The #1 Obstacle To Discipleship Making

One of the underlying conditions of the UMC is that there are fewer and fewer people in the USA who attend a Christian worshiping community. It may even be said that if the UMC were not in decline then the current conversations about ministry with LGBTQIA persons would be much less hostile. Like in sports, if we felt like we were “winning” or being “successful” then we would not be too worried about many things we are worried about now (rightly or wrongly).

There are many reasons why we no longer attend worship in the numbers we once did and I do not have to belabor those points we hear all “know.” However, of all the reasons I have heard there is one that is perhaps the most subtle and perhaps the most nefarious: People are already disciples.

Word of Life Church founder and lead pastor Brian Zahnd recently said the number one obstacle to making disciples of Jesus Christ in America is people are already discipled as Americans.

Many of us as pastors are more willing to talk about the evils within racism than we are to talk about the evils within patriotism. Many preachers would rather preach on peace and the end of war-making than how it is our churches (and salaries) are wrapped up in the military complex machine that is the USA.

I can honestly say the number one reason that I fail at being a disciple of Jesus is because I have been and continue to be discipled by the American myths. The Church is the last best place that I know that can help provide a space for me to unlearn from my teacher in order to become like the Master.

The national leader had an irrational fear of people with a different religion

Just a portion of a recent sermon I delivered prior to Thanksgiving this year:

The book of Deuteronomy derives its name from a word meaning “a second” or “a copy” of the law. Meaning that this book is a copy of the law given to Moses from Mount Sinai. Deuteronomy is a book that is set in time before the people enter the promised land.

Deuteronomy takes seriously the reality that people do NOT innately know how to build relationships, how to build a healthy sense of self and how to be in right relationship with God. Deuteronomy assumes that even those the people have been living together for 40 years in the wilderness, they need help in order to be in right relationship with others, self and God.

The text expresses that when the people enter the promised land there are some basic things that you need to do in order to not lose your way and become like the Egyptians that oppressed them.

It is easy to think that just because you won the battle for your freedom or just because your side is the victor you know how to govern and how to build a society built on the things that last such as justice, mercy and love.

By Lucas Cranach the Elder - Own work (BurgererSF), Public Domain,

By Lucas Cranach the Elder - Own work (BurgererSF), Public Domain,

God saw what happened when a society grew powerful and did not practice the foundations of humility and love. They were the Egyptians and they enslaved a whole group of people based upon their religion. Then the leader of the nation had such an irrational fear of the numbers of these people with an odd religion that the Pharaoh called for the death of all baby boys of the group.

What we see in Egypt is that if power is left unchecked by love, mercy and justice then power becomes oppressive and sacrifices others for the benefit of the few. Scripture tells the story of God’s displeasure with such a way of living for instance the prophet Hosea said, God desires mercy and not sacrifice.

The Irony of Independence

Every July 4th, the United States celebrates "Independence Day". It is your typical celebration whereby we remember the foundational values of the country and the things that bring us together. There is also a good amount of pie baking, meat consumed, and paper blown up. Perhaps one of the most "Merica" stories shared this week was the bald eagle (now named Freedom) that was ensnared by a tree limb but was freed when a U.S. military veteran used 150 rounds to shoot down the tree limb and liberate the eagle.

Of the values celebrated on the 4th is the value of independence. This value is cherished when we applaud any myth of a person who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, applauded when the loan leader goes ahead, encouraged when the entrepreneur starts their business, and is used as the proxy for failed parenting if your child is not able to be independent. Independence is so valued and idolized that it fuels the myth of meritocracy which is perhaps the creation myth of America. 

The irony is that INDEpendence is built upon a foundation of INTERdependence. It is not possible for one person to be independent without the very real interdependence of creation. Independent businesses built from the ground up are interdependent on the infrastructure of roads and power grids. Even those who live off the grid and are even more independent from the world become even more interdependent on the ebbs and flows of the seasons, weather and nature. 

We like to think we are independent and in many ways we are. However, lest we forget that the very reality that anyone can be independent is because of a true and full understanding of the interdependence we all have with one another. 

This is the tragedy of much of the talk about nations taking their "county back." The desire to take a country back, as it is currently expressed, is by building walls and cutting connections. These isolationist movements on the surface look like movements toward independence but because they undercut the interdependence we share it keeps independence a pipe dream.

True independence is like that of a soccer game. There are rules and boundaries, there is an interdependence on the officials, teammates and opponents. The more one understands this interdependence the more one is able to express beauty and freedom. Isolationist behavior in soccer leads to anarchy on the field where the game of soccer is unrecognizable. Isolationism in the world affairs leads to anarchy where there is no trust of another and the culture no longer flourishes (see the Dark Ages of Europe). 

"truth" Trumping Love

Every political outlet these days has some commentary on Donald Trump. I am willing to bet that you have an opinion on Donald Trump. If you agree with him or not, he has to be dealt with because he is drawing so many people and, in his words (which are never short of sensationalism), "I'm literally killing everybody in the polls." 

Why is he doing so well in these polls that are so many days away from the election? Many people have commented that they like Trump because he "tells the truth" or is "real" or "unscripted". He is a not a politician who is sensitive to political correctness but just a guy who is out there being "authentic". 

His comments about Mexican immigrants, women, African Americans, Global warming, President Obama's birth, and his ego-centrism are applauded by some as evidence that he is a man who says what is on his mind and tells it like he sees it. No matter how offensive or degrading the comments, it is the "truth" that is Trumping the day.

When I say "truth" I do not mean that Donald Trump is correct or even speaking Truth. I believe that he, and his supporters, feel that Trump is speaking the truth as they perceive it. So when he speaks, he is giving voice to people who feel like they do not have a voice - classic politician. 

But even if you agree with Donald Trump and his comments and think that he is speaking Truth (or "truth" as it were), as a Christian we have to consider the question - what is more important Truth or Love. 

I believe that Love trumps Truth everyday of the week. I cannot quote every Bible verse that talk about the supremacy of Love because there are many. There is scripture that states "God is Love". Paul does not even list Truth in his "big three" (Faith, Hope and Love) to his letter to the Corinthians. Jesus broke the laws (and thus was "wrong") in order to show love to the neighbor.

The Christian is faced with the conviction that if our "truth" is not loving then it is not Truth of Christ. It just is not. If the "truth" we seek and applaud is not bringing more love and light into the world then it is not Truth. If the "truth" we affirm is one that puts women down, builds barriers to relationships, marginalizes groups of people, views the world as "us vs. them", sees people as either "winners" or "losers" then it is not Truth. 

Trump may be polling well these days in part because we have become more like Pilate who was on a quest for "truth" rather than like Christ who was on a quest for Love. When we value "truth" (our little and limited perception of Truth), over Love then we have indeed lost our way.