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As you read Scripture, how do you respond when Jesus does something that surprises you...when he does something that seems out of character?
When I come across something that confuses me, I’m learning to ask a simple question: Why? And then I keep reading.
I’ll give you an example....but first take a couple minutes to read Luke 11: 1-46 for yourself.
No really, read it. I’m not going anywhere.
Thank you! Now let’s talk about it...
Jesus receives word that his close friend Lazarus is near death. Even before we can read the next sentence, we might imagine Jesus springing to action like Clark Kent entering a phone booth. Except he doesn’t.
Jesus does not rush to Bethany to intervene.
Jesus does not rush to console Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus.
And so we sit here with an open Bible, confused.
Jesus has not met our expectations.
We gasp in disappoint.
We groan with frustration.
On behalf of the Mary and Martha we cry out in bewilderment: Jesus, why are you doing nothing when I know you can do everything?!
Jesus, don’t you care?
Two days later, Jesus returns to Bethany. By now, Lazarus has been dead four days.
The body lies in the tomb. Mourners have gathered. Many are weeping. Jesus weeps with them.
To be honest, we feel like weeping, too. This is not the way things are supposed to be! We are tempted to close the cover of the Bible and walk away.
Jesus orders the stone be rolled from the tomb. Martha worries she will be publicly embarrassed, for surely the stench of a decaying body will roll out of the tomb as the stone is rolled away. We cringe with Martha, expecting the worst
It takes all we can do to keep reading...yet when we do, our confusion turns to wonder. Can it be? There is NO odor?
Jesus is speaking now: Thank you, Father, for hearing me. Wait – what? “For hearing me?”
What prayer had the Father heard and when had he heard it?
Could it be that when Jesus appeared to be doing nothing, he was actually praying?
Could it be that when Jesus appeared to be delaying, he was pleading with the Father to restore life to Lazarus?
But… Why the delay? Why the seeming lack of concern?
A miracle is unfolding.
At the call of Jesus, Lazarus rises and walks out of the tomb!
“The result of all this was that several of the Judeans, who had come to Mary, and who had seen what he had done, believed in Jesus” (John 11:45).
The puzzle pieces now come together and we can see the bigger picture. There was purpose in Jesus’ delay. Jesus was praying when we thought he lacked compassion. Jesus was doing the most important thing when we thought he was doing nothing.
So what’s the takeaway?
Keep reading…keep reading Scripture.
And keep reading your own story.
Your story is not finished yet.
Jesus is still writing your story.
If Jesus seems to be ignoring your desperate pleas, trust him anyway.
If Jesus seems to be delaying his response to you, trust him anyway.
Despite difficult circumstances, remember that Jesus loves you.
Despite pain and loss, remember Jesus is your advocate; he carries your request directly to the Father.
Jesus will hold onto you even when you have trouble holding on to him.
Jesus will call you by name just as he called Lazarus by name.
You will walk out of the darkness and into new life.
As we turn the page of our calendars from one year to another, it is time to look forward to the future for our church. What will 2020 hold for Central United Methodist Church?
A Call to Prayer
I believe God is calling us to a deeper level of prayer in 2020. This is a year for all of us to turn to the Lord with a renewed sense of faith and commitment. Amidst the uncertainty of life, God is the one who will guide our paths, provide stability, and lead us with certainty into the future. In humble prayer and fasting, 2020 is a year to seek the Lord like never before. Bring all your questions and concerns before the cross, lay your burdens on the altar of grace, knowing God loves you and wants the very best for you.
We are called to live lives of prayer. We saw countless grassroots prayer groups emerge within our church fellowship during 2019, I am hoping many new prayer groups will begin this next year. God calls us to pray individually and corporately. Jesus tells us “When two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). As you make your list of goals for 2020, invigorating your prayer life should be at the top of the list. Set a goal to spend more time daily and weekly in prayer. Plan to learn new methods of prayer and try new techniques. I will lead a class beginning January 15 based on a classic resource written by Maxie Dunnam called The Workbook of Living Prayer. Click here to join me on a renewed journey of personal prayer.
This year our church will need to engage in serious family conversations. With the United Methodist General Conference (GC) set for May 2020, our church membership will likely need to make decisions depending on the outcome. This will likely be the year our local church decides how we as a family want to move forward with beliefs on human sexuality and same-sex marriage. Most GC legislation has provisions for two or three new Methodist expressions moving forward. Our congregation may need to choose with which denomination we will align. Leading up to such a historic decision, it will be important that we engage in conversations with one another, listen to varying opinions and viewpoints. The Arkansas Annual Conference has developed resources for our laity to lead us called Family Conversations. This new resource will provide information about General Conference legislation and trained facilitators will lead small group conversations about how our church family wants to move forward. We plan to schedule these Family Conversations led by our laity in February/March. It will be important for all of our members to be informed and have healthy conversations with one another.
Remember God’s Faithfulness - Past, Present, and Future.
As I reflect upon the 187-year history of Central, I see how God has faithfully led this congregation. We are a church forged out of the Arkansas frontier, birthed by hardworking people who possessed an unswerving faith in Almighty God.
Imagine the tough folks who started the church in the Brodie’s log cabin before Arkansas was a state. They held onto faith in the challenges of early frontier days hoping for a traveling preacher to come to preach God’s word. They built a small structure on West Center Street near the square. During the Civil War, many lives were lost, a huge battle was fought in Fayetteville and the army came rushing up Dickson Street headed for East mountain. The church was burned in 1863 along with many other buildings and the congregation was without a preacher for two years.
In 1874 there was a great revival with months of preaching and many conversions and baptisms. A new structure was built on West Center street and today a plaque stands in that spot in a municipal parking lot. There was a smallpox epidemic that caused the leaders to close the church for nearly a month to prevent the spread of disease. Many lives were lost.
In 1898 the church had grown so much they bought property on the outskirts of town at Dickson and Highland. On the empty land, a tent was set up and a revival preacher came from Siloam Springs. It was reportedly one of the most successful revivals ever held and many were converted to Jesus Christ. The original sanctuary was built on the corner in 1899.
The growing faithful congregation went through two World Wars and the Great Depression. There were horrible polio outbreaks in the early 1950s and men enlisted to fight in the Korean War. They remained steadfast and the church grew in faith and number. Our beautiful sanctuary was built in 1953. They went through the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam. Two fires heavily damaged the sanctuary in 1969 and 1971.
In 187 years, there have been 52 senior pastors and three parsonages. The church has gone by three different names. The denomination split once and united with other denominations twice. Our forebears, the saints of old, went through a great deal. Their strength and fortitude paved the way for us, and we are called to pave the way for the next generation. So that someone someday will remember how we were faithful in difficult times. I believe their prayers for our church are still being answered by God today, whose love is steadfast, whose promises can be trusted and whose faithfulness never ends.
When thinking about Christmas, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Stress? Shopping? Hallmark? I admit that I watch a lot of Hallmark Christmas movies. I even own a pair of those socks that on the bottom say, “If you can read this, then I am watching a Hallmark movie”.
Have you noticed how often they talk about the “spirit of Christmas” or “the magic of Christmas” in those movies? This seems to be the world’s way of describing what happens at Christmas time. Those of us who know Jesus as Savior, can see and understand that God comes to us as a human child, is the true miracle of Christmas. We know that “the magic of Christmas” is powerless without Jesus. It can make us feel good or increase our desire to do acts of kindness, but it cannot truly change hearts.
In the book of Galatians, we hear about a group of Jewish believers who were saying you still had to keep the Law of Moses and certain rituals in order to be right with God. They didn’t quite understand the miracle of what Christ accomplished through His birth and death. They saw the law of Moses as a good thing that brings a right relationship with God, but it in and of itself has no power to save.
“…the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian…” (Gal. 3:24-25)
We have been declared free from the guilt of sin and its penalty! God’s law is no longer a burden that we stress about keeping, but it’s a mountain of Joy that leads to salvation. We can find true joy this Christmas by remembering what the Birth of Jesus begins, a life that leads to defeating death and setting us free from the law of sin and death.
If Jesus had never been born, we would have nothing to be joyful about. We would have no salvation from sin, no victory over death, and no mediator between us and God. But because of the birth of Jesus, we have grace, redemption, salvation, sanctification, and the hope of glory. We have a place in the family of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ which is the true “magic of Christmas”.
JOY TO THE WORLD THE LORD HAS COME LET EARTH RECEIVE HER KING!
In the Spring of 2018, Arlene came to Genesis Church. She was vulnerable, hurting, and scared. Her street-strong persona and a lifetime of being in survival mode were completely eroded, and she wanted to end her life.
Born in Newport, Arkansas in 1972, Arlene inherited a world of insecurity and fear. Her father was gone all the time, and her mother worked three jobs to provide for Arlene and her sisters and brothers. When her father was home, his abuse of alcohol and drugs was a volatile recipe for anger, along with mental and physical abuse of his family.
In this toxic environment, Arlene had to grow up fast (cooking and keeping house before her tenth birthday), each day experiencing the extreme trauma of being in survival mode as a child. Although her mother loved her, she could not provide the security and support that a child needs. There wasn’t time for church or any type of moral guidance, and Arlene lost her way, dropped out of school, and ran away from home at age fourteen.
Arlene wanted to be cared for; she was seeking love, which brought her to family in Fayetteville, but the pattern of dysfunction and abuse continued to such an extent that she turned to men promising to love and protect her. At the young age of fifteen, Arlene found herself pregnant and all alone. Pressured to end her pregnancy, Arlene refused and returned to a hard life on the streets.
Arlene found herself confused by what love was, not trusting anyone, and bouncing from place to place. By the time she was seventeen, she had two kids and was trying to be a good mom and provider. She described her entire adult life as “trying to find a world I wanted but didn’t know how to get it”.
At last, she began what she thought would be the long-term loving relationship she had always wanted. Tragically, the same pattern of abuse began and escalated to the point where she had to send the children away to a safe place. The man would apologize, and she wanted so badly to believe that he would change, that she stayed with him. One evening he brutally beat her, and she suffered stab wounds and an extended hospital stay.
Years of going in and out of bad relationships, struggling day to day, and feeling worthless, caused her to attempt to end her life with pills. By God’s miracle of grace, a kindly older Christian woman saw her attempting to take the pills and intervened. The woman told her something she had never heard before: “God loves you and I do too.” For the first time in her life, Arlene encountered someone who genuinely cared, and who referred her to Genesis Church. She was told that we could help, but after a lifetime of never asking for help, it was humbling to come to us.
From the first moment we met her, we accepted Arlene just as she was – broken and deeply skeptical of God’s promise of restoration and hope. Ashamed by what she had done and all of her life’s choices, it was hard to realize that God could forgive and love her.
“I have learned how strong faith and love is, I never imagined how powerful God’s love is. I never dreamed how easy it would be to have peace, that the power of love would give me a new and better life, and that I could truly be valued.”
This realization has been restoring every facet of Arlene’s life. She has accepted Jesus as her Savior and joined our church. Every day she has a purpose and can almost always be found serving at Genesis in whatever way is needed and is known for her broad smile and big hugs.
“Faith has taught me patience and to make better decisions."
No longer faced with terrifying survival fears, Arlene sees there is hope and a future for her. She has been reconciling with her family, is anxious to work, and has even begun taking college classes!
“Had I not found God and a church home in Genesis – I wouldn’t even be here. Genesis gave me a safe haven, a place where I can appreciate all that I have. I can smile and be happy with the family, love, and better life that I always wanted. I am forgiven and loved and can face challenges knowing that God has rescued and saved me.”
The key to Arlene’s transformation has been her Life Team, where four women meet with her every week to listen, encourage, challenge, and pray with her.
“I have a life to look forward to, even with the bad days. I’m not in emergency mode, I’m in FREE MODE! Never have I seen so much love as when I came to Genesis, I have never in my life been loved so much"
Psalm 71:20 -21 though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more.
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