (physical, mental, and emotional).  He stood with so many on their journey toward wholeness.  The paths of thousands were guided by Jake at sometime or another.  Jesus revealed....

4.  Forgive:  God promised to "forgive all their sins".  This shifts the understanding of God from primarily that of Judge to that of redeemer.  This is ultimately revealed in Jesus who dies so that world may experience forgiveness.  Jake not only practiced forgiveness but understood his relationship with God as that of a relationship of grace.  It was because he was forgiven that he could forgive.  Once again, Jesus revealed...

All this to say, upon reflection, I recognize that the reason that I was so impacted by Jake is because he is probably the closest reflection of Jesus that I have ever known.  I know that Jake, like everyone else, was not perfect.  But I am so thankful for having known him and thankful for his huge impact and influence in my life and outlook.

We worshipped Jesus at Jake's memoral services, and it was totally appropriate in light of his life. 

Afterall, when Jesus is revealed, the only appropriate response is worship.

God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor

The Mask of Cultural Hatred

“People vote their identity, not issues.”

– Cecile Andrews in Living Room Revolution

"People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all."

--Richard Cohen, Washington Post Columnist, 11/12/13

This morning, my twitter feed was buzzing about the comments that Washington Post Columnist said in defense of claims that the Republican Party is racist.  His statements, on behalf of those whom he considers culturally conservative, was full of racist assumptions and perspective.  I choose to believe that his comments, do not represent the beliefs of most Americans who identify themselves as culturally and politically conservative.  I do not want to make the same mistake that has been made over and over again of making a polarizing figure a representative of an entire group of people.  

However, I am intrigued by his use of words as a defense of being called racist.  "Conventional" means to conform or adhere to acceptable standards or generally agreed upon codes of conduct.  Mr. Cohen begins his statement by attempting to speak on behalf of a culture.  After all, isnt culture simply often unspoken assumptions of roles, relationships, and responsibilities?  He assumes that those who know the appropriate standards are sickened by the thought of a white man and a black woman having children who fascinatingly enough, end up being biracial.  In order to push his point further, he has to mention that the mayor-elect wife has had same sex relationships in the past.  Surely, that solidifies his point that conventional viewers should be outraged.  

What Mr. Cohen misses is that his language is betraying his character, and may I be bold enough to say, his hatred.  Dehumanization begins with objectifying others.  He is not critical of the mayor-elect and his wife because of what they are doing (policy wise) but because of what he perceives they are.  Thats where the ugly head of racism raises its head!  When we begin to think of others as less because of the color of their skin or ethnicity, we begin to dehumanize them and that justifies every type of violence and degardation.  He brings up his wife because she is black.  He mentions her history because of the connotations he feels towards lesbians.  It is easier to hate, easier to destroy, and most of all, easiest to feel justified in doing that.

Lets take some time to evaluate the words that are being said and speak against the language and rehetoric that masks hatred that is expressed in every type of -ism out there.  Noting that our political activity has more to do with our understanding of who we are than the issues that are present.

Love to hear your thoughts,

The First Step in Honoring Our Mothers

Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12 NLT)

"Why is it so much easier to identify and name racial and religious hatred than misogyny?"
Kristina Lucelle-Peterson in Liberating Tradition

Every year, we take time to honor Motherhood and the people who have mothered us through the celebration of Mother's Day. Of all of the traditional secular (and I am hesitant to use that description as Motherhood is truly sacred!) holidays, I believe that Mother's Day is the holiday in which is most needed and most desecrated.  The holiday is currently a consumer bonanza, both in the retail industry, and the church (People are more likely to attend church services on Mother's Day, along with Easter and Christmas).  We buy flowers, candies, expensive dinners, have BBQ's, pamper our mothers with spa treatments, or maybe even travel with them to an exotic locale.  All of those things are wonderful and largely appreciated by mothers who have literally given everything to form and foster us.

What occurs to me this morning is not whether you purchased the right gift, or gave the right card, or whether you are experiencing the tension of cultural consumer pressure to get "something".  That is all superficial.  Not that these are not appreciated and desired by our Mothers, but that they are shallow, token expressions.  Our true measure of honoring mothers, is our esteem for them and our value of them as a gift of God and person made in God's image who is not defined by our images and limitations towards women, but by the greatness of God.

I know, you may be saying: "Mike, I think that you are making too much of this.  Its just a holiday!"  However, I realize that as a man, writing about the treatment of women, that I have consciously and unconsciously participated in the dehumanization of women and its hideous and disasterous consequences.  Now, that may seem strong as I loved my mother and I think she would characterize my affection towards her always respectful and always supportive.  Yet, our society, as a whole promotes the objectification of women where they are reduced to sexual objects of desire, to be used by men (and other women) and their success and status is not based upon the giftedness that God has endowed spiritually and intellectually but their success in fulfilling the roles of objectification that we have promoted for women.

Men may read this and say, I never saw my mother as a "sexual object".  My response is that none of us did, but we have all seen other people's mothers in that way through the constant media portrayals, over-sexualized TV and movie demonstrations, and the ever present pornography industry (which made more money than Baseball, Football, Basketball, and Hockey put together: what are men really watching?).

“The reduction of a female human being's value to her sexual attractiveness comes at a terrifically high price: dehumanization, which makes probable all manner of violence. Over and over again, in history we observe that once a group has been dehumanized, anything can be done against them with impunity.
– Kristina Lacelle-Peterson in Liberating Tradition

Many people will say that women willingly take roles of being overly sexualized and participate in these things by their own choice.  This is always the argument that seems to alleviate the consciousness of those who are thriving off of the degradation of others.  WEB Dubois, in his classic "Souls of Black Folk",  spoke about the ability of the Negro to see himself through the eyes of those who hated him and controlled him.  It was a double-conscience.  What we now see is the internalization of misogynystic portraits of feminity that has been promoted through our male-powered cultures.

Yes, as a man, when I watch, support, encourage, or endorse something that celebrates violence against women, objectification of women, or the humiliation of women, I am teaching it to my daughter, projecting it upon my wife, and promoting it as a society.

So, the first step in truly honoring Mothers, is to simply stop dishonoring mothers.  Lets stop participating in systems, products, and practices that degrade and dehumanize women.  Lets stop allowing consumerism to dictate the identity of women and what is beautiful.  Lets repent of all of the misogynystic values that we have coveted and are still derriving pleasure from.  

Lets honor mothers by removing every obstacle that seeks to minimize, ignore, and marginalize women of all shapes, colors, political perspectives, and ideologies.  Let that start with your mother, your daughters, your neighbors, your community, and it will spread organically to our nation.

Lets honor mothers by standing in solidarity with mothers against those things that seeks to destroy them or objectify them: Pornography, violence, and discrimination of every sort.  Martin Luther King Jr. stated that "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justic everywhere".   To do this assumes the painful reality that you, male or female, may have to accept your collusion with destructive powers

Its time that we actually celebrate a Mother's Day that truly honor's mothers and that begins by challenging our own assumptions on maternity, femininty, and equality.

Have a Great Mother's Day!

Pastor M Traylor

The Church and the Experience of Evil

"Maybe the deepest tragedy of the Rwandan genocide is that Christianity didn't seem to make any difference"

"It's too easy for Christianity to have no consequence in our world."
 ~Emmanuel Katongole and Jonathan Hartgrove-Wilson in Mirror to the Church

When the foundations are being destroyed,cwhat can the righteous do?
Psalm 11:3

I have been reflecting on the dynamic between God and evil.  Specifically, the extension of God into this world: The Church and the manifestation of evil called suffering.  The question that continually comes into my mind in multiple different varieties is "Does the Authentic Church have redemptive influence on the world and its evil?".  Or sometimes I ask "just how much light is required to dispel darkness?"

I have struggled with these thoughts for many years as I thought about the Civil rights movement of the United States and although it had a wide variety of self-identified Christians as its adherents, it had many many more who opposed it. I think about it as I see the American faith community become co-oped by diverse political and economic forces as opposed to being a prophetic influence that seeks to usher  in the reality of God's will of human flourishing that Jesus himself calls the Kingdom of God.

Nine months ago, I traveled to Rwanda.  My few weeks there was one of my greatest seasons of learning.  Many of you know of the horrific genocide that culminated in 1994 with over 1 million people being brutally killed and maimed in 100 days.  Since that time, the people of Rwanda have sought grace, justice, and healing.  As I visited and saw tremendous acts of love and forgiveness, I could not help to ask with Rwandan Author Emmanuel Katongole, "Why didn't Christianity make a difference".  Why was Rwanda, which boasted as being 'the most Christian" of all African nations, unable to overcome the blood of hatred with the water of baptism?

The criticism is not just for Rwandan Churches, but for European Churches which used Christian teachings to divide and racialize the Rwandan society, as well as the American church which used its considerable resources and influence to prevent interventions in the massacre and promote isolation from the carnage.

One could argue, as those far away from Rwanda situation, that many of the Rwandan Christians were not really Christians at all, but just in name.  I think this is a cop-out that keeps us from critically reflecting upon what is wrong with the church of Rwanda, and the church within the US.

I believe that the answer is found not in analyzing the sincerity of the Rwandan and Western Church's faith, but interrogating its assumptions regarding identity and purpose.  I am suggesting several different models of Church that often have great intentions  and positive effects, but are impotent against the systemic realities of evil and suffering.

1. The Pious Church: The Pious church sees itself as a group of Godly individuals who seek to help other individuals have a relationship with Jesus.  The Pious Church seeks an evangelistic scorecard where the most important thing is how many people have developed a relationship with Jesus.  The context of their lives, their pains and sufferings are not addressed as these things are promised in the afterlife.  The Pious Church is interested in having people enter the Kingdom, but is intimidated to usher it in.

2. The Pastoral Church: The pastoral church is a person-centered community that seeks to give compassion and comfort to the suffering.  It provides for the needs of those in misfortune and suffering, but rarely has the courage to ask why or how they got there in the first place.  The Pastoral church feeds the hungry but never challenges the hunger.  It grieves with the victim but never stands against violence.  The Pastoral church is kind and compassionate but rarely courageous.

3. The Prosperity Church: The Prosperity church is a wealth-centered community that uses faith as a means to justify its own greed and lack of compassion (yup, I said it, go ahead read it again).  The prosperity church proclaim "blessings" and announces the "divine favor of God" upon its constituents and uses its resources to support its own programs as well as lavish lifestyles for its leaders.  The prosperity church rarely bothers to consider focusing on the most indigent communities except to exploit them for what few resources they have.

Each of these church models have sincere people of faith in them, but the consequences and ramifications of the faith expressed in these models is minimal when they are met with legitimate evil and suffering.

I believe that God is pointing out the ineptitude and impotence of these church models so that we have a hunger and a thirst to reclaim the patterns and ministry that Jesus initiated and invited his church to participate in:

The Proclaiming church: The Proclaiming church is focused on celebrating, demonstrating, and expressing the Kingdom of God as Jesus did.  It is not as concerned with defending the good news that the Kingdom of God is near (Mark 1:14) as it is with demonstrating it.  This demonstration or witness, is personal and public.  It focusing on individual righteousness and justice as well as community righteousness (right-relationships) and justice.  It is a sign as well as the reality of the presence of God whose love demands a response. It is identifying with the least in a way that is not simply charitable, but advocates for wholeness while standing in solidarity against systemic realities that often work to oppress, degrade, and persecute.  It is, in the word's of Brenda Salter-McNeil, the credible witness of God.

In the days when violence and evil literally rip the foundations out of our lives, we must ask ourselves whether we have learned from our recent past.  Will we dare to make a difference, or will we simply rehash the failures of the Pious, Pastoral, and Prosperity church?

I pray that you will be part of proclaiming movement of God that demonstrates the power and  presence of the Kingdom of God in a very tangible way!

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor

St. Patrick's Day Encouragement for Ministers

If I be worthy, I live for my God to teach the heathen, even though they may despise me
St. Patrick

Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." 
Luke 5:5

St. Patrick's day is an interesting phenomena.  It began as a sincere way to honor a medieval Christian Priest who helped to introduce Christianity to Ireland.  It was slowly reframed to be a opportunity to celebrate Irish nationalism and the influence of Irish heirs all over the world.  It is now devoid of its Christian roots and nearly desolate of its nationalistic impulses (unless you count making everything green and wearing shamrocks as expressions of Irish nationalism).

This is not an isolated process where something meant to increase our devotion to God is transformed into a self-centered celebration. This is the process of secularization that saw our primary life-motivation move from the promotion of God (natural law for many deists), to nation/regions, to promotion of self. Even our faith expressions are often self-centered instead of God-centered.

I wonder, how St. Patrick would feel about his name being associated with such drunkenness and irresponsibility.  After all, his ministry emphasis was exclusive devotion to God.

St. Patrick lived in the 4th century and was initially a slave in Ireland (He was from Britain, not Ireland).  It was upon his escape back home that he answered a call of God to preach the good news in Ireland.  Once he was there, he faced many hardships but persevered to have an amazingly fruitful.  Its that aspect of his life and ministry that I want to honor in this blog entry.

There are so many people in ministry who are tired, aggravated, and frustrated with the persistent adversity that they have faced or the lack of apparent fruitfulness.  If you are one of them, I hope that the idea that St. Patrick labored in obscurity for years in a time without media, rapid communication, marketing techniques, but was used of God in a powerful way empowers you.

Jesus had the following interaction with a tired and frustrated Siimon Peter, who would later be the leader of the Church:

He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch." 

Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." 

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 
Luke 5:4-7

A couple of observations for the tired and frustrated:

1. Ministry is orchestrated through a connection with Jesus: Jesus would end up saying that "apart from me, you can do nothing"(John 15:5).  We often think its our own strategies, skills, innovation, and natural gifts that ensure our success.  That's why so many "successful" ministers have no problem in taking credit for their fruitfulness.  The ability to catch fish in the text above had nothing to do with Simon's fishing ability, acumen, or fishing techniques, but simply his obedience to Jesus.

2. Authentic communication with Jesus is the key to ministry in real time: So many times I have heard ministers say "Jesus told me" or "The Holy Spirit spoke" when in actuality it was their own desires (often sincere) for ministry.  Ministers of the gospel need to be deeply immersed in Scripture, prayer, and submitted in accountable Godly relationships in order to accurately "hear from God".  God delights in communicating with his ministers (Amos 3:7).  He told the prophet Jeremiah: "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know."(Jeremiah 33:3)

2. Sometimes, you do not feel like persisting, but the blessing is in the obedience:  Simon said "but because you said so".  Sometimes, ministry does not feel intuitive or even encouraging, but we need to respond with our own "because you said so" and depend on the Holy Spirit for the results.  Almost everyone who God has used greatly has felt like quitting.

I pray on this St. Patrick day that you will be encouraged and that you will refocus on ministry by doing what St. Patrick did, focusing on Christ.

I pray, with St. Patrick.

May the Strength of God guide us.
May the Power of God preserve us.
May the Wisdom of God instruct us.
May the Hand of God protect us.
May the Way of God direct us.
May the Shield of God defend us.
May the Angels of God guard us.
- Against the snares of the evil one.

May Christ be with us!
May Christ be before us!
May Christ be in us,
Christ be over all!

God bless you all!

Pastor M Traylor

Lenten Prayer

Discipline without desire causes drudgery

"Don't handle! Don't taste! Don't touch!"? 22 Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. 23 These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person's evil desires.
Colossians 2:21-23

Lenten season begins today and is the 6 week period of time celebrated on the traditional Christian calendar prior to Easter.  The purpose of the season is further consecration and dedication towards Jesus Christ.  In order to do that, there was often a temporary cessation of certain pre-selected activities that were understood to interfere with the consecration process.  In the medieval world, this was most often fasting from meat as meat was seen as a luxury and it was felt that luxurious indulgences interfered with the soul's ability to connect with God.

Fast forward to our contemporary arena, where the build up towards the Lenten season gets more emphasis than Lent itself.  The celebrations leading up to "Fat Tuesday" (the day before Ash Wednesday which initiates the Lenten season) has far more attention in the media and with our marketers than Lent will ever have.  Mardi Gras were concocted as one last indulgence in pleasurable activities that would be set aside during the Lenten season.  As you know, it has snowballed into a license for overindulgence in every activities that can even remotely bring pleasure.  There is no connection with any idea of consecration, meditation, or the sacrifice of Jesus.

I often hear people who have no faith background say that they are "giving up" something for lent.  There is nothing wrong with that at all, but the purpose of lent was not simply to build or establish personal discipline, but to participate in spiritual disciplines in order to experience Jesus and grow a deeper appreciation for his life, death, and resurrection.

I want to make a few quick observations that I hope will help you during this Lenten season:

1. Discipline without a deeper desire to know God benefits you little.  While there is physical, emotional, and even social benefits from fasting, particularly if within a group, it benefits you very little and is difficult to sustain unless it is tied to a goal that is bigger than yourself (I Tim 4:8).   Believe it or not, the true reason for fasting is to enhance your relationship with God through eliminating practices, mindsets, and possessions that hinder its intimacy.

2. Pleasure without purpose robs you of joy and respect.  God is not anti-pleasure but He recognizes that pleasure is a cheap substitute for joy.  Seeking pleasure for the sake of pleasure often leaves us feeling empty.  Its interesting that pleasure never actually fulfills its promise, but always leaves us looking for a more complete type of pleasure. This is the cycle that we see in addiction.  In the book of Ecclesiastes, the author states that he refused himself nothing that was pleasurable but still found that "everything was meaningless".(Ecc 2:10-11).

3. Lent is a time for self-inventory:  Where is your relationship with God going?  Are you growing deeper or distant?  Do you have an appreciation for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in a way that influences and affects every realm of your life?  Lent is a time in which we can do an honest self-assessment and rededicate ourselves to growing closer to God.

4. Lent is a time for soul detox!:  We build up habits or relationships that keep us from experiencing the presence and power of God continually.  We actually need to set aside time for a regular detox.  Maybe its what we watch on TV, a relationship or the priority of an activity has come in the way of the time and energy that we would normally devote to God.  If you recognize that, then you will know what needs to be avoided during your Lenten celebration.

This Lenten season I:

pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:18-19)

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor

A Generous Faith

"God's gifts aim to make us into generous givers, not just fortunate receivers"
Miroslav Volf in Free of Charge

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 
Matthew 10:8

Today, I read an article about a pastor who left the following message for his or her waiter:

This pastor refused the 18% gratuity that was added to his or her large party and instead left 10% (assuming it was cash as there is no tip on the receipt) based upon the pastor's concept that to give more would be to give more to the waiter than to God.

This is a great example of terrible theology, and even more incredulous, a terrible, terrible witness to character of Jesus and his people.  

Throughout scripture, God is described as a generous God.  He instructs his people to be "open handed" (Dt 15:8) and to be generous to others as we have been blessed, not because of our worthiness, but because of the grace and generosity of God.

Last Sunday, I shared a message with the New Hope family regarding the Biblical connection between sacrifice and the expression of love (Listen).  In that message based upon Matthew 12:41-44, Jesus speaks about the greatest commandment of loving God with everything you have and you are, and loving our neighbor.  From that discussion, Jesus immediately points out the widow who gives a few pennies in the offering but "gives more than the all the others" due to the degree of sacrifice.  It was her sacrifice that demonstrated the degree of love.

Putting that idea together that God demonstrated his own love for us through sacrificially giving to us (Romans 5:8).  It is that radical generosity, based solely upon the love of God that encourages our generosity in everything we do.

A couple of thoughts regarding the pastor's action:

1. Limiting our giving to God to 10% is like trying to figure out the minimum acceptable expression of love.  God's command to give a tithe is the minimal for the operation of the church/temple.  It was never to be the ultimate expression of our love and devotion to God.  It would be like a husband paying the utilities of the home as the ultimate expression of love for his family, but withholding affection, gifts, or quality time.  

2. Withholding pay from under-payed workers is despised by God.  (Dt 24:15, Mal 3:5).  Restaurant servers make less than minimum wage due to the fact that they are expected to receive tips above and beyond what they would make with just minimum wages.  By not paying a tip (assuming the service was fine), you are actually withholding what is fair and equitable.

3. Our generosity with others is an appreciation for the blessings we have received.  The Bible gives stories of people who received blessings such as forgiveness and then due to their failure to forgive, were punished (Mt 18:23-35).  We are to literally be conduits of blessings to others because Jesus, whom we follow, is a conduit of blessings towards us.

4. A Christian's failure towards generosity is betrayal of the character of God.  Theologian Miroslav Volf in his book, "Free of Charge", describes that nature of God in this way: "God gives and loves by nature as surely as a duck quacks by nature".  God does not chose to give, but gives because its part of his essence.  Volf then compares the common myth of the Santa Claus God who we create to give us things and the God of  Scripture who gives us things "so we can be joyful givers and not self-absorbed receivers".  There is an expectation that if we have been treated with generosity and grace, that we should then treat others likewise. (Luke 10:29-37, II Cor 1:3-5)

It is my prayer that the children of God can reflect his character in all that we do.  Tipping a waiter or waitress appropriately may seem like a small issue, but it truly shows our foundation.  Is our foundation on Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection, or is it based upon self.  Lets decide today, that we will be agents of generosity instead of vessels looking only to receive.

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor

Celebrating King

"I refuse to believe the "isness" of humanity can not reach up to the "oughtness" that forever confronts him"
Martin Luther King, Jr, 1964 in his Nobel Prize reception

 He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!
Revelations 21:5

Today, the United States celebrates the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  There are so many things that could be said about him, that a blog entry can not even begin to skim the surface in describing his impact.  So, I want to share five ways that his life, his legacy, and his death have impacted me:

1. King demonstrated that faith was at the core of changing a society.  Rev. King never backed away from the moral outrage prompted by his faith while advocating for changes in a secular society.  In his writings from "A time for Freedom" in 1961, he quotes an elderly woman who walked several hours to work in sweltering heat instead of taking the bus during the bus boycotts.  She says "My feet is real tired, but my soul is rested".  The spirituality of understanding that the move towards equal rights was a soul-issue over and above an economic or political issue is important.  Every movement centers on a pragmatic truth with its foundation in an "oughtness".  That "oughtness" is God-given for King, and constitutionally affirmed.

2. King demonstrated that a movement is never in isolation but a collection of movements, ideologies, and approaches from the past that are crystallized by a particular set of socio-historical realities.  King was not the first to protest, lead boycotts, give soul inspiring speeches or to promote non-violent methods for systematic change.  However, He brilliantly and intentionally studied the past and built upon them without being limited by them.  His use of Ghandian non-violence with a African-American Christian Evangelical cosmological framework, along with rapid advances of mass communications (rise of TV at the time) was akin to the spread of the early church movement by Pax Romana.  His brilliance was not any single approach or technique, but the collaboration of multiple of streams at just the right time.

3.  King lost his life trying to improve the lives of other.  In essence, his dream, that is beautifully articulated in his "I have a dream speech" also cost him his life (although some scholars would argue it was his later specific anti-war advocacy that sealed his fate).  Jesus died to give life and nearly all prophets do the same.  

4. King represented the best in the church and what could be done through the church.  Recall that through much of his advocacy, Rev. King was a pastor of a congregation.  This required regular messages, visitations, praying for the congregation, attending meetings, etc.  Yet despite those duties, he revealed that the church was to be the leader in reformation.  He echoed the tradition of John Wesley, Charles Finney, BT Roberts, and Howard Thurman.  That tradition connected personal piety with personal and social reform.

5. King would be ashamed to know that most Americans, particularly African-Americans (of which I am part), do not have an appreciation of the blood, sweat, and tears that was spilled to advocate for our simple right to have basic rights and responsibilities.  I literally tear-up when I think of the sacrifices, he and countless others, Black, White, Native, Asian, Latino, etc, for justice that people take for granted.  King foresaw this when he said in 1960 "No greater tragedy can befall us at this hour but that of allowing new opportunities to emerge without the concomitant preparedness to meet them".  

I love the fact that King breathed hope into a nihilistic culture.  He mobilized the un-mobilizable and cast a vision that did not simply warm and inspire, but provoked and transformed.

Let us celebrate today by listening to his dream, and making it our own today:

May God bless you,

Haziness and Holiness: The Church and the LGBT Community

"You don't get to a place where you're never going to be tempted again."
Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International

“God created sexuality.  People create sexual identity”
Dr. Jenel Williams Paris in The End Of Sexual Identity

"Whatever you marginalize, you radicalize"
Rick Warren (@RickWarren 1/15/13)

So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.
 (Colossians 2:10 NLT)

Two things happened yesterday that colluded to produce this blog entry.  First, I participate in a wonderful email discussion with pastors and leaders that covers a variety of topics regarding life and faith.  Over the past several days, there has been significant discussion on the church's treatment of homosexuality in light of Pastor Lou Gigglio's removal from praying during the presidential inauguration due perceived anti-gay comments.  Secondly, a church member scheduled a meeting with me and angrily questioned me about a rumor he heard that I was "inviting gay people to church".  As I write this, I recognize that some people are so entrenched in their view on this, that they will be offended no matter what is written.  I ask that have an open mind.

I have written quite a few blog entries on the topics of Jesus and sexuality as well as the church and same sex marriages.  It never fails to amaze me regarding how stigmatizing sexuality is in our current culture.  During my writings, I have sought to be faithful to the Biblical record by revealing what the Bible says in regards to certain topics, as well as being clear when the Bible is silent.  It is my hope that we can use scripture as divine revelation that seeks to unify, not divide his people.

I believe that the Church today is in a haze in regards to its identity and its role in ministering to and among the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community (LGBT).  Part of that reason stems from a poor theologic framework which has allowed the institutionalization of the club mentality (more social inclusion than spiritual connection) as well as a poorly defined understanding of the essence of its mission (Community that personifies the person, teachings, and disciplines of Jesus Christ and joins in his mission as agents of the Kingdom of God).  We often see our church communities as centered around our needs and responsive to our desires rather than existing to demonstrate the love of God in tangible ways to our neighborhoods, communities, regions and nations.

We (those of us in the church) often repeat the errors of the Pharisees who were present at the time of Jesus.  We become zealous for God and set up laws and regulations that lack any real power for restraining inappropriate desires or changing our hearts (Colossians 2:20-23).  We find those things we identify as sin and we feel that anyone who has had a real encounter with Jesus can and will simply stop doing the offense.  We use a morality test, mostly based upon our own regional and cultural "super sins" and define what is acceptable while being blind to our own culturally acceptable sins. University of Virginia Psychologist John Haidt, in his book "The Righteous Mind" states that morality binds and blinds.  For example, we may reject someone's faith as authentic if they remain in a same sex relationship, but not if they stay in a job where people are exploited and greed is rewarded.

Interestingly, Jesus did not use morality as the criteria for who will enter into the Kingdom of God.  He understood that through the lens of God's morality, that no one would be eligible or deserving of the kingdom of God (Romans 3:23).  Therefore, through His sacrifice, he offers grace to all, and challenges us to literally be grace-extenders!

My point is that Jesus wants people with same sex attractions, orientations, and lifestyles to experience His grace.  Since he will not be dropping pamphlets, or emailing out the means of this grace, he plans on extending his grace through His body, the church, empowered by His spirit.

Some are reading this saying, but God called his church to Holy.  Literally, we are called to be a separate people, fully consecrated to God.  However, the greater understanding of Holiness is not just a legalistic people who do not commit known sins, but a holistic concept where a person is transformed so that they are completely able to love God and their neighbor (John 13:34-35).  Our separation is not to be physical, but spiritual as we are commanded to "make disciples" as we go along in our lives (Mt 28:18-20, I Cor 5:10, Jn 17:15).

In fact, the Church is holiest, when it is loving God and its neighbors.  So, whether its same sex attraction, same sex orientations, same sex lifestyles, greed, bitterness, lack of gentleness, coarse language, or violent behavior, the Church is to demonstrate God's love in tangible ways as a means of extending the grace (undeserved love and favor) that it has itself received.

A real dilemma has arisen in regards to what is the actual sin in same sex relationships.  Is it being attracted, is it being physically intimate?  We know that the understanding of a person as gay or homosexual in regards to identity is a 20th century phenomena so the Bible speaks against those people who commit same sex sexual acts and those who lust after people of same sex.  The Bible also speaks against all people who have sexual acts outside of marriage (defined Biblically as a covenant between a male and female) whether it is same sex or heterosexual.  Lust is also forbidden in general.  So if we assume for a second, and I think most Biblical scholars would agree, that the Bible condemns same sex physical intimacy, can a committed Christian still have same sex attraction or an orientation that prefers company of the same sex?  In other words, is sexual celibacy the fruit that is desired?  Can same sex couples live devoted lives to one another if its not sexual?  This can go on and on...

Alan Chambers is the president of Exodus International.  Exodus is a Christian ministry that seeks to minister to people within the LGBT community, through former members.  Exodus relied heavily on what is called "reparative thereapy" which seeks to "convert" people with same sex attractions, orientations, and lifestyles to heterosexuality.  While there have been antedotal reports of success, Chambers admitted this past June that only about 4% of those people who underwent reparative therapy were successfully "converted", and most have continued to struggle with same sex attractions, orientations, and lifestyles.  

Exodus has switched to a program that seeks to disciple and connect with Jesus.  The goal is not conversion, but connection and community.  It understands that the call for holiness is a call for wholeness, and that is not found in sexuality, sensuality, self-help programs, or even in sin avoidance.  Biblical wholeness is found in a relationship with Jesus.

The Church must understand that its role is love its neighbors regardless of sexual orientation in tangible pragmatic ways and help connect their neighbors with Christ and live in community.  In order to do that, the church must practice hospitality (Romans 12:13) by making room in our lives and in our relationships for anyone who we would regard as a neighbor.  That means that at some point, as the Church practices Holiness through hospitality, you will need to actually befriend and engage members of the LGBT community.

Therefore, ranting regarding the immorality of same sex couples, encouraging further  isolation and insulation, or treating same sex attraction/orientation/lifestyles as if it were the second coming of Nero for the church is not only counter-productive but also un-Biblical and unhealthy.

That does not mean that we compromise God's Biblical standards of conduct in order to appear relevant.  It means that we practice an incarnational approach to our communities where the literal truth and love of God goes out into the world, not for judgement, but to extend grace to a hurting and broken world.

Church leaders, as we practice Biblical Holiness the haziness that confuses us regarding our identity and our mission, will lift.

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor

The Church and LGBT Community

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 
I John 2:9

"We must pray for Gays"
Pastor Heritage Munyakuri,

Yesterday, at the church where I have the privilege to pastor (, one of my assistant pastors delivered the message.  The topic of the sermon was "The Power of Prayer".  In that sermon, Pastor Munyakuri encouraged the congregation to pray for others as prayer is effective means to blessing others.  As an example, Pastor Munyakuri, who is from Congo, discussed the controversial initiative in Uganda, where it has been proposed that people found in homosexual realtionships should be put to death.  Pastor Munyakuri denounced this policy and went on the encourage the congregation to pray for all people, including gays.

Interestingly, because of the highly sensitive nature of sexuality in the church, many listeners understood the message to be about homosexuality as opposed to prayer as a means of demonstrating God's love.

While I understand how it could be understood in this way, I continue to be amazed at the confusion and fear regarding issues regarding issues of sexuality, particularly anything involving same sex relationships.  Last summer, I wrote a 10 part series called "Jesus and Sexuality" on this blogsite, seeking to encourage discussion and thoughtfulness in regards to a complex issue.

What has not been well articulated by most Christian communities has been its approach towards members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community.  I think there are several reasons for this:

1. Sexual Identity is different from sexual attraction and sexual orientation.  As Dr. Janelle Williams notes in her excellent book, "The End of Sexual Idenitity" it is a recent phenomena to connect sexual desire with identity.  While same sex sexual activity has been around since earliest antiquity, it was regarded as something someone did, as opposed to something someone was.  This is significant, as Biblical imperatives prohibited certain behaviors as opposed to condemning a group of people.

2. The Bible clearly speaks against same sex activity, as it also speaks against all sex outside of marriage.  The concept of a same sex marriage was not considered in the Bible as the purpose of marriage in ancient paradigms was not companionship, but legacy (children).

3. Attempts by sincere Christian Psychologists and Pastors to "convert" LGBT members towards "heterosexuality" has largely failed, with conversions being less than 15% among willing participants.  As opposed to behaviors such as stealing, or gossiping, where Christ-centered therapy has had significant success.  In fact, no one has described the expectation for a disciple of Jesus who is involved in same sex relationships.  Should there be loss of attraction, or a change in orientation and identity?  If so, why has there been such inability to see real change?  Part of the problem is that same sex relationships have been described in a medical model, where it is a disease to be cured as opposed to people who need to be cared for.  In the former, the goal is eliminating the disease, as opposed to caring for the person and coming along side them as they reach wholeness in Jesus.

4. The most common paradigms from evangelical churches look at people with same sex attractions and relationships as "them" as opposed to "us".  The Bible denounces adultery, pre-marital sex, drug use, lying, stealing, those with frequent anger, violent behavior, etc.  Yet, we rarely see this behaviors in a way that prevents them from becoming part of our communities, even as they (we) struggle with besetting sins.

5. Most churches, as made clear in Dallas Willard's "Divine Conspiracy", do not have a strategy for discipleship (strategy to help people become fully devoted followers of Jesus).  Without this kind of approach, churches are ill equipped connect people deeply with God and allow the spiritual formation that makes wholeness possible.

In my next entry, I will share some thoughts on ministering among members of LGBT community, but prior to that, I pray that you and your Church community will prayerfully ask God for a spirit of love and compassion as we move from demonization to discipleship and from cure to care.

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor

The Only Church Certainty: Change

John 15:1-3
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 

The life of a church community is not static but always changing, always evolving or decaying.  There is a certain ebb and flow that is inherent in the life of any living organism.  Times of development, times of growth, times of strengthening, times of disease, times of reproduction, and ultimately times of death.  A church body is a living thing.  Despite church growth experts opinions, I do not believe a local church body was created to last forever, but like our lives, has an unique lifespan that is created for the purposes of demonstrating the Kingdom of God in its socio-historical context.  I have seen some wonderful and powerful communities of God that had relatively short life cycles, but were beautiful in their creation and fruitful in their ministries.

The point is to understand that all churches are unique manifestations of the Kingdom of God, and that the nature, location, and even the existence of that manifestation is influenced by the culture and context in which it is to be submerged.  In the mid-twentieth century, it is said that many neighborhoods in America stayed relatively stable in socioeconomic, ethnic, and culture over a 30-40 year period.  By the late twentieth century, the average neighborhood changed every 7 years.  Since the church exists to be both reverent (to God) and relevant (to its community), this suggests that churches that do not develop an ethos of change, will have a fairly reduced life cycle.

The problem that many church communities struggle with is not whether change is necessary, but what, how, and when to change.  There are multiple mistakes that are often made by sincere church leaders and leadership boards in contemplating change in ministry, mission, and structure:

1. Assuming your church will look like other"successful" churches.  God often has a unique calling for your unique situation.  It may not look anything like Willow Creek, Potters House, Northpointe, etc. Church leadership must have a better understanding of their uniqueness and the uniqueness of their settings.  It doesn't mean that we can not glean a tremendous amount of insight from learning from successful ministries, but that ultimately, God wants to do something in your community that may have never been done before.

2. Deciding upon for format for ministry prior to discerning what's God's mission for you.   Discernment is a community activity in which the community seeks the revelation of God's will for them.  It is seeking a vision that comes from God, and is only possible with God.  It is only with a clarity of vision and mission, that ministry alignment is possible.

3. Focusing on the financial, political, and structural ramifications of spiritual decline instead of confronting the  spiritual health of your church and its leadership.  I have seen churches where the leadership are simply glorified firemen.  They meet together to put out fires.  Financial problems with the church  budget, poor attendance at certain programs, non-existent outreach, and church schisms are a few.  These things keep leaders busy for years, but the underlying problem is not that the church needs to raise more money.  Stewardship is very important, but the underlying problem is still a spiritual issue in which the distance between the community and God has widened.

4. The Change that God desires may not make your church larger, more well known, or more financially stable.  Interestingly, many pastors and leaders will tell you that they made changes to their churches due to the aforementioned. Yet, I have found that God often calls us to go to the least, the last, and the lost.  He calls us to minister people and places that are off the grid.  Its like we all have a Ninevah (see the book of Jonah if unfamiliar).   While  God directed change can results in rapid increases in the size and maturity of your congregation, I have seen very fruitful changes that have not.  The goal of change is not our survival and prosperity, but our obedience to the discerned will of God.

I want to encourage every church leader to lead a culture of change in their churches.  No, I am not asking you to change for the purpose of changing.  I am asking you to be reverently open to the discerned will of God who seeks to make you a relevant tangible expression of His love to a rapidly changing culture around us.

May God bless you this day,

Pastor M Traylor

What's Missing?

That has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun. 
Ecclesiastes 1:9

This week's violent attacks on American embassies do not make sense to me.  I know its easy to dismiss this violence as simply out-of-control religious fanatics who are lead by zealous militants who despise the United States.  Yet, there is something missing.  It does not make sense.  Allow me to postulate a couple of things that I think will give clarity to this mess:

1. Muslims, like other peoples of the world, are intelligent people who desire significance, security, and acceptance.  In this manner, we are all alike.

2. All faiths that are exclusive, by nature, are an offense to the world around them.  In Christianity, this is openly acknowledged (I Corinthians 1:18-2:16 for instance).  Muslims readily understand that they are misunderstood and that a majority of the world is not Muslim.  While they may be offended, this offense is hardly new.

3. The internet is not the official domain of any nation or entity.  Things published and shared on the internet are not the official publications of the United States or any nation unless they specifically say they are.

4. An obscure ten minute film that is published on the internet is not the official propaganda of the United States or its people.  Its a film produced and directed by one man and his intentions are known to him only.

5. The attacks on the embassies were coordinated, well planned attacks by people with a specific agenda.

The idea that a video that was floating on the internet that offended Muslims so badly that it gave rise to a transnational, highly organized global attack on US embassies makes no sense.  It actually insults the intelligence of Muslims everywhere.

I think, due to the organization of this, that there is something more.  I believe there is something deeper going on here.  Videos have come and gone that were offensive to Muslims, but we have not witnessed the outrage and violence that we are experiencing in the Mideast.  I am not condoning the video (as I have not even seen it) and as a Pastor, I deeply understand the insult of blasphemy, however, this just makes no sense.

Anytime politics are given a religious dimension, it becomes irrational and dialogue-resistant.  That is what we are seeing.  A political move (attacking a governmental entity) disguised in a religious movement (Islam is offended).  We must separate the two to understand what is the motivation.

I pray that there is an outbreak of peace and that the real causes of the violence are revealed.  I pray that we will develop greater tolerance, thicker skins, and a deeper level of understanding in our dealings with others.

God bless,

Pastor M Traylor

The Purity Principle

Joshua told the people, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you."
(Joshua 3:5)

In Christian circles, it became popular to talk about the "Chronos" and the "Kairos" time.  The first being the Greek word that describes linear time while the latter Greek word was used in the New Testament to describe a season or event that was to occur.  Too often, this "Kairos" concept was used by Christian Charlatans and prosperity teachers to tell you that your Kairos (your time or season) of prosperity was upon you and you simply needed to give them money to unleash the bountiful blessings of God.   

However, I truly believe that God does have seasons of exceptional revelation for his people.  The great awakenings in American history were Kairos moments when God revealed himself to his people in ways that not only changed them individually, but changed entire societies.  Interestingly, Charles Finney, the 19th century evangelist described revival as "when the people of God turn back to God" so that the world sees God.  The Kairos moments of God are often preceded by times of purification and consecration.

I have sensed for several months that the faith community that I am part is entering a special season of revelation. (   However, I feel that God is saying to us that we must consecrate or purify ourselves first.

Purity in the Christian context often has a sexual connotation, however the word literally means to "become one thing".  Purifying means to rid oneself of everything that is not consistent with being a fully devoted follower of Jesus.  It is not focused on what activities to avoid as much as being completed devoted to God in everything we think, do, and embody.  We say something is pure gold when it is all gold and without contaminants.

We are told that we purify ourselves (make ourselves completely one thing) in order to perfect holiness (I Corinthians 7:`).  Holiness is the concept of being totally set apart to God, and away from sin.  The concepts of purity and holiness are closely linked in scripture.

So what does it mean to purify ourselves in anticipation of a greater work of God:

1. Purify your Mind:  Scripture tells us that our minds have to be renewed daily because our native mindset is antagonistic and hostile towards God (Rom 8:7, 12:1-2, )  Purifying our minds means to focus on the things of God (Phil 4:8) through the spirit of God (II Cor 10:4-5).  This is not an event but a process and a discipline that comes from regular, consistent intake and meditation of scripture. (II Tim 3:16-17).

2. Purify your Relationships:  We are to throw off everything that hinders us from spiritual growth.  This does not mean that Christians should not have relationships with non-Christians as we are to be the salt and the light of the world.  I am talking about those relationships that we have prioritized above our relationship with God.  The relationships that prevent us from clearly doing what God is calling you and guiding you towards.  It is, as the medieval Christians describe, an ordering of your affections.  We often can not hear God when we place His voice in the context of a chorus.

3.  Purify your Time/Talents/Treasures: Jesus said that our use of our resources is an indicator of our heart (Lk 12:34).  What you spend time on, invest your talents in, and spend your money one reveals what you think are most important, regardless of what you say.  Purity uses your resources in a way that honors God above all of the competing agendas.

I pray that you would experience a deeper revelation of God and experience God's Kairos moments in y our life.  Just as Joshua told his people, lets us consecrate ourselves for God wants to do amazing things among us.

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor

The Abounding Evil

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
Isaiah 64:6

Recently, I have been thinking about the nature of evil.  That malicious entity that is hard to define but identified quickly when experienced.  It is a destructive and dehumanizing force that is revealed in the actions, attitudes, and activities of people everywhere.

This past week, I returned from Rwanda where I was immersed in a culture that had experienced some of the most heinous evil (genocide of 2 million people) I could ever imagine.  The idea that rational people could indiscriminately hack and bludgeon their neighbors, including children and infants is an unimaginable evil.  Its is numbing in its intensity and devastating in its scope.

When I returned, I was greeted with the news that a former Youth Pastor at the church I pastor, was recently arrested and charged with aggravated sexual assault of a minor.  Although I did not know or serve with this pastor, there are many in my congregation who knew him and were absolutely shocked at the allegations against this person who had been a blessing to many.

These things lead to consider the nature of evil.  In light of atrocities and tragedies, we try to make sense out of evil by trying to marginalize the perpetrators to make them different than ourselves.  The fact that most of the Rwandan Genocide perpetrators identified themselves as Christian makes us want to rationalize their faith away.  "No one who does such horrible things could actually be a Christian!  There are lots of people who profess Jesus, but don't follow him!" we tell ourselves.  We quote scriptures and tell ourselves that we are safe, all the while missing the truth about evil.

Evil abounds because its part of who we are.  The notion of human depravity is basic in Christianity and it simply says that when we are separated from God, we are capable of every type of evil known to man.  Whats interesting is that the evil within is not removed immediately upon knowing Jesus.  According to the Bible, there is an ongoing process where we continually strive to live and walk by the Spirit of God, who is actively antagonizing and "putting to death" our natural inclination towards evil.  Yet, we should make no mistake, that the propensity to do evil is not an external force that possesses us as much as an internal character that is expressed.

In Christianity, it is this depravity that requires a savior who can not only pay for consequences of our evil but instill us with a new character to overcome our own evil.  This is the liberating aspect of salvation that is not discussed as often as it should.

I believe that these things happen to help us reflect upon our own natures.  It should help us to stop judging others by demanding justice for their crimes while seeking mercy for our own.  My parents used to talk about people who did crimes and say "Only by the grace of God am I".  That is the simple truth.

I am praying for your wholeness, healing and that its not by our power or might, but by His spirit that we overcome our own evil. (Zech 4:6)

May God bless you today

Pastor M TRaylor

Ingredients for Genocide

"Many churches during the genocide became places of death instead of places of life"
Bishop Samuel Kayinamera, Free Methodist Church of Rwanda

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 
I Corinthians 10:6-7

I recently spent two weeks in the beautiful country of Rwanda.  Its hills, lakes and people make it a visually stunning place to witness and a loving place to experience..  It is a small, densely populated land locked nation in Central-Eastern Africa that has an agricultural basis of life that is often resource challenged.  Subsistence living is the way of life for the vast majority of Rwanda's people.

Beneath the smiles, the tremendous hospitality, exuberant worship, and the sense of national hope, lies the horrific wound of genocide 18 years ago.  In this festering action from April through July of 1994, nearly 2 million of the 8 million inhabitants of Rwanda were systematically killed, tortured, raped, and maimed.  This was not done by an invading army or a colonizing nation, but neighbors.  Not ethnically different neighbors, or neighbors speaking another language, but real, next-door-our-kids-go-to-school-together type neighbors.  It is estimated that over 2/3 of the entire population of Rwanda was either killed or fled the violence into the neighboring nations of Congo, Burundi, or Uganda.

The events of the genocide did not "just happen" but were the result of divisive and dehumanizing practices, processes, and proclamations over the previous 90 years.  It was not spontaneous but a planned evil that had shown warning signs for 40 years previous to the genocide.

What is most frightening about this genocide is that Rwanda was known as a "Christian Nation".  Testimonies of the perpetrators shows an overwhelming identification as Christian.   Witnesses to the genocide noted that victims of the genocide often ran to churches for protection but that the gathering together often made it easier for the perpetrators to commit mass atrocities.

Shouldn't faith have made an difference?  Shouldn't the presence of the body of Christ and His spirit been able to overcome this evil?  

I want to suggest that there are three components that inform a genocidal people

1. A Divisive and Dehumanizing Ideology must be present:  The Belgian Colonizers at the turn of the 20th century painstakingly began to separate the local inhabitants into Tutsi (privileged class), Hutu (laborers), and Twa (nomadic).  These were not just descriptions of people physically, but descriptions that changed their identity and self-understanding.  It developed into a caste system.  Interesting in itself is that the ideology is expressed in distinct labels that allow dehumanizing.

2. A Corrupting and Co-opted Theology must be present:  The separation of Tutsi and Hutu was based upon a prevalent myth of that time called the "Hamitic Theory" which postulated that the people who had longer noses, taller stature, and more wealth were descendants of a privileged race of Hamitic origin that avoided the curse of Canaan (Gen 9:25).  This not only legitimized the differences, but gave divine support for the classicism.

3. A Scarcity-minded Economy:  A scarcity mindset is the acknowledgment that there are very limited resources for living and that there is competition among one another for those resources.  Many people do not realize that the initial Hutu uprisings were attempts to gain political and economic power.  The natural resources of Rwanda are extremely limited and competitive nature of the economy was like fuel on the flames of fear and mistrust.

The reason that is is worth reflecting upon is to ask yourself, could this happen again?  Could millions of people who claim to follow Jesus participate in wholesale genocide of their neighbors?  Could it happen in the US?

Nazi Germany developed a dehumanizing ideology (Aryanism and Anti-semitism) based upon the corrupted theology of the national church of Germany (Influenced by racist sentiments of Martin Luther towards the end of his life that were expanded and amplified) and when the economic collapse of post-world war I occurred, the ingredients were all in place for genocide.

Let us never forget!  Let us never allow nationalism or ethnocentrism to co-opt the church.  Lets critically examine ideologies that divide and dehumanize and ruthlessly clarify our theologies.  Lastly, let us not neglect the role that economic systems play in the perpetration of violence.  Not only are they connected, but part of the vision of the Kingdom of God was the understanding of peace as sustained provisions for life and liberty

He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore. 
Every man will sit under his own vine
and under his own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the Lord Almighty has spoken. 
Micah 4:3-4

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor

Disgust: Protection or Pathological

"Contamination-based reasoning, being governed by a unique set of rules, is often immune to reason and rationality"~Richard Beck in Unclean: Meditations of Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality

Matthew 9:10-11
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"

Researchers have shown that the revulsion or disgust we feel towards things is a deeply embedded, psychological and sociological reality.  In a particular study, people were offered juice and just prior to receiving it, watched as a roach was dipped into the juice and removed immediately.  Most people kindly refused the juice.  The juice was then placed in filtering process, boiled, filtered again to so to prove by scientific method, it was free of any bug-related contaminants.  Most people, still refused to drink the juice even if they admitted logically, that the juice was completely safe to drink.

The issue of what appears polluted, contaminated, unclean, and disturbing is the subject of Dr. Richard Beck's book "Unclean".  Dr. Beck is a Christian Psychologist who is wrestling with the dialectic of Holiness/Purity/Exclusion against Mission/Engagement/Inclusion in the Bible.  His starting point is that of understanding the deep seated nature of disgust and contamination.

In the experiment above, it did not matter to the drinker how pure the juice was, because once it was contaminated, it was to be excluded and psychologically will never be fit for consumption.  The variability of this experiment is influenced culturally. For instance, in some cultures, insects are eaten quite often, yet American find insects as a pollutant or contaminant.  It does not just have a physical adversion, but our  disgusts take on a moral tone.  A grasshopper in our juice is not just unfortunate, it becomes "nasty", even if grasshoppers are edible.  

Interestingly, all humans experience disgust.  It began as an emotional experience that helped to protect us from bad foods, dangerous situations, threats, and villainous behavior.  It can be said that the experience of disgust is normative.

From a faith point of view, we need to understand that our understanding of disgust, contaminants, and revulsions is not relegated to food.  What happens when our deep seated revulsions and what we consider to be contaminants is expanded to include behaviors, characteristics, and even people groups.  What if people, in their desire to live Godly lives have been conditioned to see certain behaviors and people groups as revolting and polluting?

Just as most American's can not drink the bug-tainted juice without real psychological and physical reactions (nausea, vomiting, dread, anxiety), there may be culturally induced serious, subconscious adversive reactions when some Christians engage others whom they have been trained to understand as polluted, unclean, etc.  This has huge implications in ministry.

The key is initially understanding that your revulsion may not be "absolute" but relative.  In other words, what we find disgusting may not actually be disgusting but may be culturally unacceptable in our own cultures. Think bug-juice experiment as an example.  Secondly, your revulsion is not logical and rational.  Therefore, like fear, it may not "make sense".  Thirdly, it is a conditioned response and can often be de-conditioned.  In the context of people and behaviors, it does not mean that the offensive person or behavior has to be accepted or supported, but that you are aware of your tendency to want to exclude the person and behavior based upon your preconceived morality.

This does not mean that being disgusted in bad or unnatural.  When we see someone injured badly with blood all over, it is often revolting.  Many healthcare provider have to work to overcome the natural psychological and physical reactions to blood in order to provide care.  However, the disgust is helpful in that case to warn of the danger present.

I want to encourage you today to think of what pushes your buttons.  Who by their very nature or behaviors, disgusts you?  Remember, its natural, so everyone experiences them. Take time to pray about them and consider that they may be more cultural than absolute.  Ask God if they are protective or just in the way of being agents of God love to others.  Jesus understood this, the Pharisees never did.

May God bless you ,

Pastor Michael Traylor

Why are you so mean?

Forget about deciding what's right for each other. Here's what you need to be concerned about: that you don't get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. 14 I'm convinced — Jesus convinced me! — that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it. 
Romans 14:13 from the Message Bible

Why are so many Christians angry?   Why is it that when we are given the opportunity to demonstrate the love of Jesus in public forums, we exchange the privilege with regretful injections of poisonous barbs?  

On Youtube this past week, a video of a worship service where a small boy, probably 5-6 years old, was singing a song "Ain't no homo gonna make it into heaven".  The interesting thing is not whether I can find Biblical support for homosexuality as a sin (Romans 1 for example) but why the focus of a worship service is not God, but the denouncing of others.  According to scripture, "Ain't no sex-outside-of-marriage, greedy people, people who put themselves before God, liars, people who have stolen something, people who drink too much and dishonest business people gonna make it into heaven" (I Corinthians 6:9-11).  The context of that scripture was not the condemnation of all of those groups of people, as we would all be condemned.  That scripture speaks to the fact that the redeeming work of Jesus removes us from the life of being defined by our sins, and into the family of God.  The scripture points graciously to the fact that we are all on such a list!

Its time that Christians appropriate the gospel for themselves afresh.  Its by grace, the undeserved gift from God, that we have any privileges in the family of God; any forgiveness of our own offensiveness towards God; any presence of God's spirit within us.  Jesus did not simply die for Christians, but died for the world.  This loving act of dying for a broken world is not only Jesus' mission, but the Christian's mission as well (Christian means Christ-like, and how can we be Christ-like and not do what Christ did?).

The scripture that began this blog from Romans asks us to focus on getting our own relationships with God right and not to harm another's spiritual formation.  Its interesting, because that the same charge that Jesus levels against the pharisees of his day (Luke 11:46).

This does not mean that Christians should be quiet regarding things described in scripture as immoral, or unhealthy, but that we speak in love.  It is more important to point out to a person involved in questionable behaviors, the way to life as opposed to condemnation of death.  That is not because we take sin lightly, but because we all have our own stories of how God took our own sin, idolatry, greed, immorality, and self-destructiveness and made it part of our victory and testimony.  The overarching revelation of God is not conviction to condemnation, but conviction to liberation and completeness.  This is more demonstrated than defended.  It is something we show in our lives as a credible witness to the transforming power of the love of God through Jesus.

Evangelical Christians have been shown by many studies (of Evangelicals themselves) to divorce as much as the general population, to be involved in the spectrum of sexual immorality as much as the general population, and to be less generous in supporting charity than the general population.  Yet, in all of this, we become preoccupied in vilifying others with the proverbial plank in our own eyes (Mt 7:3).  All the while, proclaiming grace, but never extending any.

I want to encourage you to preach the gospel to yourself and to be a light and encouragement for the world as opposed to hypocritically standing in judgement.  Allow the grace and love of God flow through you as God continues to redeem the world.

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor

Why the story of Sodom is important to tell!

 "No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof." 
Genesis 19:7-8

I was reading this chapter in the Bible for my devotions today and was arrested on the verses above.  

Genesis 19 is the story of the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The narrative states that "The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it" (Gen 19:13).  Although traditionally, it is felt that it was sexual immorality that brought the wrath of God upon the cities, scripture reveals a more foundational reason:

Ezekiel 16:49-51
"'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. 

The issue of Sodom was that she was decadent, unconcerned about God or one another, and their actions, including their sexuality, showed a blatant disregard for the humanity of others.  The text that began this blog demonstrated how the decadence became a culture of pleasure and self-satisfaction.  When self-pleasure becomes a god, people are objectified.  In that culture, people simply serve our desires.  The culture is Sodom was clearly hedonistic and unrestrained.

In this text, males of the city surrounded the home of Lot, who was entertaining Angels (unknown to the city residents) and demanded to have sex with them.  Lot's response was to offer his daughters to the mob.  Although he was saved from the destruction, he was not a righteous man.  His attitude of dehumanization, particularly seeing women as objects of pleasure, to be used to appease the desires of unrestrained lust.  

I believe that God sees dehumanization and objectification as acts of injustice.  This is why he destroyed an entire city.  I have been so overwhelmed in my spirit regarding correlations today.  We have entire cultures that worship self-satisfaction, and therefore dehumanize one another.  The end of every major empire began with a period of decadence and degradation.  I listen to grammy award winning rap music which is now mainstream, and I just hear objectification and degradation.  And no one seems to care.  Many entertainers use words that see women in the same way that Lot and the Sodom society saw them.

The point is that we can make a difference by honoring God and honoring one another.  The greatest goal of a civilization can not be self or it implodes.  Are we able to speak truth and not only see injustice, but stand against it.  Can we protect those who are regularly dehumanized and objectified, such as when women are described as mere symbols of conquest and pleasure?  I think its not only possible, but it could be likely, God helping us!

Lets not be a Lot, but take a stand today.

God bless,

Pastor M Traylor

Is this really about sex?

"Desire is not a trustworthy indicator of human identity"
Janell Williams Paris, Cultural Anthropologist at Messiah College

Several days ago, President Barak Obama stated clearly that he supported Gay marriage.  The reaction has been mixed, but very passionate.  In light of a recent referendum in North Carolina that banned Gay marriages as well as common-law marriages between a man and woman, it seems that this issue is something Americans are deeply passionate about.  Our social media timelines are filled with strongly worded responses of anger, celebration, provocation, and ignorance.

Personally, I believe that this pulls the cover off of a few things.  These deep feelings are signposts to some of our hidden fears.  However, like an individual with generalized anxiety, our culture has little insight into the genesis of its anxiety.  Instead of trying to thoughtfully understand our reactions and fellings, we immediately turn the anxiety we feel into anger we express.  Anger demands an object regardless of the subject.  Instead of talking about human sexuality, we are yelling at the President, or ridiculing those trying to define marriage as strictly heterosexual.  From every perspective, there is no genuine conversation, no one seeking to understand, to inform, or to be loving.  We are too threatened, too vulnerable, too angry, and too uncivil to even consider the reasons for our unease.

Our approach to this divisive issue is a combination of cultural, political, familial, and faith-related influences.  The combination is not cumulative, but are interrelated as our culture is defined by our poltical, familial, and faith-based influences.

So, what if our simplistic approaches of yes or no are not appropriate for highly complex issues.  Its like trying to describe a vibrancy of a Picasso in shades of gray.

Last summer, wrote a 10 part series of Jesus and sexuality with the hope that it would foster real discussion on a complex issue from a Biblical perspective (Jesus and Sexuality),

I would ask that before you have strong opinion, that we take time to understand whats behind your emotion.  Does your faith really support your anger?  Next blog, I will talk about my thoughts about this issue, but until then, I pray for understanding, civility, and most of all love by the people of God in order to be credible witnesses to the reality of God.

God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor