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Monday, July 8, 2019

The Truth Shall Set You Free


John 8:31-37
31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”
34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35 A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever.36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. 37 Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message.

Are You Really Free?
In this passage, Jesus had a conversation with some Jews living in Judea who were descendants of the Israelites who were led out of slavery in Egypt in Exodus.  The Israelites were proud to be descendants of Abraham and the story of how Moses lead them through the Red Sea and out of slavery in Egypt was an essential part of the nation, ethnic, and religious identity.  They were proud to be a “free” people.  And even though the Roman Empire was the real authority in the Judea, the Romans had allowed the Judea to remain autonomous in deference to their national pride as a free people (so long as the Judeans promised to remain loyal to Rome and not cause trouble).  But Jesus explains that true freedom is more than national or ethnic identity or a political matter.  True freedom is a spiritual matter.

I have always known we are blessed to live in this country—the land of the free and the home of the brave.  I came to appreciate those blessings in a new way the first time I traveled to Guatemala in 2006.  For one thing, the poverty I saw in Guatemala reminded how fortunate we are to enjoy so many comforts in the United States.  Everyone in Guatemala looked up to us—literally… 

I will never forget returning to the United States after a week in Guatemala.  Now, I love Guatemala.  It is a beautiful country filled with amazing people (and we could learn a lot of things from the people there), but I was so glad to come back to my homeland and I was so proud to be an American. 

I will never forget arriving at the airport in Atlanta and going through customs.  There was a line of people a mile long waiting to go through customs and “enter” the United States.  My mission team was tired and homesick and ready to see our families and the thought of waiting in another long line was a bleak prospect.  Just then, a customs agent came walking down the line asking, “Are you a US citizen?  Are you a US Citizen?”  And all who answered yes were ushered to the front of a much shorter line.  I could see the weariness on the faces of all the non-citizens waiting in that long line as we walked passed them and I thought, “I am truly blessed to be a citizen on the United States of America.”  We enjoy so many privileges we take for granted.
Just a few days ago, we celebrated Independence Day on July the Fourth.  Independence Day is a holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence—declaring our independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.  In it, our forefathers proclaimed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  It was the belief of our nation’s founders that Freedom was a God-given right that should never be violated. 

If ever there was a national ideal that came straight from the pages of the Bible, it is this—humanity was created by God to be free.  “In the beginning,” (Genesis 1), “God created the Heavens and the Earth.”  And God created humanity to be free—free to think, free to make choices, free to love.  God did not create us as animals chained to follow our basic instincts. God created us to be free!

Yet today, the vast majority of humanity is not free.  Even here in this great Nation where freedom is the hallmark of our national identity, the vast majority are not free.  People are enslaved to a cruel master, Sin. 

You might have a hard time thinking of yourself—an American citizen—as a slave.  We live in the land of the free, but that doesn’t automatically make you free, not any more than standing inside a gym automatically makes you fit and muscular.  You are not truly free unless the Son of God sets you free.

Sin keeps us from being free.
Romans 6:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  And Romans 6:23 says, “The wages [or consequences] of sin is death…”  So we all have a big problem.  We are all guilty of sin—which is turning away from God and doing things our own way—and we will all reap the penalty of sin—which is death. 

But the death Romans talks about is far worse than just passing away into oblivion and ceasing to exist.  The death we face because of sin is a spiritual death.  Sin separates us from God.  Our spirits suffocate in the absence of God’s presence.  In Luke 16, Jesus described the eternal destiny of sinners as a place of fiery torment.  The 20th chapter of the book Revelation describes the place as a lake of fire.  I don’t know for sure what that place is like, but I know it is something worse than death.  It is spiritual death.  (If God is like the air we breathe, you could imagine hell like suffocating without air for eternity.)

Jesus came to set us free from the spiritual death that sin brings into our life.  The great Christian evangelist of the first century—St. Paul—epitomizes to me a man who is truly free.  Death held no power over his freedom.  He boldly traveled wherever the Lord led him to spread the Gospel unhindered by persecution, hardship, or even the fear of death.  He was beaten, imprisoned, stoned, shipwrecked, and eventually executed.  Yet he was not afraid.  Paul said in Philippians 1:21, For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.  And he penned those famous words that have comforted so many at funerals, O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?(1 Corinthians 15:55)

When the Son of God sets you free, you no longer have to fear death.  I tell people (and myself), “What is there to be afraid of?  The worst thing that can happen is death.  And to die means to go home to glory—no more suffering or pain or sickness or grief.  It’s like the ultimate retirement!”  And to live with no fear of death out on the edge with God holding your hand—now that’s freedom!

It’s not just a fear of death that enslaves people.  Because of Sin, some people are bound by chains of guilt.  Ironically, the church is often a place where people feel the most guilt. I have known people who avoid church altogether because it makes them feel so guilty.  They walk into a beautiful sanctuary like this and instead of inspiring them it just reminds them how far short they have fallen from God’s glory.  They see everyone dressed up for church and smiling like they don’t have any problems and the preacher is standing up on stage peering down over the pulpit at them.  And all these things remind them of how unworthy they feel.  They don’t like that feeling so they just stay away. 

Ironically, I have found that sometimes the people in church with the biggest smiles are the ones with the most heartache and guilt. 

Jesus Sets Us Free
Maybe you feel that way, but Jesus doesn’t want church to be a place that overwhelms us with guilt.  Jesus came to set us free from sin.  He said, God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17).  And 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”  Because of Jesus Christ, those who confess there sins and believe in Jesus Christ can trust Psalm 103:12 which says, “[God] has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.”  When we come to church (or wherever we are), God does not looking down on us as He looks down on us.  He looks at us and smiles the way a loving father smiles at their children.

And so we are free to live!  We are not bound by a guilt that causes us to hide from God in shame or try to impress Him or somehow try to work our way back into His favor.  We don’t have to bow our heads in shame.  We don’t have to carry a load of constant apologies.  As Ephesians 3:12 says, “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.”  Now that is truly free!

But the freedom we have in Christ goes even further.  We are also free from the power of sin.  This is the glorious Good News of Christ’s message that—frankly—doesn’t get preached enough.  The salvation we have in Christ is not just forgiveness; it is also healing.  We are on the road to recovery.  Gradually, with God’s help, we are getting over this sinful nature that plagues us. So we don’t have to dread a life of constant mistakes and sinful living while we throw our hands up in the air and say, “I can’t help it.  I’m a sinner by nature.”  Romans 6:6 says, “We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.”  And Romans 6:22 says, “Now you are free from the power of sin…  So, we don’t have to go through life thinking we are bound to sin.  If we slip up, we can be forgiven.  But we don’t have to sin.  We are free!   Because God loves us so much, we are now empowered to love others!  We are free to share the love of Christ with everyone!

Closing
Jesus said, “The truth shall set your free.” He said that to the Israelites and they had a hard time seeing that they were enslaved.  Can you sense their national pride when they said, “We are descendants of Abraham.  We have never been slaves to anyone.”  I wonder how many of us here today have a similar notion.  We think, “I live in the United States of America.  I am not a slave.  I am free.” 

Jesus would say the same thing to you today that he said 2,000 years ago.  “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.”  When we humble ourselves and recognize we are enslaved, Jesus is there to set us free.  But if our pride makes us hang on to the false notion that simply being an American makes us free, we will remain enslaved.  Exercising freedom takes wisdom and courage and determination.  It takes the Son to set you free and keep you free.

As we give thanks for the independence of our great nation, what better way to honor freedom than to truly live out our freedom.  I hope today you will humble yourself and ask Jesus to help you.  And then I pray you will go out of this place and live the free life you were created to live!


Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence

In Congress, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Monday, July 1, 2019

When Life is Good, God is Good


Intro
As we get ready for vacation Bible school at my church on July 8-12, I have been sharing a series of messages based on the same themes. We've been studying the Exodus, when God delivered the Israelite out of slavery in Egypt. God is good all the time. And all the time, God is good. When life is unfair, scary, or when it changes, or is sad, God is good. And today, I want to say that when life is good, God is good.


Nehemiah 4:14b
“Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious…”
  

Remember…
God is good. And Nehemiah commands us to remember. God's plans are for our life, but also span over generations. We must make a point to remember all the good that God has done over the span of generations. Sometimes the good we experience today is built upon the work God was doing hundreds of years ago. And perhaps the good He will do in generations to come is built upon the things He is working in our life today (and we may never see the full fruit of it).

Remember what God did in the Exodus all started way back in Genesis with a man named Abraham. God told Abraham, "Leave your homeland and go to a country I will show you, a land flowing with milk and honey. And I will make you the father of many nations. Your descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky." This seemed impossible to Abraham because he and his wife were already very old. But they trusted God and God was faithful. They had a child named Isaac. And Isaac had Jacob. And Jacob had twelve sons. One son was named Joseph and his brothers were jealous and sold him into slavery down in Egypt. But when life was unfair to Joseph, God was good. Joseph was able to interpret Pharaoh's nightmare about the future and thus saved Egypt from a terrible famine. He saved not only Egypt, but also the nations around Egypt who came and bought food from Egypt during the famine. Even Joseph's brothers came and bought food and were saved. And so the Jacob's descendants (the Israelite) came to live in Egypt for 430 years. They multiplied and became so many the Egyptians felt threatened by them and forced them to be slaves to try and wipe them out. However, God was good and the Israelites only grew stronger. And so God sent Moses to deliver the Israelites from Slavery in Egypt. Through 10 scary plagues, God convinced the Egyptians to capitulate and let the Israelites go. God parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could walk through on dry ground. God is good.

Then Moses sent 12 spies into the Promised Land to see if it was a good land and if the Israelites could take it. Two spies--Joshua and Caleb--returned to say it was a good land and that God would help the Israelites take it. But the other ten spies were afraid and said the Canaanites were like giants and would defeat them. So God was disappointed by the Israelites' lack of faith. He decided no one from that generation would enter the Promise Land except for Joshua and Caleb. So the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years until everyone from that generation had died, except Joshua and Caleb. The Joshua became the leader of the Israelites when Moses died and he was ready to lead the Israelites across the Jordan river into the Promised Land. Again, with mighty power, God parted the waters of the Jordan River so the Israelites could walk across on dry ground. And Joshua wanted the people to never forget the mighty power and goodness of, so they set up a memorial. Listen to the story.

Joshua 4:1-7
1 When all the people had crossed the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua,2 “Now choose twelve men, one from each tribe. 3 Tell them, ‘Take twelve stones from the very place where the priests are standing in the middle of the Jordan. Carry them out and pile them up at the place where you will camp tonight.’”

4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had chosen—one from each of the tribes of Israel. 5 He told them, “Go into the middle of the Jordan, in front of the Ark of the Lord your God. Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder—twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. 6 We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.”
How Can We Remember Not to Forget?
When Life is Good, God is Good. Unfortunately, when life is Good, we tend to forget God. And when we forget, life loses it’s joy. And when we forget God, we stray off course and head toward trouble. It is part of human nature that when life is good, we tend to forget God. It starts out small, maybe because we think we don't need God as much when life is good. Soon we start to question if God is even real or just a superstition. We may get irritated that God has so many rules to follow, etc. We forget that the good life we enjoy came about because of the goodness of God. And when we stray, we start to run into all kinds of trouble. So, how can we remember not to forget? What can we do to help us not forget God?
Celebrate
Who doesn’t like to celebrate? It's fun. But let your celebrations be memorials to remember the goodness of God. That way, you are less likely to forget the goodness of God and that the goodness in your life comes from God. It helps you guard against forgetting, which will steal your joy and ultimately lead you into trouble. The Israelites set up 12 stones so they would always remember how God had been good to them as they crossed the Jordan River on dry ground. Even generations who never lived through it could look at the memorial and remember.

We have our own memorials too. Don't forget what they mean. This week in America, we celebrate the fourth of July when our nation won its independence. We often celebrate with fireworks. Are they just loud, colorful displays? No. They are meant to remind us of the rockets and artillery used in the war of independence when so many gave their life in the struggle for our nations freedom. America was just a bunch of backwater colonies with no army. How did we stand up against England, which was the most powerful military at the time? Could it be that God helped us win our independence against overwhelming odds. Shouldn't we remember this every time see fireworks, so that we never take our freedom or the goodness of God for granted? Celebrate in such a way that you never forget.

Worship
Worship is a verb. Through worship we adore and honor God. It’s what we were made for. And it helps us keep God at the center of our focus so we don’t forget. We worship on Sunday and then all throughout the week we meditate on the Word from worship. It helps keep us centered so we don't forget. Then when the week is over, we return to worship again. This spiritual discipline of weekly worship helps keep us focused. When our worship becomes sporadic, we lose our focus and begin to drift. Soon, we find we are headed towards all kinds of trouble because we forgot that following God faithfully is what brought us blessings to start with. So be faithful to worship the Lord regularly each week. Even during the summer, when you are away on vacation, consider how you can be faithful to worship. It will make your vacation even more meaningful.

Tithe
Tithing helps us to trust God and remember that all we have belongs to Him. It puts our faith in God’s providence and Lordship into practice. Tithing is giving 10% of your income to the Lord through His Church. So, if you earn $200 on your paycheck this week, you would give $20 to the church. That would be your tithe. If you earned $500, $50 would be your tithe. If you earned $1,000, $100 would be the tithe you give to God at church. BUt most people struggle to give a tithe. They think, I don't want to give God 10% of my money. And their we see their error in thinking. You see, it all belongs to God. It is not that God is asking you to give Him 10% of your money. He is letting you keep 90% of His money. Tithing is a challenging discipline that reminds you very vividly that God is good and you owe all your blessings to Him so you won't forget.


Serve 
Serving helps us remember it’s not all about us. God loves everyone and wants to help everyone. God chose the Israelites as His special people to be a royal priesthood. That's why he saved them from slavery. He wanted them to be a light to the gentles; in other words, He wanted them to help all people find a relationship with God. Unfortunately, the Israelites corrupted this original purpose to think they were better than everyone else. They thought God loved them and hated everyone else. But we know this is not true, because as John 3:16 says, "For God so love the world that he sent His only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life."

America is the greatest nation in the world. Miraculously, through God's providence, we gained our independence from England and grew from nothing to the most powerful country in the world. Is this because God loves us more than He loves the rest of the world? Some people in America think so; others live as if this is the case. But the Truth is, God loves the whole world. He doesn't love Americans more than anyone else and we aren't better than anyone else. God blessed America so that it could be a blessing to the whole world. I you were born or live in this great nation, it is not so you can just indulge your selfish desires. God wants you to use your freedom and privileges to help others grow closer to God.

Serving others help you remember that this life is not all about you. God loves everyone and serving helps us refocus our attention away from ourselves on the people around us that God loves.
Make a Commitment 
When Life is Good, God is good. Now is the time to make a commitment to remember the goodness of God:

Commit to Celebrate – in ways that recall all the good God has done in your life

Commit to Worship – summer is a time when many slip away from worship. Reinforce your commitment to worship each week, even while on vacation.

Commit to Tithe – give 10% of your income to the Lord through His Church

Commit to Serve – how can you serve God and the people around you?

The most important commitment of all – Commit to follow Jesus as your Savior and Lord. I hope you will make that commitment today.

Monday, June 17, 2019

When Life is Sad, God is Good


Introduction
We've been studying the story of Exodus as we prepare for our July 8-12 Vacation Bible School.  The theme of VBS is God is Good.  We've learned when life is unfair, scary, or changes, God is good.  Today we learn that when life is sad, God is good.

Psalm 34:18
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
    he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

When Life is Sad, God is Good
For this session, our VBS curriculum takes a detour from the Exodus story.  We switch to the New Testament story of Jesus.  The incredibly sad thing that happened to Jesus, for which he is most famous, is the crucifixion.  Though he was perfect in every way and deserved so much better, he was nailed to a cross.  In Exodus, God was delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  However, God's ultimate goal is to deliver all people from slavery--regardless of race or nationality.  He wants to deliver you and me.  You say, "But I'm not a slave!"  Yes you are.  We all are slaves to sin.  Every since humanity first chose to listen to Satan instead of God--trusting the Devil more than God--we've been slaves to sin.  We can't help ourselves; even if we don't want to in, we still do.  And God wants to set us free.  So He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to do for the world what God did for the Israelites at Passover in Exodus.  God set them free from physical slavery, but through Christ He sets us free from spiritual slavery.  Jesus is our Passover Lamb.

It must have been so sad for his disciples to see the man they loved and worshiped crucified.  It was sad for his mother.  It was sad for his Father in heaven to see His perfect sun shamefully and painfully tortured and murdered.  It was sad, most of all, for Jesus to see these people he loved so much he left the glory of heaven to come save them turn on him.  It was sad as his disciples betrayed, abandoned, and denied him.  It broke his heart.  But even when life is sad, God is good.  Jesus became our Passover Lamb.  His blood shed on the cross became the atonement for our sin just as the lambs' blood on the doorposts of the Israelites in Egypt signaled the Angel of Death to spare them.  When we repent and receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we pass from death to new life.  We are set free from slavery to sin.

Let’s listen to the story of Jesus’ arrest.

John 18:1-12
After saying these things, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley with his disciples and entered a grove of olive trees. Judas, the betrayer, knew this place, because Jesus had often gone there with his disciples. The leading priests and Pharisees had given Judas a contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple guards to accompany him. Now with blazing torches, lanterns, and weapons, they arrived at the olive grove.
Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” he asked.
“Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied.
I am he,” Jesus said. (Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.) As Jesus said “I am he,” they all drew back and fell to the ground! Once more he asked them, “Who are you looking for?”
And again they replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
“I told you that I am he,” Jesus said. “And since I am the one you want, let these others go.” He did this to fulfill his own statement: “I did not lose a single one of those you have given me.”
10 Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave. 11 But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?”
12 So the soldiers, their commanding officer, and the Temple guards arrested Jesus and tied him up.
Yahweh – I AM
There is a peculiar phrase hidden in the story. Did you notice it? Jesus uses the phrase I AM three times: in verses 5, 6, and again in verse 8.  In fact, when he says it the first time, all the soldiers fall to the ground.  Why is that?  I AM is the name of God.  Remember, when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and Moses asked what His name was, God said, "I AM."  And here, Jesus uses those same words, "I AM."  And there is power in the name of God.  It knocks the soldiers to the ground!  No one took Jesus' life from him.  He chose to give it up for our sake.

In Hebrew, the name I AM is pronounced Yahweh; it is the proper name of God. It is a difficult word to translate, but it is full of meaning. In some sense, it means Lord. But it is more. It means “the eternal one, the existing one.” It means “reality” as in “true reality”. In other words: What you think is reality is not really reality; God is reality. God is Truth. Our notions of reality are always skewed by our fears, our sins, our lack of vision and perception. But God is THE LORD. The Lord made it all. He controls it all. No one perceives the way things really are as accurately and deeply as God.
When you think there is no hope, God says, “There is hope. I AM hope!"
When you think all is lost, God says, “I will save you! I AM salvation!”
When you fear you will never be delivered from your suffering or struggle or whatever in this life enslaves you, God says, “I AM THE LORD. I will deliver you!  I AM deliverance!"

We are learning that God is good all the time. And all the time, God is good.
When life is unfair, God is good.
When life is scary, God is good.
When life changes, God is good.
When life is sad, God is good.

In all these phrases, the one thing that does not change is: God is good.  The goodness of God is not defined by our feelings or experience. God is who He is. He is good. He is always good. God does not change.

We need to trust in the goodness of God—especially when life is sad. When our sadness drives us to despair, we must hold tight to our faith in the goodness of God.  Don't let your perception of God's character be corrupted by your sadness (or anger, or fear, or anything else).  God is good!

The unchangeable, incorruptible, unshakable nature of God is a sure foundation when life is sad. He is the great I AM, Yahweh, the Lord. He does not grow tired or weary. He does not lose hope. He does not give up.

At the same time, God is not insulated from our pain. Jesus is God. He says so right there in John the day he was arrested. He said, “I Am Jesus.” I AM is the eternal name of God and Jesus means “The Lord saves”. But the most amazing thing is how the Lord saves us. He saves us by living our experience.  He allows the forces of darkness to arrest him, beat him, and crucify him to death. So you see, God is not insulated from our pain. He experienced all the painful things we endure: betrayal, fear, unfair treatment, deep sadness, excruciating pain, loneliness, and disappointment.  He absorbed all these things and even death on the cross.

And today, when we are sad or afraid or worried about change (or whatever we are facing), Yahweh (the eternal unchanging Lord of all) is right here with us in the midst of it. He knows what we feel; He has felt it too. And wonder of wonders, God even takes our sadness and uses it for our ultimate good. When life is sad, God is good.

The Best Kind of Sorrow
The best kind of sadness, the sadness God can use for our greatest good, is sorrow over our sin.  You see, we have all done things that we shouldn't do--sometimes by mistake, and sometimes even on purpose.  And it is our sin that nailed Jesus to the cross.  And it can be overwhelmingly sad when you realize your actions are the cause of Jesus' pain.  But that's a good sorrow, because it can drive you to your knees before God to say, "Lord, I am so sorry for my sins.  Please forgive me and help me not to act that way again."  That's what it's all about. God has been longing for the day you would repent of your sin and ask for forgiveness and seek His help to live a new and better life since the day humanity first fell into sin.  God is faithful and just.  When we confess our sin, He is quick to forgive and offer us a fresh start.  And the Holy Spirit will begin to work in you to make you a whole new creation, holy as God is holy.  Would you turn to God and be forgiven today?

Monday, June 10, 2019

When Life Changes, God is Good


Introduction
This is the third blog in a series base on my church's VBS theme for this summer--Life is Wild. God is Good.  It's all about the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt.  Today, we learn: When life changes, God is good.

Psalm 106:1
Praise the Lord!
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
    His faithful love endures forever.

The Israelites lived in Egypt for over 430 years.  Imagine 400 years!  What was your family doing 430 years ago?  You probably have no idea.  What was America doing 430 years ago?  Well, America didn't even exist as a nation 430 years ago.  Consider this, the King James Version of the Bible--a version we consider very old, so old it is sometimes hard for us to understand it--hadn't yet been written 430 years ago.  And the Egyptians lived in Egypt for 430 years.  That's a long time.

The Egyptians were unfair to the Israelites.  They forced them to work as their slaves.  But when life is unfair, God is good.  God sent Moses to tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go.  Pharaoh said, “No!”  So God sent ten scary plagues to torment the Egyptians and convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free.  And when life is scary, God is good.  When your life is scary, trust God is working things out for your good.  The last plague was the scariest of all.  The Angel of Death struck the firstborn son of every family in Egypt; every family accept those who heeded God’s warning to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a lamb lost their firstborn son.  The night after Passover, Pharaoh awoke to the sound parents crying all over Egypt and found that even his own son was dead.  Pharaoh finally agreed to let the Israelites go free.

The Israelites packed their things and left Egypt.  The word Exodus literally means “going out.”  The second book of the Bible, Exodus, tells the story of the Israelites going out of Egypt.  They were leaving behind everything they'd known.  Egypt was not their homeland, but the Israelites had lived in Egypt for 430 years.  It was all they had ever known and all their parents and grandparents had known for generations.  It was going to be a huge change.  So the Israelite's needed to learn:  When life changes, God is good.

Pharaoh was a stubborn, arrogant man.  Even though the Lord God, Yahweh, had brought Pharaoh and all Egypt to their knees with the ten terrible plagues, Pharaoh changed his mind.  He wanted the Israelite slaves back.  He decided to chase them and drag them back to Egypt.  After all, he was still Pharaoh—the most powerful man in the world!

Pharaoh’s chariots bore down on the Israelites.  He had them trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea.  Many of the Israelites cried out in fear.  “Why did you bring us out in the dessert to die?  It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than dead in the wilderness!”  This is a common sentiment for people who are struggling through a significant change.  Even when the changes are good, we complain and get stuck in negative thinking.  But God is good and He makes a way when there seems to be no way forward.  We have to trust Him.

Exodus 14:21-22 21 Then Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind. The wind blew all that night, turning the seabed into dry land. 22 So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side!

The Rest of the Story
The Egyptians tried to pursue the Israelites, but God fought for His people.  The Egyptians saw the Israelites crossing the Red Sea on dry ground and followed them, but God cause confusion in their ranks.  Chariots got stuck or their wheels fell off.  The couldn't catch up to the Israelites.  Then, once all the Israelites were safely on the other side of the sea, God caused the waters of the Read Sea to come crashing back together upon the Egyptian army.  The passage says not a single one survived.  

You would think seeing the Lord fight for His people in this way would convince the Israelites to trust God more.  However, we see again and again that they complained.  The first example is when they come to the spring of Marah.  They and their animals are thirsty, but the water of the spring is bitter.  So, the Israelites complained, "Why did you bring us out in the dessert to die of thirst!  Things were so much better when we were slaves in Egypt!"  So God told Moses to throw a piece of wood into the spring and it made the water good to drink.

Then another time, the Israelites were complained they had plenty of food to eat, but they were starving in the wilderness.  So God made manna fall from heaven--a mysterious substance the Israelites could gather and eat.  Soon they complained about this too and said they wanted meat to eat.  So God made flocks of quail descend upon them and they had more meat to eat than they could stand.

Time and time again, God provided and the Israelites still complained.  They struggled as their lives dramatically changed.  In some sense, they longed for the safety and security of Egypt.  Even though they had been slaves, at least they knew what to expect from life.  Wandering in the dessert required them to trust God as their lives changed.

When life changes, God is good.
Often, God initiates change because it's for our own good.  God wanted to deliver the Israelite from Egypt, but His delivery was more than just a change of location.  The Israelites were slaves.  Even after they were free, they were still slaves in their minds.  God wanted to change their minds.  God wanted the Israelites to be His holy people, a Kingdom of priests who would represent Him to the whole world.  They were to be distinct and different from all other people.  They were to be a beautiful, bright light that would draw all people all over the world back to God.  The Israelites were part of God’s grand plan to save the whole world and would eventually usher in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  So God had to change the Israelites.

Change is hard—especially when it alters the very identity of who you are.  No wonder the Israelites were always complaining in Exodus.  We look back and we think, “Man, what a bunch of whiners!”  But understand this:  God wants to change you too.  He wants to change your fundamental identity.

Who are you?  What's your identity?  I mean, how would you describe yourself?  These are hard questions if you've ever really tried to answer them.  You might identify as a man or a woman (or something else).  Maybe you would say:  "I am a husband or a wife,  a parent, a child, a college student or retired."  You might choose your occupation as your identity--banker, farmer, lawyer, pastor, etc.  

God says, “Forget all that.  That's justr what the world says.  That’s not really who you are.  I’m going to give you a whole new identity--an eternal identity.  I made you and I know why. I'm going to help you realize who you really are according to My master plan.” 

A lot of people only become Christians because they want to go to heaven. Someone told them that they would go to Hell and suffer torment for eternity unless they accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. And they want to go to heaven instead, so they become a Christian. And to be sure, the Bible does say, "The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ." (Romans 6:23) But God says, “That’s not big enough. You need a whole new identity.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!" And Galatians 6:15b says, "What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation."

And so, after we start following Christ, God begins to change our identity.  Once we were slaves, but God set us free.  But it takes a long time for the Holy Spirit to convince us we are really free so we start thinking like free people instead of people who are still slaves to sin.  God is changing our identity from sinner to saint.  He is changing you from a child of the Devil to a child of God.  He is changing you from someone who worships all the wrong things--material possessions, your family, a romantic relationship, the esteem of people, pleasure, or your own selfish desires--to someone who worships only God (as you were originally create to).

These are some of your eternal identities:  Free, Saint, Child of God, Worshiper of the One True God.  These are eternal.  They will never change.  Ten thousand million years from know, no one will even care that you were a lawyer or a doctor or even a parent.  All that will matter and remain is your identity in Christ.

The Exodus is a picture of the Christian life.   The Christian life is a process of surrendering to God each new day and allowing Him change our identity and make us His people.  It’s a life long journey as we walk through the wilderness of this life toward the Promised Land of Eternal Life with God.

Closing
Proverbs 3:5-6 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take."

Change is inevitable.  We face many changes in this life.  Ultimately, God is changing us; and that’s a good thing!  Because, when life changes, God is good. 

When my son was a little child, he had a baby blanket.  He carried it everywhere with him and whenever life was too much for him, he'd stick the corner of that blanket in his mouth and suck.  As you can imagine that blanket would get really nasty and we had to wash it often.  Well, after a few years it was really work out, but he just wouldn't give it up.  So as he was getting ready to go to preschool, my wife and I came up with a plan.  We cut the blanket in half.  The a few days later, we cut the half blanket in half.  We kept this up until Gavin only had a small square left.  Then we finally convinced him to give it up.  We promised to keep it safe for him.  (We still have the remains of that  blanket packed away somewhere in a memory box.)

Blankets wear out, but God stays the same.  So cling to God in the midst of change, because God never changes.  Malachi 3:6a - “I am the Lord, and I do not change.” God is Yahweh – The Great I Am (Exodus 3:14).  He is The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end… (Revelation 1:8).  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end (Lamentations 3:22) The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8) 

So when life changes, remember:  God is good.  Trust Him.  Cling to Him.  And be transformed.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Fighting for the Soul of the UMC, Part 2


“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Acts 1:8

"Give me 100 men who hate nothing but sin and love God with all their hearts and I will shake the world for Christ!"
John Wesley

In my first article, I shared why it is critical for pastors and members serving in local United Methodist congregations to focus on renewing the United Methodist Church at the denominational level.  You can read that article here.

Now I want to share some strategies to build a more vibrant and effective United Methodist denomination that better reflects the orthodox views firmly founded upon a right understanding of Scripture.  These ideas are meant to provide direction and hopefully inspire creative leaders to work out the details that could make them a reality.  I welcome your contributions to this vision of a renewed, effective UMC.

Do Not Leave the UMC
First and foremost, conservative evangelicals who wish the UMC to hold to orthodox Christian teaching firmly founded upon Scripture must not leave.  Every orthodox leader and church that pulls out of the denomination only leaves the UMC weaker and more skewed toward the progressive side of the spectrum.  Traditionalists currently hold a modest majority within the denomination.  Voting at the 2019 general conference confirmed this.  Furthermore, this orthodox majority will only increase in coming years as the population of progressive United Methodists in the US decreases while traditional United Methodist in Africa and Asia are growing quickly.  Delegates to the 2020 general conference will likely be even more in favor of traditional Christian values.  This traditional majority will increase even more for general conferences in 2024 and beyond.  2019 was probably progressives’ last best hope for gaining the votes they needed to flip the UMC’s stance on homosexuality.  But this only holds true if conservatives refuse to walk away!  We are winning the struggle to maintain a faithful denomination; now is not the time to leave!  Please, do not abandon your brothers and sisters to fight for the soul of the UMC alone.

Furthermore, we need to be firm but gracious to progressives.  If they refuse to uphold, defend, and teach the orthodox Christian doctrine our denomination has ratified, we must insist they exit the denomination.  It is the same thing we would do if a disruptive individual interrupted one of our worship services in a local church.  We would insist they leave and escort them out as gently and politely as we could.  We must be gracious and loving as we invite those disrupting our denomination to leave.  Every time conservatives resort to angry name calling or unfair treatment, we betray Christ and it deeply damages our witness.  Jesus said in John 13:35, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”  1 Corinthians 13:4-7 tells us the kind of love the Church should practice.  It’s not a weak love that allows unrighteousness or false teaching to remain in the church.  However, we can be firm without being unloving or rude; and we must.

In some places where conservatives are  outnumbered, we should take a page from LGBT activists’ playbook.  Conservatives should peacefully resist and protest.  This must not degenerate into the hateful signs and verbal attacks on perceived enemies.  Rather, let us be the noble ones and force progressives to embarrass themselves in the public eye as they persecute orthodox Christians simply because we are being faithful to what we believe God says in the Bible.  How can we support conservatives in overwhelmingly progressive areas as they seek peaceful changes in their districts, conferences, and jurisdictions?  Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

Focus on Leading the Denomination
Secondly, local church leaders must focus more on the denomination.  I believe one of the reasons the UMC has drifted over the years is our most faithful, orthodox United Methodists have been busy leading local churches.  To address this, we must turn some of our attention back to the denomination.  We must be diligent in watching, studying, and actively participating in our districts, annual conferences, and general conference.  We must pay close attention to how money is allocated, who is selected for leadership, and how our districts and conferences are run.  We must pay close attention to who is elected delegates for annual, jurisdictional, and general conferences.  We must understand the issues presented (not just issues like homosexuality that garner attention).  We can no longer leave these things to the people pulling the strings behind the curtains at conference while we simply offer a “rubber stamp”. 

Furthermore, we must openly band together with colleagues who share our values.  You can be sure progressives are doing the same.  In many places, progressives have already worked together very effectively to entrench people in leadership who will guard their ideas.  It will take hard work to change the current landscape of leadership in the United Methodist Church so that it better represents the values in local congregations, but it can be done.  The very first thing we can do is elect delegates to the 2020 general and jurisdictional conferences who represent orthodox Christian values.  If you have a vote at your annual conference this year, use it well!  Clergy, encourage your lay delegates to vote for orthodoxy.  Laity, encourage your pastors to do the same.  We must continue these efforts even beyond the 2020 general conference to make sure orthodox Christianity remains the strongest voice in our denomination.  Each UM church is allocated a certain number of delegates to annual conference.  Often, those delegates don't even attend.  Orthodox delegates must not only attend, they must be ready to understand the issues that will be addressed at conferences so they can make their votes count.

Conservatives must also become more united in what we believe.  So far, much of our passion has been about what we don’t believe (we don’t believe homosexuality is God’s will and we don’t want to ordain self-avowed, practicing homosexuals, etc.).  Unfortunately, we are less united on issues about what we want for the UMC.  We often disagree on other issues like abortion, the drinking of alcohol, women in ministry, politics, styles of worship, etc.  We need to be more gracious with each other on non-essentials and work hard to build a solid platform on the essentials.

Clearly Understand and Teach Orthodox United Methodist Beliefs
Part of the reason orthodox teaching is under attack in the UMC is orthodox Christians have not been clear about exactly what we believe.  Even though conservatives have spent a lot of time arguing with progressives about homosexuality, we have not done well at sharing our thoughts openly with our congregations.  It is not a subject most pastors want to preach or teach about for a number of reasons.  Meanwhile though, the wider culture around us has been hard at work sharing their narrative in every available format—TV, movies, music, politics, the courtroom, through doctors and psychologists, and education.  It is no wonder we are losing the hearts and minds of our congregations and the denomination as a whole in the US.  Our silence is a forfeit.

But the problem of unclear teaching goes beyond homosexuality.  Conservatives often aren’t clear on other doctrines such as divorce and why we follow some Old Testament laws and not others.  For example, many conservatives struggle to answer progressives’ challenges about why we oppose homosexuality on biblical grounds but still allow divorce.  To be sure, there are biblical grounds for allowing divorce, but few orthodox pastors (let alone the average layperson) can articulate sound theological reasons.  It’s no wonder our positions often seem weak and inconsistent.  Every faithful conservative ought to be informed about our doctrines and be able to offer a coherent answer from Scripture to these kinds of challenges. 


Therefore, conservative evangelical United Methodists need to become very clear on exactly what we believe.  We need to understand which doctrines are really essential to Wesleyan Christianity and which are more open to different interpretations.  We need to be united in our teaching on the essentials and gracious in non-essentials.  We need to be able to clearly articulate how we believe the Bible addresses issues such as divorce, sex outside of marriage, the need for ordained women in ministry, and which Old Testament laws apply to Christians and why.  Furthermore, orthodox United Methodists need to work hard to be united in our agreement on these doctrines.

Better Education and Training for Pastors
Part of the UMC’s anemia on doctrinal issues is the weak theological training many pastors receive.  John Wesley was an educated man and he expected Methodist pastors to be also.  Unfortunately, United Methodist seminaries in the United States often do not prepare pastors to be effective pastoral leaders.  Seminary education is too broadly focused while immersing students in an environment that celebrates progressive ideology and scoffs at traditional orthodoxy.  A three-year master of divinity degree should be the ultimate preparation for pastors answering God’s call to lead a local church.  Instead, pastors often leave seminary confused about what they are supposed to believe and lost when they try to lead a church.  We must do better. 

Theological training in United Methodist seminaries should focus primarily on a Wesleyan theology that is firmly grounded in Scripture.  Orthodox Christianity should be the norm that is held in high esteem by all.  Professors who seek to train future pastors should be deeply and passionately in love with Jesus Christ.  Students should spend their time falling deeper in love with Christ and learning how to live out that love in word and deed.  Upon completion of seminary, pastors should be expected to clearly articulate sound biblical doctrine to their boards of ordained ministry.  Some of the things they should be able to clearly explain from a Biblical perspective are:
  • Why women are welcomed in ordained ministry
  • Why we expect lifelong monogamous marriage but allow for divorce in certain circumstances
  • A clear Wesleyan view of how Old Testament laws apply for Christians today
  • What are the essentials of United Methodist doctrine—those doctrines which are non-negotiable and why?

But seminary education should not be confined to theology.  Pastors need much better training in the practical matters of day to day leadership of a local congregation.  How do you write and preach an effective sermon and offer an invitation that wins people to Christ?  How do you go out into the community and invite people to church?  How do you manage the complicated business aspects of a church?  How do you navigate the politics of a local congregation?  What are the practical steps to offer effective pastoral care to real people in a real church?

I have great respect for local/lay pastors.  Their passion for Jesus Christ and their commitment to serve inspires me.  Many of these pastors work a full-time job in the secular world and then also do the difficult job of leading a church.  I don’t want to leave them out of this discourse.  I’m sure there are reforms needed in their training as well.  I have not spoken of their situation only because I do not know enough to speak to it.  One thing I do know, I believe these local and lay pastors should have more voice in our conferences.  They should not be excluded from voting for delegates to general and jurisdictional conferences.  These faithful ministers of Christ have great practical wisdom to share and their faith is firm.  We need their voice.

Honor and Advance What is Already Great About the UMC
We must also honor what is already great about the United Methodist denomination.  If you are reading this, you are probably already a United Methodist or you wouldn’t spend time reading such UMC-centered material.  Therefore, I assume there are (or were) many great things about this denomination that drew you to the UMC.  So, even as we consider how things in the UMC must change, there are many things in this denomination we must also keep (and even advance).  

The UMC is a grace-filled denomination that has historically maintained a delicate balance between grace and truth.  Contrary to the accusations of many progressives, conservatives are not a bunch of Pharisees who care about rules more than people.  We are an open, welcoming people.  We realize everyone struggles with sin.  Divorce, sexual sin, substance abuse, and many other sins are part of the human condition and all who struggle with these and other sins are tenderly welcomed at the table of Jesus Christ who gave His life to redeem us.  The UMC has lost its delicate balance over the last few years, not because we turn away people who struggle with sins like homosexuality, but because progressives wish to claim sex between two people of the same gender is not sin (even though Scripture consistently says it is). So, we must always be a denomination that welcomes and loves all people, despite their sin, and offers God’s grace and forgiveness that leads to a transformed life.  We must become even more gracious and welcoming.  Let us conservatives who adamantly defend the Truth of God’s Word about homosexuality (and all sin) be just as adamant that God’s grace is freely given to all people.  Let us be forever clear that it is the practice of homosexuality that is sinful, not same-sex attraction itself.  Only those who engage in homosexual behavior or are romantically involved with others of the same sex are acting contrary to God’s will on this matter.

Diversity and inclusiveness are buzzwords that have been drilled into United Methodists ad-nauseam.  Even so, at their root, these are good concepts that we’ve embraced because they truly reflect God’s will and also strengthen the Church.  United Methodism must remain a big tent that always includes people of many diverse backgrounds.  Evangelicals, charismatics, male and female, high-church and low-church people, advocates for traditional worship and innovators of new worship styles must all be welcomed and treated equally for their valuable contributions to God’s Kingdom.  We must always be a United Methodism that seeks racial and ethnic diversity.  Let us defend the rights of minorities and always ensure equal treatment. We must unequivocally affirm the long-standing effective ministry of women.  We must advocate for the equal treatment of women, the ordination of women as pastors, and the full acceptance of female leadership in every area of the UMC.   Let us be rid forever of all petty designations of “Jew and Gentile” that separate us and have nothing at all to do with the essentials of the faith according to the orthodox Wesleyan tradition.

Diversity and inclusiveness in an orthodox UMC must be more than a buzzword or report given at annual conference about the number of women and minorities represented.  We must open up all our pulpits and churches to cross-cultural appointments.  All churches should be available to be served by black, white, Asian, Latino, or female clergy.  These designations should not even be considered as reasons why a particular pastor cannot be appointed to a church.  We are all one in Jesus Christ.  We must "desegregate" the local church as well as the pulpit.

The UMC is a global denomination and the Church in Asia and Africa are our fastest growing segments—both in numbers and in spiritual depth.  Roughly 45% of United Methodists currently live outside the United States.  They will be a majority in a few years.  It’s time we start acting like a global denomination.  We must finally realize America is not the center of the Christian universe or the UMC.  Our commitment to diversity and inclusiveness must expand to the place where these brothers and sisters across the globe are treated as true equals.  We must do more than pay lip service to this ideal.  We must live into it in practical ways.  General conferences should be held in global locations.  Why do we still ask delegates from Africa, Asia, and Europe to travel halfway around the world to an American general conference?  Sometimes, we should travel to them.  We might learn some important things along the way.

We also need to learn from our faithful sisters and brothers across the globe.  We need to learn their theology and doctrine, their practice of ministry, and how they live as faithful disciples of Jesus.  The UMC is flooded with books and curriculums written by people in the US, many of which are weak and watered down or just wrapping the same old US ideas in new packaging.  Perhaps we should make it a priority to let others from around the world teach the US how to teach and preach.  The Holy Spirit is setting the UMC on fire around the globe.  Let Methodist churches, Sunday schools, and small groups in the US be set ablaze by the ideas and practices of those United Methodist Christians that are growing their churches exponentially in Africa and Asia. 

Summary
While many are frustrated and/or are pessimistic about the future of the United Methodist Church, I have great optimism.  The special called general conference this year proved that the majority of our denomination is still in favor of orthodox Christian doctrine founded upon Scripture.  Furthermore, the tide is changing in the UMC.  The orthodox voice calling for Scriptural holiness is now growing stronger.  Progressives who would redefine Christianity will not have the power to force their views upon conservative, so long as conservative remain true and do not abandon the UMC. 

To be sure, there are many more aspects of the UMC that need reform.  The fight over human sexuality was only one issue, which was really a symptom of deeper issues.  Much work is yet to be done to bring renewal.  However, I am confident we can focus more and more resources toward renewing our denomination and the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ now that we are beginning to move past the draining fight over homosexuality. 

In conclusion then, let me leave you with a simple list to summarize the strategies to make the UMC.  I admit these are not fully formed.  They need fleshing out.  I welcome your contributions to a better more effective United Methodist Church.
  • Do Not Leave the UMC
  • Focus More on Leading the Denomination
  • Clearly Understand and Teach Orthodox United Methodist Beliefs
  • Better Education and Training for Pastors
  • Honor and Advance What is Already Great About the UMC