It’s hard to believe that June 2020 is already here!
Julia and I have enjoyed our four years of fellowship with First United
Methodist Church and count ourselves blessed to have served as your pastor
and as fellow pilgrims in the journey of our Christian faith.
Over these past years our goal has been to stabilize the church and establish a
few routines that lend support to the ongoing work of FUMC’s ministry.
None of the success we experienced could have occurred without you.
Because of the many people who have been actively engaged with the Church,
the message of God’s love in Jesus Christ has reached beyond our immediate
footprint into the wider community.
So many of you volunteered to do so very much for God’s Kingdom! From
cleaning the sanctuary to caring for parishioners, from multiple missional
outreaches to beautiful programs of music, from serving the young to assisting
the elderly, First United Methodist Church shines as a bright light to all who
have been impacted by your love.
Additionally, the FUMC Staff have superbly managed the daily activities of a
very busy church community and have done so with love, faith and conviction!
Thank you for making my time as your pastor so enjoyable, and for loving the
Lord as you do! Julia and I will continue in our prayers for you and your new
pastor, Reverend Taylor Coates, with fond remembrance and thanksgiving. In
closing this message, Julia and I echo the following encouragement taken from
the Apostle Paul;
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine
for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the
first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a
good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.
May our Lord’s good work continue in each of our hearts as together we take
the next step into a good, peaceable and prosperous future!
Mark and Julia Johnston
The Heart in Transformation: The Life of David
Rev. Dr. Mark Raeburn Johnston
– one –
A Life Purposed by Divine Design
Later this month we hope to re-open our church for Sunday fellowship. Of course, we will observe the necessary protocols to ensure the safety, health and well-being of each congregant and those guidelines will be published in advance of our first Sunday meeting.
Because we will not have the privilege of worshiping together in our beautiful sanctuary over the next few weeks, I am posting a series of devotionals entitled; The Heart in Transformation: The Life of David. This series can be read on our Facebook and Web sites and I hope these messages will bring some measure of comfort and inspiration to readers.
I am calling the first devotional, A Life Purposed by Divine Design which is meant to reassure each of us that the living God knows us and has a wonderful plan for our lives.
When Michelangelo sculpted his magnificent 17 foot, marble statue of David, he claimed that he simply chipped away until David emerged from his stony captivity. Michelangelo believed that the image of David “had been trapped inside the block of marble.”
After three years of intense labor, that image was set free for all the world to view. Concerning the move of the six-ton statue, Michelangelo wrote in his diaries “it took forty men five days to move it. Once in place, the statue was a warning…whoever governed Florence should govern justly and defend it bravely…”
Michelangelo’s message in stone was that those who would presume to lead a people are accountable to both God and man.
This ties us into the larger story of David, a study of faith and accountability of a man who was a shepherd and king, a son and a father, a husband and friend, a warrior and a worshiper.
According to First Samuel, chapter 13 verse 14, ‘David was a man after God’s own heart’ which means that David looked to God for guidance on a daily basis. As a consequence, David’s life was a life purposed by divine design! The realization of divine purpose occurs within the framework of faith.
To better understand David we must remember the story of his great-grandmother, Ruth, a Moabite woman of faith. Ruth teaches us that accountability to God begins by walking in obedience with the Lord, Who brings us from famine to feast, from failure to victory, from alienation to family.
We learn that faith in God shapes our futures with unimagined possibilities. We are liberated from the prisons of doubt, low self-esteem and uncertainty when the Sculptor of our destiny is the living God! We walk with the promise that God can do something wonderful with our lives when we place our trust in Him!
A friend once told me that the wealthiest place in any community is not the bank, not the stock-market, nor any other institution, but rather, the local cemetery.
Buried in every graveyard are the marvelous inventions, the wonderful cures and amazing discoveries that should have come into the world but were never realized because of a lack of self-confidence and reliance upon the Lord. How many of us have ‘buried’ our talents and gifts? Who among us has forgotten the inspired dreams that promised so much but never materialized because of some criticism?
May I suggest that no matter your age, level of education of social standing, “you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you” (Philippians chapter 4 verse 13).
In other words, those who actively seek the Lord are better postured to realize the divine purpose of God in this life. In this manner, shepherds have become kings.
Because the eye of the Sculptor sees something in each of us, what we might call ‘our potential’ or the ‘what could be’ factor, our lives are open ended with incredible possibilities that can honor God while blessing others!
However, this requires that His skilled hands chip away the unnecessary stone that so often traps and hinders our potential. Such processes are always difficult and sometimes painful.
But the polished result becomes a witness to the entire world!
From dust and stone emerges the eternal image of His grace! His Holy Spirit convicts, guides and counsels us while transforming our hearts as children of God.
As we search for Scriptural truths about this beloved shepherd king named David, let’s also search our own hearts and stand ready for the touch of God, our heavenly Sculptor! Then let’s commit our lives in service to God and others.
The most beautiful heart is the heart sculpted by God
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
(Second Corinthians chapter 3 verse 18)
A Letter of Faith
Rev. Dr. Mark Raeburn Johnston
This April 12th we will celebrate our Lord’s victory over sin and death!
This may be the only time in the history of FUMC where the sanctuary has not been filled for worship on an Easter morning. However, we can ensure that our hearts our filled with the recognition and gratitude of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection and sing with the angels; “He is Risen!”
We can unite in the Holy Spirit with praise and thanksgiving. Together in Spirit, we can worship God with Scripture readings, hymns and meditation.
That this is our privilege is due only to the fact of the Resurrection in human history.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most important event in the record of humanity. It is important for the following reasons;
1) Death is not the final answer–we are given an opportunity by the living God to be ‘born again’ through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. As the old Church used to say; “We are either born twice or we will die twice.” This statement refers to the promise of spiritual rebirth and eternal life, or the rejection of Christ and the everlasting condemnation which leads to the second death (Revelation 21:8)
2) The Resurrection of Jesus Christ provides us with the evidence of a loving God who has purposed an eternal plan for any who believe in Him. History has meaning. You and I have real significance in life when we know the Lord as Savior!
3) The Resurrection of Jesus is the certification that evil has been overcome and that a day is soon coming when there will be no more evil of any kind! Think of it, no more tears, no more disease, no more death!
4) The Resurrection of Jesus has united us with the saints who preceded us and those who will follow us in eternity to come. We will forever enjoy the company of our loved ones because of God’s goodness and grace!
These are just four of the benefits that we possess because of this wonderful truth.
God has come into our world and taken upon Himself our sin and death. He has overcome all of this through His physical, bodily Resurrection, and He now sends the Holy Spirit to any who repent of sin and call upon His Name!
While, this year, we will not gather together as a Congregation in our beautiful sanctuary due to the pandemic sweeping the world, we can worship together in the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote something similar to the Colossian Church;
“For though I am absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.”
As we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, I encourage each of you to take the time to “bow the knee” in thanksgiving and praise for all the Lord has done for you and your family.
In so doing, we can enjoy Easter as it was meant to be enjoyed!
The Kingdom Mile
Rev. Dr. Mark R. Johnston
The Christian’s walk of faith is defined most often by the second mile, not the first!
Most of us recall the famous words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter five, verse forty-one;
“If any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles!”
These words were meant to encourage believers in their witness of a loving God to an unbelieving and abusive world. This kindness translates as graciousness when it is freely offered to an otherwise undeserving people.
In fact, when Jesus gave this command to his disciples, Israel was under a cruel Roman occupation. It was a well known fact that Roman soldiers often abused their authority by compelling ordinary people to carry their heavy gear for short distances. That’s why the Living Bible says, “If the military demand that you carry their gear for a mile, carry it for two!”
But walking an extra mile doesn’t simply provide a surprising witness to others. It also shapes our own character as Kingdom people. It paves the rough and stony roads of our hearts to become highways for God’s Spirit! While the first mile may relieve the Roman of his burden, the second mile, the Kingdom Mile, has the potential to extend the reign of the Lord in our lives and the lives of others. Unexpected acts of kindness can soften the hardest hearts, including our own!
Even though the second mile may seem longer than the first, it promotes life through service. Walking the second mile points to a destination beyond this world. It is during the second mile that God’s Spirit begins to whisper the convictions of care and love.
A recent survey in Italy discovered that young people identified the late Mother Theresa and the late Pope John Paul II as true heroes and role models for our time.
Overshadowing rock stars, movies personalities and even political leaders, the survey revealed that they voted for Mother Teresa and the Pope because they admired their courage, honesty and devotion to charity. Theirs is a life of service. A life that says, “Let’s walk that extra mile!”
When we are willing to walk beyond the selfishness, beyond the egotism and the mean spirited ideologies of this world, we carry our cross in obedience to God’s word.
It has been pointed out by historians of the church that when our Savior stumbled as He carried the cross to Mount Golgotha, that a certain man named Simon was compelled to assist Jesus in that sacred journey.
In Mark chapter fifteen, verse twenty-one we read of this incident;
“Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross.”
It seems that Mark references Simon by virtue of his two sons Alexander and Rufus who were most probably known to the earliest Christian community. In other words, Alexander and Rufus were themselves followers of the Lord Jesus.
What historians have realized is that this Simon, an unsuspecting visitor to Jerusalem, encountered the Savior of the world at the very moment of His passion. Could it be that Simon’s sharing of our Lord’s burden had some impact on his life? Did this man curse and complain as he assisted our Lord to His execution and death? Or did Simon have some sense of heartbreak for the One who had already been beaten and bloodied by the hands of sinners?
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he greets a certain Rufus’ by name (Romans chapter sixteen verse thirteen). Could this be the son of Simon of Cyrene? If so, might we not wonder if Simon’s own life had been forever impacted and changed as he walked that long distance to Calvary with the Prince of Life?
It’s during that Kingdom mile that we begin to notice that Someone else is walking with us! Indeed, the Holy Spirit Himself accompanies us as we seek to follow God and obey His word! I am convinced that when we are instructed to carry our cross we are to carry the witness of Jesus to a lost and dying world. Let’s commit to walking the Kingdom Mile. In so doing, we’ll walk others into God’s Presence!
Love Never Fails
Rev. Dr. Mark R. Johnston
Love is often expressed through giving. This is emphasized in John’s Gospel, chapter 3, verse 16, where we read that;
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life…”
A pastor tells the story of an American who visited an impoverished country. While waiting for a little puddle jumper of a plane to depart the remote region, he was suddenly approached by a woman carrying a malnourished baby.
The child’s swollen stomach and lethargy testified to the battle with hunger that kills nearly twenty million people a year.
She desperately cried, “Take my baby back with you to America and feed him and make him well!”
Trying to avoid her, he rushed toward the awaiting plane, but the poor woman followed pleading, “Take my baby back with you!”
As the plane began to move and pick up speed, she ran alongside holding her baby, and beat upon the fuselage. Finally, the plane took flight. On the ground, still crying, was the woman, holding the child aloft – “Take my baby with you so that he might be well!”
There was utter silence in the cockpit. Finally, after a considerable time, he turned to the pilot and said, “I know who that baby was that we left back there.” The pilot said, “Who?” He said, “The name of the child was Jesus of Nazareth.”
At least one billion persons on Earth live in a state of absolute poverty. Five billion souls live in urban ghettos, most without adequate food or housing or health care. In Latin America alone, as many as sixty million children have been abandoned and are living on the streets struggling to survive!
Have we noticed? Often our sin is not that we do anything wrong, but that so many of us do nothing at all. The sins of omission are just as deadly as sins of commission.
When we think of such overwhelming problems, we may be tempted to ask, “Can I really make a difference?” The answer to this question is a definite ‘Yes!’
When we offer a kind word, a helping hand, a welcoming smile or some of our precious time, we offer a gift that translates as compassion, care and love. Every single person you touch in this manner contributes to the betterment of our world.
When the great Apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthian church, he penned what has become known as the ‘love chapter.’ This thirteenth chapter is instructional concerning real love. I quote it in part;
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love…”
The point of this incredible scripture is that many good things can be done in life, but when love is the basis of our actions, no matter how great or small those actions may seem, then something wonderful results.
Love never fails.
Let’s remember that the gift of love carries each of us through the most difficult trials, and with God’s help, we can change the world!
When God Becomes Our Banner
Rev. Dr. Mark Johnston
And Moses said to Joshua, “Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.” (Exodus 17:9 NKJ)
There are many names for the Lord in Scripture.
One name, found only one time in the entire Bible, is the name Jehovahnissi, which means, “The Lord is my banner!” This name refers to the Lord as the evident sign given to the entire world of his provision, his power and his promise to those who place their trust in him!
This name was given to the Lord after Israel’s victory over Amalek. In the book of Exodus, chapter 17, Moses is said to have climbed to the top of a hill overlooking the valley where Israel battled with Amalek. Moses stretched his hands heavenward to invoke God’s favor and mercy during the daylong conflict.
While his hands were positioned heavenward, the battle swung in favor of Israel. But when his arms became heavy and dropped to his side, the army of Amalek prevailed!
We read that Aaron and Hur came to the assistance of Moses and they held his arms up for the duration of the conflict, and Joshua and his men utterly defeated their enemy! Is this not a picture of the Cross of Calvary worked out centuries earlier through the life and intercession of Moses?
A God fearing people who engage in military action should also recognize the importance of reaching their hands heavenward before extending forth the arms of war.
When Desert Storm darkened our world in 1991, the United States ordered 70,000 caskets for the estimated casualties expected within US ranks! But righteous people around America repented and prayed that God would forgive our national sins and bring the war to some hopeful conclusion.
At the end of the conflict, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf said it seemed miraculous because of the overwhelming victory and minimal loss of life that US Forces experienced. Of those 70,000 caskets, only 300 or so were actually used to carry the precious remains of brave Americans home! In fact, a few of the unused caskets were adapted as makeshift baptismals in the sands of the Middle East due to the heavenward reach of men and women who called out for God’s salvation!
In like manner, the spiritual victories that heaven grants us are often first won on the battlefields of prayer.
The Psalms of David are replete with examples of earnest prayer in times of trouble. Listen to his supplications from Psalm 28;
Hear the voice of my supplications when I cry to You, when I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary. Do not take me away with the wicked and with the workers of iniquity, who speak peace to their neighbors, but evil is in their hearts. (Psalm 28:2-3 NKJ)
Or consider David’s plea in Psalm 63;
“O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory. Because Your loving kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.” (Psalm 63:1-4 NKJ)
Like Moses and David, when we bow our knees to the God of heaven, we can be assured that he will take us by our outstretched hands and guide us through our troubles. We honor God when we humble ourselves in prayer, and God blesses us when “The Lord is our Banner!”
As 2020 unfolds, let’s commit to more prayer and intercession. Let’s remind one another of the promise and the power of our God, who is our banner and our hope!
Rev. Dr. Mark Johnston
She carried the promise of her baby beyond the understanding of her world. She
was engaged to a man who questioned the incredible story of her supposed conception,
deciding to “put her away privately” to avoid further embarrassment and shame.
Her journey of faith began with the awful prophecy that the child she carried
would somehow “save the world” through his own death.
What prevented the young maiden from terminating the pregnancy? What
caused her to hope amidst the disturbing realization that her reputation would be
marred as one who betrayed her marriage vows, and possibly have her life end with
death by stoning?
Today, we venerate Mary, the Virgin Mother, as one who bravely faced the
emptiness of this world and instead, filled it with the promise of God’s love and life!
Because she believed that God could do all things, Mary carried forth the
command to carry the babe in her womb!
God has called many of us to a special task, an important ministry, a demanding
job, that somehow brings Him glory while assisting others. But with that call comes the
price-tag that Mary was all too familiar with; the cost of a spiritual obedience and
discipleship that is often misunderstood!
The cost of discipleship, our commitment to follow the Lord, is a total cost
requiring a complete surrender of our personal rights in order to serve the King of
Heaven. It is a demand that suggests we lay down our privileges, our comforts, our
prejudices and our very lives for the sake of God’s Kingdom.
In this sense, we understand that the Gift of Christmas, the Christ Child, is a free
gift to anyone who will trust in His Name. However, while our salvation is a free gift, true
discipleship requires that we take up the Cross and follow Him. When we follow the
Lord we enter into the possibility of the supernatural. We engage the powers ‘on high’
with a testimony and witness of what God can do through an obedient heart.
With such commitment, we also often discover our weaknesses, our failings and
our needs. We sometimes feel that we do not have the strength to continue in our
journey of faith. We struggle with the skepticism of onlookers and wrestle with those
important questions that challenge our faith. Following God in this world requires
something more than our own strength, intelligence and ability. Walking after the Lord
requires that we walk with the Lord.
We do well to remember that our help doesn’t come from the mountain tops, nor
from the strength of man. Our help comes from the Lord God Almighty who created
heaven and earth, Who brings heaven’s light into our darkened world. The strong arm of
the Lord will enable us to walk by faith and carry out the commission of His work,
whatever that work may be.
When you’re feeling challenged about doing that which God has called you to do,
or discouraged in your walk of faith, remember that God can do “all things” as He did
with Joseph, whose heart was changed through heavenly dreams, as He did with the
Magi, who followed a special star, and as He did with the shepherds who heard the
angelic hymns of glory.
He’ll do the same for anyone who trusts in His Name!
This Christmas season, let’s remember God’s promise for each of us, and then,
let’s carry that child, that special commission of faith, to full term and bring God’s
blessings into our world!
Thank a Veteran
Rev. Dr. Mark Johnston
In 1918, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month, the world rejoiced as the Allied powers signed a cease-fire agreement with Germany to bring World War I to a close. The following year, the United States remembered her veterans by observing Armistice Day.
In 1953, Emporia, Kansas dubbed the holiday ‘Veterans Day’ in gratitude for those who had so bravely served. Congress then officially renamed the federal holiday Veterans’ Day, and today we recognize all veterans of all U.S. wars through ceremonies that honor and thank them for their selfless service.
Serving in the military of our nation is itself a tribute to a code of honor that can’t be obtained any other way.
In Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural address, he referenced the simple white grave markers in Arlington Memorial Cemetery. He said:
Under one such marker lies a young man—Martin Treptow—who left his job in a small town barber shop in 1917 to go to France with the famed Rainbow Division. There, on the western front, he was killed trying to carry a message between battalions under heavy artillery fire.
We are told that on his body was found a diary. On the flyleaf under the heading, ‘My Pledge’ he had written these words: “America must win this war. Therefore, I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended on me alone!”
Those who endured the World Wars, the frozen chill of Korea, the tropical heaviness of Vietnam and the sudden deployments into Panama, Granada and Somalia, are people who best understand the meaning of freedom. The ongoing war against terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, continues to illustrate the heroic character and courage embodied by the American Veteran.
Let’s pause this November 11th at the 11th hour for a few minutes of prayer and reflection.
Then, let’s thank a veteran for serving our great nation!
A Messenger of the Good News
Rev. Dr. Mark Johnston
The splendor of the vessel’s luxury knew no equal. The designer himself boasted, “Not even God could sink the Titanic!”
The ship took less than three hours to enter its watery tomb, taking with it 1517 souls. Only 706 people survived!
When John Harper boarded the ill-fated Titanic, in April of 1912, he was known as an evangelist. The word ‘evangelist’ is derived from ancient Greece, and describes anyone who shared ‘good news.’
A military messenger who ran from one encampment to another announcing the ‘good news’ that a battle had been won, or that a war had finally ended was called an evangelist! Harper shared the Good News of God’s victory over sin and death in Christ Jesus. As an evangelist, he ran from person to person with the message of grace and the victory of God over sin and death!
Little did he know that his voyage on the famous ship would end his life.
Four years after the Titanic went down, a young Scotsman testified to John Harper’s legacy as one who brought Good News. He said, “I’m a survivor of the Titanic. When I was drifting alone that awful night, the tide brought Mr. John Harper of Glasgow, also on a piece of wreck, near me. ‘Man,’ he said, ‘are you saved?’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘I am not.’ He replied, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved,’ and shortly after he went down; and there, alone in the night, and with two miles of water under me, I believed! I am John Harper’s last convert!”
In some sense this story illustrates the sacrificial death of our Savior, who ‘went down’ in the icy, dark waters of death that you and I might forever live.
The death of Jesus, followed by his physical resurrection, is the basis for our hope and salvation. The Good News for all who are adrift in despair and death is this; “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved!”
When the passenger list of the Titanic was posted, the names of those who perished were listed under the word “Lost” and those that were rescued were listed under “Saved.”
While Harper’s name was placed in the “Lost” column, his story tells us that he was eternally saved. He’d been rescued through the love of God and was a messenger of the Good News that saved others.
Let’s share God’s Good News with someone today! When we do, we offer the life boat that will never sink, and a victory that can never be lost!
“The Why and the How”
Rev. Dr. Mark R. Johnston
He had just enough time to hide the important manuscript in the lining of his coat as the Nazi’s broke into his apartment and arrested him!
At the infamous death camp called Auschwitz, psychiatrist Victor Frankl seemed to lose everything. Disconnected from family and friends, dispossessed of all worldly possessions, he questioned whether or not his life had become completely void of meaning, especially when he was stripped of all his clothing, including his coat. With that coat, the important research written over a period of years disappeared forever.
Sometimes we are severely challenged by forces outside our control. We may feel trespassed upon, assaulted, imprisoned and even stripped of our identity. Our sense of purpose is minimized or disappears. The horrific attack upon the United States on September 11th, 2001, challenged the very identity of our Nation. But because the American people believe in cherished values such as liberty, human dignity, community and the pursuit of happiness, we overcame that dark moment in our national history.
The great Victorian preacher, Charles Spurgeon had a plaque hanging in his bedroom with Isaiah 48:10 inscribed on it:
“I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”
It’s in the furnace that God reveals the mysteries of His choice and love for each of us. It’s by the fire that gold and silver are purified from the dross.
Victor Frankl was made to wear recycled clothing handed to him by the prison guards. He soon discovered a piece of paper in one of the coat pockets. It was a single page torn out of a Hebrew prayer book, containing the most important prayer of Israel, called the Shema.
The Shema is the cornerstone for every Jewish household. It derives from Deuteronomy 6:4 and reads;
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one God. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
This inspired Frankl with the determination to overcome the awful challenges of that terrible death camp. Years later he would write, “There is nothing in the world that can so effectively help one to survive as the knowledge that there’s a meaning in one’s life. He who has a ‘why’ to live can bear almost any ‘how’ in the things of life.” In other words, a person with a developed sense of purpose can endure the hardships of life better than a person who has no purpose.
This month we will begin a study of the Apostles Creed by utilizing the Bible to understand why we believe what we believe. By studying this great and ancient set of Christian beliefs, beliefs we confess every Sunday morning in our service of worship, we will be better equipped to live our lives with a sense of meaning and purpose. Such a confession of our faith points us to a future filled with hope.
Why not take time, beginning today, to examine the ‘why’ of your life, it will help with the ‘how’ and help direct you through your day!
Making the Eternal Jump
Rev. Dr. Mark R. Johnston
In August, 1936, Jesse Owens competed in the Olympic Games held in Berlin, Germany, under the contemptible gaze of Adolph Hitler. The competitions between athletes from differing nations that hot summer symbolized the competitions between conflicting ideologies and beliefs.
The Nazi ideology that condemned all non-Arians as sub-human and inferior was challenged when the African-American from Oakville, Alabama, won four Gold Medals in various events, including the 100 yard meter dash which he ran in just 9.4 seconds!
Nicknamed the “Buckeye Bullet” by his alma mater, Ohio State University, Owens later wrote that he was especially concerned about his second competition when he faced off in the long-jump against the well-known German athlete, Luz Long.
However, before the competition began, the famous German approached Owens and introduced himself and for the next few moments the black son of an American sharecropper and the representative of Nazi elitism spoke to one another.
As they discussed the games, a friendship began to grow. Long recommended that his American challenger adjust his mark several inches before the takeoff board to avoid scratching. Owens took Long’s advice and went on to set an Olympic record that would hold for another 25 years. After that historic jump, the first person to congratulate him was Luz Long — in full view and in spite of the German Führer.
Long, who was killed in World War II was never again seen by Jesse. But Owens never forgot the friendship that developed between the two of them on that hot August day. Two men representing two different ideologies, holding to differing beliefs and values, met on the level field of play and were able to walk away as friends.
Jesse Owens later wrote, “You could melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a platting on the 24-carat friendship I felt for Luz Long.”
This is similar to the grace and friendship extended to you and me by the Lord. We are called upon to take a ‘leap of faith’ in the acceptance of salvation. We are instructed by God’s Word to measure our steps and not ‘scratch’ or become disqualified due to sin. We are encouraged and congratulated with every spiritual victory, while the Führer of this fallen world angrily witnesses our triumph. And the One who befriends us, is Himself subject to the penalties of our judgment that we might enjoy the friendship of God. As the Apostle Paul writes;
For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4 NKJ)
The children’s praise song entitled, ‘Jump Into the Light’ captures what our response to the Lord’s love should be;
Jump jump jump
Into the Light light light
Run run run
Away from what’s not right
Jump jump jump
Out of the dark dark dark
Run to Jesus
And give Him your heart!
This month, let’s remember the One who has made our eternal victory secure, and let’s show other’s how they can jump into God’s Presence! In so doing, we will build eternal friendships greater than anything this world has to offer!
It’s Time to Speak the Truth
Rev. Dr. Mark R. Johnston
In 1932, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the United States with a message that
could easily be applied to each of us today.
In his First inaugural address he said, “This is preeminently the time to speak the truth,
the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So first of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance!”
He ended his inaugural speech by saying, “In this dedication of a nation we humbly ask
the blessing of God. May He protect each and every one of us!”
Roosevelt understood that protection from the terrors of his time could be found through faith in God. One of the reasons for such confidence is the fact that the Lord does not change, He remains forever the same, or as the author of the Book of Hebrews writes; “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forevermore!” (Hebrews 13:8).
Recently, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the 40-foot-tall Bladensburg
Cross, located on public land in Bladensburg, Maryland for nearly 100 years, could remain as a memorial to the efforts of brave men and women who died in the defense of our national freedoms during World War I. In a 7 to 2 ruling in favor of retaining the Cross on public land, our Nation’s highest Court sent a message reminding us that our hope in God is a value all American’s can share. In other words, faith is not un-Constitutional.
The 80 page ruling by the Court was contrary to the suit brought by the District of
Columbia-based American Humanist Association, whose membership is comprised of atheists and agnostics. Their request to remove the Cross and replace it with an obelisk was soundly defeated. Thankfully, the decision to retain the Cross points beyond the short-sightedness of such organizations who disbelieve in Providence.
When a Nation places its trust in the Lord there is a tendency towards civility. That civility begins in our homes, influences our government and blesses our country as a whole. Hope overshadows fear, kindness displaces cruelty and righteousness touches our communities. A nation that honors the Lord discovers a certain prosperity where life is valued and respected.
If we displace God from our society, only tragedy can occur. The eventual disintegration of human values becomes the norm in the culture where the Author of Life and Love is rejected. The decision of the US Supreme Court curtails such tendencies and promotes the original intentions of America’s Founders.
As we celebrate the birth of our Nation, we need to be reminded of the courage of those men and women who initiated the American Revolution. They faced their fears with a certain resolve to place their trust in God. Let’s also resolve to proclaim God’s everlasting love and truth, and let’s thank Him for leadership that reveres His goodness and grace!
Seven Ancient Questions for Today
Rev. Dr. Mark Johnston
There has always been some sense of despair concerning the existence of God.
Many people are often hard-pressed to explain the misfortunes of life through the lens of their faith, remaining uncertain and uncomfortable with the explanations they finally muster in any attempt to explain their circumstances. This is frequently due to an inadequate understanding of faith.
When faith is improperly formed, an imbalance can occur in the human psyche. People with an improperly formed faith are more apt to suffer depression, anxiety and fear in their normal daily lives. Such persons frequently leave the church and avoid any religious interaction. In contrast, persons who have a properly formed, or sound faith, are better equipped to face the challenges of life with optimism and hope.
This age-old problem has long been understood.
The famous Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung commented about this predicament in European culture. Writing on the eve of World War II, Jung observed;
“Side by side with the decline of religious life, (human) neuroses grow noticeably more frequent … everywhere the mental state of European man shows an alarming lack of balance. We are living undeniably in a period of the greatest restlessness, nervous tension, confusion and disorientation of outlook.… Every one of them has the feeling that our religious truths have somehow or other grown empty” (Modern Man in Search of a Soul, pp. 246 ff.).
Because of an inadequate understanding of faith, many have surrendered to the consequences of a super-rational doubt, becoming practical atheists in their daily lives while often mouthing their adherence to some religious doctrine. These are the folks who might attend a church on Sunday but live with a sense of complete resignation and alienation from anything deemed Divine. These persons feel alone and abandoned in a world of religious symbol and ritual, gaining only temporary comfort within the company of other people who seem to be relationally connected to God. In other words, such persons do not think that there is a living, loving God.
Thomas Hardy’s famous poem, God’s Funeral, captures this problem with effect. Written between 1908 and 1910, Hardy pictured himself attending the funeral of God. For the author of this poem, God is nothing more than a “projection of human fears and desires,” and with that realization, is mourned as dead. The following verse summarizes Hardy’s sadness as he realizes that his faith is nothing more than a social and psychological manifestation of a futile hope;
‘O man-projected Figure, of late
Imaged as we, thy knell who shall survive?
Whence came it we were tempted to create
One whom we can no longer keep alive?
In other words, Hardy proclaims the death of his personal faith, and by extension, the death of God throughout this poem. His sorrow over the realization that there is no God focuses on the impoverished condition of his fellow man who vainly hopes in something or Someone who is but a deluded wish of the human mind, a wish that obscures the true reality of human suffering and cosmic loneliness.
The tension between a sound, properly formed faith and a deformed faith has nagged humanity from ancient times and continues to this very moment.
Questions regarding the existence of God, truth, the problem of evil and other crucial concerns remain vital to any possible understanding of the world and our personal and corporate world-views.
The answers we finally give to these questions provide us with an interpretive frame of reference for understanding reality. From such an understanding comes our belief systems and our practiced behaviors.
Over the next few Sundays in June, I will present a series of messages in our worship services entitled; Seven Ancient Questions for Today.
These messages will engage important questions we must ask and answer as Christians. We will interact with our culture and the teachings of the Church in the formation of a proper, biblical faith. I hope you can attend. Bring your bible! And invite a friend!!
The American Dream
Rev. Dr. Johnston
At the conclusion of World War II, the brilliant and victorious leadership of the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower was applauded by the world. But remembering those who had died for freedom, he said, “Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends.”
An unknown soldier has written;
“Soldiers carried P-38 can openers and heat tabs, watches and dog tags, insect repellent, gum, cigarettes, Zippo lighters, salt tablets, compress bandages, ponchos, Kool-Aid, two or three canteens of water, iodine tablets, and food rations. They carried flak jackets and steel pots, M-16 assault rifles and trip flares. They carried M-60 machine guns and grenades, rockets and bullets. They carried malaria, dysentery and homesickness. They carried the land itself as it hardened on their boots. They carried letters and pictures of their loved ones, and love for one another. They carried the traditions of the United States military and memories and images of those that served before them. They carried grief, terror, longing and their reputations. They crawled into tunnels, walked point and advanced under fire. They carried the emotional baggage of men and women who might die at any moment. They carried the weight of the world. They carried each other!”
President John F. Kennedy, echoing the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, said, “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Such are the words of service and sacrifice that have shaped the American Dream and the inheritance of freedom.
That freedom began with those brave Christian pilgrims who carried a vision for God’s Kingdom from the shores of Europe to the vast wilderness of the New World.
Within that wilderness, these devout people would build a ‘city set upon a hill’ to shine the light of the Gospel to the entire world. That witness is captured in our national motto; “In God We Trust.”
But where do we derive such a confidence? From where does this motto come?
When Francis Scott Key wrote his poem commemorating the tenacious spirit of the American people, he could see Old Glory flying through the intermittent flash and smoke of canon-fire during the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor. The ultimate victory of the Americans over their British foes gave special meaning to the very words found in the poem’s last stanza, “And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’”
Little did he realize that his poem would be set to music and become the National Anthem of the United States of America!
The flag that so inspired Francis Scott Key is the flag that was heroically planted atop Iwo Jima by six Marines during one of the most violent battles in all of World War II, signifying the hope of the American Dream as a hope to be shared with the entire world.
This same Old Glory was draped from the wreckage of the Twin Towers on September 11th, 2001 in testimony of America’s resolution to never succumb to terrorist ideologies, oppression and evil, but to fight for the justice and freedoms inherent to human dignity and worth.
This Memorial Day, countless cemeteries will have American Flags reverently placed by the headstones of men and women who have served our Nation in defense of those precious liberties we so enjoy today.
Men and women who carried the American Flag on their shoulders, the American Dream in their hearts, who are now buried in hallowed battlefields around the world must never be forgotten! And neither should we forget the goodness of the God Who invites our trust and worship.
This Memorial Day, let’s reflect on our American heroes. Let’s carry their memories in grateful recognition and thanksgiving. And let’s pray for God’s peace to touch our world and protect our great Nation. Together, we can carry the American Dream into the next generation!
Paid In Full
Rev. Dr. Johnston
There’s a story of a young drifter who borrowed a large sum of money from an uncle he rarely visited. He had no means of repaying the loan, but his uncle gave it to him anyway. While handing the youth the money, he also told his nephew about the free gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. He explained the meaning of Good Friday and the celebration Christians have on Easter morning.
Years later, the young man discovered the truth his uncle spoke about.
No longer a homeless drifter, he began building his life on the solid foundations of faith and responsibility. One of his first decisions was to repay his uncle the borrowed money, and he mailed a check for the full amount owed with added interest.
Two weeks later, a letter from his uncle arrived and as the envelope was opened the young man’s un-cashed check fell out. An attached note said the following:
“Your debt was paid in full by your father nearly three years ago!”
Unknown by the young man until that very moment, his own father had discovered the debt and had quietly repaid it on behalf of his son!
This is a picture of the grace afforded us by our Heavenly Father! He paid off our debts to sin through the death of Jesus, his only begotten Son! As scripture tells us, through repentance of our sins and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ our trespasses and debts are ‘blotted’ out and no longer charged against us!
And today, falling out from the holy letter of Scripture is the message that we are beloved children of the Most High!
As an old hymn puts it;
“He paid a debt he did not owe, I owed a debt that I could not pay,
I needed someone to wash my sins away!
And now I sing a brand new song,
Christ Jesus paid the debt I could never pay!”
The great Puritan preacher, Charles Spurgeon often said, “My hope arises from the freeness of God’s grace, and not from the freedom of the human will.” He acknowledged the goodness of God who has paid the indebtedness of our past to secure the eternal blessings of our future!
If during this Easter you discover that your life is an unpaid I.O.U. with mounting interest, talk to your Heavenly Father. You’ll discover He’s already taken care of it!
Why Did Jesus Live?
Rev. Dr. Johnston
A few years ago TIME Magazine posed the question; “Why Did Jesus Have to Die?”
This question often surfaces around Lent and Easter, and we can be assured that we will hear it again from some news source that seeks to address the meaning of faith in American life.
However, to really understand the implications of this question, we should ask, “Why did Jesus live?”
Some follow-up questions might include; “What did Jesus stand for, teach and do?”
The answers we give to any of these questions will determine what we believe about Jesus of Nazareth.
It is commonly believed that Jesus fulfilled the Ten Commandments and taught the love of God. His ethic comprised that of forgiveness, truth, salvation and grace. Western culture can point to its success due to an accurate understanding and practice of those teachings.
But many believe we now live in a post-Christian era! Some have dismissed the teachings of Jesus Christ as arcane and irrelevant. An example is that of Scotland, now considered to be a pagan country!
Once the home to John Knox and the Scottish Reformation, so few people now go to church that researchers say Scotland can no longer be considered a Christian nation! Sociologists conclude the Church has lost its place in the national consciousness, that there is now “massive indifference” to organized religion and “an unwillingness to have it impinge on lives.”
On a larger scale, the European Union, when crafting their Constitution in 2004, struggled with making any reference to religious faith. One observer wrote: “How the question of religion is handled could have serious legal implications…possibly influencing the outcome of future court rulings on such issues as euthanasia, abortion rights, and human cloning.” As a consequence, the document was never ratified and the EU is now struggling to maintain any cohesive identity amongst member nations.
This is perhaps the most important reason the man from Galilee matters! The teachings of Jesus redirect our attention to the most basic rights of what it means to be human beings, created in the image of God.
President Harry Truman acknowledged the importance of Jesus’ teachings when he referenced the Sermon on the Mount to political rule, saying, “If we don’t have a proper fundamental moral background, we will finally end up with a totalitarian government which doesn’t believe in the rights of anybody except the state!” How things have changed! We now have serious contenders for the 2020 Presidential nomination espousing a brand of socialism that reminds one of the failed Marxist ideologies of the former Soviet Union.
A society that looses sight of God eventually declines into chaos! But a culture that invites God to the public square safeguards her future. The dignity and worth of every person is endorsed through the message of God’s love and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is yet another reason for attending church as we are reminded of the love, life and light of the Lord and his ongoing importance in our world today.
Let’s continue to ask the question, “Why did Jesus live?” and let’s not ignore the answers! Then, plan to attend church, and invite someone to attend with you!
Will We Stand?
Rev. Dr. Mark R. Johnston
This month marks a pivotal junction in the history of the United Methodist Church.
Meeting February 23-26 in Saint Louis, Missouri, a global gathering of United Methodists will debate and determine the future of the denomination. The single purpose of this special conference is to finally decide the matter of Methodist polity concerning homosexual practice.
According to the 2016 Book of Discipline;
“…the United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching…” (para. 161. G).
While committed to ministry that reaches all people with the love and message of Jesus Christ, the United Methodist Church has historically relied upon a traditional interpretation of the Holy Scriptures in its recognition that homosexual practice is a sin. However, an increasing number of voices within the denomination are arguing for the inclusion of practicing homosexuals in positions of leadership, to include the sacred office of the clergy. Accordingly, these persons do not recognize homosexuality to be sinful.
But as noted above, the Book of Discipline supports the biblical prohibition concerning the practice of homosexuality, an understanding that has historically earmarked Methodist beliefs and polity. The special conference in February will determine whether or not a rewriting of the Book of Discipline is required. The progressive contingent wants a removal of any prohibition that bars practicing homosexuals from leadership roles, while the traditionalists want to retain the wording presently found in the Book of Discipline as it follows the teachings of the Bible.
What is at stake in the upcoming conference is more than a possible rewriting of the Book of Discipline in matters concerning homosexuality. It is a matter of reinterpreting or dismissing those biblical texts that have long guided the Christian Church in its condemnation of any sin, including homosexuality. Proponents of the view that homosexuality is no longer a sin but is compatible with the Christian faith contradict the Bible’s teachings. In other words, the question regarding the authority of the Bible is at the epicenter of this Global Conference.
The departure of much Methodist leadership from the infallible teaching of Scripture has left a vacuum in Methodist polity concerning any moral authority to decide this most important cultural question, “Is the practice of homosexuality a sin?”
If we turn to the Bible, we discover both Old and New Testament readings that condemn homosexuality. The following two examples should suffice to clearly establish the biblical prohibition against homosexual practice;
If a man has sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman, the two of them have committed an abomination. They must be put to death; their blood guilt is on themselves. (Leviticus 20:13)
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (I Corinthians 6:9-11)
Because so many have opted to refute and deny the plain testimony of God’s Word regarding the sinfulness of homosexual practice, one can only conclude that either an ignorance of the Bible is at the root for a progressive rewriting of the Book of Discipline, or that an arrogant willingness to rebel against God’s authority has crept into leadership choices. Either way, it is incumbent upon Christians to pray and to stand upon the absolute truth of the Bible.
Not to stand will permit the final corruption and demise of the United Methodist Church as a witness of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.
Not to stand will encourage more confusion in the very society the Church is responsible for, allowing the tyranny of evil that denigrates the image of God in human beings to reign instead of God’s love, life and light.
Not to stand affronts the very love of the One who “gave His only begotten Son” to become sin that we might instead be made righteous in God’s sight.
And finally, not to stand invites the terrible judgment of God upon our Church and our Nation.
God’s judgment on rebellion and sinfulness is recorded throughout the Bible, and it is etched into the realities of human history. In fact, if one peruses the first three chapters of the last book in the Bible, the Book of Revelation, one easily recognizes the potential for judgment against the Church. Both the Church of Pergamum and the Church of Thyatira were guilty of sexual immoralities and were exhorted to repent (Revelation 2:14-17; 20-21). Not to repent would result in tremendous suffering. This judgment is captured by the idea of the Church being a candlestick of light before God and then being extinguished and removed from God’s presence (Revelation 1:20; 2:5).
Will the United Methodist Church have its light extinguished?
Let’s resolve to pray, repent and seek the mercies of our Savior. In so doing, we honor the Lord and minister His righteousness to a world that desperately needs Him! And we do this by choosing to STAND upon the faithfulness of God’s Word!
Stay alert, stand firm in the faith, show courage, be strong. I Corinthians 16:13
A Touch of Grace
Rev. Dr. Mark Johnston
In Mark’s gospel, chapter 5, verses 25 to 34, there’s a wonderful story of incredible compassion that I believe can earmark our new year.
According to this story, a woman suffering and hemorrhaging blood for twelve long years comes to Jesus for help.
In accordance with the religious law of the Jews, this broken woman is designated as an unclean person and is “untouchable.”
In the Greek manuscripts the word describing her disease is also the word for a whip, and symbolizes such affliction as a scourge from God. Very often, we interpret our difficult circumstances from a perspective that places us outside the reach of others, including the reach of God. We envision ourselves as unclean and untouchable, as persons who can never come into the Presence of God.
But this woman believed that if she could just touch the clothing of Jesus, even the hem of his garment, she would be healed, and accordingly, she worked her way through the clamoring crowd and managed with an outstretched finger to touch the Lord’s garments.
At that very moment, she was immediately made whole! A miracle had occurred! She knew instantly that something wonderful had transpired!
Jesus also perceived that this healing occurred. According to Mark’s report, Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” His disciples point out that everyone is touching him, but he patiently awaits the confession of the one who received the healing.
Finally, the woman timidly comes forward and tells of her miraculous healing in the hearing of the amazed onlookers. She’s no longer unclean! She’s no longer an untouchable, because as she reached out to touch God, God grasped her and affirmed her as a daughter of the Kingdom!
In modern-day India, the Dalits, or the “untouchables” are a people rarely accorded human dignity and worth. They are a part of the ancient caste system that regulates them to the very lowest strata of human concern. They are considered ‘sub-human’ by those social castes that are ‘above’ them.
In fact, the very name ‘Dalit’ literally means “broken people.”
There are numerous agencies working to relieve this social tragedy, but they’re discovering that one of the most difficult tasks is convincing the Dalits themselves that they’re fully and equally deserving of acceptance, dignity and respect. People born and raised a certain way have difficulty imagining the possibility of growing beyond social and self-imposed limitations.
In some sense of the word, we’re all Dalits when we’re outside the reach of God. We may disqualify ourselves from the fellowship of God’s forgiveness, mercy, grace and love due to a mistaken understanding of who God is.
However, our healing can begin when we, by faith, press through our crowded, broken lives, and stretch our hands out to touch His garments. When we recognize that God has come into our world to lift us up into His Presence, we can eagerly call upon Him for our healing and our salvation!
Upon reaching out to Heaven, we discover that God is reaching into our hearts and minds with the affirming message of His love through Jesus Christ!
It’s then that we experience real healing! And it’s then that we become true children of the Kingdom of God! As 2019 unfolds, I encourage you to take God’s hand, and then touch others with the message of His love and grace!
Make Room for the Lord
Rev. Dr. Mark Johnston
“Who is this stranger from Nazareth?” The town was full of people who had come looking for lodging, and Joseph was desperate to find a place for himself and his pregnant wife.
Mary was so close to delivering her baby!
Door after door opened and closed as Joseph desperately searched for adequate lodging. Finally, he and Mary were allowed to occupy a small manger with a few animals. It was there that the Savior of the world would be born!
The late evangelist, Corrie Ten Boom, related how one very cold night, while hiding from the Nazis, people found refuge in a small apartment in an old building. Because space was limited, all personal possessions were kept in the building’s basement.
During the night, another stranger appeared at the door desperately seeking temporary sanctuary from the freezing blackness and the Nazi terror that hunted the streets.
Arguing began concerning what to do with this man who no-one knew. “There’s not enough room!” protested the one who had first answered the door. Others disagreed. They felt that they had to make room for the stranger, no matter how uncomfortable and cramped the little apartment would become.
He was only reluctantly admitted into the crowded apartment, and because of his shabby appearance, he was finally consigned to sleeping in the basement with all the baggage and personal belongings the refugees had stored there.
When morning came, people in the apartment awoke to the sounds of the most beautiful music they had ever heard. That music was coming from the basement!
Rushing down the stairwell to the basement they discovered that the stranger they had ordered to that cold, damp space, was playing a broken harp that had been brought by the one who had first answered the door the evening before, and who had insisted that this stranger sleep in the basement during the night.
“That’s my harp!” he said, “It was broken when my house was bombed. I thought it would never play again but I couldn’t part with it, how did you ever repair it?”
The stranger pointed his finger to the base of the harp and replied, “See those initials on the bottom of the harp. Those are my initials. I made this harp and when you make something, you know how to fix it.”
Sometimes the one standing at our door is not the person we think they are, and as Scripture reminds us, we’re to be kind to strangers, for in so doing, some have “entertained angels”!
Had the citizens of Bethlehem only known Who was standing at their doors, every convenience would have been afforded that little family from Nazareth!
This season we might take a moment to ask, “Is Someone knocking at my door?” when we encounter people we do not know, but who may need a friendly smile, a word of encouragement or perhaps, some practical assistance.
Let’s make room for the stranger and the alien! In so doing, we make room for the Lord!
Have a blessed and Merry Christmas, and invite someone into the House of God!
GOD’S SIGNATURE: FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE
Considered the greatest artistic genius that ever lived, Michelangelo believed that his inspiration came from the awesome beauty of God. He said, “Every beauty which is seen here below resembles more than anything else that celestial source from which we all come.” He believed that the image of God in man was the essence of true beauty. Faith and hope help to define this beauty.
This is reflected in the Vatican Pieta. Cut from one large piece of white marble, and completed when he was only 24 years old, this masterpiece depicts Mary cradling a slain Jesus in her arms. It is truly one of the great wonders of sculpture in the world!
In 1972, a 33-year-old Australian geologist attacked Michelangelo’s Pieta with a sledgehammer! He removed the Virgin’s arm at the elbow, knocked off a chunk of her nose, and chipped one of her eyelids before he was restrained.
It took six months of concentrated effort to repair the sculpture. It was then that a previously unknown secret signature of Michelangelo was discovered on the palm of the Madonna’s left hand. It’s the only known signature of Michelangelo on any of his works! Michelangelo marked his beautiful creation to identify it as his own!
Scripture tells us that the beauty and true image of mankind is marred and broken through the violence of sin and death, but God has restored this beauty through the life, death and resurrection of his Son!
Through faith, God marks us as his people. We are promised a full restoration from the brokenness that has shattered human history. The problems we face are answered through God’s incredible and inexhaustible love. We have a loving God who provides us with a Living Hope! As Saint Peter wrote:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (1 Peter 1:3 NKJ)
As we sift through the damage of a difficult situation, whther it’s a broken relationship, a financial loss, illness or some other problem, we need to look for the initials of the Lord. Such a discovery is made through faith, believing that a loving God will restore us regardless of the situation.
His restoration may be different than what we expect, but we can trust our Creator who gives us this living hope. With Saint Paul we can say, “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Romans 5:1-5 KJV)
This Thanksgiving season let’s pause and reflect on the work of God who has begun the restoration process in each of our lives. Let’s remember that our thanksgiving, regardless of our difficulties, is an expression of a living hope and an active faith that testifies of God’s goodness and love!
THE POWER OF ENCOURAGEMENT
It doesn’t always take an extraordinary person to make an extraordinary difference. God often uses ordinary people to do great things. The Christian’s secret to accomplishing something great in this world begins with a willingness to walk with God. However, those who dare to obediently walk with the Lord may find that they are walking against the tides of popular opinion and culture. G. K. Chesterton once said, “A dead thing goes with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”
William Wilberforce was a man who spent his life going against the accepted culture of his time.
A small man with an unimpressive physical appearance, Wilberforce was a powerful advocate for human dignity and justice.
One writer who heard Wilberforce speak wrote, “I saw what seemed a mere shrimp… mounted upon the platform, but as I listened, he grew and grew till the shrimp became a whale.”
The size of the man was measured in the size of his message and conviction, not his physical appearance.
For years Wilberforce pushed Britain’s Parliament to abolish slavery. When discouragement caused him to consider quitting, John Wesley heard of it. From his deathbed, Wesley wrote Wilberforce these words of encouragement:
“Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? Oh, be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery shall vanish away before it.”
Wesley died six days later but his letter inspired Wilberforce to continue and on February 22, 1807, Parliament finally banned all slave trade in England.
Emboldened by his success, Wilberforce continue his campaign another 26 years until Parliament decided in 1833 to abolish slavery throughout the entire British Empire. News of the historic vote reached Wilberforce just three days before he died. For a majority of his life, Wilberforce went against the tide of popular and social opinion and changed the course of history.
And it may never have happened if John Wesley hadn’t taken the time to write that simple letter of encouragement.
In Galatians chapter 6, the Apostle Paul encourages a discouraged church that, like Wilberforce, was getting tired of living godly lives that went against the tide of culture. He writes, “…don’t get tired of doing what is good. Don’t get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time.”
Take time today to write, phone or visit someone in need of a little encouragement, and while you’re at it, invite that person to FUMC where Godly encouragement makes ordinary people extraordinary in the things of God!
At One with God
Rev. Dr. Johnston
Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year in the Jewish calendar and comes early this year on September 19th.
Yom Kippur, or “Day of Atonement” was a prescribed day of sacrifice whereby God forgave the sins of His people. According to the Book of Leviticus, chapter 16, verses 8-10, two goats without blemish were selected for this purpose. Lots were cast to determine the role each goat would have. One was chosen for sacrifice while the other was elected for freedom.
The High Priest sprinkled the blood from the slain goat on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant, providing the substitutionary exchange between the sacrificial blood of the innocent animal and Israel. This exchange was an atonement for human sin whereby God’s forgiveness and grace triumphed over deadly judgment.
This was followed with the priest laying his hands upon the goat that would not be sacrificed, symbolically transferring all the trespasses of Israel upon that animal. This goat was then led to a wilderness place and abandoned, never to return to human society.
This goat became known as Azazel and is the basis for our word “scapegoat.” This action speaks of our sins being driven away to the uninhabited wilderness, forever forgotten by God!
The atonement is sometimes called our “at-one-ment” with God and is only possible when sin is properly dealt with because God is holy and will not permit sin in His presence.
According to Christian belief, Jesus was the spotless, sinless Lamb of God selected to become our permanent means for reconciliation with God.
You may remember the story.
Pontius Pilate presented Christ alongside another person named Jesus Barabbas (Matthew chapter 27 verses 15-25). A choice to release one of the prisoners was given to the populace. The one not chosen would be crucified, a death for the very worst criminals.
Barabbas was set free, and Jesus was crucified. There is an ancient tradition that Barabbas wandered on the outskirts of civilization for the remainder of his days, haunted by the fact that an innocent man died in his place!
Indeed, Barabbas represents all of us because we’ve all been set free from the penalty of death through the death of God’s Lamb. But unlike the wandering scapegoat, Azazel, we are now invited into the society of God to be at one with Him!
Let’s honor this day with an acknowledgement of God’s incredible plan of salvation. Let’s invite those who are seeking at-one-ment with the Lord to FUMC where God’s grace and forgiveness are celebrated!
This past June, the 2018 Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church passed The Resolution in Support of Just and Inclusive Policy for Lay Volunteers and Lay Staff in Local Church Ministry after an amendment in the language was changed from “…we vow and formerly commit to employment and volunteer practices that are aligned with our Social Principles…” to “…we encourage all United Methodist Congregations to follow employment and volunteer practices that are aligned with our Social Principles…”.
This resolution was offered to affirm and support persons who openly identify as LGBTQ and who desire leadership roles in the UMC. The impetus behind the resolution concerns the supposed prejudice that many churches maintain in their hiring policies or in their use of volunteers, a prejudice that disqualifies the employment of those whose behaviors and conduct are inconsistent with the Book of Discipline (Paragraph 161G; Paragraph 304.3) and numerous Judicial Council Decisions (702, 708, 722, 725, 764, 844, 984, 1020).
This prejudice can be summarized as a maintenance of the traditional teachings of Methodism, that people who aspire to serve a local congregation practice the tenets of faith and holiness consistent and compatible with both the denomination and historic Christianity.
The result of this vote demonstrates a perceptive decline concerning an understanding of biblical authority in United Methodism.
Either people are unaware of the scriptural prohibitions concerning the practice of homosexuality, or they are in fact aware of these scriptural prohibitions but either do not believe such to be relevant and true or simply do not care what the Bible says concerning this important issue. In either case, the willful rejection of God’s word finally resolves itself into a rejection of God’s authority. And with a rejection of God’s authority, we can expect, as a Church, a subsequent rejection of God’s blessing.
Arguments that reason away the biblical precepts, rules and roles concerning human sexuality accentuate the willful decision-making of people against the eternal counsel of God. The incorporation of secular values over and against the teachings of the Bible displaces the authority of God with the authority of man. In effect, those who selectively dismiss biblical teachings commonly held in the Christian faith eventually dismiss the Christ of faith, including the atoning value of the Cross. A church without the Bible can no longer be considered a church. A ‘Christian’ without the Cross is not a Christian.
If we are willing to dismiss certain biblical criteria as irrelevant to our present day culture, especially in the heated debate concerning human sexuality, where might we end such subjectivity in our decision making? How will we maintain a cohesiveness of doctrine when our culture drifts towards other tendencies that are destructive to the human family? Upon what basis can any of the sacraments be offered if we have dismissed even a small segment of holy writ as either outmoded and irrelevant or misguided and untrue?
Wesley was adamant in declaring his total reliance on the total Word of God. He was convinced of the divine authority found in scripture and believed it all to be true; “If there be one falsehood in the Bible,” writes Wesley, “there may be a thousand; neither can it proceed from the God of truth.”
His belief that the word of God was the final arbiter of our faith is well known; “Try all things by the written word, and let all bow down before it.”
He expressed his fear that Methodism might come to the very point we now collectively face;
“I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”
That we have departed from what was first ‘set out’ is ever more apparent with this past vote and resolution. Perhaps it is time to reconsider who we are, first as Christians, then as Methodists, and finally, as fellow pilgrims in a suffering world in need of God’s love and truth.
While the Book of Discipline disqualifies from leadership anyone who is in violation of its precepts regarding human sexuality, it does embrace everyone as being of ‘sacred worth’ and welcomes all to the spiritual and emotional care that Christian fellowship offers. The United Methodist Church believes that God’s grace is available to all people, and that churches should not reject or condemn any from receiving such ministry. This has been the traditional stance of the Christian faith since its inception. The ground is always level at the foot of the Cross.
If we can, by God’s grace, change our present course, we will rediscover the blessing of God in our churches alongside our ordained purpose. However, if we continue in the direction we are presently going, we will end as a proverb of shame. The choice is ours. Will we walk in agreement with the Word of God or will we wander upon the broad paths of a fallen culture that so desperately needs God’s forgiveness, mercy, love, light and life?