The Space Between: A place of conversation to discuss God, life, and all the things in between.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

How to Interpret Romans 13

Happy Summer, Rinn Nation!

              As your pastor, one of my primary jobs is to help you interpret and live the lessons of the Bible.  So whenever I see a prominent story where scripture is misused, I feel the need to write and provide some clarity.

The incident in question happened a little over a week ago when our nation’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, quoted Romans 13 while defending the administration’s policy to separate families crossing the US/Mexico border (read about it here). Before I go further, let me insert my standard disclaimer for politically charged issues. I know this is a hot button topic. So if I hit one of your buttons with my thoughts, come talk me. I buy a mean cup of coffee and would love to chat in person. 

All right, first let me share the full text that AG Sessions summarized as a “clear and wise command . . .  to obey the law of the government.”

“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.  So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. 5 So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.
Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority.”
-Romans 13:1-7 NLT 

This passage actually has a long and unfortunate history. It is frequently used by those in power to ensure the complete and total obedience of their citizens (read a fascinating article about it here if you’d like). You can see why officials would want to use it this way. The passage seems pretty clear cut at first glance. God ordained the government, you obey it, end of story!

 But you have to remember, Rinn Nation, this letter was not originally intended for us or any of the other people who have historically referenced it. So we need to go back to its first audience to see what the verses are really saying. That would be the ancient church at Rome, which was enduring some political tension when Paul sent them this note. The prevailing theory is that, at this juncture in history (approximately 55-60 CE), there was a lot of unrest in Judea. Rome was extremely unpopular due to harsh policies and inept governors. The Jews, having dealt with it for decades, were openly fermenting revolt (a rebellion did end up erupting in the mid-60s, leading to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70ce). The sentiment quickly spread to all the Jewish centers of the ancient world, including the large community in Rome itself. And since the Church at that time was still technically a part of Judaism, members of Paul’s Roman congregation were finding themselves drawn into the conflict.

Paul writes knowing this and understanding the sort of scrutiny the church is under. Christians everywhere were not popular in the slightest. Romans thought of them as incestuous cannibals who referred to each other as “Brother and Sister” and claimed to eat the body and blood of their Savior. Moreover, every time there was a natural disaster or some other unexplainable tragedy, they blamed the Christians who did not worship the existing pantheon of Roman Gods. So in this part of the letter, Paul is really exhorting potential Jewish hotheads to tone it down and avoid further negative attention. It’s hard enough to be a Christian in Rome. So follow the rules! Focus on God and get by!

I’ve seen several other interpretations similar to this. One theory I read a while back said Paul is being sarcastic writing this, and whoever read this part to the congregation would put “air quotes” around this passage. It was Paul’s way of saying Rome was important, but believers only had to pay lip service to the Empire.  Others think he put this passage in to throw off Roman spies. The Christian Communities at the time were closely watched, so Paul could’ve put these verses in, not as a directive to the church, but to allay suspicion if a copy was intercepted. Whatever the case, the prevalent Christian belief around this passage is that Paul is not completely endorsing government power.

But what if he is? What if AG Sessions and other modern, literal readings of this passage are correct? Well, it still would not be properly used in this context. Because if a government believes its approach to be based on scripture there are a whole other set of teachings it would need to follow. Since immigration is the primary focus, let me share a small smattering of the Bible verses that apply:

“Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” Exodus 20:9

“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners.” Leviticus 19:33-34

“As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.” 1 Kings 8:41-44
See a common theme? There are many more verses out there that I’ll eagerly share if you are interested. They say virtually the same thing. The people and governments who claim to follow God and love Jesus Christ are charged to care for the migrants, refugees and immigrants in their land. So for Attorney General to zoom in and “cherry-pick” by saying only Romans 13 is relevant is an inappropriate misreading of scripture. I would personally go further say its offensive for him to do so when separating children is involved. And I’m by far not the only pastor who feels this way. Leaders from all sides of the religious/political spectrum are outraged at what has happened. When an issue unites traditionalist pastors like Franklin Graham with progressive Christians leaders like Jim Wallis, you know it runs counter to our beliefs!

              So where does that leave us? Well, I hope you see Romans 13:1-7 does not give governing authorities (Democrat, Republican, or otherwise) permission to do and act as they please. The Bible says so much more than needs to be considered! Yet, we still have to acknowledge that citizens need to live under the law. Christianity is inherently a pro-government religion. We don’t like chaos, preferring instead the stability and comfort of law and order. So there has to be a compromise somewhere, a way we can create laws that welcome migrants while protecting our nation from those who might do us harm. Simply claiming one set of verses as our basis does not help us do this. So let us pray for AG Sessions and our other leaders so they would be opened to the entirety of Scripture. And why don’t we help them with this? We can urge all our representatives to instill reforms that keep us safe and welcome the stranger. Doing otherwise by forcing a hardline approach is unbiblical. So I hope we keep this in mind as the debate around immigration progresses.

 It’s a hard line to walk, Nation. But hey, that’s the gospel for you! There is never a simple answer, but it is fascinating learning on the way, isn’t it? Thanks for reading this, my friends. If you have any questions, let me know. Otherwise, have a great end to the week and I hope to see you Sunday!

Take Care,
Pastor Bryson

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

May Note for Rinn Church

Greetings Rinn Nation!

              In two short weeks, Memorial Day arrives and summer unofficially begins! It’s a time I look forward to every year. School ends, and once the kids are out, Sarah gets some well-deserved time off. Having her free causes life to slows down precipitously, which is by far my favorite part about the summer (well, that and firing up my grill with a microbrew in hand). There’s no more worrying about dueling calendars for a while. We don’t have to rush to meet the babysitter or stay up mapping what’s on everyone’s agenda for tomorrow. Summer is all long days, cool nights and maybe a vacation day or two. Who’s ready for it?

              It’s this way for a lot of us. Summer in Colorado is a time for people to scatter to the four winds and experience all the wonderful things our state is known for. I hope it will be this way for all of you in Rinn Nation, but before this happens, I wanted to get a few bits of information out to you. I’ll itemize them for brevity and clarity’s sake:

  • ·       Being that Christmas, Lent and Easter hit in close succession, it’s been a while since I last taught a Sunday school class! I’d like to rectify this by teaching a short term class this summer. The question is, what would you like to learn? Is there a book you’d like to study? A topic that’s been bugging you? Right now, I’m thinking something on the afterlife so we can study what the Bible really says about heaven, hell, resurrection, etc. Sound interesting? Let me know. If not, I’d love to hear what you want to learn!
  •      I’m really looking forward to our trip to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. So far 13 people have signed up, but there is always room for more. Please let the Church Office know by the 5/20 if you would like to go. At the moment we are looking at weekdays in July or August (that’s how far in advance this exhibit is booked!), and I should have a firm date established by the deadline. I’ve heard really good things from my colleagues who have gone to see the Exhibit. They say it’s far more than just the scrolls. There are galleries full of artifacts from biblical times! Talk about a once in a lifetime opportunity. Don’t miss it!
  •  ·       Support the Pig Roast! It’s less than one month from now, and we need all the help we can get sending donation requests to local businesses and promoting the event in general. So can you grab a flyer the next time you are in the church, or drop of a letter to a local business? Stop by the white table in the narthex. It has all the info ready to go! Many thanks out to the Pig Roast team and I look forward to an amazing event.

Lastly, I want to make sure everyone knows our congregational goals heading into the summer. They were the focal point of the sermon series I shared with you after Easter and a part of a larger movement sweeping Rinn Church. All of our ministries are aligning themselves to our vision of “becoming a community where all know Jesus Christ and are invited into Family,” and imagining what it looks like for them to help create this community by living our mission of “Extending God’s Family: Gather, Grow and Serve.”  

To help the congregation live into these elements, we asked everyone to begin pursuing these goals:

Gather-We want to increase Sunday attendance by 10%, so we are asking members to invite one person to church or attend one more worship service a month.

Grow – We would like people to attend one study or class, get involved in one internal church ministry (Children’s Ministry, UMW, Care Team, etc.), or take up a new Spiritual Practice

Serve We ask that people would serve in one external mission (Habitat for Humanity, Kids Hope, Carbon Valley Help Center) or advocate for one social issue affecting the Eastern Longmont/Tritowns area.

If you’d like to hear more about how we arrived at these emphasis areas and goals, please check out the “Thrive” sermon series in our website Sermon archives by clicking here. Otherwise, we are planning on providing plenty of opportunities for you to live into these goals. The class I’m looking for feedback on is one such outlet, as are three workdays we are setting up with Habitat for Humanity. So yes, we are creating the avenues for you. Now, will join with me and follow the Spirit as we live them? I pray we all will. Our church is already doing remarkable things. We’ve gotten attention for our work with the Cub Scouts. Several other churches in our conference are checking in our progress with Messy Church and Single Board Governance. Rinn is slowly but surely breaking out, and if we live into these goals, the summer and latter half of 2018 will be absolutely amazing.

I look forward to experiencing it with you. Blessings to you and yours as the dog days of summer approach!

In Christ,
Pastor Bryson

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Thoughts on Parkland, Guns and Life

I am wading into some murky water here. Anytime a pastor addresses a hot button issue, there is risk of an argument. Recognizing the danger, I ask you this: if I hit one of your buttons, come talk with me. Dialogue is a lost art. Even if we don't agree on the best path forward in these troubled times, we can rise above name-calling, oversimplifications and demonizing.  Sound good? Ok, let’s get started.

I’ve been thinking long, hard and pastorally about what happened in Parkland, Florida a few weeks ago. It’s what I do. I’m a post-processor. So I reflect before I comment on anything. It’s why you rarely see me contribute to online discussions, or make grand public pronouncements. So many voices are speaking by the time I form my opinion, and I usually let them carry the conversation.

But not today. 

Today, I am weary of the banter about school shootings. How one side says, “Lack of gun control is to blame!” To which another group replies, “No, guns are fine, mental health is the culprit!” Then there are those pointing to shattered family dynamics, or others who believe social isolation as the true cause. It’s a complete maelstrom of opinions. But rather than see the veracity in opposing views, each group’s proponents try talk over each other. It’s one giant yelling match to narrow the tragedy down to one central factor.

I ask you, why does something like the Parkland shooting have to be about a single element? To me, all these factors played a role, albeit in varying degrees. But it’s not good enough for people to acknowledge the immense complexity of a problem, is it? Instead, when one side doesn’t have their view triumph, they choose not to listen, or they drop out of the dialogue (or lack thereof) and nothing happens. It means the effects of the tragedy, the broken lives, the screams of the victims and the horrific images slowly slide out of the public consciousness. Until the next crisis, of course.

              Does it have to be this way? I don’t think so. What we are seeing is one giant knot of a problem, and to untie a massive knot, what do you do? You have to work numerous strands. I would say each one of us sees one small part of the knot. So what if we addressed the cause/strand that’s nearest and dearest to our hearts?  People simultaneously working on these factors can’t help but lead to good results.   Common sense gun control can help reduce access to assault weapons. Increased Mental Health access will reach people who are at a breaking point. Reaching out to children from broken families can promote good growth and development, and finding ways to authentically connect with others outside of social media and technology can end social isolation.

              I know some of you recoiled after I mentioned reducing access to Assault Weapons. So let me say, I am not talking about removing all guns. Yet, we do have to lessen our reliance on them. Scripture tells us repeatedly that violence and weapons aren’t the answer. Instead, we are called by the Spirit to work towards peace (Matthew 5:9) and help bring forth the Kingdom of God, a place the prophet Isaiah says is “Where swords are hammered into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks,” (Isaiah 2:4). So if we want to live it now, as Christ calls us to do, it means our resources going towards lessening the hold of instruments of destruction, and replacing them with tools that grow life. That’s our call as believers. We work to reduce violence by loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute us, and turning the other cheek when we are hit (see all of Matthew 5).

It’s not an easy persuit, but it’s what we are supposed to do. And simultaneously addressing all the causes behind parkland helps us get there. So which cause are you drawn to? Because now it’s time to act. Here are some things to do if you feel so led (and I pray you do):

1)      Don’t demonize people who believe in other causes- Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, once said “Don’t let your souls be sharpened towards people who believe differently.” It’s sound advice. Do not demonize any of the other factors. Instead, become a staunch advocate for your own.

2)      Call your elected representatives –Tell our leaders you want more funding for mental health if that is your cause, or that we need to support efforts to clean up social media so kids don’t get too isolated, etc. Your voice should guide your official. And if it doesn’t, vote for someone who listens next election. It’s the benefits of living in a democracy. Use it!

3)      Find and support an organization that addresses your cause- A simple google search will bring up hundreds of possibilities. If you would like some organizations that operate in our area, I’d be happy to give you a list. North Range Behavioral health in Greeley is one of the better mental health groups in the state. They offer a Mental Health 911 class that is fabulous and they welcome volunteers to help. Then you have ministries like Kids Hope that exist in our own church. We work with difficult kids in our area. We show them love they often aren’t getting at home. There are plenty more in the realm of gun control, social media addition, etc. Your influence in one or more of these areas could be something that helps someone not walk down a path of violence!

4)      Pray- Keep connected to the Spirit. For prayer continually orients you to the path you should take, while empowering your for the journey.

That’s our call. So let’s live it!

Now I’ll end with a bit of my own pastoral opinion. The only thing I believe we cannot do to prevent tragedies like Parkland is advocate for more weapons. Hear me again, I’m not saying we should not have guns. I’m simply saying arming teachers or reducing current gun restrictions so there are more out in public are not the way to go. It will only increase avenues for people to harm one another and make it easier for precious lives to be taken. I’m all for people responsibly using firearms, but this sort of scenario strikes me as the polar opposite of that.

I could be wrong. So if you believe this, let’s talk. I’d love to hear how your faith informs your decision and what we could do together to improve this quagmire we find ourselves in. I know I sound naïve in saying it, but school shootings and gun violence doesn’t have to be a problem if we choose. Why don’t we work together with each other and God to find that way?

              Blessings to you, my friends. Thanks for listening.

              In Christ,

              Pastor Bryson

Monday, February 12, 2018

What to Look for at Rinn Church in 2018!

Greetings, Rinn Nation!
At the beginning of a new year, you often see two different types of articles appear in the newspaper. The first recaps what happened in the previous year. The second predicts what will happen in the New Year so people can read and be prepared for what is coming. I’d like to do both of these in regards to our Church. However, I’ll focus a bit more on the future. So much is happening around Rinn that I want you all to be in the know!

All right, as for 2017, I’d say it was a rock solid year for us. Worship attendance held steady around 75 people. Giving ended up being great. We met our budget and ended up with a nice overage thanks to some unexpected December gifts. Our ministries also did some tremendous things. In April, we packed the Carbon Valley Help Center full of canned proteins as a part of a Lenten Food Drive. Then we threw a massively successful pig roast during the summer. Fall saw us recruit 11 people to serve as Kids Hope Mentors and set an exciting new mission and vision and raise a whole cot full of supplies for the Agape Center. Christmas was no different. Your generosity flowed we sponsored a Santa Cop Family with gifts and gathered 25 pairs of snowboots for needy kiddos. And last, but not least, our Christmas Eve special offering raised $2000 for the Help Center.

Truly, it was a great year! And I’m not even incorporating the smaller things that happened. The improvements to our church building and such. So well done, Rinn Nation! God is clearly building us up to do something great in 2018.

As to what that could be. I see the a few things happening in 2018. I’ll itemize them so they are a bit easier to follow:
  • ·       You will see the new mission and vision appear everywhere: Last November, we set a vision to “create a community where all know and are welcomed into the family of God” and a mission “to extend God’s/our family by gathering, growing and serving. “ The vision is now or ultimate purpose as Rinn Church, and the mission is how we will carry it out. Granted, we haven’t done much with these statements since they were adopted. Mainly due to how Christmas dominated the end of the year. So look for 2018 to slowly roll this vision/mission out again and give us exciting new ways to live into God’s plan.

  • ·       We will have two exciting new ministries that need your prayer and support!: In December, we launched  Messy Church. It’s a new, exciting way to reach out to the young families of our community. It’s every second Saturday from 2-4p, and the format is very similar to a night of Vacation Bible School. There are songs, crafts, games and food. Invite everyone you know, it’s for people of all ages! As  for what the other ministry will be . . . we aren’t sure! Our leaders have some ideas we are working on, but God’s direction may not come from them. It might come from you! So what ministries are you dreaming of? Could you help us work with God to bring it into reality? If so, it’s going to be a great 2018!

·       Finally, on a more unfortunate note: 
  • We will see more discord in the United Methodist Denomination: Right now, all eyes are on special called General Conference (an administrative gathering of the whole UMC) to discuss the divisive issue of Human Sexuality. A schism or radical redefining of Methodism is expected. This conference will be in February 2019. In between then and now, I expect plenty of weirdness to go on. In particular, I think the upcoming Appointment season will be odd. For you non-Methodists, Appointment Season is the time of the year when the Bishop and her cabinet begin moving pastors who request a venue change, or who need to cover those who are retiring. It’s getting harder to do this movement effectively. For as long as I’ve been serving, we’ve had far more clergy leaving the systems than entering it. The Baby Boomer generation that has lead the UMC for so long is aging, and there are not many millennials coming in to replace them! Add in the fact that several more pastors may retire early to avoid the looming conflict, it may lead to chaos this year. Conversely, it could be a stunted season. Fewer clergy may choose to retire, opting to instead to “hunker down” for the storm of General Conferenc

  • Either way, it will be hard to predict what happens. Which brings me to the question I’m sure you are wondering: am I coming back as your pastor? I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know! At the moment, I think I will return. I’m not angling to leave at all. Yet, I understand the system I serve in is very anxious right . So I might get called unexpectedly to go to a new place. It’s one of the quirks when you put your life in God’s hands. The Spirit may send you to someplace you never thought possible!l
    Please don’t worry about this issue. I’m trying my best not to be. Instead, I’m focusing on the joy of the coming year and all the great things God will do here at Rinn Church. As you see, they outnumber the worries. So bank on that, dear friends. Know that 2018 can be the best year ever if we believe it will be, and follow the God who’s dreaming up our path. I look forward to walking with you, as always.

In Christ,

Pastor Bryson

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Finding Your Joy in the Most Unlikely Place (AKA the RUMC Stewardship Introduction and Pastoral Reflection from October 27)

Greetings Rinn Nation!

I hope this fine fall day finds you well and enjoying the ever decreasing period before the Holiday Season. Thanksgiving is a month away, and Christmas soon after, can you believe it?

We are also entering a special season of sorts here at Rinn Church. So for the first part of this note, I’d like to extend an invitation for you to join us.  Starting this Sunday, we unveil our annual Stewardship Campaign . . . wait, wait! Don’t close this message just yet. Hear me out! I handle stewardship much differently than other pastors. For me, it’s not a time to guilt people into giving ,as much as it’s an opportunity to talk about the good ministry we are doing and the future God is dreaming up for us. And for the first time, we think we know what that future will be! Curious what I mean by that?  How about I drop you a hint? One of our campaign promotional posters is below:

What does it all mean? Join us Sunday to find out! Or if you are unable to make it, keep an eye on your email inbox. Additional information will be out soon.

I’d like to finish now with a brief pastoral observation about the times we live in. I think one of our Prelude Prayer team said it best at our last meeting. We were reflecting on another crazy week of natural disasters, political discord and so on. And this lady said, “Goodness! This is the exact same thing we prayed over last time. Doesn’t it feel like a broken record?”

It certainly does.

We can’t seem to escape instances of tragedy or controversy, can we? Every time I think it’s calmed down, a Las Vegas shooting occurs, or another breaking news story takes up the airwaves. It’s exhausting, and I know I’m not the only one feeling down. Talking with you all, I see the same hollow look in your eyes. I hear the same frustration when you talk about current events. When is it going to stop?

All these problems feel like a giant magnet. It sucks up our attention. But folks, this is where a major problem strikes. If we are not careful, we can get too caught up in the junk and miss the good things God is doing. It becomes all about the negative while grace takes a backseat.

I was reminded of this during my recent visit to a junkyard in Denver. As many of you know, I totaled my Subaru wagon in early October. There’s never a good time for a car wreck to happen, but this felt worse than usual with everything else going on. It was a major setback. Sarah and I had to dip into savings, and go through the stress of insurance representatives and car shopping. On top of that, I had to travel to Denver to clean out my car before it was sent to the crusher. It was a bad week, plain and simple.

So there I was in the junkyard. It was raining, grey and miserable. The weather perfectly reflected my mood. I was berating myself for getting in the accident in the first place. Cursing my luck with every arm full of stuff from my dead Subaru’s back seat. There was so much junk too! Baby clothes, books, toys and trash. It felt like my life, too cluttered, too full, too inoperable. All of a sudden a small, unopened wrapped gift fell out of some of the clothes I was carrying. To my horror, I saw it was a Christmas gift from one of you all.  I had left it in my car for almost a whole year without knowing it! Am I a great pastor or what? (I’ve since apologized profusely to the congregant in question. Thankfully, they thought the whole thing was immensely funny).

Opening it, I saw it was a cross with a very unmistakable message.

It humbled me. Suddenly, I became aware that, although my car was totaled, it wasn’t one of the twisted metal hulks that were all around me.  Some of those wrecks had undoubtedly caused injury, even death. And looking at myself in this light, I was in pretty darn good shape all things considered. I still had transportation and a family that could support me through the hard time. Yes indeed, there was certainly joy to be had in this situation, and oddly enough, it was hiding in the pile of junk all along.

So let this be a reminder to all of us. There is joy somewhere in all the tragedy and controversy we’re experiencing.  It may not feel like it. There may be no trace of it until you unexpectedly jostle it loose. So what could it be for you? Where could it be present? Maybe you are like me and you can become thankful for the rock solid people you have around you. The love that you get from your family, church and God. They can get you through whatever situation you face. And isn’t that reason enough to be joyful? It is indeed, Rinn nation, it is indeed.

So find the joy around you and live into it when it appears. It’s the key to getting through this frantic time. Here’s a hint for those searching, there will be some on display this Sunday when we start the Stewardship Campaign. So make sure you are here for that! Otherwise, blessings to you, nation! Take care.

              In Christ,
              Pastor Bryson

Thoughts on Sutherland Springs Shooting

Dear Rinn Church Family (and anyone else who stumbles across this on the great wide web),

              Like many of you, I was greatly alarmed and grieved by the events in Sutherland Springs, Texas last Sunday. The fallout from it has plunged our church and greater community into an anxious period. People are worried, angry, and feeling extremely vulnerable after what happened. And in hearing from many of you, I wanted to write and assure everyone that Rinn Church is dedicated to keeping people safe during worship, education, and fellowship activities. To this end, our leadership team is currently discussing possible security measures, and we have reached out to the Frederick Police Department for additional input. So please know your church is diligently and proactively working on the problem, and I will be sure to notify you of any developments.

Otherwise, know I also join you in feeling disheartened. I’m sure I’ve been wondering the  same question you are. “If a church isn’t a safe space, what is?” My fear is causing some temptation. It has me looking around and asking, “Should I curtail the time I spend around the office just in case?” or “Should I shorten worship to make sure we limit the window people are in the building?” They are disquieting thoughts, and after each one, I have to verbally tell myself “NO!” Because if I don’t, if I give into the fear, the fear wins, and that is definitely not what is needed now.

 What is needed is now is this: a reminder of the Gospel message. That God in Jesus Christ tells us that evil never has the last word. Death gets swallowed up by life no matter what.

It may not feel like it, but that’s the truth, folks. And to help people see it, to help you better feel it, I challenge you to remember Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion, which states, “for every action there [MUST] be an equal and opposite reaction”

We must respond to Sutherland Springs, Puerto Rico, and all other disasters, because the church is the one organization capable of perfectly reacting. Only the Holy Spirit working through the hearts and minds of dedicated believers will inspire the sort of change that addresses human brokenness. But, if we refuse to shine forth. How will grace spread to all the places it needs to go?

So what I’m asking for, as hard as it may be, is for you to keep the faith. Keep coming to worship, keep sharing your beliefs, and keep living the gospel for all to see. It’s what our nation needs in the current darkness. “Don’t quench the fire of the Holy Spirit,” as the Apostle Paul says in First Thessalonians 5:19 ISV. Instead, reflect the light. Let it grow in you and how you live so others see Christ! 

Start with prayer. Pray for our Brothers and Sisters in Christ in Sutherland Springs and for all those hurting everywhere. But don’t stop there. For prayer to be fully realized, you must act. What you do depends upon the Spirit, and your context. For me, I’m feeling called to support groups that advocate for responsible gun ownership and laws. I know there is a way to balance the need for protection with the demand for regulation. So by associating with an organization that believes in this, or by telling our elected officials about it, I know I will be acting on what God is putting into my heart.

So what will you do? I’ve heard church members tell me that this tragedy is due to a mental health breakdown. So could you support additional laws and funding for organizations in that line of work? Others want to know how we can provide care to people grieving from the violence. I have tons of resources on this topic. We could easily train a team of people who specialize in helping people those who are hurting.

This is how the tide of shadows is turned back, folks, by people channeling the Spirit’s light. So what is your reaction? How can you act. Don’t just pray folks. Follow what God tells you in the prayer, because we have a dark nation to illuminate with the joy of Christ.

I’m with you in all of this, folks. If you ever need someone to talk to, or a shoulder to cry on, I’m here. It’s like I always tell you. I buy a mean cup of coffee. Grace is coming out of this situation. Count on it. Now, let’s align with it and spread it far and wide, shall we? Blessings to you dear friends.  

In Christ,

Pastor Bryson

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

RUMC Ask me Anything Response 1

I asked the people of Rinn Church to ask me anything they wanted. Here is my response to one of their questions.  B-

Are there multiple gods?  (See Psalm 82 and John 10:34)
-from Dan Smith
Great question, Dan. Let’s start off with the scriptures references so we can all get on the same page:
Psalm 82
God has taken his place in the divine council;
    in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly
    and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
    maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
    deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
    they walk around in darkness;
    all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
I say, “You are gods,
    children of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,
    and fall like any prince.”[a]
Rise up, O God, judge the earth;
    for all the nations belong to you
John 10:31b-38
[Then] the Jews took up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’—and the scripture cannot be annulled— 36 can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 3If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. 38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 
My Thoughts
So what’s the deal here? Is God really the leader of multiple deities? And are we gods like Jesus says?
There are several ways to interpret this passage. The first thing to consider, as with any scripture we read, is what it meant to its original audience. What dynamics and messages would ancient Jews see that elude our modern eyes? The scholarly term for this approach is exegesis, if you ever want a $10 word to impress people at dinner parties. But I digress. . .
Turning this perspective on Psalm 82, we find it is likely aimed at Jews/Hebrews living around the mid-10th Century BCE. Their kingdom was surrounded by the giant empires of Assyria and Egypt as well as local powers like the Philistines, Hittites, Amalekites and several other varieties of ‘ite’ tribes. Each of these cultures had their own set of gods who ruled over every aspect of life, ranging from weather, agriculture, love, war, etc. Above them was a chief god, a fierce ruler who served as a chairperson for all divine activity on earth.  This god’s name differed from culture to culture, but there is a good chance you’ve heard of a few. Zeus, Marduk, and Ra, for example.
Since the Jews/Hebrews were small potatoes, they came under the influence of these more dominant cultures. This caused them to slowly form their own pantheon of gods as they conquered Canaan under Joshua. Specifically, they usurped the gods of their conquered foes, even going as far as to use the Canaanite chairperson god’s name, El, to refer to their God. These names still exist today, enshrined in the original Hebrew of the Old Testament as Elohim (God of Gods), Ēl Shaddāi,(God of Heaven) and Ēl ‘Elyôn (God Most High) among others.
Interesting, huh? We like to think of the Hebrews/Jews as solely dedicated to one God. But it seems the movement to a pure form of monotheism was a slow one.
They revered God above all, for sure. Yet, they were very easily distracted by God’s “conquered Canaanite minions” like Ba’al and Asherah (remember them from Sunday School?) This distraction is what our Psalmist is speaking against. He’s writing a hymn to remind people of the primacy of the One God over the others crowding the scene. He doesn’t even refer to the other heavenly beings by name, that’s how much awe the writer has for his Creator. The other gods aren’t worth anyone’s time since they are unable help. Instead, God unequivocally judges them for their shortcomings, and casts them down to death. Psalm 82 speaks to us this way as well. It shows us that our God is the one true source of justice who will outlast any other higher power we believe in!
              Ok, that sounds great, so why does Jesus reference this verse? Are we really gods since Jesus said it?           This requires a bit more interpretation:

              The Old Testament as we know it was compiled while the Jews were in Babylonian exile. During this time, religious scholars took time to purge or explain away the Jews polytheistic past. After all, not relying on the one God had gotten everyone into this exilic mess in the first place! So it was a form of repentance, more or less. A way for Jews to return to God by backdating their scripture to show what God had wanted them to do and be in the past.

              When it came to Psalm 82, the Rabbis had some work to do. What could it mean for them to be gods in their updated context? Eventually they decided the Psalmist was referring to the past rulers of Israel, who God had favorably blessed with power and authority, elevating them to a semi-divine status. Some Jewish kings may have even claimed to be the son of God as an honorific, symbolic element in their royal title (see Psalm 2, it may have been used as a hymn to enthrone rulers from David’s line before Jesus eventually fulfilled it). Obviously, these kings had fallen short. They had not benefitted the poor and oppressed, rendering them in need of Divine judgement. God had done this, and in turn led Jews to their current predicament. It all fit, and became the standard interpretation until Jesus time, when the reference of “gods” came to be associated with all Jews. They had faithfully received God’s word, thus they were elevated from the rest of humanity.

So this sets the scene for John 10, where Jesus uses Psalm 82 to show it being fulfilled on both a human and Divine level. Through his work on behalf of the marginalized, he shows himself to be a human ruler worthy to take up the old title “son of God.” While also being the God who is able to cast all other powers down through justice.

An answer to the question? What should we learn?
So are there multiple Gods? Are we gods?

My response: No and sort of.

The first Jewish readers of Psalm 82 might have thought there were many gods, which was proven wrong when they went into exile. As the Old Testament says time and time again, the Jews trusted in other deities and themselves more than God, and look where they ended up? Only when they were conquered did they realize God was the only God and interpret this section differently.

As for whether we are “gods” in the vein Psalm 82 says we are, I’d say we resemble the interpretation of the later Jews. God’s word does bring us up and sets us apart (remember, the Greek word for church in the Bible literally means “those called out”). Moreover, we believe by living into God’s word, God lives more fully into us through the Holy Spirit. The process is called incarnation, which is also the word theologians use to describes how God existed in Jesus. So in a way, having access to that same Spirit in a lesser capacity can make a sort of “god.” Although I hate thinking of myself in this way, don’t you? We are Spirit filled people, let’s leave it at that, shall we?

In this way, these verses are a reminder that we are imbued by God and called to live justly by “Rescuing the weak and the needy.” But we are not the God. One day, we will meet that God and see how the Divine judges those who didn’t live the way they should.   
            So this verses tell us one thing above all: be the ones live differently. Show the weak and oppressed what God filled “gods” can do. Now, let’s live it out!
  Thanks for reading folks, and thanks for the question Dan!