Feb 22, 2013

Is Discipline a four-letter word?

 Lent is a worship/liturgical season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lecten, which means “spring.” Lent prepares us spiritually to celebrate Easter or Resurrection Sunday. Lent is a season of testing and penitence, so that believers begin to understand Easter and the faith it generates in us and through us.

In our Christian Church there is a long history of Lent as a time of fasting, self-examination, and rededication. The original objective of these acts was to strengthen the identification of the believer with Jesus. If successful then we may be better able to spiritually resist the weight of our befuddling culture.

As we recently celebrated Ash Wednesday we remember that it marks the launch of Lent and emphasizes a double encounter: we confront our own mortality and confess our sins before God. We focus on the dual themes of sin and death in the light of God’s restorative love in Jesus Christ. On Ash Wednesday we recall our mortality and depend on Jesus for a renewing Spirit. We acknowledge that we are nothing without Jesus and the divine sacrifice God calls on the Christ to make for us.

In our culture of instant satisfaction, the concept of “disciplines,” especially spiritual disciplines, seems almost laughable. While “disciplines” in the form of exercise routines are recognized by many as necessary for good physical health, far fewer acknowledge the need for “discipline” with respect to spiritual fitness. Observance of Lenten disciplines can be a key path to a new perception about us and what it means to follow Jesus today. Contrary to the belief that this discipline only entails giving up something or sacrificing something, it’s not just about giving up but also about giving out. This is a splendid time to focus on “giving out” to others through the mission to which God calls us.

We launch our One Mile Mission 2.0 (OMM 2.0) this next month during our “F.I.T. to serve” 5K walk. There is also a calendar in our Faith Magazine that provides a daily focus for the forty days of Lent. Feel free to place the calendar where you meditate. Also combine new spiritual actions that can equip your own personal worship, reflection, service, and giving. Try to set aside a period of time each day when you will consider the calendar’s suggestions. As part of the Lenten disciplines for each week suggestions are included for ways to contribute to our One Mile Mission 2.0.

To help our special needs ministry remember to collect your spare change and give it to the Amazing Grace Change fund that will in turn go toward a mission effort.

Be Blessed this Lenten Season!

Feb 8, 2013

Ash Wednesday and Forgiveness 2013

As many people know, Ash Wednesday is a portal or a threshold through which the church enters into the proverbial wilderness of Lent. And . . . of course, Lent is the worship time in which the church, and the individual believers within the church, examine themselves and pray for God’s guidance as well as God’s forgiveness. We often prayerfully ask God to help lead us out of our wilderness. It is sometimes natural to forget our confession of faith with regard to Christ. Yet, the author of Hebrews reminds readers: “Let us hold fast our confession” (Hebrews 4:14).

When we confess, then we become a person who wants forgiveness—ask Lance Armstrong about what he expected when he used Oprah’s ear as a confessional booth. Even in our Lord’s Prayer we pray: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us.” We love to talk about forgiveness . . . especially when we are the beneficiaries. When, however, the forgiving shoe is on the other foot; well that is a different story. We always want forgiveness, but are regularly reluctant to offer it.

In her wonderful collection of letters titled The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor this brilliant writer from Georgia remarks, “It is hard to make your adversaries real people unless you recognize yourself in them—in which case, if you don't watch out, they cease to be adversaries.” There is for all of us a frightening aspect to forgiveness.

The thing that frightens us most about forgiving another person is that the person may well cease to be our enemy—and far too often these days our enemies help us define who we are. As we approach Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season that follows it closely, may we think about what forgiveness might mean in terms of both offering it to others and receiving it as well?

Friedrich Nietzsche, crazy at the end as he may have been, noted wisely when he wrote: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster” (from Beyond Good and Evil).

Feb 1, 2013

Best Practices

I read this entry on the General Board of Ministry Website of our United Methodist Church and wanted to let you know that what we do here is being discussed all around the country.—dnm


Best Practices - Romans 12: One Mile Mission - Issue #66
By Deb Smith

First United Methodist Church in Arlington, Texas is in downtown Arlington just a few blocks from Cowboys Stadium. Many of the members drive a significant distance to participate in the life of the congregation. The church has a rich history of mission involvement including international work trips for both adults and youth.

In addition to national and global mission involvement, the church members decided to be more intentional about their engagement in the community immediately surrounding the church building. Measuring from the altar in the church sanctuary, they mapped a circle with a one mile radius. Then every group in the church from Sunday school classes, to the choir, to the Church Council was challenged to find one way to reach out and serve within that circle.

The results included things such as hosting a teacher appreciation luncheon for the teachers in the nearby elementary school, collecting coats for the homeless shelter, inviting neighborhood families as guests to the annual spaghetti supper, and providing supplies for a tutoring program.

But just as important as the service that was provided was what the congregation learned about it's neighborhood. The congregation has a clearer picture of the issues that are facing the families who live near the church. Places that were once driven by unnoticed on the way to church are now recognized as vital parts of the community and opportunities for extending God’s love.

The “One Mile Mission” was so successful that the congregation is now engaging in “Go the Second Mile.” Each month the church is focusing on a church-wide project that everyone can be involved with.

To read more about “One Mile Mission” and “Go the Second Mile” see arlingtonmethodist.org.

Some Questions for Discussion:

How do you think your congregation would respond to a challenge like “One Mile Mission”?

In what ways is your congregation currently involved in the community immediately surrounding the church building?

What do you think are the biggest issues facing families who live near your church? How might you respond in a way that makes God’s love evident?


Deb Smith is the Director of Best Practices at the GBOD. She can be reached at dsmith@gbod.org.

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