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Showing posts with label UMC Split. Show all posts
Showing posts with label UMC Split. Show all posts

Monday, May 15, 2023

We Are Family

I’ve been reflecting a lot about my Mom and our relationship lately.  I guess because of Mother’s Day.  One thing I remember in particular is the day I left home to go off to college.  It was the day I “moved out” of my Mom’s house.

We went to eat lunch at the Texas Cattle Company in Macon.  I didn’t want orneed my Mom to go all the way up to Marietta to help me move in to college at Southern Tech.  Although she would have liked to, I felt I needed to do it on my own and she let me.

Even though I moved out of my Mom’s house, we remain connected. I visited every weekend and we talked often on the phone.  We were and are bound by love and always will be.  Regardless of whether we live in the same house, we will always be family.  I’m so thankful for all my Mom did for me—for her sacrifice, her love, her continued support—and for the legacy she passed on to me.

My relationship with my mom and my family are a good lead in to wwhat I want to share today.  I want to talk about family, but I want to broaden the concept of family beyond your biological family.  Jesus said family is deeper than blood relations. Jesus said in Matthew 12:50, “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!”

The Church is a family. We are connected to each other. And I want to discuss this connectionism among the followers of Christ in the Church.

Acts 15:22-29 tells about a special council the early followers of Christ held in Jerusalem to deal with an important issue in the growing Family of Christ, the Church.  You see, Jesus was Jewish.  The first disciples were Jewish.  The earliest followers were Jewish.  They followed Jewish religious customs laid out in the Old Testament.  (You know things like: don’t eat pork.  Don’t work on the Sabbath day.  Celebrate Passover.  Etc.) 

As the years went by, more and more non-Jewish people became Christians and started asking a legitimate question: Do non-Jewish people need to follow all the Jewish religious rules in order to be Christians?  And a really important issue was about circumcision.  Most Jews are circumcised at birth.  But if you became a Jew as an adult, you would need to be circumcised then.  So this was a important (and potentially painful) issue for the male gentiles who wanted to follow Christ.  Did they need to be circumcised and follow the Jewish laws of the Old Testament to be Christians?  So the Church had a big conference to discuss the issue and make a decision. Let’s read what they decided.

Acts 15:22
Then the apostles and elders together with the whole church in Jerusalem chose delegates, and they sent them to Antioch of Syria with Paul and Barnabas to report on this decision. The men chosen were two of the church leaders—Judas (also called Barsabbas) and Silas. 

Let’s pause here to consider.  The early Church felt it was important to speak as one body.
Christians are in connection.  Not individuals.  Not even individual congregations.  The early Christians wanted everyone across the whole church to believe and practice the same thing (as far as it was possible).  So they made a decision and sent representatives with the official decision in a letter.

Acts 15:23
This is the letter they took with them:

“This letter is from the apostles and elders, your brothers in Jerusalem. It is written to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. Greetings!

It's important to recognize that the Jerusalem council represented church congregations that spanned across a geographical area roughly the size of the Southeastern United States.  This was the Church--a large body of believers made up of hundreds of small local congregations that spanned throughout the middle east.  And they were all expected to follow the same rules.

Acts 15:24
“We understand that some men from here have troubled you and upset you with their teaching, but we did not send them! 

In other words, some people have made proclamations that don't represent the official positions of the  connection/family.  They had no authority to say what they said.

Acts 15:25-27
So we decided, having come to complete agreement, to send you official representatives, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We are sending Judas and Silas to confirm what we have decided concerning your question.

This is the official ruling for the connection.  Everyone in this family will follow the following ruling.

Acts 15:28-29
“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements:
 29 You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.”

The Take Aways for Today
There are 3 main take aways I want you to see today from this Scripture.  
  1. The Church is Connectional
  2. It’s not about rules. It’s about grace.
  3. Christians have the simplest of rules.
Let's look at each of these.  First of all, the Church is connectional. Christianity is not an individualistic faith.  Contary to popular opinion in 21st century America, faith is not a private matter.  We are a community, a family.  What you do matters to me. And what I do affects you.  Thus, we live together, worship together, serve together, and make decisions together.  And here’s the hard part for most people in America.  Our connection even goes beyond our local church.

The Local Church
It’s easy to feel loyalty to your own local congregation.  It’s also easy to fall into a trap where all you care about is your own local congregation.  We may appreciate other churches in in our community, but we are tempted to see our own church as more important.  If we're not careful, we may even see other congregations as competition.  However, our local church is only one small part of God's great Church.  And each little part is important and we are all on the same team.  We are not competing against each other.  There are plenty of people in our community that aren't part of any church.  There's more than enough unchurched people to go around.  We need not fight over who goes to what church. Let us work to include those who are not going to any church.

Our Household – The Denomination (The UMC???)
My local church is belongs to the United Methodist Church.  However, there are a lot of question marks in that affiliation for us right now because our congregation is preparing to vote on whether we wish to remain in the UMC.  Many feel the UMC is not follow the household rules anymore and we are finding it unbearable to remain in the same house.

Going back to the family analogy.  Did you ever hear parents say something like:  "If you're going to live in my house, you have to follow my rules.  If you don't like it, go get your own house."  And if your parents said that to you and you decided to move out, you might need to have a conversation about what you get to take with you.  Maybe your parents would say: "You can't take the care your driving.  That belongs to us!"  But you might argue back and say, "Hey!  I worked and earned the money for this car and bought it myself.  Just because the title is in your name doesn't mean it's fair for you to say it's yours."  And you might have to work out how to divide everything up.

Well that's sort of where we are in the UMC right now.  We can no longer agree to follow rules of the house. Many congregations are wanting to move out and into another house, but we have to decide what property we can take with us.  

My hope is that once people get to decide where they want to live (whether it's in the UMC or another denomination), we will all be able to get along better.  Because whether we are in the same household (denomination) or not, we are still family (relate by the blood of Christ).  We should be able to live together in peace and unity in our own household and be good neighbors to our extended Christian family outside our denomination.

Our Tribe – Methodist
The next level up on the Christian family tree is our tribe, which more me is Methodist (or you might even say Wesleyan).  There are numerous denominational families that belong to the Methodist tribe.  We all are strongly influenced by the theology of John Wesley. Our share Wesleyan theology includes things like Infant Baptism, an important emphasis on grace, and strong sacramental theology, among other distinctives.  The Methodist tribe--which includes the UMC, GMC, Salvation Army, The Nazarenes, Evangelical Methodist Church, Wesleyan Church, and many others--have a lot more in common with each other than we do with denominations in other tribes like the Baptist, Pentecostal, and Roman Catholic tribes.

The Church Universal 
The final level that includes every Christian, throughout all time, in every place, and in every denomination is the universal Church.  The rules for who belongs in this broadest category are very simple.  The chief requirement is that you repent of your sins and follow Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.  All who do this are part of the extended Christian family we call the Catholic Church (AKA the Church Universal).  We can respect, appreciate, and work with all Christians—regardless of denomination--and we should.  We are all followers of the same Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior. 

It’s Not About Rules.  It’s All About Grace.
Following Jesus is not about rules; it’s all about God's grace.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says, God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

The Jerusalem Council rejected legalism that tried to say Christians needed to follow Jewish religious laws in order to be saved.  The Christian Church clarified that following Christ is not about rules; it's about receiving God's grace through Jesus Christ.

There are still people today who will try to say you’ve got to do certain things in order to be a real Christian.  Some Pentecostals (not all but some) say you must speak in tongues in order to show you are really a Christian.  Some Baptists (not all but some) say you must be fully immersed in a believers baptism in order to be a real Christian.  Some Seventh Day Adventists (not all by some) say true Christians worship on Saturday (the seventh day) and eat the kinds of food the Old Testaments says we should eat.  The Jerusalem Council settled this in Acts 15.  It’s not about rules.  It’s about God’s grace received thru Jesus Christ. 

And in order that Christians may all live together in unity and peace, the Jerusalem Council laid out the simplest of rules for early Christians to follow:
  1. Don’t eat meat sacrificed to idols.
  2. Don’t eat blood.
  3. Don’t eat meat from strangled animals.
  4. Abstain from sexual immorality.
Numbers 1, 2, and 3 have to do with maintaining connections with Jewish Christians and not being a stumbling block to anyone.  The Apostle Paul clarified this in 1 Corinthians 8, 9, and 10.  Meat in the first century was almost always butchered as part of a religious sacrifice.  Jews could only eat kosher meat sacrificed to Yahweh.  But most meat sold in gentile meat markets had been sacrificed to idols or pagan gods.  Jews found such meat to be abhorrent to their faith.  Thus, Paul said, Christians should avoid eating meat sacrificed to pagan gods because it might lead someone to think Christians believed in and were honor false gods.  Paul's reasoning was that false gods don't really exist so meat sacrificed to them was not polluted in any way, but it was the conscious of the people who knew about the meat that mattered.  Even if a Christian knew there was nothing wrong with eating the meat, they should protect the consciousness of others who might think it mattered.

In 21st century America, we don't have to worry that meat was sacrificed to an idol or false god.  Although, we might need to pray about and consider other issues, like whether the meat was processed in an ethical way or by a business that treats their workers fairly or one that is a good steward of the environment.

The fourth rule of the Jerusalem council deals with actual sin that is abhorrent to God and destructive to people, relationships, and communities.  The Jerusalem council instructs Christians to abstain from sexual immorality.  Jesus, The Apostle Paul, and the letter of Jude all agree Christians should abstain from sexual immorality.  No where in the Bible does it allow for the faithful to be sexually immoral.

So really, you could say there are just 2 broad rules all Christians should follow.  So from 613 Jewish laws in the Old Testament, Christians come down to just 2:
  1. Don’t be a stumbling block.
  2. Don’t be sexually immoral.
Of course, we understand that living faithfully for Jesus requires wisdom.  We must let the Holy Spirit guide us to discern what is the right thing to do in any situation.  But it really is simple. And God is full of grace through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Because of the Jerusalem Council’s decision, Gentile believers were welcomed into the Church.  They joined in droves.  Within a few years, there were more Gentile Christians than Jewish ones.

Have you joined the Church?  What does that mean?  First of all it means to repent of your sin and give your life to Christ.  Turn away from your own selfish way of living and turn to Jesus.  Let Him be Lord of your life.  Follow Him and He will save you.  

Second, be baptized. Baptism doesn't save you, but it is the outward and visible sign Jesus commanded His followers to use to initiate new believers into the household of God.  God imparts grace to us through baptism to help us live as He wants us to live.  

Third, when you join a local congregation, you promise to support the church with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness.  Using the family analogy, joining a local church is like getting married.  You stand before God and witnesses and promise to be faithful to the church.  You declaration makes it possible to move into a deeper relationship with the family of God because everyone knows you are truly committed.

If you’ve already done all these, take some time to reflect what it means for you and if you’re being faithful to the family.  

If you need to do any of these, I can help. I would love to talk with you help welcome you into the family of God.

Monday, August 29, 2022

An Honest Disagreement Between Paul and Barnabas

For our last message in our series, I want to share a story from the New Testament when two Christian leaders parted ways.  The disagreement involved two heroes of the Christian faith—Paul and Barnabas.  And their dispute was about another Christian named John Mark, who probably wrote the Gospel of Mark that’s in your Bible.

Paul probably needs no introduction.  He was one of the giants of the Christian faith.  Paul, AKA Saul, was the greatest evangelist of the New Testament—maybe of all times.  Though Paul was not one of the original 12 Disciples who ministered with Jesus before the crucifixion, Paul was considered an Apostle because the resurrected Christ appeared to him and converted Paul from a persecutor of Christians to an evangelist who preached about Christ all over the world. Almost half of the books in the New Testament are attributed to Paul.

The average person knows a little less about Barnabas. Barnabas was one of the unsung heroes of the early Christian faith.  The first time we hear about Barnabas, he sold a field he owned and gave all the money to the apostles for the work of God’s Kingdom.  His real name was Joseph, but the apostles nicknamed him Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement”. Barnabas lived up to his nickname.  Barnabas is the guy who vouched for Paul helped the other Christians accept him.  Remember, Paul started out as a terrible villain—persecuting Christians.

"When [Paul] arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to meet with the believers, but they were all afraid of him. They did not believe he had truly become a believer! Then Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them how [Paul] had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus and how the Lord had spoken to [Paul]. He also told them that [Paul] had preached boldly in the name of Jesus in Damascus.  So [Paul] stayed with the apostles and went all around Jerusalem with them, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord."  (Acts 9:26-28)

Paul and Barny’s 1st Mission Trip
Paul and Barnabas made a good team.  The Holy Spirit appointed them to go on a mission trip together, preaching about Jesus and converting people to Christianity.  John Mark, who was Barnabas’ nephew, went too.  Their trip was a huge success—converting many people to Christianity, including the governor of Paphos.

But something else important happened on their first trip.  About halfway through the trip, Barnabas’ nephew, John Mark, left them and went home (though Scripture doesn’t say why).  But Paul and Barnabas soldiered own and were very successful, but they also met resistance.  They were chased out of town by a mob in one city, had rocks thrown at them by a mob in another city, and Paul was nearly stoned to death in yet a third city. 

When they returned home, “they called the church together and reported everything God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles, too” (Acts 14:27).  Paul and Barnabas continued to work together for some time as partners in ministry.

And that brings me to our Scripture for today and the disagreement I want to study.

Act 15:36-41
After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” 37 Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. 38 But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. 39 Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. 40 Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. 41 Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there.

Paul and Barnabas Disagree
Paul and Barnabas were both good men—willing to put their life on the line to serving the Lord.  But they disagreed “sharply” about John Mark.  Paul didn’t want to take John Mark on the next trip, but Barnabas did.  The Scripture says John Mark had “deserted” them on the last trip.  Why, we don’t know.  Was he homesick?  Was he afraid?  Did he have some kind of disagreement with Paul or Barnabas’ leadership?  We don’t know.  All we know is the Scripture says John Mark “deserted” them about halfway through the trip and went home.

This, apparently, was an insubordination and betrayal Paul couldn’t accept.  He didn’t trust John Mark anymore.  Paul would not have him on the mission team.  For Paul, the mission to tell people about Jesus was too important to be entrusted to a wishy washy kid like John Mark who may get tired or scared or homesick and abandon the cause.  Paul would not have it.

Barnabas was more understanding.  John Mark was his nephew and Barnabas was also an encourager and mentor.  His spiritual gift was seeing the best in people and working to bring it out in them, despite failures and setbacks.  Barnabas saw John Mark’s potential, despite how he’d failed on the last mission trip.  Barnabas wasn’t going to give up on Mark.

So, Paul and Barnabas separated.  Paul chose a disciple named Silas to be his ministry partner and they went one direction.  Barnabas chose Mark and they went another direction. 
And the work of the Lord continued in both directions

Who was right? Who was wrong?  We don’t know.  The Scripture doesn’t say.
We do know this.  Later in life, when Paul is an older man and facing martyrdom, he asked Timothy to send him Mark because "he will be helpful to me in my ministry." (2 Timothy 4:11)

Conflict Resolution Through Separation
I don't know about you, but I don't like arguments and fighting.  I always want everyone together along. If I can be open and vulnerable with you (and you will indulge me in a little self-psychoanalysis), I think it has a lot to do with my childhood. I grew up in a household where my parents were always fighting.  There was a lot of screaming and verbal (and sometimes physical) violence.  That had an affect on me.  

I grew into an adult who really doesn't like conflict.  So, I always want people to get along. I'm often the peacemaker trying to break up arguments. Even if people have a mildly awkward moment of disagreement, I'm liable to crack a joke to try and soothe things over.  My nature is often to avoid conflict, even when there's an honest disagreement that needs to be worked out. 

Thankfully, I know this about myself and I've learned in 48 years that some disputes will never be resolved if you don't have the courage to address it up front.  Most of the time, working through a dispute leads you to a place of understanding and respect and a stronger, healthier relationship. 

Unfortunately, there is sometimes no resolution to be had.  Sometimes your differences are about core issues and compromise isn’t an option.  If you can’t agree to disagree and still stay together, then the best thing may be to part company like Paul and Barnabas.

Think about how this principle might apply in every day practical life.  It might be at your job.  Do you have a dispute with your coworkers, your boss, or even the philosophy of your company?  You may need to resolve it or else learn to live with it.  If you can't live with it, it may be time to find a new job.  

What about other conflicts in your life?  Do you have a dispute with your friends?  Is it in your marriage or romantic relationship?  It could be a difference of opinions in you church?  In these situations there are options.  One is to do nothing.  That only works if the issue is not serious or ongoing.  A better option would be to talk the issue out honestly and try to come to a resolution.  Having an objective third party meet together with the to disputing parties can sometime be helpful.  If no resolution is possible and you can't live with the disagreement, it may be time to part company.

The United Methodist Church is facing severe divisions in our denomination about core values of our people.  We have tried for 50 year to resolve our conflict, but have been unsuccessful.  One side in the UMC believes God wants the UMC to ordain practicing gay people as pastors and also perform same-sex marriages.  Another side says the Bible teaches homosexuality is contrary to God’s will and we must be faithful to Scripture.  After decades of arguing fighting, we’ve come to the unfortunate conclusion that we have irreconcilable differences. Many bishops and denominational leaders have decided they will no longer abide y the denominations decisions or rules.  They are acting in ways many pastors and church members do not agree with and cannot live with.  A split is coming and is already happening.  

I have friends on both sides of the divide.  I plan to join the new Global Methodist Church as soon as it is feasible because I believe it is the most faithful path forward—and my calling as a minister is to be faithful to Christ as revealed in Scripture.  I am excited about the pitential for this new denomination to serve Christ.

I'm sad too, because I know I will have friends and colleagues I’ve worked alongside for 30 years who choose to stay in the UMC.  We will go our separate ways because our disagreements with one another are just as severe as that of Paul and Barnabas.  It breaks my heart, but unfortunately, it is necessary.

If you are a United Methodist too, I’m sure you also know people who disagree with you on this issue.  Maybe they’ve even questioned you about it.  (If they haven’t yet, someone probably will in the days ahead.)  You will undoubtedly find yourself with friends and colleagues and even family who were formerly in the same denomination as you and soon they will be in a different one. 

Multiplication Through Division
I know it’s sad, but I have a lesson from the garden that may give a bit of encouragement.  

I love garlic.  Garlic is one of the most common and useful ingredients in most cooking.  And there's nothing better than cooking with fresh garlic!  That’s why I started growing a lot of garlic in my garden a couple years ago. 

Garlic has a unique growing habit.  Rather than primarily propagating from a seed, garlic bulbs underground begin to divide an spawn new plants from the ground up.  If you've ever held a buld of garlic, your probably noticed inside may be 7 or more cloves of garlic.  Each clove is a potential new plant.  So from one bulb of garlic, you can potentially grow over 7 new garlic bulbs.  Garlic multiplies through division.

Paul and Barnabas separated, but their separation actually led to a multiplication for God’s Kingdom.
Sometimes God works through our disagreements and division.  What we see as division, God uses as a opportunity for multiplication.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we only had one worship service at my church.  When COVID struck,  we wanted to spread out more for social distancing.  So, we split our in-person worship into an early service and a regular service.  Plus, we added an online service for a total of three worship services.  After two and a half years, we have less concerns about overcrowding, but we still have the three services.  Sometimes it seems like there are fewer people in worship, because we look around and see less people sitting in the pews.  However actual average average worship per Sunday has increased.  (Our data is only for people in live worship and doesn't account for people who might watch the recorded service after it's over.)  So though the numbers may seem smaller, we've actually multiplied through division into three services.  My prayer would now be that all three services continue to grow in numbers.  (Wouldn't it be great if we needed to dive into four or more services?)

In the current UMC split, perhaps God will use the division to multiply the work of His Kingdom.  I trust God to take care of how it all turns out.  All I know to do is be faithful to what He is calling me to do and try to lead our church to do what I believe God wants us to do.  I trust God to work out all the rest.

What about your own life?  What divisions might you need to address?  What are you facing right now and what is God saying to you today?