By Michael Bowman
If man had his way, the plan of redemption would be an endless and bloody conflict. In reality, salvation was bought not by Jesus’ fist, but by His nail-pierced hands; not by muscle but by love; not by vengeance but by forgiveness; not by force but by sacrifice. Jesus Christ our Lord surrendered in order that He might win; He destroyed His enemies by dying for them and conquered death by allowing death to conquer Him.”― A.W. Tozer
The next day, Holy Saturday is a time of solitude and sabbath. It is a chance for us to meditate on the time that Jesus was dead and buried. This Saturday is one of anticipation because we know the end of the story.
We know that death is not the end. We know that, soon, Jesus is walking out of that tomb. Yet, we wait with anticipation and longing. We await the coming of the third day, where our true hope is found.
Because of Easter, you and I are new people living in a new world.
We fell away from what we were intended to be, as beloved daughters and sons created to bear the image God. Yet, on Easter, our image was restored. We have been mended back together, and our broken relationship with God has been made right again. This does not mean that evil no longer exists, for it does. However, its power is no longer final. We are living in the already but not yet, where all is now new, and yet God is continuing to restore all things. And this is what we come together to celebrate on Easter Sunday: the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
[author] [author_info]Michael is the grateful husband to Sara. They are the lucky parents of their son, Grady.
Michael has earned a B.A. in Religious Studies from UT-Chattanooga, and a Master of Divinity with an emphasis in Church Planting from Asbury Theological Seminary.
Michael enjoys spending time with Sara, running, good coffee, reading, and playing with their son. Being from Memphis, he is an avid Memphis Grizzlies fan.[/author_info] [/author]
By Michael Bowman
Our creation story in Genesis tells us that God made man (Hebrew word, adam) out of the dust of the ground (Hebrew word, adamah). God makes woman the same way. And God has a great plan for their lives.
The man and woman, as they walk with God in the cool of the day, learn how to be fully alive, how to tend and care for the garden, as well as how to tend and care for one another. Being fruitful and multiplying, as God had commanded them, became a natural part of what it meant to be alive. All was well.
That is until the man and woman wanted more. There was one forbidden tree that seemed to offer the more that the man and woman were looking for. They wanted to learn good and evil for themselves…they wanted to be like God. As they reached for that forbidden fruit and took turns eating it, they did, in fact, learn new things, but it was not quite what they expected. With each bite from the forbidden fruit, the man and woman learned fear, blame, guilt, and shame. When God comes looking for them, the man and woman now hide.
Then, the man and woman are sent out from the garden by God, and they learned a new reality – death.
“…you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” – Genesis 3:19
Or, as Eugene Peterson translates this verse, “…you started out as dirt, you’ll end up dirt.”
These words ring out from sanctuaries and chapels, homes and cathedrals, throughout the world every year on a Wednesday (known as Ash Wednesday) that begins a season known as Lent.
As it goes, people will enter into these sacred spaces and as these words are shared with them, a mixture of oil and ashes will be smeared (the church-y word is “imposed”) on their foreheads in the shape of a cross. This mark is a reminder of our mortality as humans – that one day, we will face the reality of death.
Lent has begun, and the reminder of the reality of death will ring in our ears for the next 40(ish) days.
HOW WE GOT HERE:
Advent begins the Christian year with the pregnant expectation of new life in God. At Christmas, birth has been given to new possibilities of life in God. During Epiphany, we, like naive children, or like the naive magi, dare to dream big and impossible dreams and journey after a seemingly unreachable star not knowing what may be waiting for us when we arrive.
And then we come to Lent. Lent is a season of adolescence. We have spent the last two months as childlike dreamers, but we now recognize our innocence has been lost. At Lent, we come to a full stop and take an account of who we are, or maybe who we have become. We look inward and focus on the difficult realities of ourselves, others, or the world around us. We allow ourselves to ask questions, work through doubt, and even wrestle for our identity and purpose.
Matthew tells a story in his Gospel about a ridiculous looking and sounding man named John. John baptized people, so he was known as John the Baptist…because that’s what he did (kind of like how Big Bird is named Big Bird because he’s a big bird…okay, sorry for that). Jesus, who happens to be John’s cousin, shows up one day to be baptized by John.
As Jesus comes up out of the water, God speaks and shares with everyone present exactly who Jesus is – “my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). The Holy Spirit descends and rests on Jesus like a dove. Then, the Holy Spirit immediately sends Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1). Notice, Jesus was not led by the Spirit into public ministry – preaching, healing, etc. – but into the wilderness to be tempted.
This is meant to cause the reader to remember the story of God’s people when he rescued them from slavery in Egypt. The Book of Exodus shares with us how God’s people, the Israelites, spent 40 years in the wilderness (the desert) before God led them into the Promised Land.
In both stories, one may notice how God provides for Jesus and his people. When the devil leaves Jesus, we are told the angels minister to him. Even while the Israelites were wandering through the wilderness, God provided them with “manna” that they may continue to be fed.
LENT FOR YOU AND ME:
During Lent, we not only remember these stories, but we enter into our own wilderness – whatever it may be. Our journey in Lent begins with a reminder that we will die one day – all of us. Throughout Lent, if we allow it, we enter into the wilderness and face head-on our present temptations, the threats of evil in our world today, our biggest questions and doubts, how we may need to die to ourselves to make more room for Christ, and all of the ways in which we have misplaced our loyalties or our desires. In the wilderness, we can see more clearly the places in our lives where we need healing most, the aspects of who we are that need to be made whole, or the dead places in us and around us that need to be restored back to life.
“Lent invites us to risk the journey through death to life, to enter a wilderness filled with danger, to enter the desert where both God and the evil one dwell.” – John H. Westerhoff III
(I can’t get through one of these without quoting this guy…)
If you are like me, you may want to skip Lent completely. It might sound because Lent, as a whole, sounds too sad. Maybe, all you know about Lent is that we are supposed to give up sugar or Facebook, and you don’t want to give up either. Or, maybe, you would rather skip Lent and get to Easter, because Easter means feasts, time with family, pastel colors, and smiling faces.
The good news for us is that Lent is a season devoted to giving us room to remember just how easy it is for us to forget that we are totally dependent on God and his grace for life, itself.
Lent is not a season to be skipped over. The season is set aside to allow followers of Jesus to form new habits rooted in spiritual disciplines. It is a time where God’s people rid themselves of comforts or things of this world, to create more room for God in their lives. Really, Lent can be thought of as a time where we open our broken selves to God to allow him to make us whole.
Though Lent is 40-plus days long and can feel long, the wait is worth it. Lent ends with perhaps the biggest and greatest celebration of the entire Christian year…
Easter is coming.
Yet, to skip over Lent would be to miss the point of Easter.
Without death, there is no resurrection.
The apostle Paul said it another way – “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies…What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.” (1 Corinthians 15:36,42)
We begin Lent with ashes being smeared onto our foreheads and being told that we will die. We are adolescents searching for our identity in the dark. Yet, we end Lent with an acknowledgment of who we are and what we live for, on the cusp of our new story – we are to become witnesses and recipients of God bringing the dead back to life.
Again, most people think Lent is a time where we are supposed to give up stuff we like – social media, sugar, fatty foods, laughter, or fun (just kidding about those last two). But this would be missing the point.
This Lent, try something different.
First, go to an Ash Wednesday service and be reminded of your mortality. Then, give yourself time and space each day going forward to look inward. Enter into the wilderness, knowing that you are not going alone – the Spirit is with you. Search for how you have been trying to define yourself, for the ways in which you have done wrong, for the questions and doubts that you may have, for the areas in your life that need healing, or for the dead parts of your life that need to be brought back to life. Ask God to help you. Fast. Give yourself time for silence. Read the Scripture. Listen.
As you do this, you may begin to find broken areas of your life. Offer these areas of brokenness to God. Allow him to make these places whole.
Dare to remember that God made life from ashes, and he is going to do it again.
A Word from Pastor Paul on the Methodist Protocol
By Paul Lawler
Grace to you, Christ Church family.
Last Friday, many of you read the news of leaders in The United Methodist Church entering into an agreement for a protocol of an amicable separation of the denomination. You can read the actual document here. I trust the news of the United Methodist denomination splitting did not catch you off guard since I have kept you informed on these developments through blog posts, “Word(s) from Pastor Paul” delivered to your email inbox, Fireside Chats in worship gatherings, meetings with Sunday school classes, small groups, and numerous meetings with church members over meals and cups of coffee.
As I have shared before, the United Methodist denomination is in a constitutional crisis. The United Methodist Book of Discipline, which every ordained minister has vowed to uphold, is blatantly being disobeyed by bishops and ministers in several Annual Conferences throughout the United States. Because of the ongoing violation of by-laws, new legislation was passed by a simple majority vote at last year’s called General Conference to seek to restore good order to the denomination. Regardless, bishops and clergy in multiple regions of the United States have continued to defy the order of the church, which is the very covenant they vowed to uphold upon their ordination. In the words of one pastor, “the anarchy has been excruciating.”
The United Methodist denomination is also in theological crisis. Contrary to what you hear in the news media, the divide in U.S. United Methodism is not just about the theological view of the body and human sexuality. Human sexuality, and the attempts to redefine marriage for the church, is merely the presenting issue that is a symptom of much deeper issues. Dr. Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary, which educates more future United Methodist clergy for pastoral ministry than any seminary in the world, unpacks this issue in another way through his article titled, Orthodoxy vs. Heterodoxy: The Fundamental Divide in the United Methodist Church. David French refers to this in his post, The Sad, Necessary Division of the United Methodist Church. Here’s a brief quote from his article:
The secular media will cast the divide primarily in the terms it understands—as focused on “LGBT issues”—but that’s incomplete. The true fracturing point between Mainline and Evangelical churches is over the authority and interpretation of scripture. The debate over LGBT issues is a consequence of the underlying dispute, not its primary cause…there is a strain of Protestant Christianity that views the Bible as valuable but not infallible or inerrant. Evangelical Christians, by contrast, strongly dissent from that view.
The reason the most recent plan for dividing the United Methodist Church received so much media attention last week is rooted in its broad support from eight Bishops, including a Bishop from Africa (where over five million United Methodist Christians reside), and a diverse set of leaders of constituencies within United Methodism in the U.S. Even though there were already nine plans on the table for dividing the United Methodist denomination, this latest proposal (which now brings us to ten) may have the greatest chance of passing at the 2020 General Conference.
What would this mean for the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church?
Following the adjournment of the 2020 General Conference, annual conferences may vote to align with any such new Methodist denominations formed pursuant to the Protocol.
An annual conference could vote to disaffiliate with the expression of Methodism that wishes to redefine Christian marriage as being between two men or two women; and could then vote to affiliate with a new traditional, orthodox, Methodist denomination. A vote of 20 percent or more at an annual conference session would be needed to have the disaffiliation vote, and a disaffiliation vote would have to pass by 57 percent. The disaffiliation vote deadline is July 1, 2021.
Do you believe it is likely for the North Alabama Conference to disaffiliate with the present United Methodist Church, and affiliate with a new, traditionally orthodox, Methodist denomination?
While not conclusive, I do believe this is likely. Clergy, Local Pastors and Lay-delegates will have a vote on this matter. Our Annual Conference has voted in a traditional, orthodox direction, by a 2/3rds majority for many years.
What would this mean for Christ Church and her future?
If our Annual Conference votes to disaffiliate with the present expression of United Methodism, and then decides to join the new traditionally orthodox Methodist denomination, we are not required to have a vote. Christ Church would be a part of the new Methodist denomination by virtue of the vote of the majority of the Annual Conference.
If our Annual Conference did not vote to join the new Methodist denomination, then the Council on Servant Ministries (our leadership body) would determine a threshold of a simple majority or two-thirds for the vote of the membership on whether to separate and join the new Methodist expression. Decisions about disaffiliation must be made by December 31, 2024. A local church affiliating with another Methodist denomination “pursuant to the protocol” would keep its assets and liabilities.
Local churches which desire a different affiliation than its Annual Conference may conduct an affiliation vote to consider a different affiliation. If such a vote occurs, the church council (e.g., its Administrative Board or Council or its Leadership Board) shall determine a voting threshold of either a simple majority or two-thirds of those present and voting at a duly called church conference in order for the motion to opt for a different affiliation to be adopted. The vote on a motion to opt for a different affiliation shall occur in a church conference held not more than 7 60 days after the request is made by the church council. The church conference must be held in consultation with the District Superintendent who shall authorize such a church conference to be conducted. Decisions about affiliation by a local church must be made by December 31, 2024. If a local church does not vote, it remains a part of the Methodist denomination selected by its Annual Conference.
If Christ Church were to affiliate with the new Methodist denomination, are there benefits?
Yes. There are many.
We would no longer be a part of the ongoing constitutional and theological crises that has cost the church millions of dollars, and untold hours of human capacity. We would be a part of a denomination whose primary focus becomes making disciples for the transformation of the world.
Our apportionments paid to the denomination, which are in the tens of thousands of dollars and fund an outdated form of church hierarchy, would no longer exist. This would free up large sums of cash flow for local and global mission, paying down debt, and general ministry.
The assets and property (the buildings and land Christ Church sits on) would no longer be owned by the denomination, but by Christ Church United Methodist. The trust clause, found in the United Methodist Book of Discipline, would no longer exist. The trust clause, which was established with good intent over a hundred years ago, would no longer be misused as a modern tool of control.
We would join other like-minded Methodist Christians, and would thus experience a greater synergy in our task of making disciples. “Best practices;” rooted in Wesleyan theology; are currently under development in six key areas for a future, new Methodist denomination:
- Accountable Discipleship – identifying, developing and deploying effective models for disciple- making as an integral part of the ministry of local churches, and communicating the necessity of every Christ-follower embracing the call to be disciples and to be makers of disciples.
- Church Multiplication – the establishment of new local churches or the launching of additional sites of existing churches particularly in communities where there is no witness to the historic Christian faith in the Wesleyan tradition and where existing churches are not reaching significant communities in a geographic area.
- Church Revitalization – empowering existing churches to embrace ministries that will renew and restore the mission of the church for new generations and in communities experiencing significant changes.
- Global Missional Partnerships – developing and deploying effective partnerships for local churches to be in ministry with one another globally across geographic boundaries to advance the Kingdom of God and reach people of diverse cultures with the love of Jesus.
- Missional Ministry in the Margins – identifying and deploying effective models for local churches to be in ministry with the poor, marginalized, addicted, and recovering.
- Ministry with Young People and Young Adults – addressing the challenge for local churches in reaching teens, shepherding them through the transition to adulthood, and engaging those who are navigating further education or entering the workforce so that they continue as committed Christ-followers.
If we chose to affiliate with a new Methodist denomination, would we still support United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and the United Methodist Children’s Home (UMCH)?
Yes! Both of these entities are worthwhile ministries that are making a great impact!
What happens to the pension plans of The United Methodist Church and the pension benefits of its clergy?
The pension plans of The United Methodist Church will remain in place for all current clergy and lay employees affiliated with The United Methodist Church, regardless of the Methodist denomination under this Protocol with which they affiliate. The liability of Annual Conferences and local churches for pension benefits shall transfer with such entities to the Methodist denomination pursuant to the Protocol with which they affiliate.
What advice do you have in regard to next steps?
- Pray (James 5:16). Pray for your pastors, the church staff, our church family, our Annual Conference, and the entire denomination. Pray for the “will of God to be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
- Don’t believe everything you hear or read (1 John 4:1). There are many writing and saying things through news and social media that are fabrications and not facts; some of which conflicts with Scripture or are mischaracterizations. As a Christian, it is an imperative to be biblically discerning.
- Do not move in fear (See 2 Timothy 1:7). Realize that the Methodist Church has expressed multiple iterations throughout the course of her history (Methodist, Methodist Episcopal, United Methodist, Free Methodist, Nazarene, etc.) As recent as 1968, we were simply The Methodist Church before merging with the Evangelical United Brethren. In hindsight, history will demonstrate this merger was an experiment that, when blended with other factors, did not work. Regardless, the church has demonstrated over time that she will continue to exist, even if the name changes. We, as a people called Methodists, will have a future, no matter what.
- Move in truth wed with grace (John 1:17). While we hold to biblical truth, let us move in grace and compassion for all people. We welcome people into our small groups and worship gatherings who are battling all types of struggles. We have alcoholics, co-dependents, persons struggling with heterosexual temptations, and recovering Pharisees. We also have same-sex attracted persons who are active in the life of Christ Church. Let us remember, in the midst of standing for biblical fidelity, to always operate in a spirit of love wed with the transforming power of the gospel offered to all persons. Let’s move in truth wed with grace. That is what Jesus does. This is Who Jesus is.
- Attend the January 25th Southeast Regional Gathering of United Methodist at Clearbranch United Methodist Church from 9:00 a.m. till 12:00 p.m. The theme of this gathering is, Why the Best Days of Methodism are Ahead of Us, and will feature Dr. Chris Ritter as speaker. The day will also feature Annual Conference delegation members from around the southeast sharing in an informative panel discussion.
- Be mindful that God is up to something life-giving and new!!! This phase of Methodist church history will serve to birth something that will touch the world in a powerful way. I will be sharing more with you around all of this soon.
Remember, in all you do, you represent Christ and His church. We do not want the church to be the focus of satire; but to be truly known as a people who glorify God, treasure Jesus Christ, love others, and make disciples of all peoples. May God give us His grace to love well. May God give us His grace to stand on His truth. May God give us His grace to wed love and truth together in a manner that Christ is reflected well.
See you this Sunday as we gather to worship at 8:15, 9:30 or 11:00 a.m.
For His renown,
Paul Lawler is the Lead-Pastor of Christ Church UMC. He and his wife, MJ, have four children and one daughter-in-law. In addition to serving as a pastor, Paul and his brother, Dallas area businessman Patrick Lawler, founded two Patricia B. Hammonds Homes for orphans at high risk for human trafficking in Thailand. The homes are operated through the international ministry of the Compassionate Hope Foundation. Paul also serves on the boards of The Wellhouse, New Water Farms, and the East Lake Initiative. He often tweets Kingdom thoughts at @plawler111.
The Journey of Epiphany
And what it means for us
By Michael Bowman
Celebrating the Original Journey
In the Church, the season celebrated after Christmas is called Epiphany. At Christmas, our major focus is on God coming to his people. During Epiphany, the focus shifts to our going to God.
In our last Advent post, we paid some attention to a group of people Matthew calls “wise men from the East.” These men were some of the only people to recognize that Jesus Christ had been born. And of the few people who actually took notice of Jesus’ birth, these “wise men” journeyed far to witness it.
Not only that, but when they showed up in Jerusalem, they went straight to the King and asked where this newly born “King of the Jews” was so that they could pay him homage (See Matthew 2.)
But again, we do not know much about these men. We know that these group of individuals realized the child being born in Bethlehem from Micah’s prophecy would be a ruler, a shepherd, to God’s people, Israel (See Micah 5.) Other than that, we know they were from the East and were totally bent on finding this baby king to show him the respect he deserved.
Being from the East, these people had to make some kind of journey in order to even see this child. And Epiphany is all about celebrating that journey.
At Epiphany, we are invited to celebrate the journey of all God’s people who are seeking after God and his Kingdom. We are all looking for hope, peace, love, justice, holiness and wholeness.
The wise men were, too. They were naive enough to believe what a prophet had spoken hundreds of years before, and decided to risk a journey to a distant land with only a star for a guide. Come on, these people were dreamers at the very least.
But they went anyway. They had an idea of what might be waiting for them at the end of their journey, but they had no clue what to expect. They packed up gifts custom fit for a king, having no clue what the King would be like. And what they found when they reached the end of their quest brought them to their knees.
“The feast of Epiphany invites us to listen to the voice of God and step forth on a spiritual pilgrimage; to enter a new secular year forgetting all that lies behind and ignoring all that seems reasonable today; to trust in the possibility of God’s dream and go forth carrying with us the gold of love, the incense of longing, and the myrrh of suffering. Epiphany invites us to dream the impossible dream and strive with the last ounce of our courage to reach the unreachable star.”
(John H. Westerhoff III, A Pilgrim People)
I could not say it any better than that.
Be Still and Know
During Epiphany, we continue seeking out, turning over rocks, and looking around every corner for God’s Kingdom. We pay attention for God’s activity in us and around us. And in doing so, we are to manifest the present reality of God’s Kingdom to others around us.
We should follow in stride how Andrew ran and grabbed his friend Simon Peter after meeting Jesus, saying to him, “We have found the Messiah! Come and see!” (John 1:40-42). Or even Philip who finds Nathanael and shares the same message, “We have found the guy that Moses and all of the prophets were talking about! Come and See!” (John 1:43-46).
As we experience the good news of Jesus, we are to share it with others. We are to teach in the way Jesus taught, not for the transfer of information, but for life transformation. That may mean talking less and listening more.
Jesus was all about show and tell. His main message was the Kingdom, but not only did he talk about it, he revealed what it was like. He was inclusive. He ate with, talked with, and spent time with the outcasts and marginalized. He went to parties and made them better. He spent time with the lowest in society and those who were well-off in the culture of his day.
We are to continue in this way. May I remind you that Jesus calls us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-20). And in being so, we are to be an epiphany for others. For example, when we love our neighbors as we are commanded to do, we are to love in such a way that brings about God’s reign and rule, his justice and peace, his freedom and equality, unity and wholeness, for all that we encounter.
This Epiphany season, stop and be still long enough to hear God’s voice, in whatever way he may be speaking to you. Then, dare to follow through on what he says.
Listen to him. Remember Jesus’s transfiguration when God speaks from the cloud, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5).
Believe him. Accept his invitation for a free and light life (Matthew 11:28-30) and go to him.
Don’t Miss Christmas
By Michael Bowman
So, pause. Do not miss it.
The Birth, According to…
But who were these “wise men?”
We Three… Dudes?
These “wise men” or “magi” as most scholars agree are better referred to as astrologers. They were not kings, and there is no evidence that there were only three of them (don’t believe the Christmas carol.)
It can’t be more clear: they all missed it.
The Free Gift of Christmas
Michael Bowman is the Student Minister at Christ Church UMC. He is the grateful husband of Sara and dad to Grady. Michael earned his B.A. in Religious Studies from UT-Chattanooga, where he met Sara. He also holds a Master of Divinity with an emphasis in Church Planting from Asbury Theological Seminary. Michael enjoys spending time with Sara, running, good coffee, reading, playing basketball, and playing with their two dogs, Gus and Lily. As a good Memphis native, Michael is an avid Memphis Grizzlies fan.
Follow him on Twitter: @bichaelmowman