It’s All About Love

Something has continued to nag at me, really nag at me. In a recent group meeting about the acceptance of homosexual practices one of the jurisdictional cabinet members asked a question, ‘If we don’t change, what are you (meaning those opposed to acceptance) going to tell people that are attending reconciling churches. How are they supposed to feel if you prevent the church from moving forward.’

The more I think about it, the more I realize that we (meaning those opposed to acceptance) needed to tell all people, not just those attending reconciling churches, that we love them, unconditionally. We love them unconditionally because God calls us to show our faith through works and actions that demonstrate our love for Him.

John Wesley’s created the General Rules of the Methodist Church, the first being Do No Harm. At first glance, this rule seems pretty straight forward: just don’t do or say anything that would hurt or injure someone else. Wesley goes on to list a number of examples which, when taken in context, sound somewhat quaint for today’s time.

If we examine those 16 items more closely, what is the common theme?Doing any those items would separate us from Jesus’ desire for us to live a more faithful life. In Matthew 7:21 Jesus says:

 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Wesley believed that if you lived a life that was faithful to God’s will you would Do No Harm, and we would Love Our Neighbor as Ourselves.

I believe that God loves me unconditionally.  I believe He calls me to love others unconditionally. In John 4:10-11 we read:

Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

Because of God’s love I cannot stand idly by and allow my church, the United Methodist Church, to rewrite scripture in a manner that will lead those that I love down a path which separates them from God’s will.  To do otherwise would do the same for me.

Yes, it’s all about love, unconditional love, a love so strong that you cannot help but take a stand, a stand like Jesus took for us. To do otherwise would violate Wesley’s First Rule by allowing harm to come to another.

 

Too Small To Make A Difference

It seems like everyone in the United Methodist Church is supporting the acceptance of homosexual practices.  There are so many church leaders pushing for this I don’t know what to do. My pastor put out an entire newsletter about how we should support a change to the UM Book of Discipline. In meetings it seems that everyone wants to change the church.

I am just one person! What difference do I make!

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”   Dalai Lama XIV

Voicing An Opposing Opinion

In discussion with several people this past week I realized a few things. There are many people in the general church membership, on church committees, or in lay leadership roles that are afraid to voice their opinion for fear of upsetting others. Remember, everyone’s opinion is important when voiced in a positive and non-accusatory manner.

I enjoy listening to opposing opinions. They force me to reexamine my own beliefs. Do I know what I believe? Are my beliefs supported by facts or are they emotional. Am I rearranging the facts to support my beliefs. Is the opposing opinion fact based? Am I wrong?

Certainly, voicing opposing opinions can cause friction and divisiveness. Unfortunately, failing to voice opposing opinions can be taken as having no opinion or supporting the current discussion. If you feel strongly about an issue and have a particular opinion do not be afraid to speak up.

Hopefully the various emails and articles being circulated about the United Methodist Church provide information allowing each of us to become more informed about our beliefs. Information that will prepare each of us to voice an opinion supported by facts, not emotions.

It is not easy to speak up, but how can we possibly spread God’s message about salvation, grace, and the forgiveness of sins if we are unwilling to speak up when hearing a viewpoint we disagree with.

On Schism

The United Methodist News Service, dated October 13, 2016, featured an article: Schism Is a Failure of Love and Leadership by Bishop (ret.) Kenneth L. Carder. The complete article can be found here.

Bishop Carder is deeply disturbed by the turmoil within the United Methodist Church. He is very concerned that the church may end up in a schism, which he believes is not in the best interest of all concerned. Bishop Carder is not alone in his concern for the well being of the Christian community in general and the United Methodist Church in particular.

To support his hypothesis that a split within the church is a ‘transparent betrayal of the church’s nature and mission’, Bishop Carder quotes from John Wesley’s Sermon 75. The complete sermon can be found here. The particular quote used comes from Section II.1, one line of which I feel summarizes his point:

It is the nature of love to unite us together; and the greater the love, the stricter the union. . . . It is only when our love grows cold, that we can think of separating from our brethren.

Bishop Carder is quite earnest in his writing and provides much food for thought, but I am not in agreement with his conclusion. Certainly, I believe there is a failure of leadership in the church, but I don’t believe a schism will come about because of a failure to love. I believe a schism will come about if one group is successful in its attempt to make the sin of homosexual practices acceptable.

John Wesley did not take a schism within the church lightly, and he provides compelling words for rejection. John Wesley does address the single reason that he would support a schism in Section II.7 of Sermon 75, and he is very pointed with his reasoning:

. . . we were constrained to separate from that society, because we could not continue therein with a clear conscience; we could not continue without sin

. . . if this was the case, you could not be blamed for separating from that society

. . . suppose you could not remain . . . without doing something which the word of God forbids, or omitting something which the word of God positively commands

. . . Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” . . . I should be under a necessity of separating from it, or losing my own soul

. . . if I could not continue united to any smaller society . . . without committing sin, without lying and hypocrisy, without preaching to others doctrines which I did not myself believe, I should be under an absolute necessity of separating from that society

. . . the sin of separation, with all the evils consequent upon it, . . . would not lie upon me but upon those who constrained me to make that separation, by requiring of me such terms of communion as I could not in conscience comply

As John Wesley points out, a separation is not warranted over inconsequential issues such as whether or not your pastor is better than mine, or a fellow parishioner is committing adultery, or whether you take the Lord’s Supper before me. As he also points out, a separation is warranted when someone is forced to accept from pulpit, leadership, and church orthodoxy that a sin is acceptable.

John Wesley stated my position most succinctly when he said, “. . . if I could not continue united to any smaller society . . . without committing sin, without lying and hypocrisy, without preaching to others doctrines which I did not myself believe, I should be under an absolute necessity of separating from that society”.

Do I want the United Methodist Church to split? Certainly not! That is why I am staying the course and writing about my personal beliefs and why I hold them. I will continue on as a United Methodist unless such time occurs that ‘(I) could not continue therein with a clear conscience; (I) could not continue without sin.’

If the church should decide that the practice of homosexuality is acceptable then I will make my own personal schism because, as Wesley stated, “. . . the sin of separation, with all the evils consequent upon it, . . . would not lie upon me but upon those who constrained me to make that separation, by requiring of me such terms of communion as I could not in conscience comply”.

I agree that a schism will come because of a failure of leadership. If the church leaders acquiesce to those pushing a social agenda over God’s Commandments they will have failed in their duty by allowing ‘. . . something which the word of God forbids’.

I disagree that a schism will occur because of a failure to love. We are called as Christians to love our neighbor; we are not called to enable the pursuit of sin or speak falsely so that good feelings abound. Jesus spoke of this in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The father never stopped loving his son even though the son made demands and left his father’s house. The father continued to love his son and showered him with love upon his return.

If a schism should happen I will feel sadness down to my very core, but I will not feel guilty. I will continue to love my neighbor, as God, in His infinite mercy, continues to love me.

Following God’s Commandments

The generally accepted number of commandments, or laws, in the Old Testament is 613. Collectively, these commandments are often referred to as the Mosaic Laws or The Law of Moses. These laws were divided several different ways. One division was laws you should do and laws you shouldn’t do. Another division was ceremonial laws, civil laws, and moral laws.

Several of the moral laws specifically state that homosexual practices are detestable and an abomination to God. Those advocating for the acceptance of homosexual practices are left with two options when discussing these laws:

Use a reformed interpretation to alter the meaning of the words.

Use Jesus’ death as a means to state that we are longer under the ‘law’ so 613 laws are no longer in effect. This option is the one most commonly employed.

It is impossible to follow all 613 commandments 100%; everyone fails somewhere along the line. God acknowledged this impossibility by sending his Son, Jesus Christ to die for us. Through His death we are granted salvation through God’s grace and forgiveness. During Jesus’ ministry he stated, in Matthew 5:17:

‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.’

With Christ’s death we are no longer ‘under the law,’ God gave us a new Covenant where our salvation is based on faith in Jesus Christ, not by the works of the law. This is covered in Galatians 3:10-11:

For all who rely on doing the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not keep on doing everything written in the book of the law.” Now it is clear no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous one will live by faith.

This begs the question, if we are no longer under the law,

What sins are we asking God to forgive when saying the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us?’

What sins are being referenced in Romans 6:1: ‘What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase?’

What sin is John talking about in John 1:8: ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’

To answer these questions we need to better understand the Mosaic Laws, or the 613 commandments. The section of Mosaic Laws, ceremonial, civil, and moral, had a distinct place within the Jewish life as described in the Old Testament.

The New Testament frequently provides insights about Jesus and his disciples ignoring both the civil and the ceremonial laws.

Jesus speaks directly to the Civil Law in Matthew 23:23: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

Jesus is questioned about ignoring the Ceremonial Law in Matthew 15:1-2: Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, ‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!’

The New Testament provides no evidence that Jesus ignored, or broke, the moral portions of the Mosaic Law. In fact, he stressed the importance of those laws and frequently took time to explain in detail that obedience to them should come from the heart and not a book of rules.

This is seen in Matthew 5: 21-22: You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Jesus talks to the lady accused of adultery in John 8:11: . . . Then neither do I condemn you, go now and sin no more.

Jesus discussed the difference between observing God’s commandments externally and following them from the heart in Matthew 23:25-26: Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you make clean the outside of the cup and the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter so the outside may be clean also.

If Jesus talked extensively about keeping the moral portions of the Mosaic Law how do we reconcile this with the fact that He came to free us from the law?

On the one hand we read in Romans 6:14: For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.

The answer is contained in Romans 8:2-4: For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The ‘righteous requirements of the law’ are fulfilled in those who ‘walk according to the Spirit’. This is echoed in Titus 2:11-12:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.

Jesus talks about obeying His Father’s commandments in John 15:10-11:

If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.

This text from John leads back to Mark 12:29-31:

Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

At no point does Jesus say there are only two commandments. In fact, in the last line, He says, ‘No other commandment is greater than these’. This one statement is quite telling in that He indicates there are other commandments below these two. If we go back and read the first line above this passage we have Mark 12:28: One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
In His reply, Jesus does not indicate that other commandments do not count; he answers the question as asked, ‘Which is the most important.’

Through Christ’s death and our acceptance of Him as our Savior the Holy Spirit enters our lives. Our sins are forgiven through God’s grace. As we walk according to the Holy Spirit we reject godless ways and worldly desires and live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives. As Jesus said, ‘obey my commandments . . . as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments. We read in James 1:22: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourself. Do what it says.

Through our acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Savior we become free from the legalism of the Mosaic Law and gain an understanding of God’s will through the Holy Spirit acting in our life. By following God’s will we accept His love for us, and are able to show His love, grace, and forgiveness of sins to others.

Civil Rights or Gay Rights?

Many pastors seem to be delivering sermons or homilies attempting compare the Civil Rights movement with the Gay Rights Movement. Our pastor delivered an entire sermon on the Civil Rights movement using the the rainbow colored banner as a back drop in slides.

The Civil Rights movement has seldom been referred to as Black Rights or Negro Rights or African American Rights. It was called Civil Rights because it was all about all individuals receiving the same Civil, or human, Rights guaranteed under the Constitution and by God, our creator.

The right to vote was never based on sexual preference, but individuals were denied the right to vote. The right to sit where you want on public transportation was never based on sexual preference, but individuals were denied the right to sit where they wanted. The right to use any available water fountain was never based on sexual preference, but individuals could not use any available water fountain. The list could go on and on, but hopefully the train of thought is clear. Basic individual human rights were the force behind the Civil Rights Movement.

The Gay Rights movement is not, and never has been, about an individual’s basic human rights. The Gay Rights movement is all about the acceptance of a specific sexual act:  homosexual practices.

Within the United States, all sorts of individuals have been allowed to marry. Convicts, both in and out of prison can be married. Drug addicts and alcoholics can be married. People of all ethic backgrounds can be married. People with all sorts of mental or physical disabilities can be married. Adults of significantly different ages can be married.  There has never been an issue with people getting married; the issue is where you set the bar between an acceptable or unacceptable marriage.

Homosexual marriage, or Marriage Equality, was all about making the homosexual act acceptable. It was all about moving the bar between acceptable and unacceptable marriage. Not only was it focused on making the homosexual act acceptable, it was focused on forcing others to participate in the homosexual practice. An individual who is homosexual has always possessed the human right to go into a bakery and purchase a cake. Gay Rights was all about forcing the bakery to participate in the sanctification of the homosexual practice.

Civil Rights laws were all about the moral principles that each individual was equal. Gay Rights laws are all about sanctifying a sex act.