December 11, 2017

A Fresh Focus on Holiness*

There has never been a time in greater need of the message of holiness. Pastors and leaders are seeking ways to revitalize their congregations, and it's not working. Churches are in decline. In my church group, Church of God (Anderson, IN), there are half as many congregations as there was twenty five years ago (in my state of Oklahoma). The power and health of churches have been drained by the continual search for a better way of doing church or newer and bigger programs. In the process our people have become ineffective and have fallen prey to the effects of the world around them. Churches are terribly in need of a clear, compelling message as their focus instead of chasing church growth methods.

Many church leaders have become hostages of various kinds of culture-driven success mentalities that are concerned more with "how" to do church instead of the more important matter of "what" the church is all about. In the process our leaders have lost the ability to lead, because they have no compelling message. Many know they've lost their leadership and long to find a message that makes a difference. More than ever, they long to have a deep understanding of God's call to holiness. They want a mission. They want a message!

The people of our churches, especially in my church group, are looking for a future with without having to live in the past. They are looking for a way to get back to the blessed old Bible and the light of its word without returning to what has been, but by returning to the Source of that which has been. They need to take a walk in the woods like one young minister named Daniel S. Warner did on December 13, 1877. He wrote in his journal, "The day was mild and fair. Took a walk in the woods to commune with God. Thought much about the words of God, 'I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel ... they shall be my people.'" (Jeremiah 31:31,33) Then he wrote, "Amen, LORD. I am Yours, forever. Fill me with Your presence, now. LORD, reveal Yourself in me. At Your feet I humbly bow to receive the holy seal." That day he found the core, the center, the essence of God's call. And he spent the rest of his life passing it on to others. It's the Source of our call today. That is our message. That is our mission!

People are tired of petty lines of division that create denominations and institutions. They long for a clear message that transcends differences among the followers of Jesus Christ. They want to know the unifying power of God. They want to see the awesomeness of God's holiness that moves us to oneness in the testimony of God's power. They accept diversity among Christ's followers, but they want to know that churches and leaders believe that we in the church of God are one. They want a message that is unifying, that comes from God who is the essence of unity in diversity. They want a fresh focus on holiness - the heart of the Bible for all Christians of all times ... even ours!


* This post was spurred on by a 2006 document entitled "The Holiness Manifesto," written jointly by church leaders and scholars representing various Wesleyan, Holiness and Pentecostal traditions of Christianity. It can be found in the 2008 book by that name, edited by Kevin Mannoia and Don Thorsen and published by Eerdmans of Grand Rapids.

November 18, 2017

A Second Work of Grace

So the meeting came and went much like I thought it would, except with more grace and mercy than I had ever imagined possible. I gathered with brothers in Christ around the table of business and introduced myself. We were all consecrated servants of the LORD and we looked forward to what the Holy Spirit would reveal to us as we spoke the truth to one another in Jesus' name. Our heavenly Father blessed us together. We responded openly to His love and to each other.

The meeting was called by the Church Service Team of the Oklahoma Assembly of the Church of God (OKCHOG). After only five months since returning to the Church of God (Anderson, IN), I was being considered for the reinstatement of my ministerial credentials. I was a little nervous, but certain of my calling to the ordained ministry. The team was anxious to hear me relate my story. 

I began by telling of my roots in the Church of God. In 1975 I affiliated with the The Church of God movement at South Agnew Church of God in Oklahoma City. It was a very loving and accepting fellowship of God's people that I met there. The Holy Spirit was moving among us in life-changing ways as our Pastor preached full salvation through faith in Christ and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. We stood together on the authority of God's Word, holy and unified in Christ. I received there a solid grounding in the faith and a fresh start to my life as a disciple of Jesus. 

In 1977 I moved to Anderson, IN to begin seminary training for the ministry. During  my time there, I met many leaders of the Church of God movement and became convinced of my calling to the ministry and particularly to missions. I wanted to go to the foreign field, but decided to stay in the U.S. as a Home Missionary.

In 1980 I moved to Wounded Knee, SD to reestablish the Church of God mission there to the Sioux Indians on the Pine Ridge Reservation. As a wide-eyed young minister, I wasn't ready for the stress and strain that mission work would bring on my family. My wife soon left and returned to her home in Florida. I tried to stay on at the mission, but could not give myself to the work there anymore. 

When I returned to Anderson with my "tail between my legs," I was certain that my life as a minister was over.  I expected the worse but received the best. After much counseling and readjustment, I took the opportunity to join the Army National Guard. After a short time, I was ordained to the ministry and got my first assignment as a unit chaplain. (It turned out to be a ministry that I truly enjoyed and that I would retire from some twenty-four years later.)

Shortly thereafter, I moved to Oklahoma City to be closer to "home." While there I did an internship at Baptist Medical Center in Clinical Pastoral Education. At the end of the training, I met my wife at a Church of God singles group meeting. We settled into married life and waited on God's will for our lives. 

We then moved to Colorado, where I would become the Pastor of two churches over a ten year period. Balancing reserve military and full-time church responsibilities was very difficult at times. But I had the energy and the work was fulfilling. It was in the Colorado Conference of the Church of God that I first experienced true comradere with my fellow ministers.

In 2001 my wife and I moved back to Oklahoma City to be closer to our families, especially the grandchildren. The congregation we had been attending was going through a split. While waiting on God's will for our lives, we decided to attend a United Methodist Church (UMC) and felt the LORD calling us to work there. When the OKCHOG asked about my decision, and pressed for me to resume my work in the Church of God, I decided to relinquish my credentials. I became a licensed minister and Local Pastor of two UMC congregations in the Oklahoma City metro during the next ten years.

It was during a particularly soul-searching and call-revisiting time in my life that I came to sense God directing me to leave the UMC and return to the Church of God.  (2 Corinthians 6:14-18 kept coming to my mind.) As in the parable of the Prodigal Son, I "came to  myself" and returned to my home in the Church of God. My Pastor was used by the LORD to forgive me for my waywardness and accept me back into the family of God. It was one of the happiest times of my life. When asked by the Credentials Team why I had left the Church of God, I confessed that it was a renegade spirit and a sense of going-it-on-my-own that caused me to forsake my Church of God roots.

So the meeting around the business table turned into a reinstatement service of my credentials at the altar of the LORD. My brothers, and fellow ministers, gathered around me and laid their hands on me. They prayed for the restoration of my ordination and for God's leading in my future ministerial endeavors. It was more grace and mercy than I had ever received before - a particularly wonderful second work of God's grace.

August 18, 2017

A Devotion on Credentials and Integrity

     By this I will know that God is for me.
In God, whose Word I praise,
in the LORD, whose Word I praise -
in God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?
(Psalm 56:9b-11)

     ** As I prepare for credentials meetings regarding pastoral ministry with my state's ministerial assembly, these are few things on my mind. What is integrity, especially as it applies to the church and its leaders?  I share these
thoughts gleaned from the writings of John Maxwell devotionally, that they may be helpful to others as well as myself. **

     One's credibility can always be traced to one's level of integrity - one's walk before God. Since integrity is the most important ingredient of leadership, a minister must be a person of integrity. 

     A minister with integrity doesn't have divided loyalties and isn't pretending to have experienced God's call. Ministers with integrity are "whole" persons; they're single-minded in their walk before God. They have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. They judge everything in life by the same system of values. What they say, think and do is in sync.

    Integrity is the acid test of credibility. In credentialing work, that is, the work of checking a minister's credibility, integrity is the most import ingredient.  Integrity builds trust, facilitates high standards, results in a solid reputation, means living it myself first, and is a hard-won achievement.

     To be a pastoral leader, one must have followers. To have followers, one must have their confidence. To have their confidence, one must have integrity. Therefore, the number one quality of pastoral leadership is integrity.

     Every church or ministry is influenced to grow or decline by its leadership. The character of its leaders determines the character of the organization. Everything rises and falls on leadership. And the secret to rising, and not falling, is integrity.

     Pastors and leaders must live by higher standards than their followers. They can give up anything except responsibility for themselves or their organization. When the character of a leader is low, so is his or her standards.

     No minister can lead anyone further than he or she has been his or her self. There are no shortcuts to a life of integrity. When ministers fail to follow this principle, they lower their credibility.

     Clever ministers never last. Effective pastoral ministry is based, not on being clever, but on being consistent. No one can fool all the people all the time. Eventually, each of us is recognized for exactly what we are and not for what we try to appear to be.

     Delight yourself in the LORD
and He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit you way to the LORD;
trust in Him and He will do this:
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
(Psalm 37:4-6)

June 18, 2017

Back Home in the Church of God

Today was the first day back home in fifteen years. For all that time I had wandered in the deadening throes of denominationalism. Never one to hold back on a challenge, I left my home church (Church of God, Anderson, IN) to see if I could make a difference in the United Methodist Church. And I found myself, like the prodigal son, in the pig sty asking, "What am I doing here? I had it so much better in my home church." So, I finally came to myself and returned home to the Church of God Movement. It was a wonderful day. There really is no place like home.

I could give many reasons for leaving the United Methodist Church, but it really came down to just one. With all the turmoil of a pending split in the denomination, I was unable to keep my focus on Jesus. The UMC has lost its focus on Jesus because it has forsaken the authority of the Bible for their own man-made rules. It has become so open and welcoming of everything in its beliefs that it no longer stands for anything. The denomination has become the sectarian gods that they have set up before them, fighting among themselves to gain power and control over a failing institution. There is really nothing left of any significance to focus on when Jesus is cut out of the picture. So, I left the United Methodist Church. I came out and separated from them. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)

In God's Church there is biblical holiness and spiritual unity among God's people. In God's Church the focus is always on Jesus. In God's Church the children's song is proved true: "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."  In God's Church the Bible is the only rule of faith and Christ alone is LORD. 

So, it's back to the blessed old Bible and the light of its Word for me. It's back to an emphasis on holy living, by which the God's Church comes to experience true unity. It's back to focusing on Jesus. And I've never found any church group that embodies these truths more than the Church of God Movement. It's good to be home!

June 11, 2017

Core Convictions of the Church of God Movement

Jeremiah 31:31, 33
2 Corinthians 3:6
Ephesians 4:3-6

In June of 1993 ministers of the Church of God gathered in an ante room, then paraded into the old tabernacle of the Church of God (Anderson, IN) campmeeting grounds to hear a message from the LORD.  The preacher that day was Barry L. Callen, Dean of Anderson University. He stood up before us, and the others who were there, tall with a graying beard and he said, "I know I look like Daniel S. Warner." (Who was a late 1800s pioneer minister of the Church of God Reformation Movement). Everyone laughed. "I also know with 1500 ministers sitting before me, it's going to take more than a similar appearance to the founder of the our movement to convince anyone of our core convictions." And with that introduction, be began his message. I was one of the ministers there that day, and I heard a Word from the LORD. The core convictions that Dr. Callen laid out for us have became mine, too.  And they still are!  This is what I heard him say.

"The LORD declared through the prophet Jeremiah that 1) He would have a new covenant, and that 2) He would have a new people. The prophecy found its complete fulfillment in the ministry of Jesus Christ and in the establishment of His body - the Church. The writings of Paul make it clear that all who come into that Church - the new covenant community - are enabled to live lives worthy of their calling and ministers of the new covenant and are charged with keeping the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 

"Our predecessors in the Church of God Reformation Movement were some very special men and women, who dared as God's new people to take the implications of the new covenant with a new seriousness. One young minister named Daniel Sidney Warner wrote this in his journal on December 13, 1877. "The day was mild and fair. Took a walk in the woods to commune with God. Thought much about the words of God, 'I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel ... They shall be my people ...'" Then he wrote, "Amen, LORD. I am yours, forever. Fill me with Your presence, now. LORD, reveal Yourself in me. At Your feet I humbly bow to receive the holy seal."

"There the light of basic Christian truth was beginning to shine again. There was issued a radical call to live out the implications of Christ's new covenant. That day a fresh commitment was made to be God's new people, to live holy lives in a unified Church. Today we are gathered together in this beautiful sanctuary as the inheritors of a rich, religious tradition. We gather as Bible believing disciples, returning to Bible truth and moving ahead with a vision of the Church. But before we attempt to call out other Christians, who are serious about the new covenant Church and being God's people, we better make sure we know about the Church, that we have seen the Church, and that we are practicing what we know and have seen. With that in mind I declare these core convictions about the Church of God. 

The first core conviction is: God's Church is Alive.

"Despite the false fronts and lies of past and present religious leaders and all the doctrinal heresies of the centuries; despite the rise and fall of nations and government, and all the oppressive tactics of ideologies like communism and Marxism; despite the deadening effects of denominationalism, and the apathy present even in some of our own churches; despite all of the efforts of the power of darkness ... God's Church is still alive and well

"The words of Charles Naylor's hymn describe what our pioneers faced: 'The light of eventide now shines, the darkness to dispel ... for out of Babel God doth call His scattered saints in one ...' The visible church structures of that time were in the dark. They were in the wilderness. There was division and discouragement. But, there was also hope. There were still 'the glories of fair Zion' and 'the light of eventide.'

"In 1895, the year that D.S. Warner died, William D. Schell declared, "Hell never can destroy the Church." Not the Church built by our Savior. Upon the solid rock of Christ - still she stands!  The Church of God ... not a human organization, but a living organism ... brought into being by God ... alive with His living presence and His power. 

"Today governments continue to oppress, and materialism is a worldwide menace. But God's Church is alive! Today there are more nuclear warheads than ever, we seem to be losing the war on drugs, and the cults continue to grow. But the Church of God is alive and will overcome. Today denominationalism is still deadening. But through it all God has a people, a new people, who are moving ahead with their Master, moving into the future with the One who holds its outcome in His hand. 

"In another generation we will be gone, this building may have collapsed in decay, our nations may be nuclear wastelands, and our church committees may be forgotten experiments. But God's family will still be celebrating ... either in this town, some other place, or around His throne in heaven. No matter what else is dead, the Church of God will be alive.

"Do not be afraid," said Jesus. "I am the first and the last. I am the living One. I was dead and, behold, I am alive for ever and ever." (Revelation 1:17-18) "I will build my Church," announced Jesus, "And the gates of hell will not overcome it." (Matthew 16:18)  Be sure of this" Whatever the opposition - God's Church is alive!

The second core conviction: God's Church is Holy.

"There have always been misunderstandings about church holiness. Some suppose that ministers can trace their authority directly back to Christ and His apostles, as if somehow that can guarantee our purity before God. Some say that robes, candles and rituals somehow ensure the sacredness of the sanctuary. Others presume that distance between the Christians and even the appearance of evil somehow preserves holiness. Some take comfort in having a sign in the church yard which reads, "First Church of God, Where Experience Makes You a Member." All of these are hollow approaches to holiness in and of themselves.

"God's Church is holy only when it actually exists in a given place as the living family of God. God's Church is holy only as its membership is sanctified, or in Warner's words, "Filled with Thy presence, now." Holiness has always been a central conviction of the Church of God. Our movement has been a quest for both holiness and unity. In fact, unity is only, and will be only, found in a holy church.

"Our pioneers assumed that the solution to sectism lay in the work of the Sanctifier. Warner once wrote, "you need not waste time in planning general union movements, or praying the LORD to restore the unity of His Church, until you go down under the blood and have every bone of contention and cause of division purged our of your own heart."

"I'm sure your are aware that over the years the teaching about sanctification has become muddled among us. We've reacted to preaching which has expounded the doctrine of Christian holiness a little too neatly, and have become preoccupied with related issues like dress and entertainment. We've become quick to deny that we are charismatics, or that we are Pentecostal, even though such words are biblical and represent fundamental realities in the Christian life.

"But whatever our failings and fears, we must never become silent about the call to holiness.  D. Otis Teasley's hymn must remain our clarion call. "Back to the blessed old Bible, Back to the light of its word; Be on our banners forever, 'Holiness Unto the LORD.''  Scripture is plain: "As He who called you is holy, be holy yourselves,' and "In all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ."  The Church of God is holy, as its members are sanctified and grown-up in Christ. God's Church can be, must be - holy!

The third core conviction: God's Church is One.

"Having been cleansed by the Sanctifier's fire of perfect love, our pioneers became impatient with Christians who failed to accept, and love, each other. Surely, if we have each been grafted into the living, holy body of Christ, then we are one with each other in that one body.  As Warner wrote, "O brethren, how this perfect love unites us all in Jesus!"  In the early days of our movement the call was for Christians to walk in the way of holiness, renounce the sin of sectism, and stand together. Free in Christ - together.

"Probably nothing is more central to what we are about as the Church of God Reformation Movement than the concern for Christian unity. Our hearts have been broken, because we have believed that God grieves over the factions and divisions among His people. We know that such division hinders the mission of His Church. We have emphasized that true Christian unity is a divine gift to us. We receive it. We don't contrive it.

"One key lesson we're still learning, though, is that Christian unity is both given and gained. Ephesians 4:3 assumes the gift, calling us to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:13, however, points to that which must be gained, calling us to build up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith. Christian unity is both a gift and goal. Christ gives the Spirit of unity, but we who receive Him must have the will to make unity a reality.

"It is a frustrating, difficult teaching. the gift has thrilled us, but the goal has stayed just beyond our reach. It's sad to say, but we have actually refused to fellowship some our brothers and sisters, even in the holiness and evangelical churches, because they haven't understood what it is that we stand for. We have wanted so badly not to compromise the truth that sometimes we have looked to ourselves as the standard of truth. We have have a tendency to sacrifice fellowship with Christians outside our movement because we have been afraid that they will contaminate us. As one campmeeting preacher recently said, "We have wanted to be a leaven in the loaf without even being mixed in the dough." And through all this, denominations haven't disappeared. Divisions continue, sometimes among us, and sometimes even because of us.

"The gift is still real, but the goal is still not achieved. We have learned that making visible and operational the oneness we have in our hearts is not easy. It's hard! And it's not always in line with all of our theological understandings. But we are still sure that this unity in Christ, and in the visible church, is not optional. God does will the oneness of His people.

"Some Christians are black, some are white. Some like to jump and shout, while others prefer to sit and meditate. Some tend to emphasize the insights of John Calvin, and some swear by John Wesley. Some are emotional, politically conservative and lovers of campmeetings, while others are politically liberal, and you usually find them in cathedrals or in the streets rather than in revival meetings. Some Christians honestly read a Bible verse one way and some another.

'But whatever the differences, against all human tendencies to separate, we Christians must will to be one. If we are serious about God's new covenant, then we will not be quick to think the worse of each other. We will concentrate our commitment on Jesus, and hold less tightly to our own ways. We will be more open to the whole Church of God, and less controlled by the limits of our own customs. We will be speaking to today's issues, in today's language, with the same truth and the same intensity of our pioneers.

"Christ alone is central. Jesus is always the subject. Jesus alone transcends the differences among us. He is the key to understanding His Word. Only in Him are we one, or will we ever be one - in Christ Jesus.

"Horace Mann once said, 'I have never heard anything about the resolutions of the Apostles. But I've heard a great deal about their Acts.'"  Let's put our ideal to work. Let's turn our beautiful words into unifying actions. Let's be pioneers in our own right. Let's actually 'reach our hands in fellowship to every blood washed one.' Let the prayer of Jesus be our prayer, too: 'I pray for those who will believe in Me, that all of them my be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I in You. May they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.'

The final core conviction is: God's Church is God's Church.

"We didn't found the Church of God. It found us! We don't choose the members. We embrace all who are members by God's Choice. We don't govern it with a heavy hand. We participate in it with a humble heart. We aren't the Church of God, but we are a part of it, who cares deeply about all of it.

"Since the Church of God is God's, it's my heartfelt desire that we stop thinking so denominationally. You know what I'm saying: "I'm not going there because its sponsored by the Baptists." "We can't do that because those aren't Church of God people." "you can't believer like that, because F.G. Smith or Mid-America University teaches this."

"My friends, neither the Gospel Trumpet, our theologians, nor any of our schools have ever had a corner on truth. And the great moving of the Spirit of God has never been confined to the borders of our fellowship. If we think of ourselves as the standard for God's Church, we will poison our heritage and fall away from the truth.

"In 1929 D.A. Reardon, speaking to the ministers at the Anderson Campmeeting, said, 'I believe in a clean, separate, and distinct work for God. But I also believe that we should keep the sectarian stink out of the distinction. There is such a thing,' he concluded, 'as stressing the reformation to such an extent that we cause our people to be reformation centered - reformation sectarians.'"

"The worse thing that could happen to us as a church is to become the home of our own brand of sectarianism. If we will determine to think and act like a movement, a part of God's great movement, then we will not have to spend so much time worrying about whether we're becoming a denomination. As a movement among God's people, it is our task to resist becoming a settled and ingrown crowd of Christians.

"It isn't enough to rely on our past understandings and achievements. Nor is it enough to be learning from our present church leaders, and counting on them to filter out all the obstacles before us. "Jesus is the head of His Church. God's Church is God's.

"These core convictions brought the Church of God Movement into being and continue to guide its life.  The Church of God is alive, holy, one and divinely ruled.  'O Church of God, I love the courts, Thou mother of the free; Thou blessed home of all the saved, I dwell content in thee.'

"May God help us to be on our way, toward the goal of a holy, united church for a dark, divided world. May we be encouraged by that promise, 'I will make a new covenant ... They will be my people.'  And may we be sobered by that call to live lives worthy of the calling we have received."

May 28, 2017

The Beauty of God's Church Found in Scripture

     As my church (the United Methodist Church) heads toward an almost certain separation of differing factions, I am led to return to my roots. For 25 years I was a part of and involved in the ministry of the Church of God (Anderson, IN). I worked with them and worshiped with them. Their doctrines and theology still form the basis of my Wesleyan orthodox faith. And key to my understanding of Christian doctrines as set forth in the Word of God is the theology that has shaped and molded the Church of God to this day. As the UMC divides itself, I find assurance in reflecting upon the original pattern of God's Church as revealed in Scripture. 

     God's Church was purchased and established by Christ Jesus. (Acts 20:28) His Church was inaugurated on the day of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit filled those gathered in the Upper Room. (Acts 2:4a) It was from this original community of faith that God gave the pattern for His people for all time. This I know, because the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of the Word of God, the Word which endures forever. (1 Peter 1:25) The same sure Word that fills my heart with the truth as it is in Jesus to this day.

     While the Word of God stands sure, various interpretations of that Word have not been as trustworthy. There have been heresies since the early days of the Church, which have developed and led many of God's people off into strange thinking and wayward discipleship. Various states of apostasy have settled down upon those claiming the name of Jesus. But through it all God has always preserved a sacred remnant who have remained true to His Word as revealed through the Spirit of Truth. The faithfulness of such followers of Jesus through the centuries serves as a spiritual catalyst for us today. Their faithfulness cause us to reflect upon the original pattern of God's Church. We measure ourselves by the Church as revealed in Scripture.

     It has always been such a quest for scriptural truth that has moved upon the hearts of reformers to call Christians to holiness and oneness. Being lead by the Holy Spirit into an understanding of scriptural holiness, reformers through out the centuries have known this as the key to Christian unity. They believed that the experience of holiness would eventuate in the unity of God's people. It was a unity that went beyond sectarian spirits and denominational doctrine. So persuaded, reformers declared themselves free from humanly instituted religion and fellowshiped with all who had experienced the Lordship of Christ.

     Out of such movements of the Spirit, other Christians are being led into a similar understating of true unity.  With a spirit of humility they seek only to follow Jesus rather than the organized religious orders of the day. Being committed to this truth and drawn together by the Holy Spirit, such movements still continue. Recognizing the Lordship of Jesus, they seek only God's plan for the Church. They avoid creedalism and doctrinal disciplines, seeking only to have the Bible as their rule of faith. While this allows for some diversity within their fellowships, it also makes possible a unity that is divinely originated rather than humanly instituted. The beauty of God's Church is the unity which comes only from a common experience of scriptural holiness, producing lives which are obedient of Christ Jesus.

May 21, 2017

Out of United Methodism Will Come a Reformation

     My church is divided. Unity is far from reality. There's little hint among the people of just what the problem is, if there really is one. They think it's so big, whatever the problem, that no one can deal with it. A tiredness permeates everyone. You can see it in faces. Laughter, when it does come, is only surface sounds of momentary relief. From the pulpit to the last pew, there is no since of community. Division has supped out all the energy. My church is divided. It is dying.

     O, there are some outward signs of possible recovery. The leaders have meetings. There are parties and group gatherings. Collections are taken for the poor and needy. The pianist plays. The choir sings. The preacher preaches. There are the sights and sounds of church each Sunday, including an occasional reference to the growing numbers of people there. An interim staff member is hired to bring hope for the better. Maybe, just maybe, things will just get better. Surely, all the hard work will pay off. Surely, everything will be all right.

     Such is the state of United Methodist Church these days. And the effects of its death pangs are felt all the way to the local church, even mine. Sides are being taken in stealthy silence. The culture is so much a part of our lives, that its worldly ways are seen at every level of church life. The divisions play out with terms such as liberal and conservative, open and closed, inclusive and exclusive, equality and discrimination, traditional and progressive. The labels cause distrust and misunderstanding. All of which is devastating to community.

     So, what to do? With the ancient Psalmist, I cry out of the depths to the LORD. I too ask, O LORD, if You should mark iniquities, who could stand? Mostly, I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His Word I hope. My soul waits for the LORD. I hope in the LORD! With Him is plenteous redemption. He will redeem His people from all their iniquities. (Psalm 130)

     John Wesley once said, "I'm not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit and disciple with which they first set out."  (Thoughts on Methodism - August 4, 1786)

     The United Methodist Church has allowed a state of apostasy to settle down upon those who have believed in Christ and have joined the denomination to express their faith. The people, who now call themselves United Methodists, are anything but united. They have moved away from being the community of faith that God gave as a pattern for His people by the power of the Holy Spirit in His Word, the Word which endures forever. (Acts 2:4; 1 Peter 1:25)

     But in the midst of such conditions God has always preserved a sacred remnant, those who remained true to His Word as revealed through the Spirit of Truth. The faithfulness of such men and women, past and present, serves as a spiritual catalyst. It causes reflection upon the original pattern of the Church. The redemption today is from the LORD, who has used reformers throughout history to call the denominational church to measure itself by God's Church revealed in Scripture.

    And so, no matter the state of divisiveness and spiritual apostasy in the denomination called the United Methodist Church, God will keep a remnant of His people alive and well for His purposes in the world. And once again, as God has said, "I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (2 Corinthians 6:16) Reformation movements, such as the Wesleyan Covenant Association, are now being used by God to herald the message, "Come out from them (apostate denominations), and be separate from them ..." (2 Corinthians 6:17)

     There will again be holiness, and as a result, unity among God's people. Praise God! His Church will continue, as it has for over 2,000 years, by keeping focused on JESUS and standing for the authority Scripture in the power of the Holy Spirit. Whatever the next reformation movement is, whether some new Methodism or another group of JESUS loving, Holy Spirit filled, gospel spreading Christians, I want to be there with them.  And, God willing, I will!

January 20, 2017

On the Inauguration of President Donald Trump

So, our nation has a new president. Donald J. Trump has been sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. I watched and listened intently to the entire celebration of the "peaceful transfer of power." All was done according to protocol and tradition. Prayers were given, handshakes were shared, songs were sung, speeches were given, and the exchange between different factions of our government was completed with well wishes for all. The news covered the event in great detail. Everyone in our nation, and around the world, who wanted to hear and see the proceedings had the opportunity to be a part of history today.

As I watched all of this happening, there swelled up within me a strong feeling patriotism that I hadn't experienced in many years. As I listened to President Trump's speech, I sensed a meaning in his words that spoke directly to me. It was as if he was speaking for me about what the Lord has in store for our country. There was a godly pride, and a willingness to roll up my sleeves and get down to business, that I haven't had in almost 50 years. There is now within me a hopeful confidence that our country is about to get back on track again. There's an assurance in my new president that what has needed to be done for a long, long time is about to get done.  For the first time in many years I feel good about being an American.

As I looked at the faces in the crowds, I saw what I was feeling in them. President Trump said very little, if anything, about himself. He spoke about how the inauguration was really the American people's inauguration. It is us who are taking office today, for our president made it very clear that he is our servant and our voice in the affairs of governing this great nation. Hopeful aspirations, a wanting for everything to work out for the best of the country - these were the expressions I saw on the faces of the people.  These were the feelings in my heart and mind, too.  

Mostly, I have a sure confidence in the Lord, our God, that He has His hand on our new president, and that He will lead and guide him to fulfill His will for our country in these difficult days. With God's blessing and the will of the American people upholding President Trump, I feel certain that the best days for the Untied States of America are ahead of us. I haven't been able to truly say that for a long time. It's great to be an American again.