Who will take care of the babies?

Psalms 139:13-16 (NRSV) 13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.

These scriptures from Psalms have never been more vitally important than they are today. On January 22, 2019 Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into legislation protecting womens’ reproductive rights in New York. Amid the increasing fear that Roe v. Wade will be overturned, the State Legisture moved abortions from the state criminal code to the health code. The law further permits those who are not doctors to perform the procedure, even into the third trimester.

While people cheered the decision, the above words kept echoing in my brain. The God of the Universe, our Creator, our Father, takes such care in our formation, but mankind has decided they know more than God.

I can understand that desperate people do desperate things. But how many people opt for terminating a pregnancy because of convenience? As a pastor, I try to avoid weighing in on political arguments, but this is not political, it is spiritual.

Our country has reverted to the sins of the Old Testament where infants were sacrificed to the pagan gods Molech and Baal. Except today, unborn babies are being sacrificed on the altars of convenience. And with this most recent law in New York, babies in their third trimester of life can be poisoned and suffer what has been described by OB/GYNs as an excruciating death.

Leviticus 20:2-5 (NRSV) 2 Say further to the people of Israel:
Any of the people of Israel, or of the aliens who reside in Israel, who give any of their offspring to Molech shall be put to death; the people of the land shall stone them to death. 3 I myself will set my face against them, and will cut them off from the people, because they have given of their offspring to Molech, defiling my sanctuary and profaning my holy name. 4 And if the people of the land should ever close their eyes to them, when they give of their offspring to Molech, and do not put them to death, 5 I myself will set my face against them and against their family, and will cut them off from among their people, them and all who follow them in prostituting themselves to Molech.

At the time Roe v. Wade was passed into law, young girls and women submitted themselves to people, many of whom had no medical training, for what was then termed “back-alley abortions.” It was a time when mothers either shunned their daughters or sent them away for the remainder of the pregnancy. For the girls who were sent away, there were homes for unwed mothers and the babies were placed for adoption. Sometimes family members would take the baby and raise him or her as their own.

Many of these women who were on their own had no good option–they found both education and jobs were scarce. I doubt that few women underwent abortions without serious soul-searching during that time.

Times have changed. The rallying call for abortion rights is “My body, my choice.” I would like to believe that some women still agonize over their choice, but to others it is less daunting than having a bad tooth removed.

As a woman of faith, I pray the scales can still be tipped toward the side of valuing all life, but I fear that time has passed.  Many states have fetal protection laws in the event an unborn child is killed through an act of violence to the mother. Yet, there is no protection under the law against abortion. In the first instance the fetus is considered a life, in the second, it is not. Make sense? I think not.

As a minister, I love preaching encouragement. But today, I must warn those who declare this is a political issue or even a medical issue that you are wrong. The issue of abortion is a spiritual issue. If you state men have no place in this debate, you are wrong. If you believe the lie that even though a heart beat exists there is no life, you are wrong.

I pray that God will begin to soften hearts that have been hardened by rhetoric and that there will be a time of repentance in America, a time where all lives are valuable and time where God will heal our land. If it has a heartbeat, it has a life. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Father God, help us to take not one knee in opposition to something as meaningful as our National Anthem, but move us to take both knees in submission to You, the One, True and the Living God, in repentance and in the prayer that You will turn our hearts, you will move us to protect those who cannot protect themselves, and You will heal our land. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

Ripe unto harvest

John 4:30-38 (NRSV) 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

A few months ago I retired from preaching due to my health. But, may I tell you I did not retire from ministry. There are people all around us who need help. Some need healing, others need to know that someone cares, and still others need to hear about Jesus.

In today’s Scripture, Jesus was with His disciples and they were concerned about His well-being. How could He continue His ministry if He did not take care of Himself. Surely He needed to stop long enough to eat. But Jesus told them that doing His Father’s will was “food” for Him.

Jesus went on to say that the time to bring people into the Kingdom was not in the future, but it was at that very time. You see, there are many things in our life where we can say, “I’ll do this or that tomorrow.” Sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ is not one of those things that can be put off.

As Christ followers we should be more serious than ever before about ministering to others in Jesus’ name. We should ask Jesus every day to send someone across our paths that we can help, whether physically or spiritually. Then, we need to have the presence of  mind to help the people we meet. Let us not get so caught up in our own lives that when God sends someone for us to help that we miss the opportunity. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Father God, we pray today that You will make us aware of the opportunities You provide for helping others. May we have Kingdom understanding and may we always see others through Your eyes. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

And the Word was Made Flesh

John 1:14 (KJV) 14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Isaiah 55:7-11 (NRSV) 7 let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NRSV) 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

I may have lived too long. When I was a child, we carried our Bibles to church. When the preacher asked that we turn in our Bibles to the Scripture of the day, we did so. There was only one translation used at that time, the King James, and the words of Jesus were printed in red. The Bible was revered as the Word of God.

Today, men and women emerge from seminary with the belief that the Bible’s only role is to lead us to salvation. Once that act is completed, the Bible is no longer relevant, and we should change our thinking about the Word of God, seeking answers from our culture rather than being the change agent in our culture. In fact, we are encouraged to disregard much of the Bible lest we are thought to worship the Bible rather than the God of the Bible. I may have lived too long, because to me, when John said the Word was made flesh, it is impossible to separate the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit from the Word.

I may have lived too long, because we seem to have rejected the caution issued by Isaiah that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours, and instead have elevated our intellect to a level above God. We seem to have forgotten that Paul told Timothy that these sacred writings not only lead us to salvation, but also is used for teaching, reproof, correction, and righteousness.

In my life, I have come to understand that intentional discipleship, the search for holiness, is not a one-time event. Instead, we must be willing to submit our lives in their entirety to staying in relationship to the Most High God. How is this accomplished? We stay in relationship to God by staying in the Bible. We pray as we read the Word that the Holy Spirit would shine the light of truth upon the words we read, and that our hearts would be quickened so that we can embrace the truth and be transformed.

As a preacher, my job is to proclaim the Word of God. For this reason, when I stand in the pulpit the first thing I do is read the Word aloud. My sermons are based upon the Word–I explain the context of the Word, the author, the audience, and then I relate the Scripture to our world today. If my message is unrelated to the Scripture, then why am I there? To impart my own wisdom?

I believe without stipulation that the Word of God is more than history, although it is indeed the history of man, particularly the Jews. I believe that the Word includes the mystery of how this Holy Word was made flesh, born of a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus spoke the Word, and when there was a misunderstanding, He explained the Word. I believe the Word was meant for all time and all people, and that Jesus is truly the only way to salvation. I believe.

Father God, we pray that the Holy Spirit will pour out another Great Awakening, where new disciples are made, and those who have taught their congregations that the Bible is no longer relevant will either be given a fresh anointing  or be removed from their pulpits. pray that current disciples will stand strong, and will continue to use their Bibles not as weapons, but as guides. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

You, O Lord, Are Our Hope!

Psalms 71:1-6 (NRSV) 1 In you, O Lord, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
2 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me and save me.
3 Be to me a rock of refuge,
a strong fortress, to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
4 Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
5 For you, O Lord, are my hope,
my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
6 Upon you I have leaned from my birth;
it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.

This morning I awoke to news of one policeman and two policewomen slain in the line of duty over the last several days. My heart hurts. My tears freely flowed, partially because of the senseless loss of life, partially because the lives of the officers’ families will never be the same, and partially because there seems to be no spiritual or moral restraint left to prevent this type of atrocity.

Psalm 71 was written by David during his old age. David was not a perfect man, but he served a perfect God. David knew where his hope lay, and his faith never wavered. We, too, serve a perfect God, and regardless of the cruelties of this world, our faith must remain strong.

But how do we accomplish such a feat? First, keep a notebook and enter the times your faith was tested, but God proved stronger than your opposition. Trust me, doing this is a faith-builder.

Secondly, stay in touch with God through prayer, scripture reading, and attending a Bible believing church regularly. Can your faith be built up without going to church? Let me put it this way…when you are hungry all you need to satisfy your hunger is to go to the table. If we are spiritually hungry, or our faith is growing weak, one of the best things we can do is go to the Church’s table, where we will find grace, faith, and other Christ followers who will lift us up with their prayers and friendship.

Sometimes we may feel we are on this journey alone, but we are not.

5 For you, O Lord, are my hope,
my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
6 Upon you I have leaned from my birth;
it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Father God, today we call on You for strength. May our faith be bolstered by You and by those You place within our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Bible is either God’s Word, or it is not

John 1:1-5 (NRSV) 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

The United Methodist Church has reached the point in time when we are neither united, nor are we truly Methodist. In six weeks, delegates from all over the world will meet in St. Louis to decide basically upon whether we will follow God’s Word, or we will modify His Word to reflect the current world culture.

Three plans will be presented for a vote. Plan one, the Traditional Church plan, states we will continue to adhere to our Book of Discipline. Actually, it purports to give legs to the Discipline which will begin to be enforced. The Discipline includes the questionable paragraph that states “a homosexual lifestyle is not compatible with Christian teaching.”

Why do I call the paragraph regarding homosexuality questionable? Well, for me it has always seemed odd that this one sin is singled out in our Discipline. Is homosexuality the unforgiveable sin? No. But the problem with homosexuality is that those who practice it will not admit it is a sin. If we refuse to admit our sin, we will not repent of it nor turn away from it. If we fail to repent, can there be forgiveness of that sin?

Those who want to exit our churches if the Traditional Church Plan passes will be allowed to do so, and will be able to take their property and all assets with them.

The second plan is termed the One Church Plan.  In this plan, the Book of Discipline will be changed to eliminate talk of homosexuality, and those practicing this lifestyle can now be ordained to preach and homosexual marriages can now be performed by our pastors in our churches. Supposedly, churches within the different Conferences can choose to either accept this practice, or they can refuse to perform homosexual unions or receive a homosexual pastor. But, if both the state and the church says it is legal to marry people of the same sex, and a pastor and/or church refuses to do so, does that open the parties up to legal action? Very likely it will. If churches who can not tolerate these changes decide to exit the United Methodist denomination, they may do so but must forfeit their churches and assets under the “Trust Clause.”

The third plan, termed the Simple Plan, offers a way for all of the churches to remain loosely connected.  The churches can choose how they want to interpret the Bible, but they would be connected by continuing to pay their tithes to the Conference and remaining under the Episcopal system of government.

For those of us who do not endorse the One church plan, we have been accused of failing to love our fellow Christians, and worshipping the Bible rather than the God who in essence wrote the Bible. We have been told the Bible is archaic and does not reflect the culture in which we now live.

I have to say that, to me, the issue surrounding the One Church Plan has little to nothing to do with love, and I do not even think it is about human sexuality. Loving people is not difficult when we pray that God will help us love people the same way He loves them. Human sexuality is a complex issue. I personally do not believe sexuality is a choice, but it is something we are born into. When I was a teenager, there was a saying that “God don’t make no junk.” What happened to believing God creates each of us in our own unique way?

Am I conflicted about homosexuality? I admit that I am. I am not sure why sexuality plays such a huge part in the way we live out our faith. Is a homosexual lifestyle sinful? The Bible says it is, just like the Bible says adultery is sinful, gluttony is sinful, and gossip is sinful. Am I so perfect that I can pick up the stone to shatter someone’s life and their faith? I think not.

While Jesus addresses divorce in the scriptures he says nothing about homosexuality. Does the absence of Jesus’ speaking of homosexuality somehow validate such a practice? Personally, I do not base my theology on what is not in the Bible, rather what is clearly stated therein. Both Moses and Paul said that laying with some of the same sex is a sin. Why didn’t Jesus either validate Moses or correct his understanding?  When you look at Jesus’ teaching, you will see that He only corrected those laws that were misinterpreted. “You have heard it said…but I say…” were the familiar words spoken by Jesus when he corrected the misunderstanding of the law. He never did so with homosexuality.

The issue is, and always has been, holiness.

The One Church plan removes the onus upon us to strive for holiness. When God said “be thou holy” it was not a suggestion. Yet, men and women have knowingly lied about their sexuality in order to receive ordination. Such action should make them unfit to serve, yet the conferences prefer to focus on whether local pastors are allowed to wear stoles. Shameful.

Whether or not the One Church Plan passes, our Church has become Humpty Dumpty, never to be put together again. I mourn for our Church and for those whose ill-advised mission has torn our Church apart.

For those of you who believe God will step in and heal the deep divisions within the Church, I remind you of Heb 6 which says if we are enlightened, but then turn away, it is impossible to be restored. We have traded God’s wisdom for our own understanding, and in doing so we have destroyed Methodism. We have made an issue of homosexuality, when the true issue is do we believe the Bible or not? We need to acknowledge that regardless of the culture, the Holy Spirit will not contradict God’s Word. If we believe He will, then God help us.

When Jesus told us in Matthew 28 to go make disciples, He did not qualify the type of disciples to whom we should minister and invite into the fold. Instead of living out our purpose of letting people know who Jesus is and what He can do in our lives, we have become distracted. As a pastor, it has been my job to proclaim the Word.  It is not my job to monitor the way people live out their faith. Perhaps the answer is to pray for people, minister to people, love people, and let God sort out our differences.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Father God, the world in which we live has begun to impact our Church and our beliefs. We know we are charged with loving You and loving others, and we have. We pray that during this time you would give us direction and understanding.  We pray for guidance covered by love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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