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Pastoral Call

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.

Paul stands before Agrippa

Today’s Bible reading is Acts 26. Paul addresses King Agrippa, Festus, and Bernice (the Queen). He gives his defense for his zealous Jewish background and his experience of coming to Jesus, and he shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. Paul even gives Agrippa an opportunity to respond to the Gospel. Agrippa isn’t quite convinced to become a Christian, but he knows that Paul isn’t deserving of execution. He acknowledges that if Paul had not appealed to Caesar, he could have been released.

Application

Paul just tells his story. And so must you. Note that Agrippa, Bernice, and Festus’ response to Paul’s invitation to salvation wasn’t up to Paul. All Paul had to do is tell his story and give the offer.

Several times in my devotionals I have suggested that you write out how you came to Jesus and what has changed since then. Look back over your notes. You’ll see that your basic outline is not unlike Paul’s.

You may not be the most eloquent of speakers. And that’s OK. Actually, Jesus said that we shouldn’t worry about what to say; the Holy Spirit will tell us. (Matthew 10:19–20) But there’s nothing wrong with thinking about what you will say; you’ll find it helpful.

Ask a friend or loved one to listen to your story and give you constructive comments for what you say and how you say it. You can’t mess it up if you just tell your story and be yourself!

When you open to Acts 9 (today’s Bible reading), you’ll probably see a heading with something about The Damascus Road or The Conversion of Saul. While Saul’s conversion is a central point in the Book of Acts, and specifically this chapter, there is more here. Even regarding Saul’s conversion, there is an instrumental piece that some may overlook.

Ananias lives in Damascus and when Saul is brought into town, God tells Ananias in a vision that he is to seek out Saul — an infamous persecutor of Christians — and pray for him to recover his eyesight. Ananias reminds God who Saul is and what he has been doing to Believers. Then God reveals to Ananias that Saul is going to reach out to Gentiles, kings, and Israelites.

Now, up to this point, only Jews (Acts 2) and Samaritans (Acts 8) have responded to the Gospel and received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This is an incredible thing, and would be the ultimate fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32, which began in Acts 2; anyone who called on the Name of God would be saved. Even the Gentiles.

But before this can happen, Ananias has a decision to make. God is calling him to seek out a man who is known to imprison believers. (Acts 9:13-14) Coming into Saul’s presence could mean Ananias’ death. What would he do?

I believe with all that I am that if Ananias had said, “No”, God would have raised up someone else to pray for Saul. But God called Ananias. And because Ananias said, “Yes”, God used him to save Saul so the Gospel could be taken “to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

When Ananias said “Yes”, he got to participate. And if he had said, “No”, he would have missed out on the unveiling of the mystery of the ages (Colossians 1:24–29)

Application

Look anywhere in the Bible and you’ll see that whenever God speaks, there is a response. From “Let there be light” to “Go find Saul”, there’s always a response. It’s in the nature of creation to respond to its Creator. To fail to respond is to respond.

God speaks today, sometimes in visions and dreams, sometimes through other believers, sometimes through our circumstances, but mostly through His Word. And when God speaks to us, we have a choice in how we will respond.

What has God told you to do? How has God been tugging at your heart? How will you respond? Will you say “No” and miss out on being used by Him? Or will you say “Yes” and get to participate in something wonderful?

Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life.
Quit playing the field.
Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out.
The fun and games are over.
Get serious, really serious.
Get down on your knees before the Master;
it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.
James 4:8–10 (The Message)

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