By Rob Renfroe-
Years ago I heard a preacher say, “It’s not what happens to you, but what happens in you that makes the difference.” I have come to believe that statement is true. And I’m grateful it is because we cannot control what happens to us but we always have a choice about what happens in us – decisions we make going forward.
As we pray for the Bishops’ Commission on A Way Forward for the United Methodist Church, let me share with you three decisions that will guide me as I move forward as a person attempting to follow Jesus faithfully and that I hope will direct us as an evangelical movement within the UM Church.
First, I have decided to see what is happening in the church with the eyes of faith. Life events are not colors. You and I look at the drapes on a wall and we see them the same way. They’re green or blue or red or orange. Within a given culture, there’s pretty much one way of seeing colors. That’s how many of us think about the situations we face in life. We believe there’s pretty much one way of looking at them – and that’s our way.
But I have known people in the very same situation who have seen what’s happening very differently. Both were diagnosed with cancer. Both had lost a child. Both were cheated on by a spouse. One saw God as uncaring and unfair. The other saw God reaching out to them through their tears. One ended up losing their faith. The other became closer to God than ever before. Same event. Very different outcomes. Why? Because of how they chose to see it.
Here we are, more than 45 years into a battle for the faithfulness of the Methodist Church – actually, for the Christian faith. The bishops’ commission is meeting. And we have two years to go before we know where things will stand. How do we see this situation? From some of the letters I’ve gotten, some people see our situation as “Nothing has changed. The bishops still don’t get it. The progressives are still being disobedient and getting away with it. Two years is an eternity.” They see our situation as a never ending battle that’s taking way too long and going nowhere. And some are giving up and walking away.
I’m not saying they’re wrong to see it that way. But that’s not how I choose to see it. I choose to see that we are the only mainline church that hasn’t lost the battle or caved to the culture. On our 50th anniversary, I choose to see that God has honored the faithfulness of those who went before us, who were visionary enough to begin Good News and who were committed enough to sacrifice for the cause of Scriptural Christianity.
I choose to see that after five decades of struggle and prayer and faith, we have less than two years left to finish what godly men and women started when the night was dark and the road was long. I choose to see that we are on the 10 yard line, the game is almost over, and what we do here at the end will make all the difference.
I choose to see through the eyes of faith that God is working to create a kairos moment for United Methodists where, by his grace, we will be able to do what no mainline church has ever done – create a just and amicable solution to our differences that honors Christ and brings about a new and faithful evangelical movement, no longer embroiled in a draining debate about the veracity of God’s Word. We are “this close” to being free of a battle that has consumed so much time and resources from making disciples. That’s what I see through the eyes of faith.
I have decided that I can and will control my emotions. Great power comes into our lives when we realize that we can choose how we respond emotionally. As my church often hears me say, “You are not a microwave oven. People cannot just press your buttons and make you go off.” You are made in God’s image – that means, among other things, you have a rational mind, a will that is capable of making and acting on intentional choices, and the ability to control your emotions.
I learned this lesson from the example of two persons in our congregation who suffered with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. One was a young father who never became bitter or even discouraged. In fact, every time I visited with him, he told me how grateful he was for a God who had blessed him with a wonderful wife, two children that brought him much joy, and with an assurance that he would see his Savior in heaven. When it would have been so easy for him to be down, his spirit soared.
The other was an older woman who suffered from this hideous disease that leaves you paralyzed and that takes everything from you but your mind which realizes all that you have lost. Near the end of her life, it was painful to visit her and see her suffer so greatly. The Scripture passage she asked me to read at her funeral? Habakkuk 3.17-18. “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines; though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food; though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
Life can be unfair and painful. But we can always choose how we will respond emotionally. I have learned that if instead of feeling small and powerless, I feel confident in the power and the goodness of God; if I feel that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me; if I feel Jesus Christ is the living Lord of his church, I can face life with peace and grace.
Do not let the rebellion of others, do not let how out of touch many of our bishops are, and do not let every little thing you read or hear about the commission or other UM leaders determine how you feel inside. Lift up your eyes to the hills, from whence cometh your help.
The spirit of the Lion of the tribe of Judah lives in you. Do not whimper, do not fret, and do not be afraid. Do not become discouraged or give up. Jesus Christ is Lord. Within our spirits we can be strong and confident. We can decide to live above our circumstances and the negative emotions that would draw us away from Christ and cause us to be less than loving to others.
Finally, I have decided to be responsible for my actions. Ask people why they are where they are in life, and if they’re not doing well, often they will tell you about what someone else did or didn’t do. “My father wasn’t there for me,” “My spouse doesn’t understand me,” “My job puts me under lots of stress,” “My boss is a jerk,” “The progressives won’t follow the Discipline and the bishops won’t enforce it.”
But once we say those things are the reasons for our poor choices or our angry actions, what we are really saying is that we’re not responsible for our lives. And, in so doing, we deny our humanity and we give ourselves permission to be irresponsible in the areas of our lives that matter most.
Friends, you are not a string of excuses. You are not a victim of your circumstances. You are not a powerless pawn of life’s unfairness. You are a human being made in the image of God. You are the most powerful and resourceful creature God put on this planet. And you are surrounded by brothers and sisters all over the world who are committed to the truth of the Gospel and the health of the church as much as you are.
After winning a great victory on Mt. Carmel, the prophet Elijah went into the wilderness and begged to die. Why? Because he felt like he was the only one fighting the battle. “I alone am left,” he cried out. He saw himself as being all by himself. So he felt discouraged. And his action was to run away and give up.
But God saw what was true. “There are 7000 others who have not bent the knee to Baal.” No, Elijah was not alone. Others were being faithful and were willing to help him. Read the rest of the passage and you’ll see that God had a plan for Elijah and for the renewal of Israel.
Friends, you are not alone. You may be weary, but our God has a plan. Believe that. Claim that. Act as if that is true because it is. Together, we can rise to any challenge. We can overcome any obstacle. And, by his grace, we can be faithful and strong to the end.
I have decided that will be my story – my way forward. I pray it will be yours as well.
Rob Renfroe is the president and publisher of Good News.