The Junk Drawer
Every home has that "drawer" where you put things away you may use later. On this page, Pastor Luke shares different articles, ideas, and musings... that you just can't throw away! So into the "junk drawer" it goes.
August 22, 2022
Resources for the church
On this section of the pastor's page are a few different documents that I have shared with leadership to help set a baseline understanding of the current splintering happening in our denomination (the United Methodist Church), and within our own annual conference of the UMC. Anyone is welcome to review this material. It was compiled or created to the best of my ability with an intention of being fair and clear in often divisive and muddled times, and so if there is any error or
mischaracterization of what is happening - it was not
intentional on my part but it was my error alone.
One of the things I aspire to be as a Christian is a person of prayer. Prayer is our access to the infinite wisdom and love of God, and boy do we need prayer in such times! As you open each document, I encourage you to pray as you review. Allow God to guide you, your feelings, and your thoughts as you read.
May God's grace and loves shine upon you
This article was a bulletin insert for our church to review in October/November
A brief comparison between the United Methodist Church and the splinter denomination that is being formed. There are many similarities in terms of structure, mission statement, and organization. Main differences have to do with appointments of pastors, term limits for bishops, and no trust clause for church property.
This document provides a historical timeline of the UMC and it's struggle over the teaching and practice of same-sex weddings.
This provides some "bottom line" decisions and results that any church will face in this season.
May 11, 2021
If the fit ain't right
I remember, when I was still working as a teacher, I went to the shopping mall to pick up a few dress shirts. Typically, I would just go to a big department store and grab a few shirts that looked like the right size and color. You cannot try them on, so I would just take them to the register and buy them.
However, one time I went to a "men's clothing store." There, you don't grab your own clothes. The store attendants come to you, they pull out a tailor's measuring tape, they take measurements of every corner of your frame, and then they pull off dress shirts from the clothing racks in different styles and colors that they think will fit you.
When I was in the store, going through this unusual process of buying a dress shirt, the store attendant looked at me and could see my discomfort. So he told me, 'If the fit ain't right, it ain't worth buying."
In other words, don't just settle for whatever is near you. When you pick a shirt, know what you're getting. Make sure it fits.
I tell you about this experience because I think it helps me to explain a very challenging topic in the church: baptism. In the Christian church, there are two main camps : those who baptize babies and those who only baptize people old enough to "consent" to it. - In other words, "believers."
I was not baptized as a baby. The church I grew up in did not practice this. However, when I was discerning whether to pastor in the United Methodist Church I knew that this was a denomination that baptized infants. So, I spent a lot of time reading and thinking about baptism in order to decide if this was something that could "fit" in my belief system.
I did not want to just "take whatever was near me," but I needed to decide if this was a belief that I could hold to as my own. Did it fit on me?
So I did my work. I researched and prayed. I was hoping through that research to find proof for one type of baptism over the others.
Secretly, I was hoping to discover that infant baptism was some type of practice that was snuck into the church unwanted. Like a tradition that was added after a few hundred years of the Christian church only baptizing consenting adults.
Unfortunately for me, I did not find that to be the case. When you look at the history of the Church - we have been baptizing adults and babies since the beginning. Setting aside 'church history"- if you just focus on what the bible says, you will not find a strong statement for or against baptizing babies either. It is an unsettled issue in the Church today because it never was settled throughout the history of the church.
So I had to accept that there is not strong evidence for or against the practice of infant baptism. Rather, throughout the New Testament, you will hear a clear statement that we should baptize, that baptism is an integral part of the Christian experience, and that baptism is one of the tools of grace that Christ has given the Church.
Why do we baptize babies?
Discovering all this, I did not find stones to throw. Rather, I realized that the forms of baptism teach certain beliefs. They highlight certain parts of Christian theology.
Believers baptism holds to the need for faith - that an individual needs to have 'real faith' in Jesus to experience the grace and salvation God offers. Those who practice infant Baptism - also believe in needing faith - but hold up higher the belief that 'grace is a gift.' Through baptism, you can experience the grace of Jesus working in you. You did not earn it, did not even have to ask for it properly, it was just given to you.
So the question left for me was "did this fit?" Did I understand baptism as an experience of grace? Did I believe you can experience God's grace without asking for it? And to both of those questions, I said 'YES.' And that "yes" opened the door to accept a practice I had been unsure about.
The other day, I read a letter written by Cambron Wright to his infant son who was about to be baptized. I deeply appreciated the words that Cambron wrote. It's an explanation of why they were baptizing their son, but it was not written as "dry theology" but written in the love and language of a father who wanted his son to someday understand what they believed God was doing through his baptism.
If you click the button below, it will open a PDF document of that letter. I encourage you to read it, to hear the heart of a father who deeply loves his son - and because of that - had him baptized.
Why are we talking about baptism?
March 22, 2021
Thoughts Toward a Younger Generation
Any church in North America in the twenty-first century is asking the same question: where are the young people? This has been a question raised and addressed in different ways over the last 40 years. 20-30 years ago, the trickling exodus of young people was a concern, today their absence is a felt reality.
This did not happen for lack of trying. The old system of discipling our young people was done primarily through Sunday School. And this model was widely successful for decades. At some point, many churches added in evening youth groups and young adult small groups to help address the change in culture, but many of those groups over the last 20 years have dwindled.
There are many reasons for this change, but ultimately it is the result that the generation that ranges in age from 40 and younger have slowly shed church-attendance as a primary pattern in their life. Even if they are sympathetic to church and the Christian faith, they stay home. This has been a quiet revolution of indifference.
While we have experienced this change in the younger generation, some things have never changed about the human heart. The under 40 generation still struggles with fear, guilt, a need for direction, a desire to have something to believe in, and a deep sense that something is not right with the world. All of these things are answered in the Gospel of Jesus! Which makes this whole situation a tragedy. We, as a church, have a cure for a hurting generation that we do not know how to administer. They won’t come to us. They are skeptical of churches as institutions. They feel they are too busy for church in a fast-paced, high-demand, always-encroaching culture.
So what do we do about this?
Some churches are continually trying to reinvent the wheel to find something that works and feels relevant to a younger generation. This is noble but exhausting. Some churches have changed their expectations of success. If they can have a young person in church once every two months, they feel they are reaching them. This is practically-minded but spiritually shallow – for a person needs far more than an hour every two months to grow in a relationship with God.
As your pastor, I have a few thoughts. But one need that is clear to me is a shift in our thinking. We need to think about reaching our young people (adults, youth, and children) not with a mindset exclusively of discipleship (“getting a committed Christian to grow in faith”) but with a mindset of missions (“introducing someone to a true faith in Christ”). There is some overlap between missions and discipleship. The difference, however, is in our approach. A missionary goes to the spaces of the unreached. A missionary seeks to find avenues to reach people. A missionary is less concerned with fitting things in a typical Sunday-morning pattern, and will engage people with the Gospel in any situation that presents itself. A missionary moves.
Over the months to come, I hope to have some opportunities where we rethink how to be effective missionaries to Rochester and the surrounding region. I want to think about the ways that we can continue and even strengthen the ways we intersect our church ministry into the life of this community and its young people.
Every weekday afternoon that I walk outside the church, I see dozens of children and youth crossing Virginia Avenue from the school building to walk to their homes and to their waiting parents in the streets that surround our Jefferson St. location. And as I watch this I think, who is reaching them with the love and hope of Jesus?
We can! And as God’s people, we are called to as our duty.
So I encourage you, right now, turn your thoughts to the younger generation. Not in frustration but with an open-heart for how to reach them. And as you think, listen for the Spirit of God’s inspiration.
Along with those thoughts, I recently read an interesting article by a UMC Bishop. His article is a bit scholarly in language. But I think it is so insightful on the larger trends in young people.
Below is a summary of his points.
Sculpting a Strong Inner Core: The Spiritual Needs of Young Adults
By Bishop James Swanson
1. The Problem: Young people are part of the “CONNECTED GENERATION.” What this means is they are more connected to a community digitally (phone and computer) than they are to the community around them. In other words, they feel more a part of a community in their social media apps or video games than they do in their neighborhood or school.
As a result: “The vast majority of the Connected Generation feels the impact of broad, global trends more than they feel loved and supported by others close to them.”
2. The call to action: Get young people in a real community where they can grow. Get them involved through the church where they actively live-out the faith of Christianity (praying, serving, advocating for justice), but do that while fostering a love for Jesus.
3. The Challenge to the Church: “We cannot foster in others what we do not personally practice.” If we are not committed in growing in our love for Jesus and we are not engaged in a lived-out faith – we cannot expect to lead the next generation in this.
If you would like to read the full article, you can do it at the following link.
February 12, 2021
Attended by Angels
Let me begin by sharing these words from the Gospel of Matthew:
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. –
Every year Lent starts with the same inaugural story: Jesus goes out into the wilderness and is tempted by Satan. This summary of the gospel story might sound strikingly similar to how many of you begin the season of Lent. Perhaps, you begin by going out into the wilderness of spiritual discipline. You try to fast, read your Bible a little more, or pray a little more often. Maybe, in the attempt, you realize why you don’t do these things as often as you’d like. Life is busy. You’re exhausted. The days are too short and the list of things to do is too long. And if we were honest, on top of it all, the temptation for tv, your phone, or the to-do list is too strong to overcome.
I want to remind you, however, that Jesus’ “walk through the wilderness” was draining for him too – both physically and spiritually. As the verse above says, Jesus needed to be ministered to by angels after his show-down with the devil.
Now let that be a mirror to your own life!
We are coming into the season of Lent - in what we pray are the waning months of a pandemic! As we journey into Lent, this season is not meant to be a torture chamber – where we put upon ourselves difficult and sometimes impossible things in the hopes of growing up a bit in our spiritual walk.
If you thought that’s what Lent was, I’m glad to say you’re wrong.
Lent is a season to remind ourselves that we need God’s compassionate mercy. Lent reminds us that the journey can be rough and wearisome, but God is ready to come down and refresh us with His Spirit. Just as Jesus was refreshed by the angels heaven sent to him.
When I picture the angels attending to Jesus, I like to think of them holding onto a Christ who is about to collapse in exhaustion and hunger. Maybe as his head rests in the lap of an angel, they slowly feed Jesus a few bites of bread and a few sips of water to help him regain strength. And they speak to him words of encouragement to help him regain his resolve. “You did it!” they say, “You went through a difficult time. Your Father saw it and is proud of you.”
“Jesus ministered to by Angels” by Jacques Joseph Tissot
I have no doubt that Christ was given a real taste of mercy through those ministering angels. God showed compassion to Jesus’ frailty as a fully human – yet fully divine – person. And I have even less doubt that God wants to give us a real taste of mercy too. God wants to meet us in our weaknesses. These are weaknesses that have us valuing the wrong things, pursuing things that will one day turn to dust, and loving things that will never love us back. And the fight against these temptations for sin is always exhausting. But God is ready to come down, hold us, fill us with good things, encourage us, and put us back on the path – refreshed so we can continue.
So over this season of Lent, I encourage you to join with us in person or in spirit as we journey through Lent. In this season, we add a few more worship services. Not to torture ourselves with a few more things on our schedule. Not to give ourselves a few extra chances to try to “make ourselves a little bit better Christians.”
But to have the opportunity to be truly honest with ourselves. To come with that full-throated honesty that says, “Lord, I need you. Have mercy on me. I am tired. I am weak. I have tried but feel exhausted. I have labored but for the wrong things. God, I need you.”
And I know that God’s love is so great and inexhaustible that mercy is sent down to those that seek it.
God’s mercy is real. It is not just a nice thought or a moment of clarity. It is soul-refreshing, life-giving mercy that you can feel and know deep within. Come be refreshed by His mercy and journey with us this Lent. Whether you come in person or join in the safety of your own home, let’s travel the road of Lent together!