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This Sunday at Central

Easter Services Sunday, April 12th there will not be in-person services
9:30 a.m. Contemporary
 10:45 a.m. Classic
For more information on our Easter Services click here.
Message: “Resurrection Rendezvousz” with Rev. Jody Farrell
 We will also live stream to Genesis Church Facebook page.

Central UMC Blog

The Pastor's Corner: God Never Abandons Us
Apr 08, 2020

Hello friends! 

It probably goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, “I miss being with you in person!” While it is a necessity, the new normal of physically distancing can take a toll after a while. Zoom meetings are great in order to see one another’s faces, but it, not the same as actually being in the presence of one another. I do most of my work from home but sometimes I go to the church to pick up something I need from the office or to do a little work from there. Every time I go by, I am a bit melancholy from the empty parking lots, the quiet halls, the empty places of worship, and the vacant office spaces. I know that physical distancing is a must to protect from COVID19 but that doesn’t make it any less sad.

Today, I want to share a little about someone who experienced physical distancing. His name is John and he is the author of what we know as the Book of Revelation. John’s isolation was not self-imposed.  John was placed in isolation by the Roman authorities because he was infected with the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, John was spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to others. The Gospel was spreading across the Roman Empire and those spreading it had to be dealt with. Listen to what John records, “I, John, am your brother and partner in suffering and in God’s kingdom and in the patient endurance to which Jesus calls us. I was exiled on the island of Patmos for preaching the word of God and for my testimony about Jesus” (Revelation 1:9, NLT). Did you catch that? John is quarantined because of his faith in Christ and for sharing that faith with others! 

Now, imagine that you are John. Before his exile, he went about his normal patterns of life in his faith community and the community at large. When I say “normal," we must also take into account that there was persecution occurring, so Christians were wary to a large degree. But the point is, John could be with others and share life with others, even if that meant doing so under the watchful eye of the Roman authorities. Now that John is in exile on the island of Patmos, he perhaps is experiencing fear. Maybe he is wondering about his purpose now that he cannot be with his faith community. He may even be questioning God, saying, “What use am I here?” 

In his isolation, John made an important choice. He says, “It was the Lord’s Day and I was worshiping in the Spirit” (Revelation 1:10). In his isolation, John chose to worship the Lord. I don’t know what his worship would have consisted of. Perhaps it included lamenting for his exile and the persecution of the church. After all, lamenting before God is an important part of worship. We often find laments in the Psalms. We even have a book in the Bible called Lamentations tucked in between Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Laments to God are important and healthy and we’ve been doing our own lamenting, haven’t we? We’ve been lamenting the state of our country and world, the losses and the varying ways we’ve experienced loss.

Yet, it could have been John was praising God in the midst of his exile John may have been singing songs of praise, as Paul and Silas did when they were in jail in Philippi (see Acts 16). Or maybe he was praying and meditating on God’s word. Perhaps all of those components were occurring in John’s worship of the Lord in the Spirit. And in the midst of his worship, the Lord shows up. In response, John was petrified of the sights and sounds of the incredible vision he is experiencing of the Son of Man (Jesus). Fear is a natural reaction when all that we’ve known has changed into something strange, harsh, and terrifying. Yet, the Son of Man places his right hand on John’s and says, “Do not be afraid” (Revelation 1:17).

At this point, we should note a couple of things. First, while John was isolated to the island of Patmos, he was not isolated from Jesus and, certainly, Jesus was not isolated from him. This brings comfort to us as we are practicing physical distancing during our current COVID crisis. While we may feel secluded, Jesus is still with us. The author of Hebrews, writing during a particularly difficult time for the church, reminds us, that God has said, “’ I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.’ "So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear” (Hebrews 13:5b-6a, NLT). Again, notice Jesus’ words to John in Revelation, “Do not be afraid,” which is one of God's favorites sayings to his people, repeated throughout the bible.  

Also, we should note that the worship of the Lord is not confined to a particular place. While John was not able to worship with the house church communities, he still worshiped. The Lord is worthy of worship at all times and in all places. In fact, John’s time of isolation provided a new opportunity for him. The Anglican scholar N.T. Wright says, “The authorities have put [John in exile] as punishment for his fearless teaching, and to try to stop his work having any further effect. The result has been the exact opposite. Exile has given him time to pray, to reflect, and now to receive the most explosive vision of God’s power and love.”[1] Tim Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary, recently said that those now empty parts of our calendars—he calls them white spaces—that the COVID crisis has created may be a means of grace providing space for extended times of prayer, greater listening to God, and deeper reflection.

Am I suggesting that we should expect to have a grand vision, such as John had on Patmos? No. But I do believe that Jesus is in our midst. I do believe he shows up when we seek him in worship and prayer wherever we are. I do believe that he wants to make himself known to us in new, deeper, and more profound and real ways. And I firmly believe that God’s ultimate plan for us and our world has not been thrown off track due to COVID19. 

Therefore, friends, will you hold fast to these words from Hebrews 13:5-6 along with me? “For God says to us, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear’ (Hebrews 13:5b-6a, NLT).  

Thanks be to God!

Central UMC Blog

The Pastor's Corner: Spring Comes Anyway
Apr 01, 2020

Throughout the days of March, we have witnessed incredible change and disruption to daily life. The number of Coronavirus cases continues to rise, the death toll increases, unemployment claims skyrocket, the demand on our medical providers grows, and the days of social isolation drag on. The amount of uncertainty, worry and anxiety takes its toll and creates what the anonymous 17th Century German Christian songwriter calls “a woeful heart; one full of sorrow and misery.

During these same days of March, alongside a global pandemic, we witness the beauty of nature coming to life as Spring arrives. I turn off another dismal and frightening television news report and step outside to the beauty of nature awakening. The dogwoods display a glory of white and pink blossoms. The forsythia bush shines bright yellow buds. The hyacinth and tulips emerge from their dark winter tomb to exhibit colorful beauty. The grass greens, the trees bud, and purple clover covers the roadside. The bumblebees energetically buzz enjoying their pollination. A bluebird couple has set up residence in my backyard bird box. A pair of mockingbirds chase one another across the pine trees. Tree frogs fill the evenings with their croaky song.

Despite woeful hearts and forlorn worry, Spring comes anyway. Nature isn't threatened by a global pandemic.  The warm sun calls forth the earth in all its beauty and life boldly blooms all around us. The life-returning joy of Spring is the season of Resurrection. Unfortunately, the church will not be able to gather in person for Easter Sunday morning worship services. As sad as that reality is, Jesus is risen anyway. We celebrate the resurrection with all the joy that is in our hearts. The tomb is empty! Jesus is Lord! All the woeful hearts of the world sing with indescribable joy at this amazing reality. Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed! 

As I walk in nature, enjoy the beauty of Spring and reflect on God’s gift of Jesus in my life, I remember the words of one of my favorite hymns, Fairest Lord Jesus. Especially the second stanza:

 Fair are the meadows,
fairer still the woodlands,
robed in the blooming garb of spring:
Jesus is fairer,
Jesus is purer
who makes the woeful heart to sing. 

Keep our Lord Jesus close in your heart, in all times and in all situations – and enjoy the beauty of Spring! 

Central UMC Blog

The Pastor's Corner: The Certainty and Immeasurability of God’s Love
Mar 25, 2020

I don’t know if this is a scientific fact, but I would guess most of us thrive on normal life patterns and routines.  Now, these patterns and routines have been deeply disrupted in the wake of COVID-19. The Coronavirus has seemingly left no one untouched. Schools and universities have closed and moved to online learning. Parents, if they are able, now do their best to work from home.  Restaurants are serving curb-side pickup and drive-thru only. Sports have been suspended. Churches have moved to worshipping entirely online, implementing tele-care for pastoral care, Bible study through social media streams, and adjusting mission ministries to protect from the spread of the disease. Grocery stores and their suppliers are struggling to keep shelves stocked. Healthcare workers who are on the frontlines are struggling to keep up with the demands. The concern of spreading the disease has brought about the new norm of “social distancing,” “quarantine” and “isolation.”  Looking back on the last few weeks, it would seem that uncertainty reigns supreme.

When the world, as we have come to know it, crumbles into uncertainty we can choose to despair, or we can choose to hope in the God who most certainly loves us. While we need to practice social distancing to help combat the spread of COVID-19, God does not practice distancing, of any kind, from us.  John’s gospel tells us, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (1:14, NIV). Later in his gospel, John reminds us that God broke down the distance between us and him because he of His great love for us. John writes those well-known words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (3:16). God has broken down the distance by becoming one of us in Jesus Christ. He broke this distance because he loves us. This is good news! 

But there is even more good news! The word translated into English as world in John 3:16 comes from the Greek word kosmos. By using the word kosmos, John is stating the truth that God’s love is for everyone. God demonstrates his extraordinary love by sending his one and only Son for everyone and all creation. So, unless you exist outside of the kosmos, which is impossible, you are loved supremely by God. In times of uncertainty, we may fall prey to the idea that God has somehow forgotten us. The gospel message is that we are never forgotten by God, never unloved by God and never abandoned by God.  We can be certain of God’s love for us even as we live in uncertain times. 

While we can be assured of God’s love there is also a positive uncertainty of just how much God loves us. Paul illustrates this in his letter to the Ephesian Christians when he prays for them with the following words, “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully” (Ephesians 3:18-19, NLT). God’s love is a certainty, but his love is so vast it certainly cannot be measured!

When I was growing up in Northeast Arkansas, I would sometimes find myself attending revival services where the question would be put to the congregation, “Have you made a decision for Christ?” While God does call upon us to respond to his grace, we need to remember that the decision-making doesn’t start with us. Long before we were making decisions about God, God made a decision about us. He decided to love us, and he sent his only Son as the ultimate revelation of his love. So, in these days when we are preoccupied with uncertainly, take time to dwell on the fact that God’s love towards you is unquestionable.

In Christ’s love,

P.S.—If you want to follow me on Instagram @stevenkpulliam I try to do a daily post based on God’s love toward us. Recently, I have been posting from my reading of Henri Nouwen’s You Are the Beloved. 

Central UMC Blog

The Pastor's Corner: Peace Be Still
Mar 18, 2020

Calm the Storm

This week’s Coronavirus storm whipped up fast and unexpectantly throwing each of our lives into a whirlwind of change within days. We face a global pandemic, national and local states of emergency, long lines at international airports, major event cancellations, school closings, online worship services and empty grocery store shelves.  Over the week we watched the United States map turn red as more Coronavirus cases were confirmed.  There is fear of disease, fear for our loved ones and fear of impending economic impact.  The storm has arrived, and leaders say it could get worse before it gets better. 

One sunny day, Jesus’ followers were on a boat in the Sea of Galilee and a storm came.  I’ve been on the Sea of Galilee with a tour group ready to head out into the beautiful waters.  It was a bright morning for our scheduled excursion.  Suddenly large dark clouds formed to the west above the horizon.  Within minutes the waves of the Sea began to roll and plummet.  The darkened sky covered the sun and a strong wind picked up.  Our little boat heaved and pitched.  Our wise tour guide had the captain turn the boat around and quickly return to shore.  He told us, “Now you know what it is like to be on the Sea of Galilee in a storm as Jesus was with the disciples.” 

The Galilean storm whipped up fast and unexpectantly for Jesus and the disciples.

Matthew 8:23-24 (NIV)

23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. 

The Coronavirus storm is upon us.  Some people are overwhelmed with worry and fear.  Like the disciples on the boat, people feel anxious, fragile, and afraid.  Our ordered world has suddenly come out of joint, and our lives have a tinge of chaos. A contagious, infectious disease is a powerful reminder of our humanity and mortality.  The clouds on the horizon are dark and the winds of the storm are all around us.

As a people of faith, we remember that we are not alone in this (or any) storm.  Jesus is in this boat with us.  Jesus asks his disciples, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (Matthew 8:26).    In Jesus Christ, we have a powerful Savior who rebukes the wind and the waves, brings order out of chaos and calms the storm with these words, “Peace, be still!” (Mark 4:39).

The storm of Coronavirus will continue to swirl in the news, but in the chaos that surrounds us, draw close to Jesus.  Invite Jesus to speak to the turmoil in your heart and quiet your soul.  “Peace, be still!”  Jesus can calm any storm, especially the storm raging inside.  Jesus brings the “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7). 

God is our refuge and strength.  God is our help in chaos and trouble.  God is with us.  God is for us.  God has not changed.  God is the same yesterday, today and forever. 

Psalm 46:1-3, 10 (NIV)

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

Be still and know that I am God.

In Christ,
Dr. Jan Davis
Senior Pastor

Central UMC Blog

The Pastor's Corner: What Really is the Issue
Mar 11, 2020

As Dr. Jan Davis correctly pointed out in her first writing in The Pastor’s Corner, the “main” focus of the deep divide within the United Methodist Church is upon disagreements regarding the church’s teaching on marriage and qualifications for ordination. Let me be clear that where we are as a denomination saddens me greatly. I have been in the United Methodist Church since 1976 when my parents joined in the small town where I spent the majority of my childhood and teen years. I was baptized and confirmed in the United Methodist Church. I first sensed the Holy Spirit calling me to ministry around the age of twelve. The call strengthened during my college years. Following graduation, I joined the staff of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Arkansas. I became a candidate for ordained ministry in the UMC and attended seminary to become a pastor in the UMC. I was ordained in the United Methodist Church back when you were ordained twice, as a Deacon in 1998 and then as an Elder in 2001.  To say that the United Methodist Church has a special place in my heart and life would be a tremendous understatement. Witnessing and experiencing the denomination in such chaotic disarray pains my heart. 

When the special called session of General Conference in February 2019 met in St. Louis, the conference once again reaffirmed that the definition of marriage for the church is between one man and one woman and that self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not eligible for ordination as pastors within the United Methodist Church. Added to the Book of Discipline was a greater measure of accountability for adhering to these standards. Schism within the United Methodist Church soon followed the General Conference in St. Louis, as bishops and annual conferences ignored the decision of the General Conference. All of this points to the bigger picture: The United Methodist Church has a broken system of governance. No real accountability exists within the United Methodist system for bishops who refuse to enforce the Book of Discipline. Nor does accountability exist for annual conferences who decide they will no longer live within the laws of the church. 

Again, the disagreement on human sexuality is the presenting issue of our broken system of governance. On a deeper level, however, the brokenness of the denomination exists in the lack of accountability for upholding the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. Doctrines such as the Virgin Birth, the Incarnation, Jesus being both fully divine and fully human, the atonement of sins through Christ’s death on the cross, and the Resurrection, no longer remain as basic tenants of the Christian faith but options for you to believe if you so choose. Tragically, there are many bishops and pastors within the United Methodist Church who no longer hold to one or more of the basic Christian doctrines. It is my conviction, and the conviction of many others, that underlying the erosion of our system of governance is the erosion of the authority of Scripture within the UMC. 

In the early days of the Methodist movement, the Methodists were often referred to as “Bible moths.” Methodists were attracted to an open Bible as moths are attracted to a lamp at night. John Wesley referred to himself as a “man of one book,” i.e., the Bible. Wesley was not saying he didn’t read other books. He was an avid reader and wrote many books as well. What he was saying was that Scripture was primary in his life, and he expected Scripture to be primary in the lives of the people called Methodists.

In April of 1968 the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church merged to form the United Methodist Church. Both the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church and The Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church were included in Book of Discipline under the section “Doctrinal Standards and General Rules.” The Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith highlight the authority of Scripture (both Old and New Testament) as revealing the Word of God and containing all things necessary to salvation. In addition, the Confession of Faith states that “the Holy Bible is to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”[1] 

Instead of Scripture being “the true rule and guide for our faith and practice,” Scripture for many has just become another book among books or writings among writings. This was made evident when one of United Methodism’s most prominent pastors, Adam Hamilton, described the inspiration of Scripture as not being uniquely inspired. Hamilton wrote,

The Bible’s authors were inspired by the Spirit in the same way and to the same degree as many contemporary preachers and prophets and even ordinary Christians have been inspired by the Spirit in every age. You’ve likely felt moved by the Spirit, and you’ve likely heard God speak to you as you listened to a sermon, or a song, or read an inspirational book. I believe the inspiration experienced by the biblical authors was not different from our own experience of inspiration.[2] 

David F. Watson makes this astute observation: “Taking [Hamilton’s] approach, there is no theological reason that the witness of Scripture should carry more weight than experiences of the Spirit that you or I might have.”[3] Hamilton takes a severe departure from orthodox Christian teaching that lifts up Scripture as uniquely inspired by God. Historically, the Church has referred to the Bible as the “Canon of Scripture.” Canon means “standard” or “rule.” It is against the “Canon of Scripture” that we are to measure what is taught in the church, as well as our lives. But what happens if the “inspiration” I receive is in opposition to the inspired words of Scripture? If the inspiration of Scripture is of no more unique value than the inspiration I receive or at least am convinced I have received, what gets the final say in my life? When Scripture is devalued, we no longer have a true rule and guide for faith and practice. 

This, my friends, is where we find ourselves as a denomination. We no longer live under the authority of Scripture. Instead, as Scripture puts it, everyone does what is right in their own eyes (see Judges 17:6; 21:25). My brothers and sisters, we need a movement to return to the primacy of Scripture in the life of the United Methodist Church and our individual lives.

Yours in Christ,

[1] The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2016 (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House), para. 104, “Standard and General Rules,” Articles: Article V, VI; Confession: Article V

[2] Adam Hamilton, Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today (New York: HarperOne, 2014), 294, italics in original.

[3] David F. Watson, Scripture and the Life of God: Why the Bible Matters Today More Than Ever (Franklin, TN: Seedbed, 2017), 22.

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