Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” -- Luke 9:23
Following Jesus is costly. Grace is God’s free gift to us based on God’s love for us. Grace is not earned, purchased, stolen, or inherited because of who we are related to. Grace is God’s free gift because of God’s concern for each of His children. Grace is provided so that none will perish. Grace is free but following Jesus will cost you everything.
The scriptures are clear. The first payment involves self-denial. We must, in the words of John the Baptist, “decrease and allow Jesus to increase in our lives”. Self-denial is not something that you hear a lot of in our present day. Self-denial is for individuals, churches, and institutions that name and claim the name of Jesus. Churches, as well as its individual members, must recognize that it is not about them (us). But it is about the kingdom of God and the advancement of Jesus Christ. Self-denial is about trusting and following Jesus even when times are dark.
I hear a lot of talk about disaffiliation, separation, and departure from The United Methodist Church. I have heard, seen, and felt more energy around disaffiliation, separation or dissolution than I have heard around making disciples and growing the Kingdom of God. To be sure, if your church is not currently reaching new people for Jesus Christ changing the denominational label or the church address is not going to make a difference.
I understand the concern that some have around issues of theology and Biblical integrity. Theology and Biblical integrity are essentials of the Christian faith. We all should strive to be obedient and follow God’s word and to ardently strive for obeying God’s will. Sin should never be compromised. Sin should not be embraced in any shape or form by believers, individually or corporately. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and to pursue our relationship with him on a daily basis. Confession of sin and repentance of sin are significant steps in remaining true to Jesus.
I am not sure where we are headed as an annual conference. My hope is that we will stay together. That we will exhibit grace and space towards one another and that above all, we will love like Jesus loves. That means not demanding our own way. That means learning how to express forgiveness to one another and to request forgiveness from those that have injured us.
Jesus said about us, “you are the light of the world.” I believe it is time for the church -- laity and clergy -- to let our light shine for Jesus. Our lights are not to shine in such a manner that praise and glory is heaped upon churches and individuals. All praise, glory and honor belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us as members of the body of Christ and as members of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference focus on lifting up Jesus.
As we gather together for Annual Conference, let us remind ourselves that it is not about me. It is not about “my church.” But it is about advancing Jesus -- inward and outward.
Looking forward to seeing you in person or virtually.
Bishop Frank J. Beard