Frozen Chosen and Time for a UMC Thaw

Christmas is over and now we’re into Epiphany season. It’s the season that focuses on God’s signs to us, divine revelations to get our attention, reminders that God is with us. Prepackaged signs aren’t convincing. I like the serendipity of spontaneous “Aha” moments when God suddenly pops up on my radar. Professor William Barclay says there are two great days in a person’s life ¬- the day we are born and the day we discover why. The latter is an epiphany! Have you ever been to a meal at someone’s home where the host’s concern that everything be “perfect” ruined the whole evening? There comes a time in every good party when you just have to let the dishes stack up, the coffee get cold and the butter melt, so that everyone may simply sit down and talk around the table. That’s when the “Aha” moments most often occur for me.

With the frigid temps I have seen and heard “frozen” thinking and attitudes as a District Superintendent about several things. Some churches are freaking out over the economy and it is showing up in their attitudes about whether they want to request their pastor to leave; whether or not they will pay their apportionments or save it for the “whatever” they have been waiting decades to need replacing; or whether or not they will be connectional enough to send youth to our Annual Conference’s new Winter Youth event, “Revolution,” at the Columbia Metro Convention Center. Frozen thinking and doing keeps giving the same old results, and I think Jesus expects us to have a new thought and do new things more than every now and then. It’s time to thaw out, and as Superintendent I plan to help more than a few recalcitrant churches and pastors “put up or shut up.” It’s time to be a Wesleyan Movement again, not a dead sect!

Psychologist Edward Stein, in an edition of “Pastoral Psychology,” said, “I am convinced that God speaks not out of burning bushes but in our burning hearts, from within, through the very processes that God implanted in us; our reason and our conscience, our inner values and guilt system.” How does get your attention? With me it’s sometimes with a two-by-four but most of the time it’s the still small voice vibrating somewhere in my subconscious, or the sounds from a soulful song, the colors of nature’s palette, the words of a friend.

This is the story of God’s voice as heard by Gene Wilkes. He pastors the Legacy Drive Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. One of his Adult Bible Study leaders, Ed Gentry, wrote this in the class’ newsletter:
“When I was a kid, we used to go to my grandparents’ dairy farm for a week each summer and each Christmas. Each morning my grandmother would wake up at 4 a.m. and head out to the pasture to round up the cows and take them to the barn to be milked. I will never forget the day I came of age. It was announced that the following morning I would be allowed to get up and go with my grandmother as she performed her duties.

By the time grandma was ready to go the next morning, so was I… decked out complete with cowboy boots, plastic chaps, genuine leather holster, metal cap gun (spit polished and with a fresh roll of caps all loaded up), bandanna, cowboy hat, and if memory serves, she found me digging around, looking for a piece of rope to be used to wrangle the particularly reluctant “doggies.”

You can imagine my surprise when, as we started to walk to the barn, she began to softly call out the cows’ names into the darkness. By the time we got to the barn, the first few cows were lining up to come in and get milked. I don’t remember if the surprise knocked me off my feet or if I slipped on a cow patty, but I was really bothered. This was NOT how you were supposed to round up cattle!! It bothered me for a long time.

As we studied Psalm 23 last month, this memory came rushing back (yeah, it still bothers me a little). But for some reason, my vision is of God gently calling our names out in the dark as we walk through our lives. I think cattle prods would be much more effective, but Jesus says, ‘My sheep know my voice and I know them, and they follow me: and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of my hand’ (John 10:27-28).”

God is still speaking today. He doesn’t usually use a cattle prod, but he is desperately prodding you and me to see his revelation, his grace in Jesus. Chunk the old thinking, silo-mentality, embrace Connectionalism, and let’s “Aha!” our way into 2010!!!

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