Tears In The Airport

I’m leaving General Conference 2016 and there are tears in the corners of my eyes. It’s not because I am sad to leave. I know in part it is due to the fact that I’m spent after an exhausting 12 days in Portland. I also know something deeper happened in my spirit here that will take some time to move through. In my recent book, The New Adapters (shameless plug, available through Abingdon Press), I begin by saying that I believe in the church. I tell the story of my parents, two young adults who had been disconnected from the church, finding a home at a new United Methodist Church where they made their professions of faith in Jesus Christ and had their infant son (me) baptized. In that ritual my parents repented of their sin and confessed their belief in Jesus as Lord. They also said as a part of an old creed that they believed in God the Father Almighty, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Actually, the whole church made that confession that day. And in the covenantal language of the baptismal vows they said they believed in the church. The holy, catholic (or universal) church. On a day that I see as the most significant in my life, the people who created a community of love and forgiveness around me said they believed in Jesus Christ’s connected church. At General Conference, my belief in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit never wavered. God was there and showed up gently at times and powerfully at others. My belief in the church, though, took some hits. I...

Trust, Hope, and Mercy at General Conference

Yesterday was my 15th wedding anniversary to Rachel Shepard Armstrong.  While I worked as a delegate to the 2016 General Conference, Rachel went on a hiking trip with some friends back in Tennessee.  We can debate later who had the better day.  It was strange, though, to not be with her on the anniversary of our wedding ceremony. Separated by thousands of miles, we texted back and forth a few times, left a couple voicemails, and read handwritten notes that we had left each other for the day. While we wouldn’t have chosen to spend our anniversary that way, our relationship will survive. It is strong. It is steeled by years of shared laughter and tears.  It has been deepened by intimacy and arguments. We made a covenant and covenants have a way of persisting across distance and time. Rachel and I live in covenant even when we don’t want to be, even when we forget it, and even when we don’t act like it. The covenant is bigger than us because God is in the covenant. While Rachel hiked one of our favorite trails in the Great Smoky Mountains, I sat in a windowless convention center hall with 800 other United Methodists with whom I live in covenant.  In one day we laughed and we cried. We had deep intimacy in worship and heated arguments in debate.  I live in covenant with my brothers and sisters in Christ even when we don’t want to be, even when we forget it, and even when we don’t act like it. The covenant is bigger than us because God is in...

Treasure

At the first mention of the word treasure, my mind is filled with images of pirate ships, deserted islands, and an X that marks the spot. I think of a hidden chest filled with gold medallions, rubies, and diamonds. Treasure is something you search for, fight for, and go great distances to find. Treasure can bind people together or create division between those who once were close friends. Treasure can become the focus of your life. It can consume you. Treasure can be hidden and hoarded, or shared and enjoyed. Whether we realize it or not, we all have treasure. We all have things we are searching for, fighting for, and storing up. Though the items in the chest are different, we all have treasure that holds great value to us. Often we think our treasure will follow our heart. But Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, suggested the opposite—that our heart will follow our treasure. In his Sermon on the Mount, he put it this way: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” It is no wonder, then, that many of us feel a sense of disappointment about our lives and finances. We want to give our lives to our church, our family, our God. Instead, our heart follows our debt, our job, and our bills, and we haven’t even realized it. As a result, we’re left feeling conflicted and empty. Jesus cared about our heart, so he taught about our treasure. We find in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount a beautiful way to talk about our finances and our need to give. We begin...