Rev. Clark Chilton

Rev. Clark Chilton
United Methodist Minister - Clemmons, NC

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Racism? Yes. The Answer is Love (a former Nazi story)

Here's a Facebook post I recently shared regarding the recent events in Charlottesville:

"White nationalism is militarized ignorance that speaks neither for the South or for Christianity (for sure). It is a gross perversion of the core tenets of the Gospel and in a cultural sense, what it means to be American. Horrible. #prayforcharlottesville#charlottesville"

While I most certainly stand by these words, its also easy to dismiss and denounce a white supremacist worldview. Or at least, one would think it should be so easy. Its easy enough for most people. The foundation of this worldview was so reprehensible and evil that thousands of brave men died in the fight against fascism in World War II.

To those who have gone before us, it was an easy to decision to fight such evil. And for many of us today, the decision is also an easy one.

As a nation, we are divided and have been for some time, but what is occurring is an extrapolation of the ever-growing divide in American society. Blame, anger, anxiety are dominating the day. Our nation is at a tipping point.  What is present in our hearts is what we will speak. In a very literal sense, we are the times in which we live.

If you don't like it, change it. But how to do that? Stewing in anger on Facebook is certainly not the solution, but neither is ignorance or acquiescence. 

Instead of joining in that fray, this reminds me of a story.

It was the summer of 1999, and I served with a home repair ministry called Carolina Cross Connection. Groups of teenagers and adult leaders go out into the community and help build wheelchair ramps, paint houses, perform yard work, etc. As a staff person, I would help create and oversee work projects, among many other responsibilities.

One such home (at an undisclosed town in North Carolina) was the home of Mr. Chuck.

This story is relevant to you today because Mr. Chuck was a former Grand Dragon (supreme leader) of the KKK. Our task was to rip out his carpet and put down new laminate flooring.

The difficult part would be actually finding the carpet.

Upon entering his home, its difficult to describe the squalor.  His wife had left him in 1987 and Mr. Chuck had not cleaned his home since then.  Thick layers of dust covered everything. Soda cans, cereal boxes and magazines from 1987 were left in their same positions. Its as if time stood still after his wife left him. He seemed to die that day and became a shell of a person.

His home was also covered in cigarette butts, empty beer cans, animal waste, rotten food and trash, and at least two dogs and three cats that never went outside.  For 12 years he lived in the darkness of covered windows and absolute filth. TWELVE YEARS in his own self-imposed prison. Nazi paraphernalia was scattered about as well.  He was to this day the most depressed and destitute person I have ever encountered.

God had brought our group to this man. He was about as unloveable of a person as you can imagine and he lived in the most unloveable of places. His immediate environment bore the fruit of his worldview and he was reaping the rewards. It would have been easy to walk away, a task about as easy as denouncing his false worldview.

However, grace is the great equalizer. God's forgiveness nullifies our past and empowers us to show others that same grace. God's grace is the hope of the world. 

A group of brave teenagers put on work gloves and masks and began the grievous work of cleaning his home. As the work continued, you began to see a lightness return to Mr. Chuck. He began to speak and share with us. He was thankful for our help. Light shone into his home for the first time in 12 years, and it took a group of teenagers to help make that happen.

Did Mr. Chuck hit his knees and repent for his evil worldview and past sins? Not that I'm aware of, but his response or lack thereof wasn't why we were there. Jesus tells us to forgive our enemies seventy time seven and to not only give to those who ask, but give beyond what they ask. Be faithful in the giving and trust God for the results.

You cannot argue anyone into believing anything, but you can love them. We can debate ideas, but we don't have to debate people. God's love can circumvent the defenses of the human heart and bring down walls that seemed to be impenetrable.

We don't get to pick and choose our enemies, and we also don't get to pick and choose who we're commanded to love.  

I like to think that after that day, Mr. Chuck was a changed person. Through our actions, we showed him real, unconditional love, maybe for the first time in his whole life.  When light shines, it will show the darkness for what it is.

As Christians, we are saved by a man who died loving his enemies. 

Let's not forget that.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Church and Reaching Millennials - 5 Methods for Young Adult Ministry

Starting this fall, I will begin a young adult ministry at my church. We're calling it C3 - coffee conversation and community. There is a big push to reach young adults because for one, they are a large missing demographic in most churches. Secondly because their voice matters. Thirdly because without young adults, the church will continue to decline numerically. Lastly, because God loves them and wants all people to know a living relationship with Jesus Christ. I'll post more in the fall to let you know how C3 turns out!

Over the past 5 years at least, there has been much discussion in the United Methodist Church about reaching young adults/millennials and even more blog posts by "millennials" with such titles as "Dear Church, its not me its you" or "Farewell church. You lost me. We're done." and so on. Many young adults in our society have had difficult experiences with the Church and we need to listen to their voices.

Considering that nearly 2 out of every 3 young adults (for our purposes, 18-25 year olds) identify themselves as "none", meaning no religious affiliation at all, the church's voice in response to this generation has unfortunately been one of acquiescence. The denominational church at large has been motivated by fear of offending this growing demographic.

But is fear of offense an evangelistic strategy? Is that even compelling?  Is it something Jesus did?

If you or I are a "5" or a "7" on a 10 point scale of being "Christian", then most unchurched young adults today are at a "1".  And that's ok! But we must acknowledge the audience in order to know the approach. Many young adults are not ready to worship Jesus or read a call to worship. Let's not get the cart before the horse here: much like any other unchurched adult, millennials must be introduced to Jesus and see him for the compelling, life-altering Messiah that He is. They must be taught. They must be shown. And it must be within he context of loving, gracious community.

Considering this, if a large segment of our population has little to no religious or biblical knowledge, is perpetuating ignorance helpful?  Many young adults do not come to church because:
  • The church is seen as intolerant, Pharisaical or homophobic. 
  • Some young adults don't know what they don't know. (They must be taught the basics of Christianity)
  • The church is too obsessed with money or sex.
  • The church has no relevant place or voice within their community. 
  • The church addresses issues that are (perceived to be) irrelevant to their daily lives. 
  • There is no particular "space" carved out for them. We have children's ministry. We have youth ministry. Is there a space for young adults?
What if instead of acquiescence, we spoke with a bold, compassionate and prophetic voice?

What if we focused more on teaching and relationships and less on programs or apologizing for Christianity?

Here are 5 methods for reaching young adults, and is by no means exhaustive. (comment below with more ideas)

  1. What you highlight, you will reap: put young adults up front in your worship services. Invite them to read Scripture, do the announcements, lead a song, etc. Intentionally put young adults on your leadership board or committees. Take their feedback. Give them responsibility. This will help any young adult in attendance connect with a peer.
  2. Graphics, graphics, graphics - Go to Netflix and look at the menu. People make choices of what to watch based on an image, word of mouth and maybe three words.  Young adults today hear with their eyes. If its text heavy, it will get glossed over. If its an image, you've got a chance. 
  3. Teach and preach within relational context - As a stated above, most young adults identify as "nones" this new generation must be taught within the context of community. Relationships are the main conduit that love is communicated. This is nothing new, especially for a Wesleyan or United Methodist. We championed small group ministry in the 18th century. Postmodern research has always shown a need for community in this generation. This is nothing new. They are people after all. We must supply community and relationship to young adults. Churches that are reaching huge numbers of young adults preach the Gospel without apology and offer weekly community opportunities for young adults, and its working.
  4. An 8 second filter - Young people today have a shrinking "attention span", and its actually not a detriment. If an item or idea catches their attention within 8 seconds, they will actually engage with it on a deep level. Think video games, Youtube videos or social media. There is plenty of engagement going on, it just has to catch the eye, heart or brain within 8 seconds. Its more of a filter and less of an "attention span". You've got 8 seconds. How will you use it?
  5. Service Matters - young people today have strong feelings about what is just and unjust. They are the first generation on the face of the planet that has always known the Internet and always had endless information at their fingertips. They want to be used to help others in tangible ways. This is good news, because many churches are already organized (or at least they should be) for mission. Young people today (mostly) think with their emotions. Again, this is not a detriment. Lets tap into this generation's innate desire and emotion for justice and help them live that out.
As I said, this list isn't exhaustive. Reply below with other ideas you've used within your context that others might find helpful, and thanks for stopping by. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Free Youth Group Game: BUCKET!

This game is so simple and incredibly fun! Its a take on the popular card game "Spoons".  Gather plastic buckets together (or use paper cups, then those tend to get crushed) and have youth partner up. Each youth leans over the bucket while a leader calls out different body parts (head, neck, knees, feet, etc). At the leader's discretion, they call out "Bucket!". Once youth hear that, the first one to grab the bucket wins the round. Winners can then take on other winners in a tournament format. 

Very easy game and very fun! 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Ultimate Gift at Christmas

Jesus’ life, from the cradle to the tomb was a life enshrouded and bookended with miracles: born of a virgin and defying death from a determined King Herod, Jesus at a young age astounding everyone at the Temple, eventually healing the sick and raising the dead, saying profound things that no one else could utter nor could the most eloquent author ever construct, he preached what he practiced and he practiced what he preached. The Word of God came in the flesh.

Only God could do such things. Jesus was who he said he was.

We cannot merely say Jesus was a good moral person or teacher, or that his teachings are a good idea to consider, one of many choices of the spiritual buffet line of America. The miracle of the Christ-child at Christmas, the miracle of Jesus, doesn’t allow such a thing. The utter finality, the complete authority, the total originality of Jesus’ life and arrival, cuts like a knife through the grey morality of our world.

 Jesus is not just an option to consider: he hasn’t afforded us this option. 

 Either you believe he was the incarnate son of God or you do not, but the truth of who Jesus is stands resolute. Only God could be able to come into our world as a baby. Only God would be wise enough to see that this was the proper means for the Son of God to arrive.

Jesus didn’t just love, he was and is love. He didn’t and doesn’t just offer blessings; he is the blessing. He doesn’t only give us gifts; his very presence is the gift. The power and healing authority of Jesus is all sufficient to meet every need in your life. Do you believe this? Jesus raised the dead; do you believe he can raise the dead in you?

Jesus isn’t just an option, he is the incarnate gift of God, and you cannot escape the influence of Jesus Christ at Christmas.

And the influence of Jesus is bigger than just all the Christmas “stuff” we see.

We can call it happy holidays, outlaw manger scenes, create a Festivus pole as they did on Seinfeld, and take down all the Christmas trees. Regardless, the Spirit of Christ will always be here, and always will be. Because God is love, and God’s love can live in a place that no one can touch: in the human heart.

Love doesn’t give up; love doesn’t back down; love always seeks, rebukes, chastens, restores, and patiently endures. Love is not dependent on gifts, trees, or titles. Love is not a thing you can grab or quantify, but you know it exists. 

 You cannot see love, but you know you need it. Such is the same with God.

This whole idea that to experience the Spirit of Christ at Christmas regardless of trees, title or gifts, is eloquently packaged in that classic, theologically correct mainstay television special: "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. “

He lived on a snowy mountain with his sad little dog Max. The Grinch, hating the happy spirit of Christmas, their roast beast, their songs, their decorations, and he sought to destroy Christmas by stealing all of the fluff and stuff, all of the exteriors that the Grinch thought comprised Christmas. He even stole their roast beast! He slid across the floor like a snake and used a magnet to steal their stockings! He folded up their Christmas trees like umbrellas. Their ploo plinkas!

Confident in his success, he sat back and waited for the ensuing wails of upset Who children and their destroyed lives to come up the mountain range. Soon, he heard their songs despite their loss, and the Grinch was perplexed. And as they sang, the Grinch’s heart expanded, and his life was changed. He realized that there was something to Christmas much more special than just stuff.

Maybe he realized that the internal and spiritual was more important than just the external and material.

Greed was replaced by generosity, shame was replaced by honor. The Grinch was even allowed to carve the roast beast; what a beautiful story of grace, of second chances that in many ways God also shows us, for their is a grinch in us all.

As we know, the Grinch failed at his task to destroy Christmas. Why? Because the Spirit of Christmas lived within the people of Whoville, and nothing could ever take that away. What did Jesus say about the Kingdom of God? Ah yes, that it lives within us as Christians.

The Grinch looked at all the externals, but the Lord looks upon the heart.

Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, or at least, they were designed to be so. Christmas is about two things: God and people. God coming close to people as the Christ child, and about people letting their guard down long enough maybe to let Christ in and have their heart grow three sizes.

Theologians may call it “incarnational omnipresent sovereignty”, but let’s just use plain terms: God wants to live in us all and make us new, and no grinch will ever take that away.

The existence of the grace of God implies that we are in need of grace, salvation implies that we are in bondage and in a spiritual prison. And the good news of the Christmas season, and every season, is that Christ is here to set us free.

Take a moment and picture a prison cell in your mind.

"A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes - and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, this is not a bad picture of Advent." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Revelation 3:20 - Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

One of the great gifts of God to us is repentance. 

I know, you'd rather have a new Lamborghini (or maybe a Snuggie?) but let me explain. Repentance is a gift of God, for we cannot open the door from the inside. Repentance is the gateway to the things of God. Repentance is saying, yes Lord, open the door of my heart from the outside in.

Repentance means to change your mind, to turn around. It is not just feeling shame or to temporarily modify your behavior. The prophet Joel would say it is to rend our hearts, not our garments - To change the affairs of our heart, not just change the externals or shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.

Repentance is opening up the door of our heart to let God in, and to admit that we have wronged... admitting that we know what we ought to do, but we do not always do it.

Its God that leads us to Christ. Our choice matters, but its God pursuing us. Its God that came down at Christmas. Its God that’s calling you today.

The signs of God’s mercy are absolutely everywhere, and to experience it, you have to admit to yourself that you are a sinner, that you need to receive God’s gift of repentance, that you need the love and forgiveness of God. What better time to start anew that at Christmas?

You are a beautiful, fought for, died for, pursued, wept over, sought after Temple of the Holy spirit. Do you feel defiled? Tired? Ready for a change? Ready for a fresh start? Receive the gift of repentance from God. Give back to God what he already gave you: the gift of your life. We didn’t create our lives, but we can give them back to our Creator to be remade and reshaped into the mold of what they were meant to be: a life lived in holy communion with God. Once you experience it, you are never the same. Once you receive it, you can't help but give it to others. 

This is the ultimate gift at Christmas.