What is the future?
Of the United Methodist Church?
Of your local church?
Of you, pastor or lay person?
Months of Commission on the Way Forward meetings, Council of Bishop deliberations, Judicial Council verdicts, WCA statements and Uniting/Mainstream Methodist counter shots are creating a rising crescendo of anxiety. It climaxes in St. Louis’s Dome at America’s Center at the special called session of General Conference February 23, 2019. Which one of the plans will be adopted? The One Church Plan? The Connectional Conference Plan? The Traditionalist Plan? Something else? Or none? No matter the outcome, in the immediate term the aftermath will be tumultuous.
With the turmoil of our church daily on my mind, God’s Word spoke to me. Let me share it with you - both a warning and a hope. I was reading Proverbs 23: 17f, ‘Always continue in the fear of the Lord. Surely there is a future…’ That led me to a parallel passage, Psalm 37: 1ff, ‘Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers…’ Was I tempted to fret because wrongdoers prospered? ‘To fret’ means to be angry with resentment. Fretting is to be mad with ill will toward the power, position or prosperity of those who rebuff righteousness and God’s Word. Fretting is near-sighted. It concentrates on the moment. It looks short. God’s Word says, ‘Look long …look ahead’. Do not be envious of the flesh’s fleeting advances. Look ahead. Take the long view. ‘God’s mill grinds slow, but sure.’
The long view is either happy or sobering…depending. First, look ahead to the tragic ending. Here is a warning for us all. There is no joy in the prospect: ‘The evil have no future.’ For those who turn away from the God-Man Jesus Christ and his righteousness, there is no ‘afterwards’, no blessed ‘what-comes-after’ - no happy ending. I listened compassionately to a self-affirming homosexual. He admitted that at night he had doubts about his behavior. I perked up. The Holy Spirit was drawing him to reconsider his behavior. This could be a turning point for him. He recovered himself. He then began to attribute the negative voice to condemners. With psychological projection he blamed us for the negative, inner feelings of rejection, sickness, and revulsion he could not accept which his behavior was stirring up within himself. In any case, his testimonial left me sad. He thinks because I affirm Scripture’s clear teaching on same-sex sex I hate him. I do not. I see Jesus looking at him and loving him. Jesus is full of grace! Jesus loves him! You and I do too!
Nevertheless, Jesus is also full of truth. The truth stares each of us in the face: ‘The evil have no future.’ When I was in elementary school I stole a ‘Fireball’. The guilt I began to feel as I sucked on it after school alerted me to its wrong. ‘What-came-after’ ruined the taste! Momentary sweetness soon gives way to a sour conclusion. The momentary exhausts itself. It moves toward an inevitable, dreadful ending. ‘God’s mill grinds slow, but sure’: ‘the lamp of the wicked will go out’; they ‘will fade like grass and wither like the green herb’; and ‘you will look and the wicked will be no more’. All need to look long. See where wrongdoing runs: to no good prospect, no happy posterity, and no happy ending. ‘The evil have no hope’. Do not go there.
Do not look short. Look ahead, and look up. Look up and find the long view of blessedness. Refocus from short-sightedness. Redirect the anger of jealous resentment. Look to Jesus Christ! Psalm 34 says, ‘Trust in the Lord and do good…Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart’. Focus on our Lord Jesus Christ. Our family was target practicing at Sheepdog Gun Range. When aiming a pistol, one is preoccupied with hitting the target’s bull’s eye. Focusing takes sharp, mental awareness and laser concentration. Aligning the Sig Sauer’s 9mm sights on the inner circle and nowhere else takes real attentiveness. Psalm 34 reminds me to keep my concentration on Jesus Christ.
Those who look up have a happy ending. ‘Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.’ Scripture puts our hope variously: ‘trust in the Lord so you will live in the land and enjoy security’; ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’; and ‘he has given us a new birth into a living hope…and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.’ There likely will be tumultuous months ahead. We will not look short. Look ahead. Look up. ‘He will make your vindication shine like the light’. The ‘afterwards’, the ‘what-comes-after’, and the hope ahead is sweet. ‘Surely, there is a future’!
P. S. – For more good insight on General Conference, see our website heading ‘General Conference Info’ and below.
Tom Lambrecht has an interesting article on the impact of all the scenarios on clergy.
Dr. Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Seminary, considers issues General Conference should pay attention to regarding the One Church Plan. He has a particularly excellent section dealing with the biblical term 'homosexual,' and a good ending.
Ben Witherington discusses slavery in the Bible which progressives misuse in the homosexual debate.