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