Dear Renew Network,
Team Renew and I hope you are enjoying this summer. For some of us, it is a time of vacation from the scheduling demands of the school year, and hopefully it includes a vacation to an exciting or at least peaceful destination. It is also the time after Pentecost, which some traditions call “Ordinary Time.” That is curious; for if you know even just a little about what followed Pentecost in the book of Acts, you realize that those days were anything but ordinary.
Starting with Pentecost Sunday, my pastor began a sermon series on the book of Acts. The book is aptly named for it is full of action. The most recent sermon centered on the story of Stephen, the first martyr. Chapter 6 of Acts tells us that he was full of faith and the Holy Spirit. We see that clearly when Stephen is accused of speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God. What follows is Stephen’s historical summary of God’s call and faithfulness to His people. The word says that as Stephen spoke, his face was “…as the face of an angel.”
But Stephen does not sugar coat what has just happened. The death and resurrection of Christ is still fresh on everyone’s mind. He likens it to the persecution of the prophets who foretold of the coming of the “Just One.” He tells his accusers that they “…have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”
Of course this was too much for them to tolerate, so they cast him out of the city, stoning him to death. Stephen gazes into heaven and seeing the glory of God and Jesus standing at His right hand, asks God to receive his spirit. Then he speaks his last words, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.”
This struck me as very timely. Stephen’s words echo Christ’s own words on the cross, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” What a powerful witness of forgiveness – and what a powerful outcome. Saul or Paul as we now know him is present. The next chapter of Acts will report one of the most dramatic conversions ever recorded.
This sermon was delivered at my church just after another dramatic demonstration of forgiveness. I am thinking of the forgiveness and prayers that the victim’s family members extended to the young man who killed nine men and women while attending a bible study at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Forgiveness did not stop with the family members; it inspired a whole community and beyond.
New on the Renew Website are several posts that turn our hearts and minds to contemplate The Power of Forgiveness. That is the title of my post, which takes a look at the power of men and women to effect change and outcomes when real Christ-like love and forgiveness is extended. Forgiveness is powerful on a large scale as the events of Charleston demonstrate, but forgiveness is also powerful in our everyday personal lives.
Mary Lambrecht looks at forgiveness from a more personal perspective in her post, Casting Off the Cloaks of Unforgiveness. She asks, what is forgiveness, and what could be hindering us from running the race that God has specifically appointed for us? In her devotional, The Sweet Scent of Forgiveness, BJ Funk reminds us that at times, we may need to ask someone to forgive us.
Also new is part one of a new teaching by Jeannine Fogwell titled, Mirrors. Jeannine is a breast cancer survivor who has a touching testimony. In the first teaching, she reminds us that we are created to bring light to a darkened world no matter how dark our personal circumstances. I hope you will take advantage of these new resources.
As you all know, the Supreme Court has changed the law of the land making same sex marriage legal in all fifty states. This ruling did not surprise me, but it did make me sad. By issuing this ruling, the court went outside its constitutional set boundaries of interpreting the law, and instead it made law.
In less than a year, the United Methodist Church will decide if we change or compromise the law of the church concerning same sex marriage, ordination of practicing homosexuals, and other related issues. For us too, it is a matter of boundaries – not those of the Constitution certainly, but those of Holy Scripture. The Connectional Table of the UMC and others are proposing we too adopt these changes.
The boundary question for us in the UMC will be one of authority. Will we continue to be under the authority of Holy Scripture? We are being asked to bless the experience of a few and to allow that to define truth for the church, just as it now defines marriage for our society. But truth is more than our sexual desires or how we define ourselves; truth is more than what the Supreme Court defines it to be. Truth is the person of Jesus himself who comes to the church as a bridegroom.
Stephen reminded the Jewish authorities that they had received the law by the direction of angels and had not remained faithful to its authority. That strikes me as the challenge before the UMC. Will we remain faithful?
Join me in praying that that the Discipline of the UMC will continue to be rooted in the truth, faithful to the authority of scripture, and compassionate in its ministry. Renew along with Good News and the other renewal ministries is working toward that end.
I want to thank each of you in the network for your prayers and your financial support. You make our ministry possible. We will have a considerable increase in expenses as we prepare for General Conference 2016 in Portland. We continue to monitor UMW National the former Women’s Division. You can stand with us by going on the Renew Website http://renewnetwork.org/donations/ and download or print the Donations Form. Or you may designate a check to Renew Network and send to:
P.O. Box 132076
The Woodlands, TX 77393-2076
In His Service,
Renew Team Leader