Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Picking Sides

It starts early. Two square off and begin calling out names. In a matter of seconds the sides are chosen and the game begins. It continues on past school age. Two people want to be…on the board, a senator, or even President and lines are drawn and sides are chosen.

This practice has gone on for centuries. When civility, the good of all, and respect prevails, the process works. Today however, the picking of sides has gotten so intense there is a polarization occurring. “If I pick this side, then your side is wrong and we cannot get along.” This happens in elections, committees, homes, and even the church.

Currently, there is a movement exposing the exploitation of women by domineering men. Men who use their power to gain advantage, most of the time referring to unwanted sexual encounters. For the abused, the pain, fear, and anxiety consumes them. They don’t feel safe and always on alert to the pain and confusion. They also feel cast aside, shamed, and even made to feel as though they were the problem. Many remain silent living out the pain and confusion in isolation. As abusers are outed and exposed and we hear the stories of the victimized, we are reminded again that we live in a desperately broken world. 

The Church has not been immune from this brokenness. There are countless stories of women being victimized. There have been accusations leveled toward several pastors who’s names are recognizable and ministries have been significant. On a side note, it seems that accusations, no matter if they are true or not places the accused as guilty until proven innocent, bringing fruitful ministry to an end. But that’s another post.

A dynamic that is concerning about this whole issue is the choosing of sides that happens within the church. One has to declare their allegiance to either the victims or the accused. I believe Jesus is concerned about both the victims and the accused. His compassion, grace, and love is broad enough for both. I don’t understand it and it goes against all natural tendencies that vibrate through my bones. I want the guilty to pay dearly for what they have perpetuated. But, am I much different from those who are guilty? I have my own issues and sin. Do I really want to be isolated, condemned, and discarded? Or, would I hope there could be healing for me? Again, this is not to negate the story of the abused or give credence for abusers, but merely ask the question how does Jesus respond to brokenness?

Choosing of sides in the church and society causes a polarization. In the church the polarization occurs between brothers and sisters in Christ. It brings division, separation, and cripples the cause of Christ. Since when are we to choose who we love, support, and care for? Let me be clear; I am not saying that those who are guilty should not be brought to justice or experience the consequences of their sin. But, from my reading of Scripture we are all guilty and in need of forgiveness and grace. And, no one is too far gone in their brokenness that the redemption of Jesus cannot reach.

When it comes to the notable pastors and the accusations to date, why not let those involved in the issues: the leadership, the accused, and the victims be the ones to work through a process of resolution. I need to stand back and refuse the temptation to jump into the fray with limited information and pick a side!

What has been circulating in my mind regarding this issue is the role of the church in living out the unity, love, and compassion Jesus prayed for in the book of John. Can we stop choosing sides, dividing churches, ministries, and focus on building God’s kingdom? Could choosing sides be a diversion by the enemy to keep the church from her mission and cause us to be ineffective? 

The answer to this issue of abuse and how to respond is not easy, simple, or without mess. It's hard, but I believe doable, IF there is a commitment to come along side the victims, listen, care, and walk with them. AND, keep in mind the abuser is not the enemy. They are captives to an enemy and their sin, but in need of freedom from their bondage.

So, the next time you are tempted to choose sides, resist the urge unless you're playing kickball, choose to act in a way that will help people see the heart of Jesus!

Blessings,

Marty

Friday, August 4, 2017

Vacation...Staycation

10 days of vacation, what would you do? Here’s what I did: Time to see dear friends and family…5 days. Worked around the house…5 days. Spent time with Ruthann…the whole time. Did A LOT of Reading, Praying, and Listening to God. Value of the 10 days…PRICELESS!

Here is the skinny on what happened.  Initially, the plan was to take 2 weeks and get away.  However, after a recent wedding and a completion of a graduate degree, finances and a plan slipped through our fingers on this vacation. Our vacation quickly morphed into a staycation.  

At first, I was bummed, then grateful for some much needed time out of the office and time with Ruthann.

The refreshment came as we spent time with friends and family and got out of the routine of “ministry work” and was able to complete some much needed “housework.” Note: the housework was painting exterior trim, repairing a back door where dry rot had settled in, and replacing several deck boards.

For some, this doesn’t constitute a vacation.  But for me, at this time, it did.  I’ll explain.

For 36 plus years my work environment has been filled with ministry work weeks.  For those who maybe unfamiliar with what this entails here is a glimpse: each week is similar but very different because ministry is people. People who are both a joy to be around and then others who…I think you understand.  The demands of a pastor can vary week to week with some surprising shifts.  Shifts like, praying with someone who is discouraged, working on a message, to figuring out where the water is leaking from in a massive building during a torrential downpour. This actually happened the day before my time away began! There is also the little issue of keeping a church moving forward, following God’s mission,vision, and ministry all the while Sunday comes with amazing regularity and people expect certain things to be in place!  Much of ministry is very fluid and not very concrete. 

 Recently, I had a conversation with a few younger pastors and I said: “I bet I can tell you one thing you do that you enjoy while others may think you’re crazy.”  “What" they answered. “Mow the lawn” I said. Every person  said a resounding “yes."  

For some of you, you may think pastors who like to mow their lawns are crazy.  We are crazy, but not for that reason! I love to mow my lawn because it’s one thing that when I put the mower away I can look back and see what I did.  Ministry on the other hand can be so illusive on the “what did I accomplish” side of things, one begins to wonder if anything was accomplished. This staycation was one where some things got DONE!

But the main refreshment came in spending some much needed time with Ruthann and the reading, prayer, and listening to God. I have to admit, when my ministry life is a lot about reading, praying, and listening to God, I can become just a little cynical about that filling a vacation.  However, this was different. This was God breathing life into me at a very critical time that I needed the refreshment. I am so grateful for the time “away.” And, energized by what God did in me. For those of you who attend Grace Church, there will be more about the refreshment in future messages. For the rest of you…I’ll share in future blogs.

One last thing: NO I AM NOT AVAILABLE TO MOW YOUR LAWN!

Be Blessed,

Marty

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Refugees, Aliens, and Foreigners...Oh My!

The following is an open letter sent to people at Grace Church Camby, IN.  Just trying to help in the chaos of this issue.  

Dear people of Grace,My heart has been distraught by the refugee and immigration conversations. What I am sharing comes from my heart and not from a political position. We as followers of Jesus must come together with the truth and grace of God’s Word. 


Recently, I saw a post on Facebook entitled: Three Things You Can Do Right Now to Show Your Support of Refugees.  I was intrigued.  What I found was the following: 1. Sign the Petition. 2. Contact your legislators. and 3. Share via social media.  As I read this I had a question: how does this help?  I understand the desire for unity and solidarity for those who are outcast. However, is that really going to show refugees I care? This issue has become political but at the heart of it is people not politics.


I’m concerned for people citing Scripture to prove a political position. It is as though If you do not agree with an open border approach or a temporary ban on entry to the United States, you are either not a follower of Jesus or very misguided in your understanding of Scripture. At Grace we have people on both sides of the political spectrum.  My prayer is we find common ground on these issues and be unified with the ‘end game’ of refugees and immigration. Both sides want peace. Both want people to be cared for. Both want justice to prevail and life to be lived to the fullest. The continuous and contentious, point, counter point, “I can manipulate Scripture to prove my point,” is not helpful. Here is a recent blog post from Pastor Gary about social media that maybe helpful: https://garysinclairconnect.wordpress.com/


With this in mind, here are some thoughts to guide our discussion and actions as followers of Jesus.


First, the issue at hand is extremely complex. If it were not so, the issues would have been solved years ago. What isn’t helpful is the misinformation, rumors, half-truths, and myths that perpetuates division. When the issue of caring and supporting refuges is on the table, I want to defer to those who have been intimately and effectively involved, listening to their perspective.


Last August, I was in a meeting with 40 other pastors and Richard Sterns, President of World Vision International. World Vision is one of few relief organizations who are in the Middle East working with refugees. He shared, first hand, the needs of the refugees.  He made a statement that brought clarity to the issue. He said: “Over 90% of refuges when asked, ‘where would you like to live,’ responded, ‘In my home country or as closely to it as possible.’” I had to ask, why then do we think bringing people here is a great idea, if they would rather remain in their region? I since learned of the added expense, time, and trauma that exists when refuges relocated to the U.S.A. Here is a startling statistic from the Center for Immigration Studies: ”each refugee from the Middle East costs…$64,370 to relocate and sustain them for 5 years in the U.S. — 12 times what the UN estimates it costs to care for one refugee in neighboring Middle Eastern countries.”  The resources it takes to resettle 1 refugee could go to help 12 refugees settle in their region. Richard then challenged us to make a difference by going to or sending resources to these areas!


Second, we need Scripture to guide us. It reminds us to seek God when we are at a loss for what to do. Are we praying about this? Before signing a petition, contacting anyone, or posting anything, first go before a Holy, Omnipotent, Gracious, Loving God.  The Bible talks about refugees, aliens, foreigners, and those in need. We are to be compassionate and ready to give a cup of cold water in Jesus name. Scripture talks about being light where we are. Last Sunday, a woman approached me after the service and said: “Can you help me, I’m living out of my car?” I don’t want to  minimize the refugee issue but there are people here who are living as refugees, aliens, and foreigners. Could it be God IS giving us opportunities to be his hands, feet, and heart here? This is not to say we shouldn’t be involved with those across the ocean but what does it say if our attention is ONLY on those in Syria, Somalia, or other war torn countries while we neglect people here? Maybe it’s a both/and proposition!


Here is my challenge. First Pray. Ask God what he wants you to do regarding this issue. 


Next, become informed about the ways you can make a difference. A way that gets you personally involved. I have included in this letter a few links to help. 

Then, do something! If God leads you to sign a petition, contact a legislator, and post on social media, then do that. If he says, share what you have with who are near you, then do that. Or if he directs you, get involved with those who are on the ground in these war torn countries. 

However God leads you, please know as your pastor I care about you and abouthow we engage this issue and other issues with one another. Please keep in mind: Colossians 3:12-17 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Each of us want to live out our faith in ways that make a difference and bring “up there down here.” We can do this in a way that brings people to Jesus and sees a church come together in love without having to agree politically.

To make a difference for those in our area living as refugees, foreigners, and aliens, DO NOT MISS SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 12. You will be given a very practical, tangible, and possibly life changing opportunity. Bring a blanket to give away and be ready to rave about God.


Grace and Peace to You all,


Marty Longcor,Pastor


http://www.preemptivelove.org http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/november/love-refugee-with-compassion-christ-has-shown-you.html

Friday, May 13, 2016

Right Between the Eyes!

Ever have one of those moments? You know, the kind where you are hit right between the eyes with something you just can’t ignore.

One of my first memories of church took place outside with a pile of dirt. I was in 1st grade and the service had finished. A group of us met out at a dirt pile by the construction site of the pastor’s house. When you put k-3rd graders by a dirt pile after sitting through church, there is a 99.9% chance dirt will take flight. Yep, within minutes a dirt clod fight broke out.

“Buddy Smith,” not his real name to protect the guilty, was a year older and destined to be a major league baseball pitcher, picked up a dirt clod and let it fly...at me.

After I came too, I had a golf ball sized lump right between my eyes. The last thing I remembered was a meteor coming my way. Needless to say, the war ended with wails of pain coming from yours truly.

The lump finally disappeared but 50 some years later, I still remember it.

I’ve had other “right between the eyes” hit.  The last one happened just Wednesday as I took some time to read and pray.  

“Marty, who are you discipling?”  SMACK…ouch, what?

So now, I’m on a quest I can’t ignore!  This quest is to get clarity on this for myself and a whole church? 

What is a disciple

What does it mean to make disciples

Why do followers of Jesus struggle with this? 

Any ideas?  

I would love to hear your thoughts!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get some ice for my head!

Marty


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

CAPTIVATED!



I don’t know if you saw it or not but last Sunday night on the Fox television network Tyler Perry hosted a live event of the Passion of Christ.  From historic Woldenberg park in New Orleans, LA the story of the last few days of Jesus’ life was artistically portrayed by using todays biggest hits.  I sat in awe as the story unfolded with song after song I had heard on the radio.  Within the context of the story line of Jesus’ journey to the cross and finally the resurrection I was captivated.  The events took on fresh perspective as I listened to the lyrics and watched the emotion of the people in the crowd.  

Watching this production gave me a new resolve to bring the arts into the church and ministry.  The creativity, thought, and artistry brought the age old story of God’s redemption into the 21st Century with amazing clarity.  Now some would be critical and say: “That’s just entertainment!  Entertainment shouldn’t be in the church!”  I beg to differ.  The definition for entertainment is to capture attention.  From what I read in Scripture Jesus captured attention. And since we have the greatest news known to humanity, shouldn’t we seek to present it in ways that captivate attentions? Besides, where did the gifts of creativity, musicality, drama, etc come from?  Enough said.


When I think of heaven I don’t think so much about harps, robes, clouds, and everything that has been depicted.  I think of creativity that captivates, a depth of thought expressed with an artistry that leaves one speechless.  Well, maybe not speechless because we know the words HOLY, HOLY, HOLY will flow effortlessly! As you continue through this holy week.  I hope you will take some time to be captivated by the beauty of Jesus and his amazing love for you!

Shalom,


Marty

Monday, January 11, 2016

Lessons from Toby

Toby, our Schnoodle has been in our family for over a year now.  The other day I noticed something that made me stop and think.  

I was getting ready to go run. Since Toby first came to our house he has been my running partner.  Toby is part Schnauzer, part Poodle.  Schnauzer's love to run, Poodle's, not so much!

Lately, Toby has been exhibiting more of a Poodle attitude toward running than the Schnauzer side of him. 

It's funny to watch him as he comes to the realization I'm going running and how he tries to get out of going with me: hiding in his kennel, lying down acting as though he's sleeping, dragging his feet, and refusing to go to the door.  

Once he's outside, the Schnauzer in him kicks in and he starts tugging on the leash, ready to go.  As we run, you can tell he is enjoying it.

I can relate. Everyday there are things I have to do that on the outset I don't want to do but once I get started, something happens and I take off like Toby going for a run.  

Now, if I wanted to go spiritual in this post I could draw the comparison that I am a lot like Toby.  While I'm here on this earth I'm pulled between living by the Spirit or the flesh.  But, I'm not going too. That would be just silly, drawing a spiritual lesson from a dog!  

Marty

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Danger of being an Either Or Person in a Both and World!

Terrorists, Immigration, Refugees, Politics, Race and Starbucks!  All have been in the news this last week and depending on who you talk to perspectives are varied and haired. Emotions are escalating as seen in the news and on social media.

Polarization is a danger that may eclipse all the above.  According to Webster’s, “Polarization” is a noun po·lar·i·za·tion \ˌpō-lə-rə-ˈzā-shən\  and can mean:

1. (the) division into two opposites                
                          OR 
2. (the) concentration about opposing extremes of groups or interests formerly ranged on a continuum

I have noticed that when I get into a “discussion” it becomes increasingly difficult to remain objective, open, and differentiated (Differentiation involves the ability to remain emotionally present, engaged and nonreactive in an emotionally charged situation, while simultaneously expressing one’s own goals, values, and principles. J. Wright, New Zealand Australian Journal of Family Therapy)  What happens when I become polarized?  I Stop Learning.  What happens when I am NOT differentiated?  I Stop Listening. 

When I Stop Learning and Listening, I begin thinking, talking, and acting in an either or way instead of being open to both / and perspective.  There are issues where God calls me to either or belief, but what I’m discovering is those things are few (The way to God- Jesus, How I live- like Jesus, Where I find truth- The God who revealed Himself in Scripture). 

As a Christ-follower the issue of polarization presents an interesting dilemma.  For instance, take the Syrian refuge issue.  On the one hand I understand the issue of refuges needing a place to escape from death and destruction.  The Bible talks about the need of being “open to the foreigner, to show compassion, and acceptance.”  But on the other hand, I also understand the Biblical concept of being “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”  Having a willy, nilly approach to opening our boarders without any restraint doesn’t seem to be very wise.  But is there an answer that isn’t choosing either extreme?  There is and there are those who are immersed in this issue and have great insight on how to deal with the duality.  

I believe there are threats we need to be vigilant about when it comes living in this world. But I also believe that if we continue down the polarization trail, the biggest threat maybe ourselves.

Just my thoughts,

Marty