Keep Listening, God is Still Speaking

Keep Listening, God is Still Speaking

By Rev. Jessie Waddell Teegarden

General Conference Clergy Delegate

Growing up in the church, Scripture has been an important voice in my life from my earliest memories. It first began with listening to stories from my storybook Bible, singing the words of songs, and exploring the Bible in Sunday school. These experiences ingrained important messages in my heart about God, the one who made me and loves me. As a baby in the nursery, I was taught through the songs of E.C.A. (Early Christian Awareness) that the Bible is God’s book and it says that God loves me. In Sunday school, I heard stories of people who were called by God to do amazing things, times God helped people who were suffering, and words of guidance for how to live as a disciple of Christ. The Biblical truths I was hearing and singing were an important foundation for my love of God, Scripture, and the Church. 

The knowledge of these Biblical truths about the love of God and God’s presence with us came alive through experiences in my life. One time I remember God speaking through Scripture was my senior year of high school. I was struggling with friendships and dreaded going to school each day. It was during this difficult time that the words on the pages of the Bible came alive. The words of Matthew 28:20, “And remember, I am with you always,” and the Romans 8:39 reminder that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God,” provided strength and comfort in a powerful way. I found myself more invested in the messages I heard at church and wanting to spend more time there. In youth choir, I was introduced to the anthem “Psalm 139” by Allen Pote which became a source of healing as I sang these words. “Where can I flee from your spirit, where can I go to run away? If I go to heaven or live in hell, you are there.” I heard God speaking these words over me in a new way. The words became ingrained in my mind and heart providing me with the strength and comfort to carry on amidst a dark time.

While that time in my life was difficult, it awakened my soul to the power of God’s word and the Biblical truths I had heard as a child. This awakening to God’s voice lead me to continue to explore God’s word in a new way. I was able to better live into my identity as a child of God and a few years later hear a call to ordained ministry. Through these sacred words, I found that God was speaking to me then and continues to speak through the words of Scripture. At times Scripture provides comfort and strength. At other times we hear words of instruction and guidance and, yes, at times they are a wake-up call. The important thing to remember is that we must keep listening because God is still speaking. 

I have reflected on the importance of scripture a lot lately in this difficult time in our church and world. I’ve also been listening to God’s voice as a new mother. I’m considering what rituals I want to begin with Georgia to help her discover the power of God’s word in her life. Will we read from a storybook Bible each night? What songs and prayers will we teach her? As I embark on this new journey, I am reminded of God’s voice throughout my life and have found that the words of Scripture have been at the forefront of my mind as I rock my sweet baby. I sing the words of the anthem “God you are there, you are there” and remember to listen and follow where God leads. 

God, you are speaking. May we open our minds and hearts to hear your Word.

Transformed by the Bible

Transformed by the Bible

By Elizabeth Fink

General Conference Lay Delegate

“The Bible is just a book.” “The Bible is a historical document.” “The Bible is just a self-help guide and a collection of nice moral teachings.” Have you ever heard someone use those descriptions?  In contrast, I have seen pictures and videos of believers in countries where it is illegal or very difficult to find a Bible (China, North Korea, Somalia, etc.) who are weeping and shouting because they have just received their first Bible in their own language! Would they be weeping if the Bible was just a book or moral code? In their eyes, that Bible is beautiful, powerful, and alive! 

I remembered thinking to myself, “I want to love the Word of God like that!” I began to question what I truly believed about the Bible. I had grown up reading the Bible, memorizing verses, and trying to glean some lesson or nugget of wisdom from the stories. What I realized was that I had all the wrong motivations. I was self-seeking in my reading and studying of scripture. Without even realizing it, my Bible reading had become all about what Elizabeth could get out of it.

When I was a senior in high school, I was blessed with the opportunity to go on a Holy Land tour in Israel. The geography, history, and fascination of being able to stand where Jesus stood brought me to a whole new level of joy in reading the Bible. It brought it all to life as I have never felt before. Upon returning to the States, I could not stop reading my Bible. I even took it to school with me and read it every break I got. It was no longer a chore or obligation, but a hunger and yearning.

I was now reading and hungering, not for the Bible itself, but for Jesus. I had experienced Jesus in new ways through His Word. I knew that if I wanted to know God, the best way for me to do that is through the Bible. The Bible isn’t just a book about God, but it leads us to the very heart of God. It shows us His faithfulness, love, grace, mercy, etc. When we read it, we should not just read it for information, but for transformation. It is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). If the Bible is living and active, that means you can interact with it. It has power and can speak to you. I don’t know about you, but I have yet to come across any other book that can transform lives as the Bible can.

Without the Bible we can learn some things about God by just observing our world, but not the salvation story. How else are we to know about the detailed working of God throughout history to redeem His people?

 I read just the other day a Facebook status of a friend who said she no longer finds inspiration in the Bible and just doesn’t get anything out of it. I know there are lots of individuals who find themselves in the same spot I once did and my friend now does. If we go into it thinking about how much we can get out of it for ourselves, then we won’t get much. God is the central story. We read it and study it to find God, not for the purpose of self-help. People are reading the Bible, but completely missing the point: Jesus. Can the Bible alone give us salvation? No. We read the Bible to know Jesus more, and how to be like Him.

The Bible can be complicated, it can be confusing, it can also be beautiful. It makes me laugh and cry, but best of all it allows me to see into the heart of God. How has the Bible shaped my life? By giving me a foundation on which I build my life, a vision in which to see the greatness of the God I serve, and the courage to become a woman of one Book.

I pray that our love for the Word of God would increase to the point of weeping every time we hold it in our hands or hear it and that it would transform us in ways that this world cannot explain!

Bishop’s Statement – Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation Agreement

Bishop’s Statement – Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation Agreement

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I have read the offering of a protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation unanimously adopted by a diverse group of United Methodist leaders, convened by Bishop John Yambasu. This offering seeks to provide a way for the 2020 General Conference to navigate the current divided landscape of the United Methodist Church through a gracious separation.

This is not the time to make a quick judgement about the contents of the document, but rather to spend the upcoming weeks and months studying, asking questions, engaging in conversations, praying and discerning the best way forward for our beloved United Methodist Church.

I know you join me in praying for laity, congregations and clergy of our worldwide United Methodist Connection.

-Bishop Gary Mueller

Exhausted, in more ways than one

Exhausted, in more ways than one

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

I am exhausted.

The past few weeks, I’ve been in St. Louis, Missouri, reporting on the news from the Special Session of General Conference, which took place over four days from Feb. 23 to 26.

As many of you know, I am new to the United Methodist Church, and this was my first General Conference ever to attend.

And what a General Conference it was.

The session was called to address the church’s stance on human sexuality and whether the global church would allow LGBTQIA clergy to be ordained and same-sex marriages to be performed in Methodist churches, or if we would retain the Book of Discipline’s current standing on the issue with more robust punishment for those who violate the rules.

This is not a new debate within the church.

United Methodists have been debating the topic of human sexuality since the sentence “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” was added to the Book of Discipline at the 1972 General Conference in Atlanta.

And so from my bird’s-eye view, way up in the press area of a former NFL stadium, I had the perfect seats to witness all of the debating, amending, name-calling, grieving, anger, resentment, numbness, resistance, tears, and joy at the results of the delegates’ votes.

The Traditional Plan passed. The church’s stance on human sexuality did not change. More restrictions were added, and in the end, people from both sides left St. Louis feeling hurt.

One could argue that any plan that passed out of General Conference, whether it be the One Church Plan, the Simple Plan, or something else, would’ve still caused pain and division in the church. As Bishop Mueller has stated, those divisions were probably already there before, but this General Conference has made them more apparent.

People keep asking me how I’m doing after coming back from General Conference, and every time my answer has been the same; I am exhausted. In more ways than one.

My job as a reporter is hard because I’m not supposed to get emotionally involved in the stories I have to cover. I have to remain neutral. I have to cover the facts, and that’s it.

And, surprisingly, with such a heavy topic to cover, I managed to do keep my emotions in check while in St. Louis.

I’m typically not an emotional person, but I grieved and wept when I returned home to Arkansas. Because I was physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained.

Suppressing those feelings and emotions can only be managed for so long before the weight of the situation comes crashing down on top of you.

Many people are feeling the same way right now, and it’s going to take some time for those wounds to be healed.

But it’s okay to grieve, and it’s okay to feel sad.

Take some time to think about General Conference. Don’t push it aside as I did. Don’t wait for those feelings to bubble up and burst out of you because it will hurt even worse if you ignore it.

Continue praying for the United Methodist Church. There are a lot of people who need your prayers right now. We can’t continue the mission of the church if we stop praying for each other.

Rest assured that I will keep praying for all of you.

What do we do now?

What do we do now?

By Bud Reeves

Senior Pastor of First UMC Fort Smith

I have been trying, in the days since the end of General Conference, to respond instead of react. I’ve seen many reactions on electronic and print media. It’s been hard.

As the late Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” I believe we have been here before. By a margin of 50-something to 40-something, the coalition of American and Central Conference traditionalists upheld and attempted to strengthen the 47-year-old statement of “incompatible with Christian teaching” as well as the subsequent prohibitions against gay marriage and ordination. Déjà vu.

For some, this felt like a great victory. For others, it was a devastating disappointment. I understand both. Ironically, for many years I breathed a sigh of relief and a prayer of thanksgiving when the established principles of the church squeaked by once again. I wrote about it in this publication. I was happy that the words of Scripture and the long tradition of Christianity had been vindicated.

Then I changed. I began to understand the deeper spirit of Scripture and the faulty exegesis of exclusion. I looked at the way the church had interpreted the Scriptures around slavery, divorce, and women in leadership. I got to know gay people and gay couples who were loving, faithful, stable, and deeply Christian. I learned that science had pretty much ruled out sexual orientation as a choice. I experienced a divorce and discovered how healing grace and acceptance could be.

So now I understand the pain that the General Conference has caused. I have friends who are rejoicing, and I have friends who are weeping and gnashing teeth. And we’re all in the same church—for now.

What can we do? Where do we go from here?

As followers of Christ, we have to love one another. As a friend of mine said, there’s a reason why, when asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus didn’t say, “Oh, they’re all pretty much the same.” Love is the key. Love is the foundation. “Faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.” Those who rejoice at General Conference shouldn’t gloat in their victory. Those who were hurt shouldn’t hate those who voted their beliefs. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and that is a deeper connection even than our strongest convictions.

As local churches, we have to unite around faith and mission. We are deeply divided about gay marriage and ordination. Every church is, if everybody talked about it honestly. But we are united in our basic beliefs. We believe in the authority of the Bible, even if we interpret it differently. Jesus is the Lord over all of us. We want to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world. That’s not a problem. This greater unity can be a way we can survive and even thrive together. In my church, the people know there are those who disagree on sexuality issues. It may matter, but it doesn’t come up when they are singing a hymn or kneeling at the communion rail or helping with Vacation Bible School or feeding the hungry. Our unity is not based on uniformity of thought, and issues of church polity are not the priority.

I think it’s providential that the season of Lent comes on the heels of General Conference. For me, Lent is the holiest time of year, as we prepare for the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord. It is not an easy season, as it involves prayer, sacrifice, and repentance. But it is the deepest time of year as we focus on the awesome act of God that changed history, defeated evil, and made eternal life available.

After this General Conference, we need us some Lent. John Wesley’s first General Rule was, “Do no harm.” We blew that big time, on both sides. Our continued divisions are a stench in the nostrils of God. We are far short of the Kingdom potential in our lives, our churches, and our denomination. We need to repent of our sins.

But in a positive way, following General Conference with Lent reminds us of our core identity. God’s plan of salvation does not depend on getting our church organization right, even if the issues are very important, as they are. We are all people Jesus died for on the cross. We are blood-related through Jesus. We are all hopeful in the resurrection. We are one family. And our mission includes everyone.

This conversation is not over. For my two cents, the Wesleyan way is still the best approach to Jesus. We just need to keep talking until we can form a more perfect union of justice and love. We need to unite around faith and mission. God is not through with the United Methodist Church. Neither am I.