Tuesday, June 19, 2012

My Return to Blogging

Dear Friends,

I am making my triumphant (meager?) return to blogging...but it's at a new address.  You can find my new blog, Exiled Community, at www.stevenlamotte.me.

I hope you'll join me there for some hopeful conversations about life, faith, and the journey in the in-between places.  I do hope to move my archives over to the new address at some point.

Grace and Peace,


Monday, February 27, 2012

Permission Givers and Suicide

Over the past month, our community has experienced four suicides and one failed attempt.  Like many others, I've struggled with how we should respond as individuals and as a church.

In his book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell writes a chapter on cluster suicides and provides some interesting insight. While I'll give a simplistic review, it is worth picking the book up to read.

In a study done by David Phillips, a sociologist from the University of California at San Diego- he found the when a suicide was reported in a newspaper- that the suicide rates in the area would increase for a brief time. He notes that Marilyn Monroe's death led to a temporarily led to a 12% increase in suicides nationally. Phillips writes,
"Suicide stories are a kind of natural advertisement for a particular response to your problems. You've got all these people who are unhappy and have difficulty making up their minds because they are depressed. They are living with pain. There are lots of stories advertising different kinds of response to that. It could be that Billy Graham has a crusade going on that weekend- that's a religious response. Or it could be that somebody is advertising an escapist movie- that's another response. Suicide stories offer another kind of alternative."

Gladwell goes on to say that an initial suicide can be a permission-giver for those who don't know how to respond to the pain and despair they are experiencing. Which is why suicides can often appear in clusters. Others are empowered to consider suicide a viable option to choose from because others have done it.

So what can we do about suicide?
1. Continually teach that we are created in God's image, we have sacred worth, and are loved by God.
2. Step away from escapist theology (so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good) and teach that the Kingdom is present now- and that we have a purpose to fulfill in the Kingdom. I find Ephesians 2:10 particularly helpful with young people.
"For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago." (NLT)
3. Listen to our children and friends. Are we taking time to really listen to their concerns and their struggles? Do we create safe space in our homes for our children to share what is really on their minds?
4. Parents- who do are children look to for permission? Are there Godly men and women in their lives to invest in them, love them, and listen to them? Let's encourage our kids to find mentors in pastors, youth pastors, and other men and women who set a positive example and who navigate the troubles of this world by the grace of God and with the hope that God brings.

How do you address suicide in your ministry context?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Bible's Most Important Word

Wordle: Most Importantn Word
I love posting a seemingly random or controversial question on Facebook and allowing dialogue to take place.  The other day on Facebook, I posed this question: "What is the most important word in the Bible?" I got a lot of great responses. My favorite, perhaps, was wine, but I digress. Some of the most popular were love, trust, Jesus, grace, follow, and believe.  And all important words.  But I want to suggest (and open for more dialogue) another word for the most important.  The word is...


And maybe it comes as more as a concept than an actual word, but in that concept of redemption is love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, renewal, and yes, Jesus.  The over-arching narrative of the scriptures is how God is redeeming creation. Sin is at work in the world. We are broken people. Creation cries out and groans to be redeemed. Jesus is God's redemptive plan for creation. The mission of God has been working towards the redemption of creation. Jesus came to inaugurate the Kingdom of God and will come again for redemption and the Kingdom to be fully realized.

Two books I've read that do a great job of showing this are The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative by Christopher J.H. Wright and Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God's Mission in the Bible by Arthur F. Glasser. I would recommend either for someone to read to grasp the scope and unity of the Bible.

If you could pick one word for the most important word in the scriptures, what would it be? Redeem? or something else?

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Imbedded Theology

In the past year, I have had two conversations that have been very similar- yet making me scratch my head.  They went like this:

Conversation #1:  College student from a Reformed Tradition telling me that they go to the Bible for their theology and not an author, writer, commentary, etc.  Yet, as we talk, it was very evident about the impact of the books they were reading and the podcast they were listening to had on their spiritual life.

Conversation #2:  With another Christian leader, in his thirties, from a non-denominatinal church. As we talked about some theological traditions, he stated that he didn't know what theological tradition he was because he just would go to the Bible.

First, let me applaud them (and maybe you) who make it a point to dive into the Word of God.  There is no better way for us to get to know God than to read God's Word. Knowing both people well, I know their passion for God and for the scriptures. This is not what makes me scratch my head.

It's the idea that we go to the Scriptures without any personal baggage, biases, or theology whether its come from books, commentaries, podcast, etc. This post isn't to affirm any theological tradition as correct, but it doesn't matter whether you're Reformed, Wesleyan-Arminian, or Presbibaptistcostal- we each have our own theological system in place.  Some of it is just more formalized than others.

For instance:

  • When you read a passage of scripture and make an interpretation based on the context of the text and your knowledge of the Bible- you are developing your own theology.
  • What we may not realize is that all our Sunday School lessons, sermons from our pastors, messages from our youth pastors, the way our parents raised us, and the books that we read, help us to interpret the Bible in a particular way.
  • If our major influences in our Christian Faith (pastor, youth pastor, etc) are Wesleyan-Arminian, it's quite likely that we ascribe to that theological system without even realizing it.
  • Even for those of us who are non-denominational, the influences our pastors and past leaders create a theological framework for the church to work in.  Who influenced them?
Why is this important?

I believe we should engage the theological systems we are raised up in (or find ourselves in). What do they say about God? About humanity? Is this what I truly believe? Is this really what the Bible teaches? What's the background of my pastor or favorite podcast? Do I track with their theology?

Ultimately, we are each theologians are we try our best to understand and grow closer to God. We create theological frameworks for our families by our prayers before meals and in our family worship time.

How does theology affect your life? Your family? Do you engaged with your pastor's theology and what your study of scripture has taught you?

Monday, February 06, 2012

The Future of The United Methodist Church: Real Discipleship

This spring, delegates from The United Methodist Church will gather in Tampa, Florida for General Conference, which is held every four years. It is a time of conferencing and legislation which will affect the people of the denomination for years to come. As we prepare for General Conference, this is a great time to have some dialogue about what some positive changes might look like for the future of The United Methodist Church.

Today, I want to talk about Real Discipleship.

The Mission Statement of The United Methodist Church is: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  I've come to wonder if we really are series about making disciples.

In this history of The United Methodist Church, Methodism began with John Wesley (In England) and Francis Asbury (here in America), who encouraged people to be growing in their faith.  They attended Class Meetings (like small groups) where they were asked questions like, "How is your soul today."  They were held accountable for their lifestyle and faith development.

In a time where we the Call to Action report is giving us 16 drivers of vital congregations- one area that seems to be left out (at least without specifically mentioning it) is intentional discipleship.  In my own experience in the Methodist Church- I have seen very few settings where Pastors and Leaders are intentionally replicating themselves.  Yet, if we are to fulfill our mission (to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world)- we need to first make disciples.

While I am not aware of any specific legislation in this regard at General Conference, this is our DNA as Methodist and if we are not engaged in the making of disciples, of replicating followers of Jesus, then what are we doing as Pastors and Leaders in The United Methodist Church?

Some thoughts-

  • Discipleship is not a program. Simply having a Disciple Bible Study is not creating disciples. It may be part of it.  We need Pastors and Leaders who will empower people to surrender their lives to Jesus and follow wherever Jesus leads.
  • Pastors- who are you mentoring?  Who do you meet at 6:30 a.m. in the Diner, or at the coffeeshop for a weekly cup of coffee?  Are you intentionally inviting them to go deeper in their walk with God?  Are you teaching them to replicate themselves?
  • Pastors- mentor someone half your age.  We all know how our average clergy age is skewed to the older generation- think of the possibilities if our 50, 55, 60, and 65 year old clergy were intentionally mentoring young people who were 25, 27, 30, and 32! For our clergy in their 20's and 30's - what a difference it makes to pour our lives into teenagers.  The die would be cast for these young adults to begin mentoring someone half their age because it was done for them. (I believe I heard Andy Stanley give this suggestion- just want to give credit where credit is due!)
While the style of our music, or the kinds of programs we offer can help us to grow "vital churches" the Biblical model of growth is holistic discipleship that calls people to surrender their lives to Jesus, walks with them as they grow like Jesus- and releasing them into ministry to proclaim the Good News.  If we want the future of The United Methodist Church to be healthy and viable- it begins and ends with discipleship.

What are some ways that you are discipling someone? Any tools you'd recommend? Any great stories of being discipled by someone older than you? Does your church have an intentional discipleship ministry or track?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Living Like Lazarus

I've been thinking lately about Lazarus in John 11. You likely remember the story- Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, gets sick and ultimately dies. Jesus was called to come to Lazarus before his death but decided to stay put- leaving Mary and Martha filled with grief and maybe frustration at Jesus for not coming sooner because they believed that Jesus could intervene in Lazarus' sickness. In verse 43, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb, and to everyone's amazement- Lazarus came back to life and emerged from the grave. While we get a few glimpses of Lazarus in John 12- after that we don't hear from him again. What happened to Lazarus?

He died.

This friend that Jesus loved and brought back from the dead ultimately died a second time- this time for good (physically). The question I've been pondering is this: Does the fact that Lazarus died lessen the impact of Jesus raising him from the dead? My answer is no. God still worked in miraculous ways to bring healing into Lazarus' life through Jesus- but the bottom line is that Lazarus was not going to have a physically immortal life.

This brings us to the present day. What does it mean to pray for healing in someones life? How do we respond when we believe that healing has taken place- yet our loved one gets sick again? I have a friend who was diagnosed with cancer and began treatments for the cancer. While he pursued medical treatment, his church family surrounded him with prayer. At one of his check-ups- the scan showed that the cancer was completely gone. The doctors even expressing surprise about the results. The churches and Christians who had been praying for him gave thanks to God for the healing that took place. A year later he was dead as the cancer returned- more aggressive than before. We mourned the loss of a friend and some questioned God about whether healing really took place. Did healing take place- my faith says that it did. My faith says that God is in the healing business still today. Like Lazarus, my friend, at some point, would again die.

I've always wondered about what Lazarus' life was like after his resurrection. I can imagine that Lazarus was ready to tell the story of his resurrection to everyone he met. I imagine that he had a new perspective on living life and on following Jesus. The challenge for us is to live as those who are prepared to die...and to die as those who are prepared to live. You can throw out any cliche you want: Live life to the fullest, live like you were dying, life's short-play hard...the reality is that we likely won't get a second chance like Lazarus did- so we need to make the most of each day- to be satisfied in the presence of our God- and to share the story of how we were once dead (spiritually) but through Christ have new life now and a new life to come.

For those of us who know someone battling cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, or some other disease where we've prayed for healing- let's take each day as a gift from God. Each moment as an opportunity to experience the joy of the relationships we've come to love. Let us realize that even a complete healing on earth will ultimately result in death- that through Christ we might experience true healing where sickness and death will be no more, where we will experience healing from our sinful nature, and where we will be made new. (Revelation 21:4-5)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Future of The United Methodist Church

In just a few weeks, United Methodist Clergy and Lay delegates from all over the world will take over Tampa, Florida for General Conference 2012 (#gc2012 for those of you following along on Twitter).  For those of you not familiar with The United Methodist leadership structure- General Conference happens every four years and is the place where legislation and policy are made for the churches and people who make up the denomination.  Each conference (I'm in the Peninsula-Delaware Conference), holds an Annual Conference every year (think Annual Business Meeting)- and of course there are Jurisdictional Conferences where we elect Bishops and so forth.

General Conference is the place where changes to our United Methodist Book of Discipline can be made- and every four years brings the opportunity for debate, both big and small, about the direction of The United Methodist Church.

After a brief discussion on Twitter with Matt Lipan (@mattlipan on Twitter, or you can read his blog here), we both are hoping that the UMC moves in a direction of change for the better.  The question I posed is "What does change for the better look like for the UMC?"  The answer to this question can be as diverse as the people who make up The United Methodist Church.  In the coming days and weeks, I'll be doing a series of post (and interacting with a few other people) about what changes we'd like to see in the UMC.  While I don't profess to be an expert in any of these areas, my post will include, but not limited to...

  • The Global Nature of The United Methodist Church- restructuring is on the table in 2012 and it has wide reaching implications for our denomination and who exactly are "United Methodist."
  • Are we really "making disciples for the transformation of the world?"
  • Generation Lost? Where are the young adults in The UMC?
  • Can we regain our missional DNA?

Those are just a few thoughts that I have had in thinking about this series.  Of course, others will come up.  There are the usual hot button issues that can be/should be discussed.  

What would "meaningful change" look like for you in The United Methodist Church?  What issues do you care most about?  Leave some thoughts in the comments below and check back often!