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“This We Believe”

Week One: The Lordship of Jesus Christ

Intro: “Bible is True…”

“All roads lead to heaven.” “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere.” “Be true to yourself. That’s the way to a happy life.” “You do you and I’ll do me.” Cliché’s like this are normative today in our post-modern, individualistic, society. And, as I’ve pointed out before, beliefs like these are even acceptable folk theology within the church—especially the United Methodist Church.

But what is most troubling is that beliefs like these…and worse…have been espoused by United Methodist Clergy and even some bishops! Many United Methodists believe that the current division is a recent phenomenon. But in fact, for over 100 years—little by little—liberal theology has crept through our seminaries and into our churches.

In July 2016 I stood on this platform and made the declaration that our denomination was in a schism over the election and appointment of the first openly gay ordained elder into the position of bishop in the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church. I explained that the Council of Bishops had been granted at General Conference the authority to assemble a 32-member Commission on the Way Forward and that in February 2019 (10 months from now), there will be a Special Called General Conference to determine the future of the denomination.

While the presenting issue is the inclusion of LGTBQ+ persons as both members and ordained clergy, what really is at stake is the authority of Scripture and the definition and practice of historical Christian orthodoxy within Methodism.

In the coming weeks we will be addressing these issues in two ways. First, on Sundays, I will be sharing a series entitled, “This We Believe, Foundational Claims of Christianity from a Wesleyan (a.k.a. Methodist) Perspective.” We will look at beliefs such as the lordship of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity, the authority of Scripture, John Wesley’s 3-fold doctrine of grace, personal and corporate holiness, discipleship, and the DNA of the global church.

Second, on Wednesdays at 6:30 pm, you are invited into a conversation about the condition and future of The United Methodist Church. We will look at how we got to this place, who are the people involved in decision-making, both denominationally and in the local church. We will explore more completely the recommendations of the Commission on the Way Forward. We will consider the possible outcomes of the 2019 Special Conference in St. Louis. And we will ask tough questions about ourselves and our denomination.

You may be wondering, “Why this and why now? Why talk about it on Sunday mornings?” Let me explain. First, back in October 2016 our own Bishop Swanson told pastors in a meeting to inform our people, keep them up to date on the process regarding the Way Forward, and encourage them to remain faithful. Now that the Commission has made recommendations and the delegates to the General Conference are about to receive the proposal(s), it is my responsibility to keep you informed.

Second, I make no apologies and no excuses for my zeal for God’s Word and his Holy Church, of which I am called to pastor. I am first and foremost a lover and follower of Jesus Christ as revealed to us in Scripture by the power of the Holy Spirit. The leadership of The United Methodist Church—of which I am an ordained elder and under which I made a covenant to proclaim the Gospel—has gone off the rails. The denominational leadership has moved from heretical thinking and teaching in certain seminary classrooms to heretical, anti-biblical practices from one end of the country to the other.

Third, to be honest, in order to reach the majority of participants at Byhalia Methodist Church, I must address such issues on Sunday morning. However, let me be clear: our focus will be on what we BELIEVE as born again, Spirit-filled, bible-believing and behaving follower of Jesus in the Methodist tradition. Sundays will NOT be the place for detailed information about the condition or future of the UMC. That will be left for Wednesday night conversations in the sanctuary. Let me URGE you…if you truly care about the future of this local church, you will want to be informed.

Finally, after much prayer and discernment, I feel it is time for unity. Not unity that we hear thrown around by denominational leaders—who really mean staying together no matter what differences we may have in biblical beliefs or practices. I mean unity as Christ prays in John 17 for all who believe and follow Him. If you want to hear more about that, come tonight to Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church on Quinn Road at 6 pm, where we will worship together with 13 other churches in our area who support Hearts & Hands.

Frankly—to be as transparent as I can—I don’t really know where you stand. Many of you have been life-long members of this church, but we may have no record of your profession of Jesus as Lord or your membership in this church. Others have been participants a long time. You are faithful in many ways, but you have never had to publicly state your faith in Christ.

After we complete this series, “This We Believe,” during the month of July each of us will be given an opportunity to affirm our allegiance to Christ and loyalty to Byhalia United Methodist Church.

Others will profess for the first time your faith in Jesus as Lord and your commitment to serve Him through this church. There will be unity as believers and followers of Jesus Christ through this church. All who choose will be stakeholders in the future of this faith community.

Why? Because we all need to take a stand for Jesus and for his Church. If we don’t stand for something, we fall for anything. Remember Joshua’s declaration to the people of Israel before crossing into the Promised Land? “Choose this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” The entire community stood with Joshua and declared the same.

Also, because the day will come—maybe as early as next spring—when this faith community will have to decide which direction to go TOGETHER. It is important that only those who claim to be stakeholders have a say in what happens to this church.

Friends, I realize this is not a comfortable season for us. I have personally wrestled with these and other issues for years and I’m tired of it. I’m ready for us to settle the matter once and for all just like Elijah when he told the Israelites and the prophets of Baal: “How long will you go on limping between two opinions. If God be God then worship him. If Baal be god than worship him.” It’s time.

So, in the time I have left, I want to touch on the first of ten principals in the Christian faith that make us who we are…not only as Christians, but as Christian Methodists. The first foundational belief is in the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Here this word from the Lord through the apostle Paul in his first letter to the church at Corinth: 5For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (8:5-6)

There’s an old saying regarding scripture: “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.” Meaning, we need to look at a passage’s context in order to understand the plain meaning of a text. THEN we can look for biblical principles that transcend time and cultures.

In today’s scripture, Paul is dealing with the question of food sacrificed to idols, something we generally don’t deal with in our Western cultural context. The basis of his argument is that food sacrificed to idols is not really sacrificial food since there really aren’t any gods other than the one true living God. So, if our conscience is clear about it, go ahead and eat it. Just don’t try to persuade others whose conscience is NOT clear to eat or not eat, drink or not drink because it can harm their walk with Christ.

But I want to focus on the truth within the truth: JESUS IS LORD. Paul is making a certain argument for sure but imbedded in this argument is a foundational truth that there is one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ.

It may seem unnecessary to make such an obvious statement, but we need to remember the kind of culture in which Paul and the early church lived. Corinth—a major metropolitan and multi-cultural seaport city —was also a very religious place.

There were Greco-Roman gods everywhere! Statues and paintings of gods were in every household, marketplace, and even public toilets. The Greeks and Romans worshipped many gods (pantheistic). Some helped you in business, others in childbearing or your love life. Still others for nature and crops, or even mariner commerce.

Unlike our modern Western culture, where we unfortunately compartmentalize our religious and non-religious life, EVERYTHING was religious in Paul’s world. And when pagan, pantheistic Greeks became Christians, they still saw everything as religious…only that instead of calling on many gods, they called on the one true God revealed to us in the Person of Jesus Christ. He is Lord of lord and King of kings!

In his second letter to the Corinthians, as he was defending his apostleship to the church, Paul makes this claim (from the NLT): You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake.

One of the most quoted passages about the means of salvation, Romans 10:9 says, If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

What do we mean when we say, Jesus is Lord? Let me quickly mention three things [SLIDES].

That He is the SON of God…true God from true God. The evangelist, Mark, begins his Gospel like this: The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. In the closing remarks of his first letter, John the beloved writes, I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

That He is the exalted SAVIOR. One of my favorite passages describes the humble obedience and the exaltation of Christ (Phil. 2:5-11)à Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

That He is SOVERIEGN over his kingdom. Jesus has dominion over all things. In talking about the nature and character of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit led Paul to pen these words (Col. 1:15-17à The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
We could spend weeks discussing this one truth of our Christian doctrine—that Jesus is Lord—and I doubt I would have many if any objectors to this truth. Yet there are more than a few leaders in The United Methodist Church seem to struggle with believing and proclaiming this fundamental truth.

Last year I mentioned the recently elected Bishop Karen Oliveto had attempted to reduce Jesus’s deity and build up his humanity in an August 19 sermon on Matthew 15. In it she says:

“Too many folks want to box Jesus in, carve him in stone, create an idol out of him. But this story cracks the pedestal we’ve put him on. The wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting one, prince of peace, was as human as you and me. Like you and me, he didn’t have his life figured out. He was still growing, maturing, putting the pieces together about who he was and what he was supposed to do. We might think of him as the Rock of Ages, but he was more like a hunk of clay, forming and reforming himself in relation to God.

As one person put it: ‘Jesus wasn’t a know-it-all, he was also learning God’s will like any human being and finally he changed his mind…if Jesus didn’t have to know it all innately, but rather could grow into new and deeper understanding through an openness to God’s people [even those he formerly discounted], maybe if Jesus could change his mind then maybe so can we!”

Lest you think this is a recent occurrence, let me share two more much older incidents.

In 2002, Bishop Joseph Sprague spoke at United Methodist Iliff Seminary in Denver, where he denied Christ’s virgin birth, bodily resurrection, and atoning death, asserting that Jesus was not born divine but become divine through the faithfulness of his earthly walk, with the implication that others could follow suit. His book repeating this theology, Affirmations of a Dissenter, was published the same year. Sprague suggested an alternative Trinity of Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

And going even further back, a book entitled The Christlike God, published in the early 1940s by Methodist Bishop Francis McConnell of the New York area, denied the deity of Jesus Christ. McConnell said, “Is not this tendency to deify Jesus more heathen than Christian?” On the west coast, Methodist Bishop Gerald Kennedy in Los Angeles was spouting every sort of unbelief and heresy prior to 1950. He denied the Inspiration of Scripture, the Trinity, the Atonement, the Deity of Christ, the Second Coming. Kennedy said, “I believe the testimony of the New Testament taken as a whole is against the deity of Jesus.”[1]

Listen, I said at the outset that my goal is NOT to focus on what we are against, but what we BELIEVE…what we are FOR. And we BELIEVE that JESUS IS LORD! But you need to know that not everyone who dresses like you believes like you. In Matt. 7:15, Jesus said this: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”

For Jesus to be lord over our lives, it means we have given Him DOMINION over us. It’s one thing to SAY that Jesus is Lord, it’s an entirely different thing to humbly submit to Jesus as Lord. Many other people and things compete for lordship and prominence over us.

When our jobs take priority over our relationship with Jesus, they become lords over us.
When money, possessions, security, or status are the focus of our lives and not Jesus, they become lords over us.
When sex, alcohol, food, or drugs become an obsession to us—pre-occupying our thoughts and controlling our behaviors, they become lords over us.
When politics or national interests are more important to us than Jesus, they become lords over us.
[PRAYZNMORE] So, as we round third and head home, I want to ask you two questions. First, do you believe that JESUS IS LORD? If you answered yes to this question, my follow-up question is this: CAN OTHERS TELL JESUS IS LORD OVER YOUR LIFE? Have you given Him dominion over every part of your life—finances, relationships, calendar, etc.? Or have you just given him Sundays and a few minutes a day for popcorn prayers and Upper Room devotionals?

If you answered NO to the first question (do you BELIEVE Jesus is Lord), then are you ready to make Jesus Lord of your life? Are you tired of living for all those other false gods that can’t save you, heal you, and fill you with joy? Then today’s the day you can be set free from sin and be made right with God.