Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Thought for Wednesday 30 September 2015

“We exhort you, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.  See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.  Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise prophecies.  Test all things; hold fast what is good.  Abstain from every form of evil.”  1 Thessalonians 5:14-22 NKJV

Though this passage seems to be a mishmash of exhortations, the sum of what is written here is expressly thusly: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  There is love, encouragement, discipline, admonition, mutual accountability, and a strong sense of purpose.  It cannot be reduced to any set of “rules” but is rather an abiding principle conducive to building up a community of faith devoted to Divine Will.

Since the Age of Enlightenment (17th-18th century) there has not been any real sense of community, peoples preferring instead the freedom and perceived power to do and to think as individuals.  Rather than a strong community as the primary pursuit, individualism became primary.  An idea of doing or being had to do, first, with what is best for “me” with little or no regard for the well-being of one’s neighbor.  Consequently the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” – even as Jesus affirmed this commandment as a great commandment “like the first” – became love your neighbor … as long as it does not interfere with your personal pursuits.  The Age of Enlightenment being also known as the Age of Reason, it became more reasonable to first look after oneself and then consider sharing one’s excess.  It is arguably summed up for us today (even we who call ourselves the Body of Christ) as “The American Dream”.

The ideal of Christian community as the Body of Christ is much broader than “me first”.  No one, not even the apostles, has asked us to completely deny ourselves our basic needs.  Even within the context of Jesus’ encouragement to “deny yourself”, there is still that ideal of community in which the principle is defined; to care for one’s neighbor IS the care of oneself (if we consider ourselves to be part of a whole Body), for the well-being of the community is the well-being of all. 

With a strong sense of individualism, however, the care of those who are “fainthearted” or “weak” becomes the responsibility of someone else.  Rather than the collective strength of the “ekklesia” (the whole community, the whole congregation), charity has become the strength of the individual.  In other words, our real strength has left us; having been voluntarily surrendered to the strength and well-being of “me”.

The problems of our communities seem overwhelming precisely because we think as individuals.  Who alone can handle homelessness?  Or poverty?  Or hunger?  Or addiction?  Or gang violence?  We have no real idea of just how powerful the Body of Christ can be because we have never really had the faith to let go and “deny oneself”.  In that reality alone is lacking the faith necessary to “please God” or to even be justified before The Lord.  After all, what are we really saying when we profess faith in Christ?  In our contemporary Protestant context, faith in Christ has been rendered strictly “personal” with no mind or heart toward the whole Body.

I would venture to guess each of those of the church to whom Paul was writing were “personally” saved, yet Paul was encouraging them not to become so fragmented that the community falls apart, the Body weakens, and the “weak” and “fainthearted” fall through the cracks, having become “someone else’s” responsibility.

Let us “test all things” in accordance to what is written in the Scripture and learn to live as we are called to live.  We have been called not merely away from sin but have been called into the Body of Christ.  The “weak” and the “fainthearted” among us have no hope in this life apart from the Word Alive in the world today.



Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Thought for Tuesday 29 September 2015

“Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, who have borne witness of your love before the Church.” 3 John 5

Though we may aspire to change the world with mighty acts of charity (isn’t this our “vow” if The Lord will just let us win the lottery or Publisher’s Clearinghouse?), we can also easily become discouraged when we take time to look around.  The needs are great, and the statistics bear out the reality that even American children go to bed hungry.  In a nation whose wealth is unsurpassed and a government that has massive programs intended to care for these little ones, there are children who do not have enough to eat.  We are reminded of this whenever school holidays and summer vacations roll around; those who depend on free or reduced-price meals at school for basic nourishment will go without.

St. John does not speak of “doing” on a grand scale.  “Whatever you do for” those we don’t even know (including the “brethren” we may not know personally, such as missionaries) has a positive impact.  We will not eradicate poverty or hunger or homelessness overnight, but the overwhelming need does not mean we throw up our hands and give up altogether when we realize we cannot even make a dent alone.

“What can we do?” is not quite the same as asking “What must we do?” because the difference lies in understanding we “must” do something if we bear the name of Christ.  We “can” do anything we wish (including nothing at all if this is our curse), but we also have to have the will to do it.  That will comes from what we know about The Lord and His Word.  If we think we know “Believe on the name of the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” and choose to do nothing, the truth is we know nothing at all about The Lord, the Divine Law, or even grace.

“What can we do?”  What would you do for your own family?  For your dearest friends?  That is what we must do for others as we “love our neighbor as ourselves”.  The Church is not the Body of Christ if the Gospel we proclaim does not impact lives in a meaningful way.  Christ is not in “Christ-ian” if we willfully turn a blind eye to the great needs of the community while arrogantly proclaiming ourselves “saved”.  But we “do faithfully” whenever we do for those who cannot do for themselves – however great or small the act.

Prayer will reveal something if we honestly approach The Throne of Mercy with a mind open to The Lord’s influence and direction, but we must be willing to earnestly seek The Lord’s will rather than only The Lord’s favor.  And if we are only willing to give “if” we hit the lottery or Publisher’s Clearinghouse, then the truth is we are not willing to give anything at all … and the Truth is not in us.

The real Power of the Church is in the gathering of those who faithfully and earnestly seek The Lord’s will.  When that Power is unleashed, we will be amazed at what The Lord can really do with a people willing to follow His heart rather than our own desires.



Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Ministry of all Christians

Exodus 19:1-9
1 Peter 4:1-11
Mark 16:14-20
2012 Discipline of the United Methodist Church

“In order to be truly alive, we embrace Jesus’ mandate to love God and to love our neighbor and to make disciples of all peoples.”  Discipline of the United Methodist Church, ¶121, pg 92

In continuing our study of the doctrine of the United Methodist Church, it is necessary to examine doctrine (actually, any doctrine) in the light of the common mission of the Church.  “Faithfulness and effectiveness demand that all ministries in the Church be shaped by the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.”  Discipline, ¶123, pg 92

So the doctrine of the United Methodist Church is not reduced to a creed we can easily memorize nor is there a check list of orthodox beliefs.  Rather the fullness of the doctrine of the Church – and “in order to be truly alive” – is entirely about living the ministry of all Christians in the common mission we share.  There is not one baptized person in this fellowship, not one soul in this Holy House who is excused from this common mission, this mandate from Christ to “make disciples”.

Our Book of Discipline lines out a process by which we live into the mission to which we are called, the same mission The Lord laid out for the people of Israel as a “nation of priests”, the very same mission to which the Church is commissioned.  And each of us – without exception - has a ministry into which we are called as the means by which the mission of the Church is fulfilled.

“We make disciples as we 1) proclaim the Gospel, seek, welcome, and gather persons into the Body of Christ (note this phrase “Body).  [This is how we are enabled to] 2) lead persons to commit their lives to God through baptism by water and the Spirit and profession of faith in Jesus Christ.  [These new disciples are enabled to do so because we] 3) nurture persons in Christian living through worship, the sacraments, spiritual disciplines, and other means of grace.  [Then by our loving nurture, discipline, and mutual accountability we are able to] 4) send [these equipped] persons into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the Gospel.  [Finally we start all over with a new generation of equipped and committed disciples and] 5) continue the mission of seeking, welcoming, and gathering persons into the community of the Body of Christ.”  Discipline, ¶122, pg 92.  Not merely “members” of a local church.

It is fair to say, then, that of the doctrines of the United Methodist Church, “making disciples” is the primary doctrine – and should be considered the sole practice – of the United Methodist Church – not “membership” but, rather, radical discipleship.  Radical discipleship as in a sharp and drastic departure from doing things “the way we’ve always done them”.  The fullness of this primary doctrine is not only the present need of the United Methodist Church; it is also for the sake of the very Gospel itself in generations to come!  And let’s face this harsh reality: our children are lost without it.

It is entirely about whether we actually “believe” and trust The Lord. 

So how do we go about doing this?  While a few among us do not mind leading a devotional or Bible study, “proclaiming the Gospel” sounds an awful lot like the preacher’s job.  Note, however, that like most of the epistles of the New Testament, the Discipline is not strictly a job description for pastors alone nor are they directed at any single individual.  The epistles and the Discipline are directed at the whole Church, the Body united in common purpose. 

As it has been shared many times before, the Church (the body of the congregation, not strictly the institution) is charged with “proclaiming the Gospel”; that is, actively living Jesus’ very life in the world today.  Those who consider themselves “personally” and individually “saved” only for one’s own sake are very unlikely to take this mantle upon themselves – so if the Church falls silent, so does the Gospel … until The Lord finds someone else willing to carry His Charge and Commission to express His Love and His offer of redemption to the entire world.  Or at least our little corner of it in the beginning.

Now what happens to a church that refuses to live this doctrine and defy The Lord?  What happens to a body that declines to answer this charge or accept this Commission?  There seem to be two biblical answers for those who ignore The Lord and the “priesthood of believers”: 1) the Exile of the First Testament by which Judah and Israel were “cleansed” of the complacent ones who refused to take their part to care for the Whole Body and jerk a knot in the tail of those who refused to hold them accountable, and 2) the outright rejection expressed in the New Testament as written by St. Paul to the Romans: “As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting …” (1:28).  This strongly suggests The Lord put “they” to whom Paul was referring on His “pay no mind” list.  Do not be led to believe this is a “gotcha” passage strictly for homosexuals.

The very first thing we must do as The Body of Christ is to reject outright the very shallow and relatively modern Age of Enlightenment doctrine of “me”.  There is nothing written in the Scripture to lead anyone to think or to believe that The Lord so loves “me” to the exclusion of His Whole Body, suggesting Jesus favors His right foot over His left hand.  Remembering it is actually written in the Scripture that The Lord shows no “partiality”, we must get past this strictly self-serving notion that The Lord shows or does “personal favors” only for one’s own sake.  It is a dangerous doctrine, it is a shallow doctrine, and it often has little to do with THE doctrine of “making disciples equipped to make disciples”.

Secondly we must remember that when we acknowledge and receive Christ as Lord and Savior, we must acknowledge the fullness of Christ not as a “personal favor-doer” but as Lord of the whole Church and Savior of the entire world even as we are also reminded by the Scripture that “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His Name” (John 1:12).  There is indeed a personal component to our redemption, but it is NOT the end-all/be-all to sanctification.

All this is to say that, thirdly, we must believe we are in this together.  We are bound together interdependently and intimately as the whole Body of Christ.  If any individual is mad at the preacher or any member of this Body to the point that one refuses to commit to some component of the Life of the Church as the Church needs, or refuse to tithe, or refuse to pray together, or refuse to study the Scripture with one another, then one must first and foremost acknowledge it is solely and completely one’s own problem and will ultimately become one’s own condemnation – for we are not hurting the individual who is the object of one’s scorn; we are hurting the whole Body.  If we stick a knife in a foot, does the brain not sense and convey the pain, and the whole body affected adversely??  Nor can we expect to be forgiven (nor call ourselves “saved”) if we refuse to forgive or allow a drowning person to go under for the third time.  This condemnation, too, is actually written in the Scripture.

Dear friends, it is not time to put prayer back in public schools or put the Ten Commandments on the courthouse lawn or put a Christian in the White House.  It is time to put Christ back into “Christian”!  It is time to put Christ back into the Church so that the Church becomes the very Body of Christ we are called to be.  NO SINGLE INDIVIDUAL can make that happen alone.  Not Billy Graham, not Rick Warren, not Max Lucado, not Beth Moore, not even the bishop.

We are the Body of Christ, not “I”, each of us as “members” of that Body; and as The Body we are called – together – to “make disciples”.  It is the “Ministry of all Christians”, it is the lifeblood of the Body, and it is THE doctrine of the United Methodist Church to which all our doctrine points.  Let us never forget who we are; we are Christ in the World Today.  We are the living Gospel of The Lord.

In the Father, in The Word, in the Spirit of the Living God. Amen.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Cornerstone of Faith

Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Acts 4:1-12
John 14:1-7

“I continue to dream and pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God's creational intentions.”  John Wesley

What do we mean when we say we have faith in Christ?  I think that in order for the Church to experience genuine spiritual revival, as Wesley worked for in his day and as our bishop insists must happen today for the sake of the Gospel, this question must be answered honestly - because to ‘believe’ as a simple creed is not quite the same as having the ‘faith’ necessary to please The Lord, “for one who comes to The Lord must believe He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6 NKJV). 

This depth of faith not only leads to our justification before The Lord; it is the manifestation of what it means to “diligently seek Him” as we “go on to perfection”.  As John Wesley believed and expressed, one who is not “going on to perfection” purposefully and intentionally and, yes, “methodically” is no better off than the demons who “believe … and tremble”!

Too often we insist having faith means it is not necessary to explain ourselves because our faith is ‘personal’, maybe even ‘private’ and thus ‘no one’s business but mine’ (and the social liberals would much prefer it that way!), but Wesley nor our United Methodist principles and doctrine will allow any such notions as strictly ‘personal’ faith that lacks meaningful, outward social expression, for “Holy solitaries' is a phrase no more consistent with the Gospel than ‘holy adulterers’.” We are necessarily connected one to another in the Body of Christ.

We do not all have to be church pastors or street preachers, but The Lord has a unique claim on our lives that cannot – must not – be ignored.  Our faith cannot be relegated to only a portion of our being on Sunday morning nor can it be delegated strictly to paid church staff.  The fullness of the life we are called into is expressed in doctrine outwardly in and through this abiding faith which can indeed “please The Lord”.

Doctrine binds us as United Methodists (not just ‘Methodist’!), but it is a mistake to believe John Wesley’s “think and let think” concept applies so much so that UM doctrine can be summarized as ‘whatever’.  It isn’t true, of course.  It never was true even in Wesley’s context, and it never will be true. 

However, we must also understand the usefulness of doctrine as much more than distinguishing us as United Methodist Christians.  The doctrine of the United Methodist Church is entirely about informed, purposeful discipleship and spiritual leadership in mutual accountability, the fullness of which is not only in what we believe but, perhaps more importantly, in how we express outwardly what we believe inwardly as the Body of Christ. 

Without that expression in our living and in our doing for “the least of these” (not just family and close friends), the doctrine falls flat and is rendered meaningless – as is the Church.  It is the “form of religion” when we go through the motions only on Sunday morning and yet is “lacking the genuine power to transform lives” Monday through Saturday.  This is paper faith that is incapable of “pleasing The Lord”.

It is as true in understanding a portion of United Methodist doctrine known as the “General Rules” in which we are admonished and encouraged to 1) Do no harm, 2) Do good, and 3) stay in love with The Lord through the Sacraments of the Church and the means of grace at our disposal – including regular Bible study and worship with one another.  We may not cherry-pick one or another of these General Rules to fit particular circumstances and still consider ourselves faithful United Methodist Christians – especially if we will not be bothered with worshiping with United Methodist Christians.

These General Rules go together in conjunction with the whole of United Methodist doctrine in the fullest expressions of the Great Commandments to “love the Lord our God with every fiber of our being and doing, and to love our neighbor as ourselves”.  The fullness of United Methodist doctrine helps us to understand the depth of faith necessary to strive toward sanctification, that state of spiritual being in which we finally desire nothing but The Lord.

Let us not become confused by the depth of this desire to the exclusion of all else.  Rather, in the fullness of faith and life, we become better spouses, better parents, better siblings, better friends, certainly better disciples than we would otherwise be.  Why?  Because without doctrine we know, understand, respect, and even admire limits.  We love fully – but not quite as fully as The Lord because we also know, understand, respect, and even institutionalize conditions; cultural conditions, personal conditions … within the overall human condition which is less than holy. 

Faith that truly “pleases The Lord” knows no limits and places no conditions on love.  We love even our enemies; and if we are unwilling to love even these (and I think we all struggle with this), Christ may have no place in or use for us.  We lack the faith necessary to “please The Lord”.  We might believe “He is” (as the demons do), but we cannot say we are also “diligently seeking Him” if there are conditions and limits on the love we choose to share and express.

Why is doctrine so important?  I once believed doctrine serves no more useful purpose than to divide the people of The Lord as Catholics or Protestants, Baptists or Methodists, Jews or Gentiles.  There is much more to a better understanding of doctrine than what may divide us; doctrine defines us.  It is expressed in the Discipline of the United Methodist Church, “Whenever United Methodism has had a clear sense of mission, The Lord has used the United Methodist Church to save persons, heal relationships, transform social structures, and spread scriptural holiness, thereby changing the world” (¶121, pg 92).  It begins in the local church in that part of the world in which we are actively engaged.

Within our present society we are compelled to ask ourselves: is what we are witnessing a foreordained degradation of society – OR – an unmotivated and ill-informed Church?  Looking at the world in which we currently live, a world in which our mission seems unclear or unimportant, we see quite the opposite of an ideal society precisely because we have forgotten or have dismissed altogether the importance and usefulness of doctrine. 

So before United Methodism and any United Methodist Church can have a clear sense of mission, United Methodist Christians must regain a clear sense of self in her doctrines rather than to be guided by a garden variety of opinions and emotions, human instincts, or a shallow notion of “personal” salvation which lacks social expression and, consequently, stunts our spiritual growth. 

United Methodist doctrine is entirely about Christ Jesus as “the Way”.  Our doctrine is about understanding, embracing, living, and even becoming for the world the very Cornerstone of our faith.  We are the Body of Christ in the world today.  The doctrine we embrace is how we convey to an unbelieving world trapped in its own darkness “the Way” out of that condemning darkness and into the Light of Christ. 

What do we mean when we say we have ‘faith in Christ’, then?  Doctrine helps us to articulate what we mean and understand being connected to Christ.  Doctrine gives voice to what we sometimes have a hard time expressing.  So when sound doctrine is expressed outwardly, Christ is lifted up, The Lord our God is glorified, and lives are transformed – and The Lord our God is pleased.

Doctrine is the “Way” of the United Methodist disciple, doctrine is the “Truth” of the Word made Flesh, and doctrine is the outward expression of the “Life” of the Church in the world today.  And it matters.

Glory to the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Friday, September 18, 2015

A Thought for Friday 18 September 2015

“Everyone who acknowledges Me before others, I also will acknowledge before My Father in heaven; but whoever denies Me before others, I will also deny before My Father in heaven.”  Matthew 10:32-33 NRSV

This passage gets passed around on social media and in many e-mail “chain letters” than perhaps any other passage in Scripture – AND – in my opinion, in a most inappropriate and shallow way.  The social media or e-mail suggests that if we do not “share” that particular post or Tweet and if we do not pass along to our own e-mail connections that very thing which has been sent to us, then we might as well pack our bags and prepare for the descent into the very depths of Hell. 

Surely we can read this passage and do a better job of not only understanding our Lord’s words in its fullness, but perhaps we can also embrace this passage as sage advice on how to live as Christians.  For instance, are we “acknowledging” Jesus when we gossip about someone we don’t like?  Or are we denying Him?  Are we affirming Christ as Savior of the world when we decide worship just isn’t nearly as important as sleeping in or playing golf or going fishing or hunting or entertaining family and friends?  Or are we dismissing Him and all He sought to teach those who would dare to follow Him?

Claiming Christ as one’s “personal” Savior is a little tricky when we fail to realize or appreciate that there is more to being connected to Him than to simply say His Name aloud or post a thingie on Facebook.  We wonder why people are moving away from the Church rather than toward but I think if we were to study the Scripture, really delve into the fullness of the Written Word, we would find much more for these lost souls than professions of faith or “sinners’ prayers”. 

Only Jesus knows what’s in my heart”, we love to say; but Jesus says something quite the opposite: “A good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).  And this, I think, is what Jesus is talking about in whether we are affirming or denying our affiliation with Him.  What we say often becomes what we do and ultimately defines who we really are.

It is past time to stop playing Christian and start living as disciples who are genuinely following Christ.  For it is the faithful witness of the Holy Church by which others come to know of whom Jesus really is.  A “personal” Savior – OR – Lord of the Church?  Those who are lost and lonely and hungry and homeless need to know.  What will we tell them?  “Be warm, stay safe, eat well”?  OR will we say, “Let me help you, comfort you, feed you, heal you”?


Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Thought for Thursday 17 September 2015

“I am sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of Me as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.  When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time, for it is not you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.  Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of My Name.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”  Matthew 10:16-22 NRSV

I want to share with you a thought from my dear friend and mentor, John Farthing, who had some thoughts about our Americanized version of persecution: “Whenever we don't get our own way, we start to whine and complain that we're being persecuted for Christ's sake. That demeans the Cross.  It's like getting a mild headache and saying, "This is the cross I'm called to bear." 

It also demeans the real sufferings of our brothers and sisters who really are being persecuted for their faith.  American Christians haven't the slightest inkling of what it means to suffer for Jesus' sake.  Our witness is so anemic, so powerless, that the world doesn't take us seriously enough to go to the trouble of persecuting us

Why should the world persecute Christians who have capitulated so completely to the values and assumptions of this fallen world?  When John Wesley rode into town, there would often be mobs in the street waiting for him.  How long has it been since a Methodist preacher in America has had to face down a mob?   Maybe that's because Wesley was a threat to the status quo ... and we're not. 

And then we have the unmitigated gall to claim that we are being persecuted just because, on some political issue, we don't get to have our own way ...  We need to talk to Christians in China or Iraq or Syria, who know what it's like to be imprisoned or shot or beheaded for their witness to the grace of our Lord.

It's just embarrassing to realize that we've become so numbed by our own comfort that we don't even realize what persecution really is---and then we have the gall to claim persecution just because we don't get our way.”

I really do not think I can improve on that.  Pray for our truly persecuted brothers and sisters around the world who literally face torture and death and displacement because of their faith in The Lord.  And take each American day as the Gift it truly is – to be used to the glory of our Lord and for the benefit of those who struggle for worth and love and acknowledgement!



Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Thought for Wednesday 16 September 2015

“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and go wherever you wished.  But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”  John 21:18 NRSV

This is part of a conversation the Risen Christ is having with St. Peter.  Some have suggested it is the moment of Peter’s restoration to grace after having denied Jesus when He was facing His worst, but I think that may be reading a little too much into what is actually written.  After all, why would Jesus “favor” Peter and the others with an assurance of persecution?  This is what Jesus is talking about.  To serve The Lord does not mean life will always favor us.  To serve The Lord fully in a world that does not know Him and seems to have no desire to know Him means we will face the world’s wrath when we choose to live on The Lord’s terms rather than on our own terms.  And when we fully devote ourselves to obedience to The Lord, even HE will send us to places we may not wish to go!

I think of this county clerk in KY who served a brief jail sentence for defying a court order.  Many (including some politicians) are trying to make her a martyr.  Maybe she is.  However, a closer look might suggest she is not so concerned about living her beliefs as she is enforcing her beliefs (big difference) – while continuing to draw a paycheck! – in a world that is hostile to her beliefs.  We Christians should be prepared to hold one another accountable to discipleship, but we should not expect the world to be so willing to be held accountable – especially when so many in the CHURCH refuse to be held accountable!

Jesus has told Peter and the others (even apostles and faithful disciples to this day!) there was once a time when we could do as we wished when it pleased us – BUT – following Jesus faithfully is not going to be very well received in the world at large.  Yet even among all who need to hear the Gospel, there are some who have been waiting their entire lives to hear some Good News for a change!  It is not, however, about getting them to go to church – it is entirely about the Church going to them!  The Great Commission we know well from Matthew’s Gospel is being affirmed in John’s Gospel.  We are also seeing this Commission begin to take on an even more meaningful life.  Rather than to only “go” and “teach” and “baptize” (which can be construed as “imposing” or “enforcing”), the Church is being commissioned to “feed” those who are starving for mercy and justice.  This means we are being commissioned to get up close and personal!

I encourage you to continue to lift up this lady in your prayers, but we must keep our eyes on the Holy Ball.  It is The Lord who must be lifted up and glorified; not a county clerk!  The teaching of doctrine is a tricky thing even inside the “ekklesia”, so we should not be surprised nor get our noses out of joint when the world at large does not care. 

Our challenge is to ask ourselves: what will it take to “feed” those “sheep” and “lambs” to whom Jesus is referring?  I think this question must be asked and answered within the “ekklesia” before we venture out into a hostile world.  And let us not worry too much about how we can use federal legislation to enforce or even protect our beliefs.  The federal government never has been and never will be concerned with the Gospel of The Lord.  This is the task, the Commission, of the Church, the “ekklesia”.  That, my friends, is you and me.