A Double Blessing

Today was my first Sunday serving the two church of the charge I have been given.  In both churches, communion was served.  This means I had the privilege of being blessed twice through taking of the sacrament with God’s people at both churches.  I can understand the joy and commitment found in John Wesley’s exhortation to take communion as often as we can.  I was almost brought to tears in the joy that I felt.

Communion is a means of grace.  To come to the Lord’s table in remembrance and in worship, receiving the body and blood of Christ, joining with other believers in anticipation and expectation can be a glimpse into the joy that is ours to come and yet already is.  In Eucharist the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is strengthened.

Communion for me is an act of intimacy.  It is time of remembering what has been and looking forward to what is to come.  It is a reminder that the Lord is with us always even to the end of the age.  What great love is found is this most blest of sacraments.  Today, with believers I have been called to pastor, it was truly a time of loving the Lord.

Love the Lord Your God (3)

In John 14: 15 Jesus states, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

We have been taught that the love of God is unconditional.  That word “if” seems to place a condition.

Yes it does, but the condition is not on God’s love for us but on our ability to love God.   Jesus states that true love of Him is tied to our keeping the commandments God has given to us.

We human beings are very good at rationalization.  In fact, we are so good at it we that we believe our rationalization are what make up reality.  We reason what we want and then believe this is the way it must be.  We can get angry at other people and then blame them for our anger.  We reason they made us angry.  No, we respond to a stimulus in ourselves and decide to be angry.  The creation of anger is all our own.  A person does something and we respond with sadness.  We say they made us sad by their actions or inactions.  No, we chose to respond out of our reason with a reaction of sadness.  When we say we love God are we responding with an emotion made of our reason, our rationalizing that we “love” God?  Have we set the criteria for what constitutes love?  What role does God have in this?

God’s commandments set up the foundation for true reality.  God’s commandments come out of God’s very nature.  God is love.  God sets the standard.  God’s commandments set the standard for behavior within reality.  God states that love is defined within the actions God has determined.  If we are to love then we must conform to this reality.  There is no room for our rationalizations within this reality, thus the condition, “if you love me.”

In our mortal state, corrupted by our nature, our rationalizations are not a reliable standard by which to judge what is true or real.  This is why God must give us the gift of grace to be able to respond to God and to come to understand what truth is.  The command to love the Lord our God is a command to action.  This action is not determined by our reason but by God’s revelation.  Without our accepting this we are caught in a cycle of reasoning that is centered in deception.  Grace opens us up to the chance to break out of the cycle of human rationalization into the reality that God desires for us to know.  In responding to grace we can keep the commandments God gives to us.  Grace reveals to us this reality and gives us the ability to take action in accord with it.  It also gives us a basis for self reflection on how we are doing.  We can look at our lives and the commandments God gives and see if they are in sync.  In this way we can know what real love is.

Loving God takes a commitment on our part.  It is a duty that becomes a delight.  This is a hard task in our world that places so much emphasis on our deciding what we want rather than discovering what we really need.  So if we are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, soul, and might we need to understand we can only do this IF we keep God’s commandments.

 

Love the Lord Your God (2)

I have added a question to the pre-marital counseling I do.  The question is, “What would hold this marriage together if you could not have sex?”

The purpose of this question is to get the couple to think about their relationship is there was not a physical dimension to it.  What is the basis for your love outside of the physical part of the relationship.  What ultimately is your love for one another founded upon?

What is our love for God founded upon?  Is it love to say I love God because of what God has done for me?  I believe it most certainly could be.  A deep relationship can be built out of acts of sacrifice and devotion.  Certainly the cross was an ultimate act of love and commitment by Jesus.  But for the relationship to become more than a attitude of gratitude there must be more to the connection.  For our love to founded upon what God has done there must be a desire that comes from God’s action that makes us desire to want a deeper attachment and a growing commitment.  Eventually the love founded upon the action must lead to a love of the character God.  This love of character can only come about through a developing intimacy.  Intimacy comes from vulnerability (trust) and commitment.

This seems complicated.  It should be.  If it is complicated it is less likely to be taken for granted.  A relationship that is taken for granted is in danger of being an illusion rather than a reality.  God never takes us for granted.  Do we take God for granted?  This is no way to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, soul, and might.

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.

 

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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The Bishop’s Blog

The following is from the Central Texas Conference Bishop’s Blog.   I believe it shows the heart of the man God has called to lead the CTC Conference.  Please add him to your prayer list and pray for him daily.

His blog is found at:   http://www.bishopmikelowry.com/

COME HOLY SPIRIT — Report from Taize 4

June 14, 2013

Today [May 25] we left for Cluny right after worship. The great Cluny Abbey fills me with awe. It once was the “major ecclesia” – the largest church in Christendom. Cluny Abbey started over 1,000 satellite abbeys. Its influence spread far and wide. In the French Revolution, it was dismantled stone by stone down to the very foundation in most places by an angry mob. A beacon of care and compassion, faith and hope, had become a citadel of despotism and greed.

And yet, it is only a short distance from Taize, a new beacon of hope and faith, reconciliation and love. This is not a mere accident of history and happenstance of geography. I believe God through the Holy Spirit is speaking to me (and to us) in the resurrection life of Christ. Rising north of the ruins of the great Cluny Abbey is the light of Christ in the simplicity of Taize.

I came to Taize in some angst, if not despair, over the state of the United Methodist Church. Eight days before leaving, I had participated in a meeting of officers of the Council of Bishops, General Secretaries, Board and Agency Presidents, and leadership from the Connectional Table. It was a gathering highlighted by a false politeness and sabotaged by wanton political maneuvering – the church at its worst. The week that followed was filled with a funeral, two days of hard work in making appointments (appointments made without good options and in facing of difficult choices), then three more days of hard digging through administrative work. I commented to a fellow bishop that the UM church was going down (meaning the image of a boxer being knocked to the ground).

Here at Taize for the second time, the Spirit clearly spoke to me. The shadow of Cluny is being erased by the light of Taize. “A light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Even as vast segments of the UMC and the larger Christian witness in America dissolve in a voracious black hole of enlightenment’s legacy, God in Christ through the Holy Spirit is making something new. The soaring songs in candlelight service of resurrection called me forward in commitment to Christ.

As if compelled, for I believe I was, I found myself standing and walking forward to kneel with others before the icon of Jesus at the Table with His followers. In the time of renewal, prayer, and commitment, the words of the songs washed over me as some 2,000+ faithful (mostly young people) sing our faith.

Afterward, a surprise meeting with Christoph Benn, a doctor with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He drove up from Geneva because the brothers of Taize told him there was a UM bishop up here and he wanted to share appreciation and offer encouragement for the Imagine No Malaria campaign. Amazing how the Spirit intervenes …. God is at work.

The Labyrinth is Coming Along

Last week I began to work on the prayer labyrinth at our church.  It is a work of love.  It is a holy work that blesses me with each brick that I place.  It is a time in which my mind is filled by songs of faIMAG0241ith, prayers, and hopes for how this ancient spiritual formation tool might help the members of our family of faith draw nearer to good.

Today I finished phase one.  The labyrinth itself is now ready to be walked.  Phase two will involve putting a cross in the center (I have already made the cross and hopefully will put in in on Friday), adding benches in the center and at the entrance, installing a lectern at the side in which to put Bible readings, and finally a shelf which will contain a couple of crucifiers (a cross to carry as one walks the labyrinth) and some stones (for carrying a burden to offer to God) to be used by those who walk the labyrinth.  

Phase three will be mounting the stained glass (plastic) panels on the fence and putting up some signs for information, guidance, and hopefully a name for the garden (I have a name in mind but I will need to check with the trustees and administrative council before I make it official).  I am also hoping to put some desert plants (cactus, etc,,) and a small “well” (a decorated cooler with bottled water inside) for those who need a drink while they walk.

I will be offering classes on using the labyrinth on Sunday nights and on selected mornings.  This is a spiritual tool I have used and been blessed by.   I am confident that other churches will come and walk our labyrinth as well.  God is so good!Prayer Labyrinth 

The Desire to Worship

NIV Psalm 95:6  Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;

I use the book “Divine Hours” by Phyllis Tickle as a prayer guide in my daily prayers.  I deeply enjoy the discipline of keeping the offices of prayer.  It has been a very rewarding (and at times) challenging practice.  The office allow God to speak to me in ways I might have missed otherwise.

One of yesterdays readings caused me a bit of uneasiness.   It had to do with God’s desire for authentic worship and God’s disdain for “playing” at worship.  It also reminded me of a quote I used to keep on my desk:

“Most middle-class Americans tend to:
worship their work;
work at their play; and
play at their worship.
That which we worship, we serve,
and that which we serve we will give our all–heart, soul, mind and body.”

-Gordon Dahl

The last thing I want to do is to “play” at my worship.  However, staying true to doing liturgy (the work of the people) is not easy when the culture looks at worship simply as an option in their lives.  Worship becomes something we attend.  It becomes something we chose to do.  It is something which should meet our “needs” or we will not attend (since we “pay” i.e., give money we should get what we want).

In our culture going to church or worshiping is something we do when we have the time or the inclination or it does not conflict with our schedule.  We pick the church or churches we attend based not on seeking true worship but on the style, comfort, familiarity, or the church’s potential to be used to meet other selfish needs.  The the rise of the market-driven “church” that is more focused on niche marketing and be specialty shop that a vessel for the worship of God and the presence of Jesus on this earth.

Isaiah 29:13  The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.  These words are echoed by Jesus:  Matthew 15:7-9  You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:  “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'”

The above verses were used by some to blast the traditions of worship handed down by the church.  However, it is not the tradition that is being condemned but the attitude of the heart.

Is this where we are at?

John 4:23-24  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

The word for truth also carries with it the meaning of genuine, real.  It is my prayer and growing desire that in God’s bringing about perfection in me that I willingly and eagerly seek to be above all a true worshiper who lives not by the desire of my selfish nature but through the altruistic nature of the Spirit of God that draws me to gather with others who:  Psalm 95:6   Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.

The Fifth Sunday of Lent

NIV John 12:7  “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.”

In our culture most people do not like talking about funerals, especially if they are in their early thirties.  This is why insurance marketers sell “life” insurance rather than death insurance which is what the product actually is.  As we get old and become more aware of our mortality we do sometimes think and even plan for the eventual reality.

In the passage above the inevitable is faced.  Mary knew Jesus would die and that she would care for his body.  How she knew this we are not told.  Perhaps it is because of what we are told in Luke 10:39:   Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what He said.  She listened.

Jesus knew that when he entered this world as God incarnate, God as human, he was coming to face death.  He knew that he would not grow old and die an easy death.  He knew he was walking into a realm in which the powers and principalities thought they were in control.  Jesus taught about the reality of his death and the promise of his resurrection.  Mary had taken appropriate measure to be ready.

But why did she use this valuable perfume now?  We are not told her the reason for he motive, but it is obvious the motive was one of love, appreciation, and a desire to make someone feel special.

We are very special to Jesus.  Jesus has proven this by the incarnation and his acceptance of the cross.  But how special is Jesus to us?  Is Jesus just special in our minds or is Jesus special in our acts and worship?

During Lent we do things to draw us nearer to our Lord.  We do thing to remind us of how and why he died.  In Lent we seek to walk with our Lord toward his destiny.  Hopefully during this time these events will motive us to do something special for him.  Hopefully out of love we will seek to give, support, tell, share, and generally move the priorities of our lives more toward our devotion to God and the perfection God calls us to seek.

As you worship on this Sunday, do something special for Jesus.

Journey to Awareness Lent Day 19

NIV Jeremiah 30:7  How awful that day will be! None will be like it. It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it.

NIV Jeremiah 30:10  “‘So do not fear, O Jacob my servant; do not be dismayed, O Israel,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will surely save you out of a distant place, your descendants from the land of their exile. Jacob will again have peace and security, and no one will make him afraid.

If you have never had to live with the pain of deep depression give thanks to God.  If you have never had to fear for your life give thanks to God.  If you have never had to face losing your job, enduring a divorce, or losing a child to death then give much thanks to God.

The above are real situations.  They are situation that are far more common than most people understand.  But then again, we are living in a time in which people are easily disconnected and most people wear emotional masks.  Having to face an “awful day”  is far easier than most of us realize.

I have known the pain of a long term, hopeless depression that brings about prayers for death.  Those were awful days.  I have had to face the potential loss of a job and having to deal with people who were determined to make my life as difficult as possible.  Those were awful days.

In times like that it is hard to hold on to hope.  Sometimes you cannot hope.  Yet, even in those times you can force yourself to read.  You can force yourself to sit quietly with God.  In those awful days, you can force yourself to say, “I believe, help my unbelief!”  God’s grace will come.  God’s promises will be realized.  Our God is a reconciling God who works within our troubles and difficulties to fashion a faith in which we can know perfect love and this love will cast out our fears.

During this Lent season I have been spending time in reflecting on the “awful days” not in an attempt to solicit pity or as an act of penitence but as a reason to rejoice in the life I have now.   The Lord never said the way would be easy.  In fact Jesus assured us we would face problems and trials.  What God did make clear is that it would all be worth it and even the “awful days” would be used to produce good.