History begins with an explosion of Divine creativity. Eden is birthed and man lives in communion with God, in harmony with creation, and in the gift of God’s shalom. And yet, even in this glorious state, God declares one thing is not good. What is this one thing? God declares, “It is not good for man to be alone.”
God declares isolation is not good. God’s intent for creation, and more specifically, God’s intent for people, is not independence and aloneness. Rather, it is to experience life-giving connectedness with God and with the imago Dei. Inter-dependence is one of God’s sacred gifts.
Behavioral research reinforces our awareness of the negative impact of isolation, characterized by high levels of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, insomnia, and stress. Both biblical revelation, as well as clinical research, reinforces our understandings of isolation’s dark effects.
Professional counselors have a bird’s eye view of COVID19’s isolating effects on individuals and families. Over the last 8 months, the isolation associated with COVID19 has created a significant surge in persons seeking help as “shelter in place” orders were issued in the spring, lay-offs and furloughs were implemented late in the summer as PPP funds were depleted, and struggles with addictions and mental health among the masses intensified. For those active in Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Narcotics Anonymous, and many other twelve-step programs, being with other people is essential to experience recovery. In 12-step communities, COVID’s isolating effects have been devastating for individuals and families. Missy and I couldn’t help but notice how busy the liquor store became at the entrance to Costco at the outbreak of the pandemic. This would be confirmed in due time, along with its tragic effects, through well-written articles.
Christian Pastors have a dual-lens in this era of history; one that observes the negative effects of a pandemic on mental health, as well as one that beholds the negative effect COVID has had on the purposes of the Church and the spiritual health of her people (When you see the word, “church” try to think “people” and not an institution).
Think and reflect prayerfully on the following, with the realization of God’s intent for the good of His people wed with His glory:
The New Testament blazes with the white-hot admonition for Christians not to neglect our regular rhythms of coming together:
“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do;” Hebrews 10:25 (NLT)
The New Testament burns with intensity regarding the importance of what we practice in our coming together:
We are to “spur one another on to good works,” “love one another,” “bear one another’s burdens,” “forgive one another,” “forebear with one another.” In fact, the “one-anothers” are used 100 times in 94 verses in the
New Testament to instruct us in how we are to be intentional in caring for one another and “building each other up” as we come together.
The New Testament boils with passionate language in how we are to channel our devotion:
“They devoted themselves to . . . fellowship.” Acts 2:42 (NLT)
In the Greek text, the word translated devoted (proskartereo) means “hold fast to something, continue or persevere in something.” In other words, we are to hold fast and persevere in being intentional about being with one another. (You can watch and listen to teaching on this topic HERE).
John Wesley, when speaking of one of the purposes of the church regarding Christians growing in sanctification, affirmed the following conviction, “There is no holiness but social holiness.” Wesley’s context for this statement is not related to social justice as some have falsely claimed. Rather, he is referring to Christians needing to experience social connectedness with other Christians to develop in Christ-likeness. This matter was so convictional for Wesley he developed the methods of Methodism through the gathering of societies, bands, and class meetings. To be a Methodist Christian was to be disciplined in regular discipleship rhythms taking place through deep connections with other believers.
As we live in a pandemic, we will continue to see upticks in COVID cases in the Winter months to come. And even after the COVID19 vaccine is distributed, we will still be living with COVID in our midst for a while. There is no perfect, completely safe time to come back together for social connectedness in worship and discipleship in the near future. And in light of occasional surges of COVID, I honor the difficult decisions our Council on Servant Ministries has had to make over these many months. When we do return, which I hope will be sooner than later, we will continue to wear masks and social distance. And if you are elderly or immuno-compromised, one needs to be mindful of making choices that are best for you as it relates to being in crowds.
United Methodist theologian, Dr. Kevin Watson, appealed to the church back in August to not let fear govern decisions regarding gathering for in-person worship. Watson’s urging was based on encouraging the church not to forsake the purposes for which she was created, which is all the more important in the lives of people living in the context of a pandemic. He stated,
“Study Gnosticism, why it is a heresy, and why the body is an essential part of the Christian life and part of what needs to be saved. Corporate worship with bodies present matters. There are going to be seasons in the midst of a pandemic when it is impossible to responsibly gather corporately in the flesh. But we must not pretend that what we do in the midst of those times is as good as the physically gathered body. It just isn’t.”
As we navigate through a unique time, it is essential that we do not fall into default thinking that believes I can both give myself to God and not give myself to His Body. We are designed for both. The vertical is the priority, and the horizontal is the result. For some of you reading this, you were not active with the body of Christ before the pandemic. This is a good time to ask yourself what God would want to teach you. Perhaps corporate worship and discipleship with others is something you did not see or appreciate before; but COVID, and the isolation it has created, serves to awaken your spiritual senses. Being in-person with your church family is not a matter of personal preference; it is a matter of God’s design.
This is a good hour in history to ask ourselves: Are these matters convictional or optional for me as a Christian? Is my participation in the gathering of the body of Christ to magnify God through worship, and participating in discipleship gatherings merely a part of routines I had grown accustomed to before COVID, or are they seen as essential purposes for my life?
A.W. Tozer, in his classic work, “Man, The Dwelling Place of God,” writes,
“The important thing about man is not where he goes when he is compelled to go, but where he goes when he is free to go where he will. The apostles went to jail, and that is not too revealing because they went there against their will; but when they got out of jail and could go where they would they immediately went to the praying company. From this we learn a great deal about them. The choices of life, not the compulsions, reveal character.
A man is absent from church on Sunday morning. Where is he? If he is in a hospital having his appendix removed his absence tells us nothing about him except he is ill; but if he is out on the golf course, that tells us a lot. To go to the hospital is compulsory; to go to the golf course, voluntary. The man is free to choose and he chooses to play instead of to pray. His choice reveals what kind of man he is. Choices always do.”
For many of God’s people, there is a longing to press into the purposes for which we were created; not because gathering with other believers is familiar or it’s our normal routine, but because gathering with other believers is the kind of people we are. For many, gathering with fellow believers for worship and discipleship is not optional, it’s convictional.
To gather with other believers to glorify God, treasure Jesus Christ, love others, and make disciples of all peoples, is to step into the very purposes for which we were created. It is also a sign of faithfulness to the vows most of us made before a Holy God when we committed to being in membership with a local body of believers through our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.
The late Tom Wood, one of the saints of Christ Church, used to say, “The one thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history.” The following is certain, we will come out of this pandemic at some point. We have had multiple pandemics in history. We have come out of all of them.
What is uncertain is this; will you come out of this pandemic the same? Will you come out of this pandemic with a fresh resolve for Christ? Will you come out of this pandemic with a fresh commitment to worship and discipleship in person, present with His body, and expressing mission together to a dying world? Will you waste your wilderness, or will you allow God to do a new work in you for His glory?
If you can answer rightly in God’s eyes, Eden awaits you.
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 of Hope 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, The Compassionate Hope Foundation, and the East Lake Initiative. He often tweets Kingdom thoughts at @plawler111.
By Bill Tiemann
It has been quite a long time since we have been able to gather in person for worship. Because of the covid-19 pandemic worshiping online has been the only option available to us. You may be wondering just exactly how does one worship online? To answer this question let us first determine what worship is. According to Miriam Webster the definition of worship is: 1. to honor or show reverence for a divine being or supernatural power and 2. to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion. Worship is a verb, indicating that there is to be some sort of action, an expression, a demonstration. Worship is not something that is just watched or observed.
Scripture tells us that we are to express our love and devotion to our God through the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. We show reverence as we come before our God with our prayers and words of affirmation. We express our extravagant respect as we hear the word of God being taught by our pastor. These are all things that require some sort of action from us. That’s easy, you say, when we are gathered with the entire congregation, but it feels silly for me to sit on my couch in front of my TV or device singing a hymn or song out loud. Let me ask you this question then: do you feel silly screaming and expressing your joy and delight in front of your TV when your favorite football or baseball team is winning? Probably not. Let us all worship in spirit and in truth expressing our sincerest love and respect for God as we gather in spirit through the media of video worship.
Here are some practical tips on how to worship online
- Prepare your heart for worship: before you push that play button on your device spend a few moments in prayer asking the spirit of God to be with you and to open your heart to accept a word from Him.
- Sing the hymns and songs aloud expressing your innermost love and respect for God. Sing quietly if you must or even sing within your heart but sing the words as an expression of worship.
- Read aloud the words of affirmation and scripture readings as if you were gathered with the larger congregation.
- Hear the Word of God: Listen to the words of the teaching from the pastor and apply them to your life as you go forward in your daily living.
- Hear the still small voice of God: sensing the leadership of the Holy Spirit as you worship.
- Give of your Best: Remember that the giving of your tithes and offerings is also an act of worship. Things are different now, at least for the time being, which means you may have to give online or through the mail but giving is important.
- Go forth to serve: Corporate worship (when we are all gathered in person) is extremely important. Remember that real worship expresses itself as we go about our daily lives. We live out our expression of adoration and praise to God as we interact with our friends and neighbors in the workplace, where we shop, at school and online.
To God Alone Be Glory and Praise
Traditional Worship Leader &
Pastoral Care Minister
Christ Church United Methodist
Almighty God, on this day through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, you revealed the way of eternal life to every race and nation. Pour out this gift anew, that by the preaching of the Gospel, your salvation may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
– Book of Common Prayer
Spring Break and the Spirit
During one spring break in college, I was a part of a smaller team made up of students from our college ministry, scouting our missionary opportunities in Belize. I spent an entire day in the back of a truck with one of my buddies named Ryan. We were driven from village to village across the country by a man we had met for the first time early that morning. Soon, we pulled up to an orphanage at sundown to join the rest of our group, who had been playing with the children for most of the day.
I was supposed to give a sermon that night after dinner during worship. Before the trip, I had prepared what I might talk about, what Scripture I could use, what stories I could tell, etc. But after spending a few days in Belize, and an entire day in the back of a truck and helping with various physical tasks, I realized that nothing I had prepared would have mattered.
When we got out of the truck, Ryan and I made a beeline to this small concrete plot with a basketball goal and joined some of the kids from the orphanage for a game of two on two. It was during this game where I realized that what I had prepared to talk about wasn’t going to work.
We were called into their bigger room, and I was asked to find a spot toward the front of the room. Sweating and still catching my breath from the game, my mind started to race as I thought about what I would say when I got up to speak. I couldn’t think of anything, so I prayed. I asked that God would still use me and give me words.
So I stood up, looked at all of the children – ranging from babies to a couple of guys who had just turned 18 and were soon going to be leaving home – and I smiled. The only words I could say were, “Jesus loves you.” I remember asking, “Do you know that? Do you know that Jesus loves you?” And as those words came out of my mouth, every child broke out in song – “Jesus loves me this I know…”
And as I smiled even bigger, tears started rolling down my face. I have never been so moved by the Spirit in my entire life.
We are told that when the day of Pentecost came, Jesus’ disciples were together and sitting in a house. Now, we are told that among them were the original 11 disciples, a new guy named Matthias (who had just been added to the 11), some certain women, Jesus’ mom, and Jesus’ brothers. We know they are back in Jerusalem, and they are sitting in a house, and I would guess that they are a bit on edge. Jesus, now risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, has informed them that they are to receive the Holy Spirit and be his witnesses in Jerusalem (where they are), Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Then, as they were watching Jesus ascend, some angels asked them what they were doing and told them to get on with it – to get back to Jerusalem because Jesus has given them something to do.
But now, they are sitting in a house in Jerusalem – waiting.
I am sure they were praying. They were probably discussing all of this over and coming up with the best plan as to how they might actually carry out this whole “witnessing” thing that Jesus has given them to do.
And then, it got really loud…think wind tunnel, the rush of air thundering in your ear so loud that you can’t think kind of loud. And then, tongues of fire. Yes, you read that right. Tongues of fire appear above the disciples’ heads, glowing as they descend upon each of them and rest there. The disciples are then filled with the Holy Spirit, giving them the ability to speak the languages of all who are present in Jerusalem – those who have come to celebrate the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost).
Of course, you are probably familiar with what happens next. Crowds gather together. People are amazed but shocked. The disciples are accused of being drunk at 9 am. And Peter delivers an incredible sermon. Then, 3,000 people come to faith and are baptized. The church of Jesus Christ is birthed.
For the followers of Jesus today, Pentecost provides the opportunity to become aware of the gift of the Spirit and the birth of the church. Because God’s Spirit came to us, we as Christ’s body have been brought to life and given the power to know God’s will and do it.
Here is the thing though…
This world presents plenty of challenges. To be completely transparent, most of the time, I feel like the disciples might have felt when Jesus was ascending to heaven before their eyes. I would surely have been thinking, “Oh no, what now?” Surely they began to feel hopeless or worried, even with Jesus’ final words still ringing in their ears. At least one of them must have asked, “How am I supposed to do that? If they killed Jesus, what will they do with me?”
Think about your life. If you are like me, there have been moments of doubt, despair, or helplessness – especially when we see racism lead to the death of men who need not have been murdered, or while we live in the midst of a global pandemic. Confusion and weariness are natural feelings that come during such times.
It can lead to a deep loss of hope. It can lead us into a place of complacency.
Enter Pentecost. God’s Spirit rushes in and shakes us out of our complacency and renews our hopes. Though things may be dire and life may present incredible challenges, the good news we learn from Pentecost is that Jesus was not lying when he said he would “be with us always until the end of the age.” The Spirit of God enables us to live out and live for justice, peace, mercy, and love. We are given new life, the church is born, and we celebrate the power of life in the Spirit.
This is the life we are called to – a life in the Spirit where we live in relationship with God, with our selves, with our neighbors, and with the world around us. A life seeking God’s Kingdom and His will to be done.
Little Children and the Spirit
I felt a little bit like the disciples might have felt when Jesus ascended as we pulled up to the orphanage that evening in Belize. I had prepared and knew that I had been given an opportunity to share about Jesus. Before leaving Chattanooga, I had thought through some ideas for a great sermon. But then I got to the children’s home, played with them, laughed with them, and got to know them. I started to think, “Oh no. What now?”
And then, at the mention of Jesus and his love for us, the Spirit rushed in. Instead of a wind tunnel and the sound of air so loud and intense that one could not hear themselves think, the Spirit moved through little children. Sweet, innocent, and beautiful children. As the Spirit moved, I stopped talking and got out of the way. As the Spirit moved, all I needed to do was watch and receive. And that is the heart of Pentecost, isn’t it?
Let the Spirit move. Watch. Receive.
May we have eyes to see this Pentecost. May we have ears to hear. May we have hearts open to receive what the Spirit may be trying to do in us.
[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]
“Hello, this is the Stricklin residence.”
I will never forget where I was when the phone rang. It was a typical Saturday in October. Dad had gone to pick-up take-out from our favorite Chinese restaurant, and mom was cleaning the house while I sat in the coveted pink recliner – dad’s chair – and watched TV.
Like a good daughter, I quickly emerged from my television-induced stupor and answered the phone.
The very brief conversation that followed is a bit of a blur. I re
member someone with a very authoritative voice telling me he was trying to contact my father. He had a rank and title that sounded military, but I can honestly say I was too shocked to understand the details. I quickly ran the phone to my mom and thrust it into her explaining that SHE needed to talk to this man.
It wasn’t long after that I was back in my chair trying to eavesdrop on the conversation in the other room. Soon after, my very strong mother came speed walking into the living room looking f
or her cell phone. With tears in her eyes she said these words, “It’s Adam. He’s dead. I need your father.”
Adam Quinn was a member of our church. He was the eldest son of one of the sweetest couples that I’ve ever met and the older brother of the coolest kid in the youth group. I never had the chance to know Adam in the way others did, but I have been honored to call his mother, Sherri, one of my adopted moms.
You see, Adam was serving in Kabul, Afghanistan, with the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division. His pregnant wife, Faye, was also in the military and anxiously awaited Adam’s return from the war so they could begin their life as a family of three. Unfortunately, Adam never returned home. He noticed a friend of his had not been able to rest after driving caravans for multiple days – so Adam said he would take his place. It was during that last drive that they encountered a car bomb outside Kabul, and it was there that Adam left this world.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13 ESV
Memorial Day is a time where we gather to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for this country. We remember people like Adam who lived out John 15:13.
For a long time I found great sadness in this day. I focused on the loss that my friends had experienced. I focused on the missed school plays, graduations, and life events. I thought about everything that could have been.
That is not what Memorial Day is about.
In that same chapter we read the following:
12 “This is my commandment, that you love
one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
Jesus does not stop after verse thirteen. He has chosen us, appointed us to more. We are not called to remember the sacrifice of others so that we mourn their loss. We remember their sacrifice as the greatest example of God’s love. The love that God then calls us to share and demonstrate to one another (17).
Yes, healing comes through grief. And as Christians we grieve the loss of life. But this Memorial Day I urge you to remember those who have sacrificed and remember God’s love and be grateful. Remember that we worship a God who understands loss. A God who understands sacrifice. He knows the brokenness of the World and He redeems it! Praise God!
We do not celebrate war. We do not celebrate death. What we celebrate is the visible reminder of God’s love. Greater love has no one than this. We remember, and we take that love with us into the world.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]https://www.christchurchbham.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/G_M38-1.jpeg[/author_image] [author_info]Mary Lytle is the Minister of Communications at Christ Church United Methodist. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Asbury University and a Master of Arts in Ministry from Asbury Theological Seminary. Mary grew up as a preacher’s kid in Deland, Florida. Now, Mary lives in Helena, Alabama with her husband George. She has a passion for discipleship and young adult ministry. George and Mary hope to positively impact the University of Montevallo campus where George is the newest Mathematics professor. [/author_info] [/author]
It seems awkward to think about what Sunday morning hospitality at Christ Church will be like after we finally get through all this Covid-19 stuff. So much of my Sunday morning ministry is displayed by a heart felt “good morning” (usually 2-3 feet away from the recipient), a firm welcoming handshake, and a smile. But recently, I have heard from at least one of our country’s top disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, that we “may never shake hands again.” How can that be I ask myself?
For centuries the handshake and others forms of touching have been the foundation of cultural and professional hospitality between individuals. According to Manners & Customs of Bible Times (Gower, 2000 p.189), the traditional greeting “involved the laying on of hands on each other’s shoulders then a pulling together and the giving of a kiss, first on the right cheek and then on the left.” Samuel kissed Saul when he anointed him (1 Samuel 10:1), Simon the Pharisee failed to greet Jesus in such a way when he came as a guest to his home (Luke 7:45), and Paul wrote “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16).
Years ago, I remember leading First Methodist Opelika Alabama’s Prison Ministry away from simply putting items (candy, books, paper and pens) on a table for the inmates to grab and take as they please. Instead I encouraged volunteers to hold the items in their hands and then give them to the inmates who desire them (and to do so with a smile looking them in the eyes). I called it the giving of God’s Grace, and it became a form of greeting that was transformative to many of those inmates. They didn’t just take something, they received something!
So, what will the good people of Christ Church be able to do when we are finally invited back together? How will we greet, and fellowship, and worship together? Unfortunately, I do not have an answer for you at this time. But I believe God has an answer. I have faith that God will show us how to lovingly greet one another, how to have a cup of coffee and joyful fellowship with each other, and how we will stand together and praise His Holy Name. I believe that so strongly that I am willing To Shake On it!
Grace and Peace,
First Impressions Minister
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She doesn’t have words for this
But does she need them
When the whole world trembles with the same fear
Grieves the same loss of the illusion of control
Grabs at the same threads of hope
Watches the same sun move across the same sky
Waiting for the resurrection
I am writing this the day before Easter Sunday. How strange that my feelings of sadness about our current world mixed with doubt, fear, anxiety must have also mirrored that of Jesus’ followers. And yet, I know there is hope tomorrow. There is joy and song and new life. There is a hallelujah that is bubbling up from my throat that I almost can’t contain.
I read the above poem on Instagram this week and it just hit home for me.
I don’t have words for what we are all going through. Do I even need them?
We are all trembling together. We are all staying home keeping our babies safe, happy, and entertained.
We are grieving the control and routine we used to have. The leisurely walks through Target are a thing of the past. The carpool lines, play dates, library trips and playground visits are nonexistent.
We are grabbing at threads of hope or toilet paper. Maybe it’s the hour when our husband (whose job is essential) walks through the door or clocks out at his home office, maybe when the mail arrives with our stimulus check, or even the baby’s nap. Yet none of those things offer the everlasting hope and always leave us wanting more.
Watching the same sun move across the same sky, Waiting for the resurrection. Waiting for the quarantine to be lifted? No, something better is offered. The weight of sin has been lifted. He has risen (Mark 16:6). We know that our Redeemer lives (Job 19:25). Even in our hard, long days of isolation, we are not alone. We are not dead in our sin; we are alive with Christ (Col 2:13).
Mommas, I don’t know if we will get to meet this summer for Mom Time. Nothing is guaranteed. Was it ever? What I do know is that you are not alone. And in these heavy days, cling closer to the cross. Lean into his words in scripture. Abide in him. I know I have good days and bad days as this time marches on but the more I rely on him, the more precious this time with my family is becoming. Remind me of that again at bath time!
CC Women’s Ministry Team
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.