Wednesday, October 19, 2005

An ongoing discussion

I've been having this ongoing discussion with a fellow Methodist about an issue that is dividing a community in which he participates. It is a type of church community. Apparently there is a woman in this community who has been "living with" a man to whom she is not married for some time. She was recently asked to serve in a position of leadership. This has created a rift in the community over whether she should be allowed to serve and what kind of witness her leadership presents to the secular world. Here's my most recent response:

OK, I'm beginning to see some of what's going on here. It's troubling when any church or para-church organization has to deal with sin and sinful behaviors. Just look at how our denomination continues to struggle with the homosexuality issue. While one side fights to have the behavior approved, the other side cannot acknowledge that God doesn't stratify sins like humanity does. Sin is sin is sin, period. Gossipping is no better than perversion is no better than murder. It's just that nobody wants to call a sin a sin anymore. We don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. And while there is certainly value to that, personal feelings are not the bottom line when it comes to living a Christian life.
I need to talk to you here about the idea of holiness and being holy. The word "holy" means that something or someone is "set apart" from everything else for a special purpose. Being that the Walk to Emmaus is a predominantly United Methodist run community, it might be good for some folks in the movement to go back and read some of John Wesley's writings. Wesley started out meeting at Oxford with several colleagues for prayer and accountability. People referred to his group as a holiness club. Wesley embraced the idea. In fact, it was something that became the core of his thinking and his preaching, Scriptural holiness. Wesley often asked people if they were "going on to perfection." Going on to perfection does not eliminate grace, in fact, it is the ultimate expression of God's grace to be perfected in love. As Christians, it is incumbent upon all of us to hold our Christian brothers and sisters accountable for their actions. The church body is the disciplinary body for the Christian life. Somewhere along the line we've lost that idea, even though it is completely Scriptural.
NIV Matthew 18:15-20 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."
Without being intimately involved in the situation it is hard to comment further. It does seem evident to me that your community has little concept of Scriptural holiness. I wonder how they feel about the witness of the community in allowing Mary to be a part of the team. How would they answer that question in the light of this passage of Scripture? How is that community "set apart" from the rest of the world?

Just thought that folks might like to read some of the pastor's inner thoughts on a tough issue.
Grace and Peace.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

A Life of Passion 10/2/05

Philippians 3:4b-14
A Life of Passion
When you have it all, it’s hard to give it up. I recently heard about an estate auction where everything had to be sold. Not because of a death, but because of a divorce. Two million dollars plus was the bottom line. The owner rode his prize horse into the bidding ring while the bidders made their offers. The horse sold for an amazing sum of $102,000! Even though this was much more than expected, the owner dismounted and went into the house where he cried like a baby.
Now it’s one thing to be forced to give things up, but it’s quite another to part with something that has given you joy, consumed the attention of your life, and has made you proud.
All that the Apostle Paul had previously lived for, he willingly gave up to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. It wasn’t because God wanted to rob him of his joy, but that God wanted to give him a greater joy. A joy built on the eternal instead of the temporal. And, when Paul understood the difference, he willingly gave up that which would not last for that which would never end.
Paul’s passionate love for Jesus forced him to focus on being everything that Jesus had called him to be. Paul’s life was a life of passion.
The question before us this morning is, is our life as passionate as Paul’s?
There are three things that we can learn from this passage this morning.
First, we must give up what stands between God and us.
Look at verses 4b through 7.
Paul says, “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.
This religious zealot, Paul, found that his zealous credentials, were blockades between himself and God. He’d been born to the right family. He’d spent a lifetime of discipline developing his reputation. Not only was his family proud of him, he was proud of himself. It would be unthinkable to give up all that he had worked for. It was the very center of his life. But what is the cost of giving yourself to something that is less than of the utmost importance?
In his book, The Passion Promise, John Avant relates this story from Desert Storm. The storm was blowing and Colonel William Post had a job to do. He was in charge of receiving all the incoming supplies for the ground forces. Among these supplies were the tons of food that came in every day to feed the troops. One day Colonel Post received a message from the Pentagon. This query asked that he account for forty cases of missing grape jelly. The colonel sent a soldier to investigate the mystery of the missing jelly. The soldier reported back that it could not be found. Colonel Post made his report and assumed that that would be the end of it. After all, it was just grape jelly. He assumed wrong. The Pentagon continued to press him. They pointed out that they needed to close the books on the month, and that jelly just could not vanish like that. Finally, they ordered him to find the jelly. The Colonel had had enough by then and sent back the following response: Sirs, you must decide. I can dispatch the entire army to find your jelly, or, I can kick Saddam out of Kuwait, but not both.” He got no reply.
Paul realized that he couldn’t have both. He gave up the things that were gain to him so that he might have Christ.
What is it that stands between you and a life of passionate love for Jesus? Whatever it is, it’s only grape jelly. Give it up.
But I said that there were three points, didn’t I? Well, look at verse 9.
I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
Paul is saying that what we gain in Christ is something that we cannot gain any other way. When the curtain falls on our lives here on earth, we’ll have to stand before our God. Paul didn’t want to stand before God clothed in his own deeds, but rather in the righteousness of Christ.
Once upon a time at a church meeting a wealthy member of the church rose to tell the rest of those present about his Christian faith. "I’m a millionaire," he said, "and I attribute my wealth to the blessings of God in my life." He went on to recall the turning point in his relationship with God. As a young man, he had just earned his first dollar and he went to a church meeting that night. The speaker at that meeting was a missionary who told about his work in the mission field. Before the offering plate was passed around, the preacher told everyone that everything that was collected that night would be given to this missionary to help fund his work on behalf of the church. The wealthy man wanted to give to support mission work, but he knew he couldn’t make change from the offering plate. He knew he either had to give all he had or nothing at all. At that moment, he decided to give all that he had to God. Looking back, he said he knew that God had blessed that decision and had made him wealthy. When he finished, there was silence in the room. As he returned to the pew and sat down, an elderly lady seated behind him leaned forward and said, "I dare you to do it again." (Brett Blair,
As it has often been said, “You can’t take it with you when you go.” No matter what we’re worth, our achievements here mean nothing without Christ. Paul’s righteousness, indeed our righteousness comes from faith in the Christ of Calvary. Only in his righteousness will we experience acceptance with God. Not out of our deeds or our riches.
And one more thing, look at verses 12-14.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
That’s a great passage isn’t it? It really appeals to the competitive part of all of us. But Paul is using the race as a metaphor. To Paul, a passionate pursuit of Christ is the lifestyle of a grateful believer. You can’t read this passage without feeling the passion that Paul had for Jesus, can you?
I mean, we’re not talking about a philosophy of life here. We’re not addressing a code of conduct that can be mimicked to have a good life. We are hearing a testimony about radical transformation. We are hearing about someone who has moved from fanatical religious idealism to a passionate relationship with the Living Lord.
You know, last spring we read The Purpose Driven Life in Bible study. And while having a purpose is certainly important, I think that we have to understand life and have a passion first.
Cherie Carter-Scott wrote a short bit called The Rules for Being Human. They go a little something like this:
1. You will receive a body. You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period.
2. You will learn lessons. You are enrolled in a full-time informal school called Life. Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant and stupid.
3. Most "mistakes" are merely "lessons". Growth is a process of trial and error: Experimentation. The "failed" experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiments that ultimately "work".
4. A lesson is repeated until learned. A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can go on to the next lesson.
5. Learning lessons does not end. There is no part of life that does not contain its lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.
6. "There" is no better than "here". When your "there" has become a "here," you will simply obtain another "there" that will again look better than "here."
7. Others are merely mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects something you love or hate about yourself.
8. What you make of your life is up to you. You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you. The choice is yours.
9. You will forget all of this. (Community Messenger \webpage{, esaug95, esaug02.htm} Copyright, 1995 by Rick Janelle. Permission granted to use our articles in any manner, so long as the content is not changed and the name of the author is left on the article. Used By Permission)
Paul understood life. He knew that every moment was an opportunity to learn. He learned that the greatest opportunity was to be found in Jesus Christ. And his passion to take hold of Jesus was what drove him to become the saint of the faith that we all know.
This is the passion that is to be normal for every one of us, the children of God. But it is so hard to let loose of the temporal in order to gain the eternal. It is difficult to give up immediate self-gratification to hear that future “well-done” from our Lord. It’s not easy to die to self so that we might possess the abundant life of Christ.
And yet, the one thing that separates high achievers from also-rans is passion. The thing that propels one team ahead of another is more than talent. It’s passion.
And passion for all that God has planned for you in Jesus Christ will be the thing that propels you beyond a life of status quo and failed dreams and regrets.
It’s about passion.
Give up what stands between you and God.
Reach for all that God offers that you cannot have in the here and now.
And press forward toward the prize…with passion.