May 29, 2011

The Best Plans . . .

In a week (June 5-8) we will again return to Waco for Annual Conference 2011.

Several years ago at Annual Conference in Waco, our United Methodist attempts at inclusivity took an amusing turn. Off to one side of the front of the sanctuary of FUMC, Waco stood a woman using sign language to convey the worship words to the hearing impaired. This was very good.

Suddenly the woman who was praying at the pulpit began to pray in her native tongue which happened to be Korean. I watched the sign language interpreter melt down as she tried to figure out what to do next.

Sometimes the best plans just don’t work out.

May 22, 2011

The ‘Journey’ as an Image of Our Faith

As summer nears we begin to think about going on vacation and perhaps some of us even look at this time away as an adventure or as a journey. Aldersgate Day comes on 24 May 2011 this year and to this end I want to write about journey to those who read this blog--whoever you are!

Sometimes as we listen to people talk about the Christian faith, it seems as if it might be a possession. Still, when Paul begins his fifth chapter of Romans, I read the faith as a bit like a journey. When Paul writes, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith” it seems as if he reminds us where we believers are in order to help us press on. In a sense, Paul writes about a process of discovery. Paul reminds us about the past facts of what God has done by his word “therefore.” Paul shows where we are—at peace with God, standing in God’s grace. Whatever now happens to us gives us reason to “boast in the Lord.”

We do not boast in our own merits or “works” as Paul might otherwise call human effort (see Paul’s use of works—Romans 3:27-28; 4:2, 4-5). Rather, because of what God does for us, we now can boast in God’s action. In a journey mode, we move from a status as enemies to those at peace with God. The direction of this positive movement, therefore, gives us hope, if we travel with God. We travel with God only by virtue of faith in Jesus Christ.

Clearly, when I speak of a journey I do not mean so much physical journey like the one Odysseus took. Homer, in his epic, The Odyssey, describes his hero trying to return home from the Trojan War. I do not mean a physical journey like the journey depicted by Luke in Acts. This journey tells of Paul and the other disciples planting churches. These journeys took them all over the ancient Mediterranean world. Rather, I mean that here in Romans 5 Paul engages us in a theological journey. This is a holy trip from head to heart. As a wise preacher once said, “The journey from the head to the heart is one of the longest and most important journeys that any human being can ever take.”

Even John Wesley made this journey from head to heart. As United Methodists we celebrate Aldersgate Sunday (or Day) as that day when Wesley finds assurance. That is Wesley finally feels the assurance of God’s love. In his head he knew this in a rational way, but at Aldersgate he finally feels that assurance. On Wednesday, May 24, 1738, John Wesley experienced his “heart strangely warmed.” This Aldersgate experience is crucial for Wesley’s own life and becomes a touchstone for the Wesleyan movement (The Book of Worship, United Methodist Publishing House, 1992, page 439). For Paul, this movement from head to heart is what God offers us all in Jesus Christ. Paul might even call it a journey of faith.

May 14, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

I know it is a few weeks before we get to Memorial Day 2011, but I want to suggest a few ideas as we run up on an important day. Memorial Day marks the beginning of the summer holidays in the United States. These kinds of three-day weekends traditionally are times for celebration and family outings. Celebrated in most states on the last Monday in May, Memorial Day is a time to remember the U.S. men and woman who lost their lives serving their country. Originally known as Decoration Day, the “powers that be” established the day in 1868 to commemorate Civil War dead. Over the years it came to serve as a day to remember all U.S. men and women killed or missing in action in all wars.

In truth, Memorial Day is not a church holiday—the church has its own day to remember the memorialized dead which we call “All Saints Day.” Yet Memorial Day is a way our nation remembers those gave their lives in service to our country. Other countries also have their equivalents of Memorial Day. In a way, it is too bad that we have to have days like this, but war seems to be an inevitable part of being a country. Remembering the war dead remains about the only way we have to celebrate the gift of life those people have given for the ideals, we as a nation, have identified to lift up and commemorate.

“Wars are not acts of God. They are caused by man, by man-made institutions, by the way in which man has organized his society. What man has made, man can change” [from a Speech at Arlington National Cemetery (Memorial Day, 1945) by Frederick Moore Vinson (1890-1953)].

No matter what your stance is on “war or peace” remember that when we remember the war dead we remember someone’s husband or wife, father or mother, uncle or aunt, or simply friend. May God continue to bless all of us as we struggle to be what God want us to be.

May 7, 2011

“Spiritual Disciplines:" The Corporate Disciplines

We have completed our Lenten journey toward the cross of Jesus and now stand on the other side of Jesus’ resurrection. Over the last few months we have briefly shared spiritual disciplines and observed how they become for believers the doors to liberation. In contrast to the inner spiritual disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting, and study we also note the outer spiritual disciplines: simplicity, solitude, submission and service. Today we want to remember what some call the corporate spiritual disciplines. These corporate disciplines are confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. Let’s focus in brief on each of these corporate disciplines.

Often in worship, a congregation will confess their sin in a “Unison Prayer of Christian Confession.” What this tells us—and we remember this especially during the Lenten season—is that we are each guilty of sin. This sin-guilt is not only as individuals, but also as a group of people we call the church. Certainly we strive to be God’s people, but we are always reminded that because of sin, we nonetheless need God. Corporate worship reminds us all that we need God and we need each other. It is no accident that this reminder is issued weekly. It is through worship that God guides us and we help guide one another.

Finally, celebration completes the foursome of corporate disciplines. In the end, we are left to celebration for we are thankful for God’s gift of unmerited favor toward us. We call this favor grace. About the only thing we can do with God’s grace is to receive it as a precious gift. Then we celebrate our “God fortune.” Where does one celebrate and call it a “discipline?” We celebrate discipline somewhere in the region that God calls the Kingdom of Heaven.

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