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In today’s Bible reading from Hebrews 5, the writer concludes the chapter with,

Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil. Hebrews 5:12–14 (CSB)

delicious steak meal

I remember when our kids were little. Their first meals were milk. As they grew, we began to introduce formula, then rice, and then baby food as they were ready at each step. As they continued to grow, they began to eat other foods. No longer were they relying on us to prepare their food; they could slap together a nourishing, delicious PB&J sandwich in no time! Today, they are completely self-sufficient. They can buy their own food with their own money and prepare that food in a variety of ways. Their food oftentimes tastes better than mine!

But what would happen if they never prepared their own food? What if they never fed themselves? What if they were completely dependent on us to prepare and feed them? Obviously, something would be wrong!

The same is true in the Spiritual realm. One of the things we did as the kids grew was to prepare them to feed themselves. When a person becomes a believer and is born again, they are completely dependent on other people to feed them spiritually. The goal is to get people to feed themselves from God’s Word. Unfortunately, like many other pastors, I’ve heard, “Pastor, we’re leaving the church. We just don’t think we’re being fed.”

I remember wanting to say, “Well, if you aren’t being fed, it isn’t my fault. I spend hours preparing the meal and setting the table. I do all I can to present the meal that the Master Chef wants me to deliver. Am I supposed to put it on a spoon and stick it in your mouth for you? ‘Open the hangar so the airplane can fly in!’ If you aren’t being fed, it’s your own fault!” But I didn’t say that.

Application

So, what about you? When you go to church, do you feel that you’re being fed a nutritious meal? Unfortunately, it’s entirely possible that you aren’t! A lot of pastors don’t prepare. A lot of pastors don’t know how to feed themselves from God’s Word. A lot of pastors just like to make people feel nice and comfortable. The bottom line is, if your pastor isn’t delivering God’s Message from God’s Word, maybe you need to prayerfully consider looking elsewhere!

But isn’t it also possible that the pastor is delivering God’s Message from God’s Word, but you aren’t benefiting from the prepared meal? Perhaps you aren’t ready for the meat. Maybe you’re just not mature enough. Maybe you need to go back and eat more basic foods.

If you’ve been a believer for more than a few months, you need to begin feeding yourself from God’s Word. No pastor is able to feed a well-balanced diet of what each person needs to everyone in every church.

So how do you start to feed yourself? This is a good place. Read along in your Bible from a translation you can understand, asking God to speak to you. Don’t use an “inspired finger” approach to your Bible reading; read your Bible like you would any other book. Look at a verse in its context within a paragraph and within a chapter.

Yes, it will take time to get used to feeding yourself from God’s Word. But as you read and study, comparing what you’re learning with what other people are learning, you’ll find it easier, more fun, and more nourishing.

You are what you eat.
Are you eating mature food you prepared yourself
or baby food prepared by other people?

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Many of my family members are United Methodists. Many of my friends are United Methodists. Some of my “Facebook Friends” (whom I have never really met) are United Methodists. I was saved during revival services at a small country United Methodist Church. My number one reason for leaving the Denomination and not pursuing vocational ministry in the UMC – aside for obvious theological differences – was I knew that I could not with a good conscience hold to my theological differences with the UMC while drawing a paycheck from the Denomination. Those theological differences are unrelated to this post.

Last week, the United Methodists from around the world met in St. Louis, Missouri to try to make sense of its differences and chart a way forward. At the forefront was the issue of ordination of openly gay clergy and gay marriage. There were several paths they could have chosen, including a “One Church” Plan that would have allowed churches and their clergy, regardless of their position on these issues, to affirm or forbid gay clergy and/or gay marriage.

However, the “Traditional” Plan prevailed. The “Traditional” Plan, backed by a large number of delegates from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, affirms The Book of the Discipline, UMC’s statement of doctrine and practice. The Book of the Discipline states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity. Therefore, by default, gay ordination and gay marriage would also be incompatible.

In several Facebook posts, several of my United Methodist Pastor friends have expressed their deep concerns for the future of the second largest denomination in the United States. They are concerned about those on both sides of the issue being hurt by the vote. This morning, one posted a link to an article posted yesterday by another Methodist pastor. In the article, Jason Micheli’s parishioner (the article’s actual content writer) says, “The United Methodist Church’s unfixable rot has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with polity.” The writer lays out his argument that the root of the problem in the UMC is its polity, and as such, the denomination was destined to reach the impasse they currently find themselves in.

While all of these things may be true, I think the article writer – and perhaps most United Methodists – miss is an even deeper issue, which I encountered a few days ago with a “Facebook Friend”. This person shared someone else’s post. Here’s the thread:

Original Post:
“Please don’t say the struggle for LGBTQ rights is dividing the church. No one is being divisive by simply claiming their rights as a human being. What is tearing the church apart is the hypocrisy of those who claim grace for themselves but inflict judgment on everyone else.”

My response:
“No one’s being divisive by pointing out a denomination’s written statement of doctrine and practice and calling those paid by that denomination to adhere to it. No one’s being divisive to say the Bible is still authoritative. John Wesley held a high view of the Bible and based his own ethics and behavior on all of it.”

My Facebook friend’s response:
“Scripture does not condemn Homosexuality.
Policies are not scripture or the Church.”

My responses:
“Which Bible are you reading? I know which one you aren’t reading.
It shouldn’t be too much to expect organizational employees to faithfully represent the organization, regardless of the organization – McDonald’s, Starbucks, UMC, IBM, etc. – if they wish to keep a paycheck. The Book of the Discipline is what the UMC has codified. Those drawing a paycheck should faithfully represent the UMC, or find another organization they can faithfully represent.
This is reason #1 I did not pursue ministry in the UMC.”

– End of Thread –

The problem with the UMC which has brought division is not the “hypocrisy of those who claim grace for themselves but inflict judgment on everyone else.” The problem with the UMC is that they can’t agree on the place of the Bible in the Denomination’s theology and practice. Therefore, they can’t define sin in an objective way, because they don’t have an objective source. From the reaction I have seen in the press and on social media, it would appear that “sin” would be to act in an “unchristlike” way: judgmental, intolerant, and unaffirming of others.

And therein lies the problem.

Those on both sides of the gay ordination/gay marriage issue claim the other side is being “unchristlike“. But how can someone actually define “unchristlike” apart from a Biblical standpoint? After all, everything we know about Jesus Christ and what He was like is in the Bible. Jesus had some very divisive things to say to a lot of people as He called out their sin. And those He reached out to in mercy and grace, He told to repent of their behaviorand sin no longer.

There can be no objective definition of “Christlike“/”unchristlike“, “sin“, “repentance“, and “reaching the world with the gospel” apart from the Bible.

And until the United Methodist Church decides the place and authority of the Bible, there can be no definition of “unity” or any of these crucial and highly relevant words.

Until good people are more concerned with fidelity to the Bible and historic, Christian teachings on homosexuality – consistent for nearly two centuries – than with their concern for “friends on both sides of the issue who are hurt by the vote”, the future of the United Methodist Church is bleak.

Methodist friends, you have passed a historic vote to stand firm on your position stated clearly in The Book of the Discipline. The only two choices you have is to remain true to Biblical truth (as you voted last week) or bend to the modern morays of the Sexual Revolution. I’m not saying that homosexuals and those ordaining them and/or performing homosexual marriages are evil. But the Bible unequivocally denounces homosexual behavior.

Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary have installed Dr. Adam Greenway as the Ninth President of the Fort Worth Seminary. You can learn more about Dr. Greenway on Southwestern’s website. Given Dr. Greenway’s young age (41), I expect him to stay a long time.

One of my professors (from all those years ago) commented that news of his nomination by the presidential search committee was the most exciting news he had heard in a long time. I agree.

When I enrolled in 1985, Southwestern was known as the Cadillac of the Southern Baptist Seminaries. The library was the largest theological library in the world. The School had campuses in Oklahoma and Houston, among other places. There was a lot to be proud of!

At the same time, the SBC was in the throes of a contentious power struggle. Southwestern was the crown jewel of the Convention so it seemed to be Ground Zero of the conflict.

In the years following my graduation, many of my professors transferred to other SBC institutions. Others were shown the door in the months following Dr. Paige Patterson’s arrival on campus.

One day in 2004 I visited one of my professors. I only recognized a half-dozen names on the posted faculty Directory on the wall. The professor I was visiting said he had been told this would be his last year. He had not planned to retire yet and saw many more years of teaching in his future. Unfortunately, many students were robbed of his wisdom.

I’ve seen the Seminary’s enrollment go from its heights of well over 5000 Masters and Doctoral-level students in the 1980s to its current student population of 3000+ which includes undergraduates.

Call me crazy, but the general “feeling” on campus was different. At one point, I remarked that it felt “religious” (not in a good way). A couple of years ago, it just felt cold and dead.

Last year, just after Dr. Patterson’s termination, I drove across town to see if things felt different. They did. The flags that greeted visitors lifted a little in the breeze. It seemed a fresh wind was beginning to blow through.

I am looking forward to my next trip to campus! I’m interested to see how things have changed in light of the new administration.

We learn in today’s Bible reading in Acts 20 that Paul was not just a little bit longwinded.

Sleepy Cat

I’m sure that Paul wanted to convey everything he needed to before heading out from Troas to Miletus. This might be the last time that he will be able to address these people. So he preached from around dinnertime until midnight. (Acts 20:7).

Around midnight, a young man named Eutychus fell asleep and fell out of the third story window he was sitting in. He was picked up dead. However, Paul went downstairs, embraced him and said that Eutychus was not dead.

Paul goes back upstairs and preaches for another several hours until dawn. All-in-all, I’m guessing that Paul preached for about twelve hours! That’s a long time! I don’t know that I have ever heard a sermon, much less anything else, last anywhere near that long!

My sermons used to be a little shorter than they are now. Perhaps I’m a little more comfortable with preaching. Occasionally I’ll preach until a little after Noon (It’s not always my fault; I don’t start preaching at the same time every week). I am very grateful to our church for never complaining! And no one has ever tapped their watch to nonverbally tell me to wrap it up. But maybe, I need to bring up Acts 20 if anyone ever complains that my sermon went a little long!

I admit, I have yawned a few times during some sermons (maybe even my own!). And I have seen a few yawns while I’m preaching. But no one has ever fallen out of a window while I was preaching. I haven’t lost one (yet!).

All joking aside, as a preacher, it’s comforting to know that even Paul didn’t keep all of his audience all of the time. And I can appreciate Paul’s desire to say everything God had given him to say.

Recently on a Facebook group for pastors, a newbie asked, “How long should a sermon be?” I responded, “How long should a person’s legs be? A sermon should be as long as it needs to be to accomplish all that God wants it to accomplish.” I never time my sermons until I’m editing the message’s audio file for posting to the Internet. I’m often surprised to see how many minutes are removed when the software cuts all of the pauses down to 1 1/2 seconds!

Application

Admittedly, some of us preach too long and could stand to take out an illustration or two. Some of us could stand to add a few. But we should all be given the freedom to preach all of the message that God has given to us. I believe we can do this and be good stewards of people’s time. I often remind myself that the people I’m speaking to could be at any number of other places and every week, I try to express my gratitude for the freedom to say everything God has given to me.

Do you have problems staying awake during a sermon? Maybe you need to look at your sleep patterns. Maybe you need to hit the sack a little earlier on Saturday Night. Maybe you need to change up your breakfast. I’m not throwing stones! Like I said, I have yawned during more than a few sermons. And I have even dozed off a few times, too. But God’s Word is important. It is our life. And it’s worth doing everything we can to stay awake and alert to hear it proclaimed so that we can apply it to our lives.

Today’s Bible reading from Acts 19 begins with an encounter with the disciples of John the Baptizer (Acts 19:1-7).

Paul asked if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. They said they had not; they only knew about John’s baptism and hadn’t heard of the Holy Spirit. So like Apollos in yesterday’s reading, they were given the rest of the story. Then John’s disciples received the Holy Spirit, Who manifested with tongues and prophecy just like He had with the Jews (Acts 2), the Samaritans (Acts 8), and the Gentiles (Acts 10).

And this is the last time Dr. Luke records the presence of tongues.

pentecost

Tongues and prophecy were very important ways the Holy Spirit manifested Himself in the early days of the church. There were only four instances: When the Jews believed, when the Samaritans believed, when the Gentiles believed, and when John’s disciples believed. That’s it.

So why would Dr. Luke only record only these four occurrences of “receiving the Holy Spirit”? Think about it: Each of these groups was a major milestone in the growth of the church. They were all “firsts”.

Okay, the Jews, the Samaritans, and the Gentiles were “firsts”. Why would I say that when John’s disciples received the Spirit that it was a “first”?

John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He preached a baptism of repentance to prepare for Jesus’ arrival. John’s disciples hadn’t heard the rest of the story. They needed to know that there was more to the story than just a behavior change of turning from your sin. They needed to know that the Holy Spirit would come to indwell believers, giving them power for behavior change that was never available under the Law.

I see John’s disciples’ reception of the Spirit similar to someone who grows up in church today; all they know is the need for behavior change. Perhaps all they’ve heard is that your sins will condemn you to an everlasting separation from a Holy God. But if that’s all you know, your behavior changes are only to avoid hell. And fire insurance isn’t enough to ensure an eternal reward in God’s presence!

But Jesus’ death sealed the deal on behavior change. No more would anyone need to worry about living up to God’s standards. Jesus did it for us! And by coming to Him, exchanging our sin for His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21), we receive the Holy Spirit, Who gives us life (which the Law could never do) and power to live a life that honors God (the Law couldn’t do that either!).

When John’s disciples’ received the Holy Spirit, it was a “first” of those of us who hoped our standing before God could be based on our own behavior, though we knew all along that we never could measure up.

I see each of these “firsts” as Authentic, New Covenant Salvation. Each of these “firsts” describe a new people group being saved. When the Holy Spirit manifested in tongues and prophecy, He confirmed that the individuals in each group were authenticly saved, just like the individuals in the other “first” groups before it, going back to Acts 2 which fulfilled Joel’s prophecy that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on all kinds of people.

Application

Remember that Dr. Luke records descriptions of what happened in the early church. He does not record prescriptions of how things should happen regularly on a typical day-to-day basis. The New Testament History books (The Gospels and Acts) describe. The New Testament Letters prescribe. We run the risk of misunderstanding and misapplying Scripture when we force a descriptive Bible passage to function like a prescriptive Bible passage.

So am I saying that tongues and prophecy aren’t needed any longer? No. I’m not saying that at all! But for the most part, the reason the Holy Spirit manifested in those ways at that time isn’t needed anymore, especially in Judeo-Christian culture. Tongues, prophecy, and other Spiritual gifts serve an equipping function today, not a validating function as they did back then.

So where does that leave us today?

God has given each of His kids at least one unique spiritual gift and He intends to use those gifts through His kids to build up His church. He also wired each of us differently in personality and life experience. That means that we have an infinite combination of gift/personality/experience mix in every church, regardless of its size.

Spend some time today thanking God for your gift(s) and individual wiring. Ask Him to show you how to develop your gift(s) to help your local church to grow to be more like Jesus.

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