Monday, November 12, 2018

Marrying Wisdom and Faith

Monday, November 12, 2018

Abraham was now a very old man, and the Lord had blessed him in every way.  One day Abraham said to his oldest servant, the man in charge of his household, “Take an oath by putting your hand under my thigh.  Swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not allow my son to marry one of these local Canaanite women.  Go instead to my homeland, to my relatives, and find a wife there for my son Isaac.”  The servant asked, “But what if I can’t find a young woman who is willing to travel so far from home?  Should I then take Isaac there to live among your relatives in the land you came from?”  “No!” Abraham responded.  “Be careful never to take my son there.  For the Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and my native land, solemnly promised to give this land to my descendants.  He will send his angel ahead of you, and he will see to it that you find a wife there for my son.  If she is unwilling to come back with you, then you are free from this oath of mine.  But under no circumstances are you to take my son there.”  So the servant took an oath by putting his hand under the thigh of his master, Abraham.  He swore to follow Abraham’s instructions.  Then he loaded ten of Abraham’s camels with all kinds of expensive gifts from his master, and he traveled to distant Aram-naharaim.  There he went to the town where Abraham’s brother Nahor had settled.  Genesis 24:1-10(NLT)

It is possible to act in faith without wisdom; it is also possible to use wisdom without faith (although it isn’t wise to do so, and is worse than being faithful, but not wise).  There are times when you don’t know which way to turn.  You sit and consider all the possibilities.  You want to trust God and be faithful, as well as wise.  But it’s confusing.
The culture in which Abraham lived was patristic, and the custom was for him to choose a bride for his son, Isaac.  This old man had walked with God for many decades, and the Lord had given him much wisdom.  In this most important decision as leader of his family – a decision that would affect his household name for generations to come, Abraham wanted to be faithful, and he wanted to be wise.  He proved to be both.
Abraham was unable to travel, and the faith of his household demanded a choice for Isaac that would fertilize that faith.  That meant helping Isaac choose a faith-filled wife, who would help him cultivate a family of faith.  In Abraham’s judgment, that meant going back to the place of beginnings.  Abraham wisely chose his faithful servant to carry out this plan, giving clear instructions to bring back a willing match for his son.  God was in this faithful wisdom, and so, it worked out well as God led the servant to Rebekah. 
The question that normally arises out of this story is:  How does just following the cultural norms equate with being faithful and wise?  After all, there are plenty of Biblical passages that teach God’s people to be anything but “normal”.  We are to come out from [amongst sinners], and we must live in the world, but not of the world.[2]
The answer is found in the last part of Abraham’s instructions to his servant. 

Abraham is reasonable

He tells his servant what to do, and then tells him if it doesn’t work out, he is released from his obligation. 

Abraham also acted in faith

He tells his servant in unmistakable words to make certain his son is to live in the land God promised.  In this Abraham is willing to abandon the cultural norms if culture contradicts God’s way.  This is the essence of faith; we trust God more than culture.  God, whom we cannot see is our promise; He is leading us to evidence unseen but hoped-for. 

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance.  He went without knowing where he was going.  And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents.  And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise.  Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.  Hebrews 11:8-10(NLT)

If the servant couldn’t secure a bride for Isaac in the culturally-accepted way, Abraham was willing to back off and await God’s revelation.
I have tried to force situations before with my controlling nature; I can say with absolute certainty – that was not wisdom or faith; it was unbelief.  Anytime you can’t bear to stand still and see God’s salvation, you’re not willing to have faith marry wisdom; you’re more interested in having your own way.
For You Today
If you’ve got a big decision to make, make the biggest one first – that you’ll do your best, but you are committed to God’s way above your own.  That’s how to marry wisdom to your faith.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image: Courtesy of Pixabay.com
[2] 2 Corinthians 6:17 & John 18:36

Friday, November 9, 2018

Naomi's Joy

Friday, November 9, 2018

Then the elders and all the people standing in the gate replied, “We are witnesses!   May the Lord make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended!  May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem.  And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.”   So Boaz took Ruth into his home, and she became his wife.  When he slept with her, the Lord enabled her to become pregnant, and she gave birth to a son.  Then the women of the town said to Naomi, “Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family!  May this child be famous in Israel.  May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age.  For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!”  Naomi took the baby and cuddled him to her breast.  And she cared for him as if he were her own.  The neighbor women said, “Now at last Naomi has a son again!”  And they named him Obed.  He became the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David.  Ruth 4:11-17(NLT)

Naomi knew joy and sorrow.  She had the joy of marriage and the birth of two sons.  She knew the hardship of having to leave home and live in a foreign place because of hard times.  She also knew the joy of having her sons get married, welcoming two daughters-in-law into the family.  Then Naomi came face-to-face with one of life’s harsher turns; both her husband and two sons died.  This sorrow was compounded by the laws of the day; Naomi and the wives of her dead sons were reduced to begging.  Life was harsh, and it was hard to fight against the bitterness of it all.
And then there was the redeemer, Boaz!
The fact is, when your life is pushed up against the wall of hard circumstances, you will turn in a lot of different directions until something works out.  To Naomi’s credit, she turned to the covenant God made with Israel.  She went back home with her daughter-in-law, Ruth, to the land of her dead husband’s relatives.  There, under Moses’ law[2] she would find protection for the two of them. 
But Naomi got so much more than protection.  As it turned out, Boaz, a relative of her deceased husband, became the kinsman-redeemer for this family, receiving Ruth, Naomi’s daughter-in-law as his wife.  This safeguard was JHWH’s protection in two ways.  First, it ensured Naomi and Ruth would not have to wander and beg; they had a safe home.  Second, it protected the family heritage. 
And, in this case, what a heritage!  A child is born, Obed … who would have a son, Jesse.  Jesse’s son, David, would tend sheep, and then be a shepherd to Israel as King.  Generations later, in a stable, on a cold winter’s night, David’s lineage would receive gifts from other kings and nobles while the angels sang to welcome Messiah, kinsman redeemer of humanity.  And this is the One who would make it possible for us to not wander and beg in our sin!
Of course, Naomi’s joy was simply wrapped up in holding her little grandson, ten toes and fingers, diapers that needed changing, feeding, burping, and the comfort of a living hope for the future.  Naomi’s joy was heralded by the simple cry of newborn Obed, whose name means servant of God.
I’m not sure Naomi could have envisioned all that would come out of Obed’s life, or that her name would be more than something to look up on Ancestry.com.  She was probably just happy to have a safe home and a new chance for her life and Ruth’s.  Things had turned for the worse in that foreign land; now God had provided a blessing beyond her dreams.
There seems to have been a lot of that kind of thing in Naomi’s family.  Mary, Ruth’s great-granddaughter, many times removed, also was confused with the struggle that came from an angel one night.  But, she also got to hold a newborn life; a child Who was destined to become eternal life for a world confused in the darkness of sin.
For You Today
When life turns harsh it’s hard to look down through the generations and leave it all to God.  But that’s exactly what may be on your plate today.  So, remember the old proverb that is an epitaph of Ruth’s love expressed to Naomi, as she invested her life with her mother-in-law:  It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image: Courtesy of Pixabay.com
[2] Deuteronomy 25:5

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Perfect

Thursday, November 8, 2018
It happened again for the umpteenth time in recent memory of those conversations where you’re giving information to somebody who is recording that information.  The young lady on the other end of the phone used that dreaded filler word:  PERFECT!  You are no doubt familiar with the filler-words:  um, uh, so, you know … you know? 
I gave her my information, a series of numbers to back it up, my mother’s maiden name, an answer to a challenge question about my elementary school, and she ended it all with PERFECT!  How did she know it was PERFECT?
Too many of those called by God to be preachers of the Gospel are plagued with the tendency to say more, rather than less.  We want to explain better, go deeper, say it stronger; we want to be precise and perfect, and wind up doing nothing more than keeping people longer!  Lord have mercy!
Paul was certainly like that; just ask Eutychus, the young man who listened to Paul’s all-nighter of a sermon sitting in an upper room window sill.  He dozed off, fell through the window and died from the fall![2]  The apostle rushed to the scene below, took the young man in his arms, and he came back to life.  I bet from that moment on Eutychus was a sermon illustration in a lot of Paul’s preaching about the resurrection (as well as warning not to go to sleep during sermons!).
The verboseness of preaching and preachers is legendary.  But, that aside, there were times when Paul just hit the nail on the head squarely, forcefully, and finally…sufficiently to bring the conversation to a life-changing apex. 
Here is one of those sentences:

 When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.  Romans 5:6(NLT)

When it comes to helping us appreciate the first Christmas gift ever, this sentence does it for me.  It describes the helpless, sinful condition of all humanity.  It describes the impeccable timing of Christ’s arrival, and the whole purpose for his sacrifice on the cross, planned from before the beginning of time.  In 17 words the preacher proclaimed our condition and God’s solution … it was … perfect!
And added to Paul’s perfect preacher sentence, and eternally more important than Paul’s words, is what those words mean:  God’s salvation is PERFECT!
For You Today
You can’t get better than perfect; so why would you try?
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image: Courtesy of Pixabay.com
[2] Luke 20:9

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Yes? No? What?

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

As soon as Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him.  And since God receives glory because of the Son, he will give his own glory to the Son, and he will do so at once.  Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer.  And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going.  So now I am giving you a new commandment:  Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.  Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”  Simon Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?”  And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.”  “But why can’t I come now, Lord?” he asked.  “I’m ready to die for you.”  Jesus answered, “Die for me?  I tell you the truth, Peter—before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.  “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God, and trust also in me.  There is more than enough room in my Father’s home.  If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.  And you know the way to where I am going.”  “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said.  “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one can come to the Father except through me.  John 13:31 – 14:6(NLT)

To say the least, it was a little confusing at times following Jesus.  At this last supper (of course the disciples didn’t understand it would be the last) they heard the Lord say:  you can’t come, then, you will, then, not now.  Peter wanted to know why and where.  Thomas finally nailed it with:  Would you just tell us, Jesus?  The fact is we don’t have a clue!  And then Jesus said it plainly; He IS the answer … to everything! 
It’s like the old sermon illustration about the children’s sermon.  The pastor asks the little ones:  what’s grey, with a long fuzzy tail and runs up and down the trees saving up nuts for the winter?  5-year-old Tommy raises his hand and says:  Jesus! 
The crowd gasps; Tommy’s Grandmaw has a spell, and the pastor, hesitating, asks his little student:  Uh, why would you say that, Tommy? 
Says the budding theologian, Aw, preacher; I knowed you was talkin’ ‘bout a squirrel, but this here’s church; all the answers are ‘bout Jesus.
I believe Tommy may have been on-to something.  I have sat for hours and watched squirrels darting around, playing and fighting with other squirrels, gathering nuts and scampering up the tree to their nest.  It looks quite confusing to a human, although it’s quite natural for a squirrel, no matter what a human thinks!
With all the confusion DaVinci portrayed at that upper room table, many critics of Scripture can’t wait to get to this passage.  They love to point out the so-called contradictory nature of Jesus’ teachings; first he says “yes” then “no” then “wait”.
But, like life, leading a group of no-nonsense fishermen, former tax collectors, and generally uneducated young nobodies out of their all over the map squirrel-kind of thinking about God, into the God’s kind of love which will grow into an all-consuming passion for the kingdom requires a lot of course-correction.  Jesus was leading them on a complicated mission that has one, very UNCOMPLICATED conclusion, that Jesus is the Christ, God-in-flesh, come down to BE our answer.
And if you get THAT … you won’t get much else wrong.
For You Today
Advent is just around the corner; God makes His presence known in unexpected places like stables, crosses, and the face of your next-door neighbor.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image: Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Trouble With Mud

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

“One day when Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his relatives, the people of Israel.  He saw an Egyptian mistreating an Israelite.  So Moses came to the man’s defense and avenged him, killing the Egyptian.  Moses assumed his fellow Israelites would realize that God had sent him to rescue them, but they didn’t.  “The next day he visited them again and saw two men of Israel fighting.  He tried to be a peacemaker.  ‘Men,’ he said, ‘you are brothers. Why are you fighting each other?’  “But the man in the wrong pushed Moses aside.  ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ he asked.  ‘Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?’  When Moses heard that, he fled the country and lived as a foreigner in the land of Midian.  There his two sons were born.  Acts 7:23-29(NLT)

Moses had a good idea; sometimes that’s not enough.  Having recently found out that he was born an Israelite, this prince of Egypt was trying to find his true pathway in life and visited the people who were his people by birth, but who were slaves to the nation that had adopted him.  It went badly.
Moses had a knee-jerk reaction to a fellow Egyptian’s barbaric treatment of an Israelite, who (in Moses’ mind) could have been a relative.  This highlighted Moses’ own dilemma; he was powerful, and at the same time, a slave by birth in a borrowed princely robe.  The warring indignation within became the roaring fire of self-righteous anger without; Moses killed the man.  When he went back the next day to check on the results of his saving act of mercy-killing, his deed was named by his kinsman; Moses was now a murderer.  He did what villains do; he ran away.
The idea to protect the powerless Israelite was a good idea; acting as judge, jury and executioner was not.  If we look ahead, we find Moses hiding out in obscurity for the next forty years until that burning bush encounter with God would draw him back to Egypt.
So, what does this have to do with mud?
It’s bound up in the old expression about choosing which battles are yours, and how you should fight.  The expression begins:  Never wrestle with a pig….  The imagery of that kind of combat takes you to the mud wallow; both you and the pig will get covered in mud, and the only noticeable difference between you and Porky is that the pig loves it.
Which brings us to the trouble with mud.  As a believer/disciple of Jesus Christ, you were never intended to run in the mud; your place is walking the narrow path and soaring with the eagles.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.  Isaiah 40:31(NLT)

Sometimes it takes a truckload of restraint, and not a little biting of the lip to resist being drawn into the mudhole over a pig-type of issue.  It takes winsomeness and calmness from thoughtful people to let cooler heads prevail in the kind of climate to which our culture has turned.  That turning is towards the mudhole of drama, pushed agendas, and severe lack of respect. 
It is the opposite of Christian graciousness.
For You Today
A bit of Max Ehrmann’s wisdom to start today in a prayer for dialogue and communion with others to replace the shouting matches:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.[2]

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image: Courtesy of Pixabay.com
[2] Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, 1952

Monday, November 5, 2018

Revenge

Monday, November 5, 2018

Never pay back evil with more evil.  Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable.  Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.  Dear friends, never take revenge.  Leave that to the righteous anger of God.  For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.  Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them.  If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.”  Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.  Romans 12:17-21(NLT)

There are so many illustrations of how we humans despise the idea that our enemies get away with anything.  A bombing, or jet crashing into twin towers requires a response.  A murder requires lethal injection.  A bop on the head during recess requires running to the teacher and demanding justice!  We are hard-wired, it seems, to default with eye-for-an-eye revenge!  The first thing a recruit is taught when learning to be a good soldier is that the enemy must die!
Doing good to your enemies makes no sense at all, does it?  Yet, that is exactly what the Apostle Paul is saying.  And the idea wasn’t his at all!  In fact, when Paul was still Saul, the Pharisee, breathing out threats against the church, righteous revenge was his stock-in-trade; he worked tirelessly to inflict religious vengeance on the blasphemous Christians[2].  But when Jesus caught up with Saul on the Road to Damascus, the Lord not only changed his name to Paul, this newly commissioned apostle had his mind changed as well.  Jesus taught him what he’d taught on the Olivet hillside:

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.  But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!  Matthew 5:43-44(NLT)

Now, that sounds altruistic, and even heroic, to walk on the high side of revenge; forgiving instead of killing – but does it work in the real world?  Well, that depends upon in which world you prefer to live – this world’s system of grab all you can and dispose of anyone in your path who is an obstacle … or the Kingdom of God.  The two worlds are polar opposites, and you cannot live with one foot in the Kingdom, and the other in the world.  Trying that will make you a Thanksgiving turkey wishbone!  You’ll get pulled from both sides, and the split will be painful.
So, let’s entertain a slightly different view of meeting the needs of hungry, thirsty enemies; a view that makes sense.  It has to do with what the apostle said about heaping burning coals of shame on someone’s head.  At first hearing it sounds like you’re calling fire down from heaven on someone’s head…get that sucker, God; it’s a real revenge party! 
But the meaning couldn’t be more opposite.  In Eastern culture of two millennia ago, the fires were always burning.  It was much easier to keep a fire going than get a new one started.  Smoldering coals were used to transfer fire from one place to start up a new blaze at another location. 
If, by chance, or laziness, your fire went out during the night, requesting some coals from your neighbor was the first thought.  Doing the neighborly thing you’d put some fiery coals in a pot, and your neighbor would carry them home, balancing the pot atop their head. 
So, Paul’s imagery contains goodness with a barb.  Fiery coals are a good thing when your fire has gone out.  But these fiery coals of shame turn it upside down; given to an enemy, a good deed becomes their shame in counting on the kindness of one to whom they have shown no kindness.  That kind of response changes hearts from revengeful to kindly. 
And changed hearts changes lives, communities, and whole cultures.  It can change the world!
For You Today
Burning coals; it only takes a spark to get a fire going.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image: Courtesy of Pixabay.com
[2] See Acts 8, 9 & 22

Sunday, November 4, 2018

After the Vote

I just had no words!
Well, after that vote of semi-confidence, I started to think about how much I have been thinking about the other vote that’s coming in February at General Conference.  And the Father began speaking into my heart and mind several concerns, one of which is addressed by what happened to the early church when the culture began to invade Christianity.
Let’s unpack the vote of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and ruling elders of Israel in the Acts text we just heard:
1.    Confrontation by Cultural Puppets

While Peter and John were speaking to the people, they were confronted by the priests, the captain of the Temple guard, and some of the Sadducees.  These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead.  They arrested them and, since it was already evening, put them in jail until morning.  Acts 4:1-3(NLT)

The culture of Judaism was so entrenched that they would not entertain anything but what their power structure dictated.  The Pharisees, religious leaders wanted to keep their power base untouched, so they had these trouble-makers arrested.  It’s amazing how people can start out in life with genuine concerns and truth to guide them, and eventually become puppets to the power structure.  There was little question then, and little question now, that speaking truth in the presence of power-puppets will get you in trouble!
2.    Courage of True Faith

But many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of men who believed now totaled about 5,000.  Acts 4:4(NLT)

Despite the possible consequences of being arrested and even put to death, the message of Christ birthed faith in the hearts of those who heard the Gospel.  Faith knows no crippling fear.  So, the church was growing, despite the heat from the elders.  If you read the next couple of chapters of Acts it becomes clear that this courageous group in the early church got not only the attention of the in-charge group, they got their anger stirred-up.  This was the beginning of persecution that resulted in incredible growth.  The Pharisees and ruling elders were trying to stamp out this upstart bunch of Christians, but it was like pouring water on a grease fire…persecution only produced more courageous faith and growth.
3.    Conceit of the Wicked Minds

The next day the council of all the rulers and elders and teachers of religious law met in Jerusalem.  Annas the high priest was there, along with Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and other relatives of the high priest.  They brought in the two disciples and demanded, “By what power, or in whose name, have you done this?”  Acts 4:5-7(NLT)

Demanding an accounting of Peter and John about their faith, these rulers were steeped in their own self-importance.
4.    Cause-Driven Testimony

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed?  Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.  For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says, ‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’  There is salvation in no one else!  God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”  Acts 4:8-12(NLT)

This answer, given by Peter, was driven by a clear understanding of the mission to proclaim the Gospel.  This is what Jesus had told his disciples:

Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.  Mark 16:15(NLT)

5.    Confusion of the Powerful, but Lost

The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures.  They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.  But since they could see the man who had been healed standing right there among them, there was nothing the council could say.  So they ordered Peter and John out of the council chamber and conferred among themselves.  “What should we do with these men?” they asked each other.  We can’t deny that they have performed a miraculous sign, and everybody in Jerusalem knows about it.  But to keep them from spreading their propaganda any further, we must warn them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again.”  So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.  Acts 4:13-18(NLT)

In every way the rulers were unreasonable, not even coming close to appearing like they wanted to get to the truth.  They even ignored the fact that a man who had been paralyzed was standing whole before them.  They couldn’t say a word, so they wanted to drag the disciples down to that level and keep them from speaking.  The only thing important to them was holding together their precious organized crime syndicate.
Sticking with the Gospel as our mission (like the disciples did) will confound the so-called wise.  It will stymie and silence the powerful.  Christ’s work done in Christ’s way will be its own validation.
6.    Conquering Evil by the Spirit of God

But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”  Acts 4:19-20(NLT)

This was a question no Pharisee or Sadducee could answer without convicting himself.  This was a courageous move by Peter; his faith had grown by tremendous leaps and bounds in the few weeks since he’d denied he even knew Jesus.  He stood and put that faith to the test with the kind of boldness only a fool, or man possessing great faith can muster.  And when faith marries bold courage, Christ will always be honored.  And Christ, in turn, will always vindicate righteous faith!
The Message for Today’s Church
There is a message in all this for today’s church, and our United Methodist tribe in particular; it comes in two parts:

1.     Take Heart

As we sung earlier in the service, Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of life’s wild, restless sea to follow and love Him more than anyone or anything this world offers.
Now that would sound like a daunting task, and who feels up to it?  Most of us are over 50 in this church, probably a median age of over 60.  Who has that much strength or influence?  But do we remember that we’re not alone in this?
Scripture tells us there is a great cloud of witnesses in Heaven saying Take Heart:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.  And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.  Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.  Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.  Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.  Hebrews 12:1-3(NLT)

Stephen, one of the first martyrs for the faith, took heart to stand for, and to proclaim the truth before the powerful.  He was rejected, and the mob took him out to the edge of the city to kill him.  Stephen never lost heart, he prayed while he was being stoned to death for God to forgive his killers.
We have just passed another Reformation Day, celebrating Martin Luther nailing 95 theses of disagreement with the powerful church of his day that had grown cold, indifferent to the needs of the poor and powerless.  For thanks he was hauled before a court to defend himself.  This is what he said:
I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the
Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen
[2]
Peter, the apostle who denied faith in Christ in the cold, darkness outside of Pilate’s house while Jesus was being unfairly beaten, tried, and illegally-convicted by a kangaroo court, more than turned it around.  He was so bold to proclaim Christ it got him in trouble over and over, until finally he was crucified.  When it came time to be put on his cross, he begged to be turned upside down, declaring he wasn’t even worthy to be killed right-side-up.
These early believers, and many to follow through history took heart and served their Lord.  That is what their testimony calls us to do in this current tumult of our days.  Whatever happens in the vote of General Conference 2019, take heart; Christ is in your heart, and He will not abandon us.
The second part of this message for the tribe known as United Methodist is to…

2.      Take Responsibility

There’s a more important question than what will happen after the vote at General Conference.  That question is what will you DO after the vote?  The possibilities are: 
·      We can take our ball and go home…let this church fall apart on its foundations.
·      We can sit and wait for the wave of the powerful to overwhelm whatever is left of this denomination, until they kill it altogether, and just shake our heads.
·      We can take heart and serve the Lord with gladness
There is a great illustration of this in the story of Shawshank Redemption.[3]  Two men,
Andy DuFrane and Red Reddington are imprisoned, and bond over nearly 20 years.  The warden is an evil man, while the two prisoners act with common decency.  At every turn the warden does what he can to beat-down all the prisoners, breaking spirits.  
The ordeal nearly robs Andy of all hope, but in the final minutes of the movie he turns to Red and says:  I guess it all comes down to a small choice; you either have to get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’!
If I had the right as pastor to commission you in your next steps as a church, here is what I would say:  Get busy living!
In light of all the Saints of that great cloud of witnesses, and the Great Commission of Christ, himself, do not let bishops, delegates, District Superintendents, unbelieving clergy, or anyone else of evil desires cause you to fail in serving Christ. 
With bold faith and unending courage, take heart, take responsibility, and serve the Lord with gladness!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Let the church say “Amen”!

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[1] Title Image: Courtesy of Pixabay.com
[2] Martin Luther’s answer to charges by the court at the Diet of Worms
[3] 1994, Columbia Pictures