Sacraments

I am glad I am part of a community of faith that believes the sacraments are means of grace in our lives.  I am strengthen deep within my soul when I come to the Lord’s Table and find there his flesh and blood given to me.

To be a sacramental Christian means to be part of a heritage and theology that goes back to the faith imparted by the apostles to the Church.  It means to join with people who know that the bread and wine offered are actions of God rather than merely actions of human beings.  Who believe the presence of grace is there with us as we come to the table.

I do not wish to denigrate the people who still hold to the beliefs I once held.  It is their God given right to make choices they believe to be right practices.  I must admit, I felt passionate about the idolizing the priesthood of the believer and the idealistic concept of autonomy for several years.  However, as I think back I saw very few priestly actions and found autonomy more a license for lack of accountability than spiritual maturity.  I pray for those of the community I departed.

I say this now as I join with people who see the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, as a duty, a responsibility that is a privilege.  In this community I find that acts of priesthood taken very seriously while understanding the priest is accountable and needs supervision as much as anyone.  As far as autonomy, is that not part of our problems as human beings.  Is not our idolization of the individual simply an extension of our wanting to be our own gods?

This Sunday, I will stand and bless the elements of bread and wine.  I will do so under the authority granted me by my bishop.  I will join with the laity as a participant in the presence of grace.  The table will be open to all for it is God’s table.  I will take the body of Christ because it is Christ who gives it to me.  I will take from the cup that was given to atone for my sins.  I will do this with a community who understands what a sustaining means of grace this action of worship is.

And I say Amen, Amen!

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

I have been reading a book, Almost Christian, by Kenda Creasy Dean.  It is a profound book.  It is a book that has named the power that has infected so many churches and is draining the spiritual power that true faith gives to a believer.  It is called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.  Moralistic Therapeutic  Deism is a bigger threat to the church than secularism or atheism have ever been.  It is such a danger because of its seemingly benign nature.  It says a Christian is good, is nice, and believes God is there to help just when we need God.  It does not deny the cross, it just makes it not matter.  It does not deny the doctrines of the faith it just makes them not matter. 

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is about religion for us, a deceptively selfish, self-centered view of faith that caters to us rather than calling us to living a holy life for God. It is solidly rooted in our materialistic, consumer culture.  It is a theology of compromise to convenience.  It does not call for sacrifice, for radical love or the importance of service. 

I am convinced more than ever we are in one of the most difficult times of persecution the Church has ever faced.  The most frightening thing about this persecution is that it is self-inflicted and self-administered as we allow it to push true faith toward seeming irrelevancy. 

We must grow in grace and strength of the Spirit is we are to preserver.

The Gift of Being Sick

For the last few days I have spent most of my time in bed.  I have been battling some unknown illness (most likely a virus) that has left me bouts of chills and ills.  It is not bad enough yet to go to a doctor.  I have not yet passed through it enough to trust that I will not share it with someone else.  It has left me homebound.  It has left me rather weak and at times has made it very hard to keep clear thoughts or accomplish much of anything.

I believe it is a gift from God.

I have been pushing myself.  I have been striving to do things (church work) on my own ability.  I feel compelled to get this done and that done.  I have been so busy I have found myself rushing through devotions and readings in order to try and meet schedules and work through projects.  Then came this illness.

When you are sick you have time to reflect.  When you are sick you come to understand that you are not nearly important to the events of the world as you think you are.  As for me, this illness has open my eyes to how important I am to God.  I am important to God because God knew I needed rest.  God knew I was letting my busy-ness become a false sense of merit.  In this illness I have been able to re-evaluate some of my priorities.  I have been allowed to see some mistakes I have been making.  I was becoming to enmeshed  to be an effective leader.  You cannot lead for the edge when you are stuck in the center.  In this illness I have had time to think about other activities and behaviors that may seem to be good but are not the best God asks of me.

Yes, this illness is a gift for which I am grateful.

Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal, have mercy upon us.

Method IS our Madness

I love the local church I serve. I am not a member of this church. My membership lies with my conference. I have two pastors. One is my District Superintendent and the other is my Bishop. I love and respect them both. I trust them to keep watch over my ministry. This is part of out method and it is a good kind of madness.

How is it “madness”? Well, to accept the responsibility of supervising another is to take responsibility for that person. It is to support, direct, and be involved that person’s life. It is to take a risk. In this world of self focus, this would appear to be madness. Kind of like the madness of our Lord.😊

What Does our Giving have to do with Our Love?

This is my body given for you. What do we give to show our love to Him?

All the church is interest in is money!

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this statement.  However, is this statement a true accusation or a attempt to avoid facing a real spiritual threat?

Below are three verses, one from the Old Testament, one from the Gospels, and one from a Pauline epistle.  In these three verses we find three warnings that must be taken seriously if we are to be true followers of our Lord.

Ecclesiastes 5:10  Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. (NIV)

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

1 Timothy 6:10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

If you are a member of a United Methodist church, you took a vow (Methodist are a people of accountability).  The following statement is a major emphasis of that vow.

As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?

If you look up the definition of vow you will find it is a solemn promise, pledge, or personal commitment to make a vow of; promise by a vow, as to God.  God takes our vows seriously, as should we.  This is my body given for you. What do we give to show our love to Him?This is my body given for you.
What do we give to show our love to Him?

(Note:  Ecclesiastes 5:4-5  When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow.  5 It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.)

 
This is my body given for you.
What do we give to show our love to Him?

I am not talking about legalism.  This short discourse is about relational responsibility.  If a parent says to a child, “I love you”, but does not meet the child’s needs, the words do not match the behavior.  If a spouse says to their mate, “I love you”, but is not faithful and is selfish the words do not match the behavior.  If a person says, “I love you Lord”, yet does not support or give to the God’s physical presence the church, then the words do not match the behavior.

It really hurts to say this, but our church has a behavior problem.

As a new pastor to the United Methodist church I feel duty bound to carry out my job as I am direc

ted by the Discipline, my DS, and my Bishop.  My main task is the making of disciples and equipping the saints for ministry.  l am supervised, mentored, trained and directed to give the best pastoral care I can.  One of the tools I have been told to use is the church’s record of contributions.  I have been told it is clergy malpractice to not know who is giving and who is not.  The reason and theology behind this directive is that how we support the church does indicate our level of spiritual maturity, commitment, and discipleship.

Folks, to look at the giving records of our church is a painful thing right now.   Yes, we have a surplus of funds.  However, this surplus is because the faithful have been giving more.  Still, the surplus is not the issue.  If we had a billion dollars in the bank I would still need to  bring our behavior problem to you.  Giving is about faith not about bottom lines.

Some would say, “tithing is an Old Testament concept.”  The problem is not about tithing and this is not a debate about 10% of the gross or net.  The problem is about giving out of love.  The problem is about being faithful to God’s word.  The problem is about our commitment to the church we profess we love.  Thus, the point is this:  What does your giving say about your love for the Lord?

Please pray.  I am.

 

The Joy of Committees

Yesterday was marathon committee day at church.  The meetings began at 2:30 PM and finished at 7 PM.  In this period of time I met with five different committees (thank goodness for OneNote that keeps me organized).

Who is to blame for this marathon of meetings, this congregation of committees?  Well, I am to blame.  I schedule these marathon meeting days so that we are not having committee meetings every Sunday afternoon (especially during football season).

And while I finished the day in a rather blissful exhaustion, I also finished the day with a great sense of satisfaction.  The satisfaction came for what was accomplished by the members of the committees and teams that I met with.  Plans were made, problems were solved and possibilities  were explored by people who want to see our church live out its mission to make disciples and to have an impact for the Lord on our community.

We did not have a single meaningless meeting.  Every minute was used as a positive progress toward ministry.  There was laughter, fellowship, fun and creative cooperation.  It was a joy and privileged to work with the laity leaders of this church.

Committee meetings may be a drudgery for some but as for me and my house they are a joy in our serving the Lord.

Critics of the Labyrinth

Last night I spent time researching articles on the Web critical of using the labyrinth in spiritual formation.  Most of the arguments reminded me of those that were critical of contemporary Christian Music 30 years ago.  I cannot remember how many times I was told that anything with a drum beat was “of the devil”.  My answer to those critics is the same I would offer to the critics of the labyrinth: Music is morally neutral.  It functions within God’s natural physical laws.  We must give the music its meaning.

Labyrinths are patterns.  They are morally neutral.  It is we who give their usage meaning.

As I read most of the critics, their main target was Dr. Lauren Artress of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.  She is the author of “Walking the Sacred Path” which is a book about using the labyrinth as a spiritual tool.  I have read her book and have found it to be one of those books which must be read with an understanding that the author has attached some personal perspectives which other Christians could disagree with along with the Christian focus they offer.

I do believe the labyrinth can be a positive tool in spiritual formation. I do have the credentials to evaluate it from a position which holds a high view of Scripture and an evangelical motivation and desire.

The labyrinth can be used as a means of discerning God’s will for a person.  It can be a tool used for self-introspection.  It can be a means of making communion more meaningful.  It can be used as a time of intercession and thanksgiving.  It offers opportunity for worship in unique ways.

Sadly, as in the time of Jesus, there will always be those critics who view anything that outside of their comfort zone as “of the devil” and feel compelled to try and scare others into embracing their paranoia.  I feel sorry for them and the opportunities they miss.

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