I recently heard somebody say, “I don’t watch the news…it’s just too scary!” Yes, I’m certain that many of us feel that way. Finding safe places to live, work, play, or even worship is becoming more difficult every year. News reports suggest that not even our churches or homes are immune to violence. Our “pursuit of happiness” is being challenged at every turn!
I love the way that The Message presents Acts 4:25-30:
As soon as Peter and John were let go, they went to their friends and told them what the high priests and religious leaders had said. Hearing the report, they lifted their voices in a wonderful harmony in prayer: “Strong God, you made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. By the Holy Spirit you spoke through the mouth of your servant and our father, David:
Why the big noise, nations?
Why the mean plots, peoples?
Earth’s leaders push for position,
Potentates meet for summit talks,
The God-deniers, the Messiah-defiers! ...
… “And now they’re at it again! Take care of their threats and give your servants fearless confidence in preaching your Message, as you stretch out your hand to us in healings and miracles and wonders done in the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
I recall a presentation at Annual Conference by the then Conference Lay Leader, Jay Brim, where he held up a early United Methodist Book of Discipline (BOD), which was a comparatively tiny, pocket-sized book. Our current BOD, is gigantic in comparison; and, in 2016, the General Conference meeting of the United Methodist Church will likely add many more pages!
Our BOD is intended not to curtail, but to empower the ministries of the church. Every four years, we make amendments to address evolving societies and cultures for the sole purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ, so that the world might be transformed in positive ways. EVERY member of the United Methodist Church is invited and even encouraged to submit petitions to amend the BOD. (For instructions for submitting petitions, click here.)
However, as we contemplate possible petitions, we might consider our motivation. “Is my petition written out of fear or love, despair or hope, to exclude or include, to hide within the walls of the church or to step out boldly in the name of Jesus Christ?”
When visiting my hometown of Memphis TN, I am constantly amazed at the growing number of churches that have actually built fences around their properties. One church went so far as to install a keypad at the gate, requiring members to enter a code to attend worship! I pray that we do not use our BOD to create virtual walls around us.
When fear invades the Church, our ministries falter and our mission is blurred. We become preoccupied with protecting what we have…often from the very people God has sent us to serve.
Joshua 1 in The Message says it clearly:
Give it everything you have, heart and soul. Make sure you carry out The Revelation that Moses commanded you, every bit of it. Don’t get off track, either left or right, so as to make sure you get to where you’re going. And don’t for a minute let this Book of the Revelation be out of mind. Ponder and meditate on it day and night, making sure you practice everything written in it. Then you’ll get where you’re going; then you’ll succeed. Haven’t I commanded you? Strength! Courage! Don’t be timid; don’t get discouraged. God, your God, is with you every step you take.”
Let’s seek new and exciting ways to empower disciple-making, even in a world that is constantly changing around us…and God, OUR God, will be with us every step of the way!
This letter was written by Ralph Thompson, Conference Co-Lay Leader