Category Archives: Methodist

Connecting with General Conference

This weekend, starting on Saturday, February 23, 2019, United Methodist delegates from around the world will gather in St. Louis, for a special General Conference to discern what path their denomination will pursue in regards to human sexuality… in particular, LGBTQIA sexuality.

[LGTBQIA is an abreviation/label designated by those who believe they are themselves (L) Lesbian, (G) Gay, (B) Bisexual, (T) Transgender, (Q) Queer (or Questioning), (I) Intersex, or (A) Asexual (or Allies)]

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For many, this is a no brainer because the Bible literally addresses this topic of sexuality and who may legitimately have sex with whom.

For others, it’s a no brainer because much of the Old Testament is no longer considered binding, and the references in the New Testament can be explained away, and the 21st Century is so different from the times of the Bible thousands of years ago, that we shouldn’t be bound by those passages of ancient Scripture.

Another group finds this whole topic to be a no brainer because Jesus taught us to love one another and God is Love, so as long as you love whomever you choose, there should be no other considerations.

And, of course, nothing is ever as easy as any one of those no brainer arguments, so there will be A LOT of different people with A LOT of different opinions showing up in St. Louis this weekend… and they all have four days to hear each other, and hopefully, hear God… and then create a path to ministry that (hopefully) keeps ALL of those varied opinionated United Methodists together in a church that can get back to the business of representing Jesus Christ to a fallen, hurting, hell-bound world.

No matter where you come from in the world or how you have arrived at your opinion, there’s one thing for sure… It WON’T be a no-brainer kind of weekend!

Part of the frustration is that of the more than 11 or 12 million United Methodists around the world, only 864 delegates get to come to General Conference and make decisions for the entire church denomination. (We are a representative body, not a congregational kind of church where every single member gets to have their say.)

So how CAN you or I (or anybody who has the slightest interest) connect with this General Conference? ESPECIALLY if you, like me, can’t go to St. Louis even to watch?

United Methodist News Service has an excellent article on that exact topic! Check it out!

GC 2019a

 

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A Way Forward

From February 23-26th, in St. Louis, Missouri, over 800 delegates from all over the world will come to represent their United Methodist Annual Conferences in an attempt to a make “A Way Forward” in the unifying of our denomination in regards to human sexuality.

General Conference normally meets once every four years and discusses any areas we want to change in our way of being the church and clarifying specific church “law” about how we will do the business of the church. The results of those “quadrennial” (every 4 years) conferences are published as the Book of Discipline and the Book of Resolutions. Topics include how to organize a local congregation, how to set up two or more churches in ministry together (called a “charge”), how to go into pastoral ministry, how we organize the annual conferences, the bishops, the district superintendents, the pastors, and even how to organize United Methodist Women, United Methodist Men, youth ministries, confirmation, baptism, Holy Communion, and more…

The problem has been (and currently is) the area of how do we agree that we United Methodists will try to live out the “holiness” the Bible talks about in so many places. We’re all in pretty much agreement about most areas of personal life and how we live as Christians EXCEPT in our practice of sexuality.

The United Methodist Church was formed out of the old Methodist Church and the old Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968. Our very first General Conference was four years later in 1972. In between those two events were the Stonewall riots in New York City that became the beginning of the Gay Liberation movement. Therefore, at the 1972 General Conference, there was church legislation reacting to this new awareness of what was happening in our culture… and it became “church law” that, in the United Methodist Church, we would not ordain “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.” In later years, as our culture continued to yield to those pressures, the Church would clarify that our pastors were not allowed to officiate, nor could our church buildings be used for, homosexual unions (or later same sex weddings). If you violated one of those rules, you were in “violation of the Discipline” and could lose your status as a pastor (called being “defrocked”) or even be kicked out of the church (as a clergy or as a lay person).

Every four years, at EVERY General Conference (1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012) these issues were brought up again. And they always were voted down. The United Methodist Church continued to state that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” And lobbyists and protesters began to do more and more to make their voice heard in an effort to get the Church to change its beliefs. The final straw came in 2016 when every single legislative proposal to change church beliefs in this area was voted down before they even got out of committee. And someone suggested they ask the bishops to help us “find a way forward” and simply not address those sexuality questions until some planning had been made that could help us get off this merry-go-round of always having these heated disagreements about what we believe. The delegates at that General Conference in 2016 agreed and charged the bishops to conduct a study and a planning strategy and, if needed, have a special General Conference to respond to any recommendations that might come forward.

Meanwhile, in July of 2016, the Western Jurisdiction (the out west collection of Annual Conferences from Nevada to Hawaii to Alaska to Colorado) elected an openly lesbian pastor out of California as a bishop in defiance of church law. And many of the other bishops turned a blind eye and others began to openly defy the Church. And this follows a long series of rebellious clergy conducting same sex weddings and rebellious Annual Conferences ordaining those who claimed to be homosexual.

The Council of Bishops did appoint a group (called the Commission of a Way Forward) to try to find a plan to “unite” us. Three recommendations came out of those meetings and the Council of Bishops did issue a call for a special General Conference to deal with the recommendations. That’s what’s going on in a few weeks in St. Louis.

The most popular plan (in the eyes of the bishops) is called the One Church Plan. Essentially, we would drop all the language restricting homosexuality, gay ordination, and the prohibitions against same sex weddings and allow each Annual Conference, and each local church congregation, to decide for themselves what they want to believe. Under this plan, each local congregation will decide if it will recommend a gay person for the ministry and if (and when) a gay wedding can happen on their properties or in their buildings. Likewise, pastors will have to decide whether they will or won’t officiate same sex weddings. The idea is that we can stop all the fighting and be a “united” church because there’s nothing left to fight about. What isn’t said is that it moves the fight into every single local church congregation. And it requires those who believe the Scripture has already clarified that homosexual practice is not compatible with Christianity to either shut up or leave.

The second plan is called the Connectional Church Plan and it seems to be an amalgamation of local church and annual conference decisions that would hold the church together as a denomination, but apparently ends up with the same basic final situation, for the pastor and for the local church congregation, as the One Church Plan. Again, the options for those who disagree are rather limited.

The final plan, has been called the Traditional Plan. It’s the plan that holds to the view of the Bible’s teachings as they have been discerned again and again every four years by General Conferences for the past 47 years. But it also addresses the open rebellion of clergy doing their own thing in defiance of what the Church has decided, by implementing more clear cut consequences for those who say they will live in covenant and abide by the United Methodist Book of Discipline, but then don’t.

Before I, as a clergy person, was ordained, the Bishop point blank asked me if I had studied and understood what our doctrine and polity was as United Methodists. (Polity just means how we are organized and the way we have made church law). And then, before he would ordain me, he also asked “Will you follow them (the doctrines and polity)?” I, and every clergy person ever ordained in our United Methodist Church, said “YES.”  It’s what we call our covenant. We agree with each other to follow the United Methodist way of doing Church and living our Christian lives. My choices are: follow the rules and laws I already agreed to or go find a church organization I CAN agree with.

Since the late 1990s, there have been clergy and lay people alike thumbing their noses at the doctrine and polity of the Church. Now we are told that if we drop the Scriptural directions out of our Book of Discipline, then everyone will be able to be in covenant again.

Folks, it breaks my heart because I love this denomination. There is much in the United Methodist Church that is amazing and God has used us for His glory so many times in so many ways. In the past, General Conference has spoken (by taking votes, in good American democracy style)… and there are hundreds and more who openly defy the Church. What will change if the Church changes its official beliefs? I’m afraid… nothing. I’m afraid that the ones who could not be trusted to obey that which they vowed before God to obey, won’t change their stripes if they get their way in this area. What will change is the target of what they want to change next. Those who would not live in covenant before will not live in covenant in any new system.

IF the Church ends up in another impass (which has happened before), then NOTHING will change and EVERYONE will just keep doing their same old thing (obeying or disobeying).

IF the Church reaffirms the Biblical understanding that has consistently passed every four years since 1972 until 2012, then I believe we will see MORE rebellion, by laity, by clergy, and by bishops. Nothing will change.

IF the Church changes our standards on human sexuality, in either the One Church Plan or the Connectional Church Plan, then there will be no room for people like me who can’t affirm something so against the Biblical witness. But, if the standards ARE changed, I’m afraid the fight will simply move into the local churches where each congregation has to fend for themselves as to what will or will not be allowed in that church’s ministry.

Meanwhile, I’m also a pragmatic and practical person, so I understand going into this, that whatever happens, it could take a few years to implement the changes that are enacted (whatever plan passes). So I’m not packing boxes quite yet.

 

SO WHAT DO WE DO NEXT?

FIRST… PRAY FOR GOD’S WISDOM FOR US IN OUR LOCAL CHURCH SETTING AND FOR THE GENERAL CONFERENCE MEETING FEB. 23rd-26th.

“Anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.” — James 1:5

SECOND… PRAY FOR OUR CONFERENCE DELEGATES (7 clergy and 7 lay people from Western Pennsylvania).

 “Pray for … everyone who is in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity.” — 1 Timothy 2:2

THIRD… STUDY THE SCRIPTURES TO SEE WHAT IT REALLY DOES TEACH.

“Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.”  — 2 Timothy 3:16-17

FOURTH… JOIN US ON SUNDAY, MARCH 3rd, IN MORNING WORSHIP AS WE SHARE THE RESULTS OF GENERAL CONFERENCE 2019.

By the way, IF YOU WANT TO FOLLOW ALONG WITH General Conference, you can go to this link for more information and directions.

http://www.umc.org/topics/general-conference-2019-special-session

    (This originally appeared in The Circuit Rider, the bimonthly newsletter of the First United Methodist Church of Carmichaels, PA, along with a side-bar story highlighting the Scriptural background that has led me to my understanding in this area. The contents of that sidebar appear as a separate post here.)

 

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SONG: Wesley’s Prayer

Below, I have inserted a link to a new song based on the traditional Wesley’s Prayer that I have fallen in love with. I heard it for the first time at the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s inaugural event in Chicago in October 2016. Check it out!

Here’s the traditional Wesley’s Prayer as well.

“I am no longer my own, but thine.

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,

exalted for thee or brought low for thee.

Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

thou art mine, and I am thine.

So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,

let it be ratified in heaven.

Amen.”

https://youtu.be/ePZTzAVY_5A

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Teach Us To Pray

These are my speaking notes from this morning’s worship services. And during the  prayer time I DELIBERATELY left out the Lord’s Prayer. After a hymn, I started my sermon…

Anyone notice anything different about our service today?

We didn’t use the Lord’s Prayer to end our prayer time!

It’s not that I forgot it…

I wanted to see if anyone would notice.

You see, too often we end up doing religious things and say religious words during our worship services that just don’t mean anything to anyone anymore.

And the Lord’s Prayer is far too important for that.

Let’s turn to one of the two places in Scripture where we find the Lord’s Prayer, and Jesus’ teaching about it, recorded for us…

[READ: LUKE 11:1-13]

11 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father, hallowed be your name,
your  kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

“Lord, teach us to pray…”

How did you first learn to pray?

Maybe you’re like me and the kids in children’s time… “Now I lay me down to sleep…”

We talked with the kids and said it was like talking to your Dad…

And that’s exactly how Jesus started to teach his disciples…

1st part… FATHER…

Jesus isn’t just starting this prayer with a religious term. In fact, the very first word of this prayer was enough to catch the Jewish people of his day off guard.

To talk to God, one used a title like “Almighty and most holy, awesome Creator…” or “Eternal and Magnificent Lord…” And Jesus doesn’t do that. He teaches his disciples to look at God as their father.

God is someone with whom they can be in close, intimate, approachable relationship.

NOT ONLY THAT, but when you spoke of someone, you then also spoke of their reputation…

We do that nowadays, don’t we?

‘O, that’s Alice, you know, she’s the one who left her husband…’

‘Hi Patrick, pretty good game you pitched there the other day!’

 ‘Dear Brittany, you are such an AWESOME singer… I just love you!’

And that’s how we start praying to our Father, God… We speak of our love and admiration, our respect and HIS reputation… how we really see him.

It’s NEVER: “Dear God, gimme…”

Rather, “Father, You’re awesome… I love you… You are the One…”

2nd part…Your kingdom come…

As we step into the next part, Jesus teaches us to remind ourselves and remind God of exactly who has the authority of ruling our lives… In the Lord’s Prayer we learn to proclaim that GOD’S the king of our lives… and we pray for Him as king to have HIS way in HIS kingdom… And that always begins with the one who’s praying the prayer…

If you’re going to pray the Lord’s Prayer… you’d better make sure you’re allowing him to be your king… your ruler… and you are doing things HIS way… REGARDLESS of what everyone else is doing… REGARDLESS of how popular or unpopular it makes you!

“God, You are the holy one and I hope and pray that things will happen down here just exactly the way you want them to be… because you are our king and lord.”

3rd part…Give us our daily bread…

In the first 2 parts Jesus has us talking to God and about God… The pronouns are all second person, singular… “your name… Your kingdom… your will…”

Now we move to a different focus… NOW we get to us… All the pronouns are first person now…

But notice that they’re first person PLURAL… not singular…

Now preacher, I haven’t had English class in a long time… what are you talking about with pronouns and singular and plural and persons?

OK… I mean this…

In the first part of the Lord’s Prayer, GOD is the focus and we talk ABOUT Him.

In the second part of the Lord’s Prayer WE are the focus and we talk about OUR needs… NOT Me, not You… US.

There’s no “I” or “ME” or “MINE” in this prayer.

I’m reminded of the poem:

You cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer and even once say ‘I’;

You cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer and even once say ‘My’;

Nor can you pray the Lord’s Prayer and not pray for another,

For when you pray for daily bread, you must include your sister and your brother;

For others are included in each and every plea;

From the beginning to the end of it,

It does not once say ‘Me!’

(From an email from “Peter Wales” Sat, 24 Jul 2004 22:07:01 +0930)

ANYWAY… Jesus teaches us to look at God as our provider… of all our NEEDS… He doesn’t include our wants… he doesn’t include the needs for thirty years away… but rather that we look to God for what we need today.

Throughout Scripture, we hear that same message…

  • “be content with what God provides.”
  • “Contentment with godliness is great gain.”
  • “Having food and clothing, let us be content.”

Sometimes our unhappiness is because we’re so focused on what we DON’T have, that We can’t possibly be happy with what God provides…. Jesus teaches us to ask for what we need today… and to trust God as our provider.

4th part…Forgive us like we forgive others…

The version we use in our worship services here is actually out of one of the very first English Bibles…

Our Methodist background is British… and when James, the new king of England (that is, new in 1603) had a government authorized translation of the Bible made which he approved of, a lot of the British Christians loved it and a lot of them did not… King James wasn’t known for his holiness or purity, and our spiritual ancestors REFUSED to pray the Lord’s Prayer out of the government’s Bible…

It would be like having the president you dislike the most (but don’t say that name out loud right now). If that president had folks create a new version of the Bible and then made a law that said that you HAD TO USE THAT version of the Bible and no other. Would you want to?

A lot of the folks in the early 17th Century felt the same way about the government’s authorized version of the Bible… the one we call the King James Bible, and so when they came to the Lord’s prayer, they used the wording from the older English Bible, rather than use the King James Version wording about debts and debtors.

That’s why we spit out words like ‘trespasses’ and that crazy phrase ‘those who trespass against us’… and we lose the meaning sometimes.

You know, the truth is, this has got to be the SCARIEST part of this prayer. You had better be aware of what you are asking God to do here…

We are essentially asking: ‘Dear God, I know that you want to forgive me… but please Lord, only give me as much forgiveness as I’ve given to the people around me who’ve messed up my life.’

No wonder Jesus makes such a big deal in Matthew 18  (verses 15-17) and other places about being reconciled with the people around us. You and I have to make a choice between hanging on to a grudge and unforgiveness or being forgiven by God… we can only hang on to one at a time… We ask God to only forgive us in the same way we forgive others…

Even in the prayer He taught us, Jesus reminds us that we need to be known as forgiving and gracious people…

5th part…Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil…

You know, in the book of James, we read how God will allow tests to prove us and see if we’re ready for the next chapter of our lives… Some of the translations call them tests, some translations call them temptations. Here, in the Lord’s Prayer, it’s using that Greek word we translate as “tests” but in the older Bibles it said “temptation” as a way of speaking about God allowing us to be tested… And that’s a good thing!

Sort of like a 16 year old WANTS to be tested in order to be able to move into the driving portion of their lives… No test means no license, which of course means no driving…

James goes on to say that the tempting part of the various tests is when we still have some evil desire in our hearts… that turns a test into a temptation for evil…

For instance, You could walk up to me and offer me a cigarette… and I have no desire in my heart or mind (or lungs) to smoke that cigarette, so I’m not going to even fall into that trap… I won’t take it. It’s not appealing for me… I don’t have that desire in my heart, so you can’t tempt me.

Now, when I was younger, and thought it was COOL to smoke, I was tempted big time and actually stole cigarettes from my mom… It was a temptation for me because I had an evil desire in my heart.

(Of course, it only took about two puffs for me to get sick and realize how addicted I am to oxygen… and cigarettes have never been a temptation since then.)

That’s what we’re asking here…

‘Oh God, don’t let me be tested in the areas I haven’t already surrendered to You… Help me to surrender those areas to You so I’m not even tempted at all by those things.’

And thus, even in the prayer he teaches, Jesus reminds us of our need to let God keep cleansing us and teaching us His ways so that we have pure hearts that are free from all of that evil that comes so naturally.

So those are the basics…

Luke records the essence of what Jesus taught… In Matthew’s gospel, we have the version of Jesus’ prayer that started being used in worship services… and over the centuries we even have tacked on a liturgical phrase that ends back where we began… giving the honor and glory back to God…

Some church traditions have taken Matthew’s intro where Jesus says, “Pray like this…” and have decided that the Lord’s Prayer is just an example… not something you ought to actually quote while you’re praying.

In part, they’re right… we don’t always have to use these exact words… we can use the example of this prayer to guide us in how we ought to pray in our own lives… outside of church… any time we want to talk to God…

But there’s also this passage in Luke where Jesus says specifically “When you pray, say this…” so I believe the Lord’s Prayer DOES have a part in our regular worship… as long as it never becomes just a memorized, meaningless bunch of words…

With that qualification… If you can pray this prayer honestly… from the heart… if you even dare…

Then I invite you to join me this morning, in praying the Lord’s Prayer together…

OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN,

        HALLOWED BE THY NAME.

THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE,

        ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.

GIVE US THIS DAY, OUR DAILY BREAD,

        AND FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES,

                 AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US.

AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION,

       BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL,

FOR THINE IS THE KINGDOM AND THE POWER

       AND THE GLORY, FOREVER.

AMEN.

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Acts of God?

Recently, I’ve heard, read, and watched different supposed Christians who want to take all the hurricanes and fires and earthquakes and ascribe them to God as if GOD had evilly created a plan to punish people with Hell on earth in the nasty now-and-now…
And other people who try to use these events as reasons to “prove” that there is NO God anywhere, nor has there ever been.
In response, today, I want to share a great resource actually written and published by the denomination to which I belong: The United Methodist Church.

Ask the UMC: How do United Methodists understand human suffering from natural disaster?

A tire swing sways in the wind from Hurricane Rita over the remains of a beachfront home destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in Ocean Springs, Miss. Rita made landfall in East Texas Sept. 24, 2005, nearly four weeks after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

A tire swing sways in the wind from Hurricane Rita over the remains of a beachfront home destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in Ocean Springs, Miss. Rita made landfall in East Texas Sept. 24, 2005, nearly four weeks after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi.

Ask the UMC: How do United Methodists understand human suffering from natural disaster?

Sometimes the devastation is overwhelming. The waters rise and the rain won’t stop. The ground shakes beneath our feet, or the wind blows the roofs off homes. Sometimes, even the side of the mountain roars into town. The problems seem insurmountable, the destruction beyond our comprehension.When tragedy strikes, it is common for us to ask why. We turn to our faith for answers, but answers don’t come easily. We wrestle with making sense of the suffering we witness, in light of our Christian faith. Questions are left unanswered. The tragedy is not explained.In a sermon titled “The Promise of Understanding,” John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, says we may never know. He writes,

“[W]e cannot say why God suffered evil to have a place in his creation; why he, who is so infinitely good himself, who made all things ‘very good,’ and who rejoices in the good of all his creatures, permitted what is so entirely contrary to his own nature, and so destructive of his noblest works. ‘Why are sin and its attendant pain in the world?’ has been a question ever since the world began; and the world will probably end before human understandings have answered it with any certainty” (section 2.1).

The short answer is: We do not know why natural disasters and other suffering are part of our world.

Did God do this?

While Wesley admits we cannot know the complete answer, he clearly states that suffering does not come from God. God is “infinitely good,” Wesley writes, “made all things good,” and “rejoices in the good of all his creatures.”

Our good God does not send suffering. According to Wesley, it is “entirely contrary to [God’s] own nature, and so destructive of his noblest works.” Suffering is not punishment for sin or a judgment from God. We suffer, and the world suffers, because we are human and part of a system of processes and a physical environment where things go wrong.

God with us

In another sermon titled “On Divine Providence,” Wesley again writes of God’s love for humanity and that God desires good for us. He then adds how God is always with us, even in the midst of tragedy. Wesley shares,

“[God] hath expressly declared, that as his ‘eyes are over all the earth’ [see Psalm 34:15; 83:18], so he ‘is loving to every man, and his mercy is over all his works’ [Psalm 145:9]. Consequently, he is concerned every moment for what befalls every creature upon earth; and more especially for everything that befalls any of the children of men. It is hard, indeed, to comprehend this; nay, it is hard to believe it, considering the complicated wickedness, and the complicated misery, which we see on every side. But believe it we must” (paragraph 13).

This is good news. While we cannot fully comprehend the why, we know that God is with those who suffer. Note that Wesley says God cares for “every creature.” We are never alone in our suffering.

In our experience, we know that tragedies happen to Christians and non-Christians alike. As Jesus said, “[God] makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). The good news we proclaim is that God is with us through it all.

A different question

When Jesus and his disciples encounter a man born blind, the disciples ask Jesus the question we are asking. “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” (John 9:2). Jesus, why does seemingly arbitrary suffering occur?

Jesus’ answer, “Neither he nor his parents,” tells us that the disciples are asking the wrong question. “This happened,” Jesus continues, “so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). Jesus asserts that it is in our response to suffering that God is found, in moments of everyday grace and in grand and sweeping gestures of care and solidarity with the suffering. God’s mighty works are found in hospitals and nursing homes and shelters.

Jesus is calling his disciples and us to a ministry. We are to join Jesus in displaying God’s mighty works. We are an extension of God’s presence in the midst of the tragedy as we come beside those who are suffering in ways we don’t comprehend. We are to be agents of healing, working to restore God’s order to people’s lives and communities. We are to be representatives of the day of resurrection to come, as we seek to rebuild and renew.

In our United Methodist congregations, we join together in these ministries. We assemble flood buckets and work alongside those who shovel the muck from floodwaters from the floors of their homes. We rebuild homes. We stand in the gap alongside the suffering. We support our local food banks, help build houses in our communities, take care of one another’s cars, visit those who are ill and imprisoned, and so much more. We are also active in our communities, working to change systems that inflict suffering on people in our communities.

In the aftermath of tragedy, we give witness to the love of God. In our outpouring of support, we proclaim the value of every human life. As we grieve with those in mourning, we share the love of God. When we send supplies through the United Methodist Committee on Relief, we witness to God’s provision. When medical professionals bind up wounds, Jesus is shown as a healer. When homes are rebuilt, we proclaim resurrection.

We may not know why things happen, but we embrace the ministries of healing, renewal and reconciliation to which Jesus calls us, and in doing so, God’s mighty works are revealed.

Related:

Turning to the Bible when sorrow strikes

‘Jesus wept’: Finding God’s comfort when times are bad

 

Have questions? Ask the UMC. And check out other recent Q&As.

This content was produced by InfoServ, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.

First published Aug. 31, 2017.

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Christmas Offerings


A year ago on this date, our family went to a Christmas party for pastors and their families. After the party we went into the sanctuary of the host church and just sang Christmas carols and worshipped our Lord Jesus. When we were getting ready to leave, adults started talking and visiting, and little Miss Elizabeth got bored (quickly) and started looking around. We hadn’t taken an offering that night, and she’s been in worship enough to know we usually “pass the plates.” So when she saw the empty plates, she walked around giving folks a chance to give to Jesus. 
So many people expect the church to meet their needs; MY kind of music, MY kind of ritual or casual style, MY pastor ‘feeding’ me. But our granddaughter, still a month before we finally were allowed to adopt her, had caught one of the keys of real worship: Real worship is about what we bring to church to GIVE to God. Clear back to Old Testament times we read how the people worshipped by taking an offering to give to God (a bull, a lamb, a bird, some of your grain perhaps). Other than that, you would bring your praises and singing, your prayers, and a heart that was ready to listen for God to speak in your heart. And then worship continued as you went home and lived for God according to His ways as much as you were humanly able. 

As I look at this picture of our granddaughter/daughter with her attempt to mimic the missing piece of worship that night (in her eyes), I am reminded that as we approach Christmas and as we approach any Sunday worship gathering: What gift am I giving to Jesus? How about you? What will you give him?

Give him your teachable heart. Give him your listening ear. Give him your excitement and praise and joy. And yes, give him whatever physical or financial offering you feel he’s leading you to give. And there’s one more thing you COULD give… Give him the one silent, unspoken, often unrecognized gift you can offer: the gift of giving God your time by simply being present. That’s often one of the hardest parts because there are lots of good activities and good groups that decide to make competing programs, practices, and fundraisers at the exact same time as the time your church has worship services. For you to give your time is truly a sacrifice. Which is how worship started so long ago. 

What will you give Jesus this year for his birthday? Give him your best!

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Whose Job Is It?

Back home, in my home church, the Shinglehouse UMC, the bulletin each week listed the pastor, the organist, and then listed: “Ministers: All The People.”

That basic idea is also one of Methodism’s foundational beliefs: that everyone who follows Jesus is a “minister.” And a few of those ministers are asked to be pastors as well.

That little church had captured that. The pastor is there as servant, administrator, and preacher, but most of the ministry of the church actually comes from the lay people who sit in the pews each and every Sunday.

In John 13:3-17, we read how Jesus got up from the table and took off his outer clothing. Kneeling down like a servant, he washed the feet of all the disciples.

Now, this is the last night before his crucifixion. The Twelve still don’t ‘get it’ that he’s about to die, so he tries one more time to remind them of key lessons. He chooses this idea of serving and ministering to others as one of those keys. And Jesus goes about it in a way that they cannot forget. He, the leader, the master, the teacher, the KING, starts acting like one of the lowest of slaves. He gets down and washes their feet.

HE serves THEM!

Verse 4 reads: “so he got up from the table…”  and he washes their feet. Later in verse 26, he is back sitting at the table and dipping the bread. Jesus shows them, and us, that service can sometimes be inconvenient; maybe even in the middle of a meal. Now, this was arguably the most famous meal in history (The Last Supper). Yet, by his own example, we see that even a meal is no excuse to keep us from serving others.

When I was growing up, my Grandma Mix really demonstrated this. I remember the big Sunday dinners  when she was up & down, back & forth, throughout the meal; making sure there were enough potatoes or meat or beverage or vegetable. If she saw that one of us needed something, especially my Grandpa, she would drop her fork, with food still on it, to go get whatever was needed.  Then she would return to her plate.

That’s what Jesus did here. Even though it’s the middle of the meal, he stops eating and takes off his outside coat, rolls his sleeves up (so to speak), grabs a towel, and starts washing feet.

Sometimes service as His disciple will be equally inconvenient, yet still necessary. Yet how many times do we say, ‘Sure, but just wait for awhile, I’m busy now.’?

ALSO, notice that he washes Judas Iscariot’s feet too. They sit down to the meal, Jesus gets up, washes feet, and then goes back to the meal. That’s when he says that the one who will betray him is the one he gives the bread to, and then Scripture even records Jesus talking to Judas. There is no question about it: Judas was there when Jesus washed feet.

How many times do we say we want to serve Christ, but then refuse to serve some just because they’ve  hurt us in some way?  Unfortunately, we are more likely to say something like “If that’s the way she’s going to be, then just see if I ever try to help her again!” Yet here is Jesus, who already knows what Judas is up to and what he’s about to do, and he still serves Judas!

And lest we think that this is just a message for just the “church leaders” on how to serve their church and their God, look towards the end of this passage in John 13:

15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

ANY of us who call ourselves followers of Christ are his disciples and are called to follow his example.  We are to be involved in service; through the local church and as individuals. How has he equipped you to help this church serve those around us?

Throughout this month our Nominations & Lay Leadership Committee will be recruiting people to serve on the 2017 Ministry Team. Where does God want you? Has he called you to a specific ministry?

It reminds me of the story I once read about “Who’s Job Is It?”

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done. (author unknown)

Jesus is our example here. We are to serve. We are to serve even if it’s inconvenient. We are to serve even those whom we don’t like or who hurt us. But how we serve speaks of how we love our Lord.

(Adapted from the Sunday morning sermon on September 18, 2016 and used as the pastor’s letter for the Carmichaels: First United Methodist Church newsletter, October 1, 2016)

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