Monday, July 24, 2006

Christian Purity...along the Way to Christian Perfection

A good friend of mine challenged me to write about Christian Purity. My initial response was that I’m not qualified! But some closer examination of scripture and the writings of John Wesley are very illuminating.

While much has been made about Wesley’s Aldersgate conversion, the leading up to it hasn’t always been given as much press. Wesley struggled even in his own calling as a priest, and once recorded in his journal:
“I went to America to convert the Indians; but O! who shall convert me? Who, what is he that shall deliver me from this evil heart of unbelief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself while no danger is near; but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled. Nor can I say, ‘To die is gain.’ … I show my faith by my works by staking my all upon it . . . O who will deliver me from this fear of death?”- Journal, January 24, 1738

Yet Wesley also placed a high value on “a clean heart, a single eye, a soul full of God! A fair exchange, if by loss of reputation we can purchase the lowest degree of purity of heart!” These were things he embraced and believed despite the fact that it cost him earnings, friends, and reputation as a “proper” Anglican priest. When Wesley began his work evangelizing the lost and forgotten in society, I think he worked out his struggle.

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. – Philippians 2:12

Paul was addressing the converted, that their journey was far from over. That leads me to believe that Christian purity, just like our salvation, is something we’re always working on. And if we consider what John Wesley said about Christian holiness (“wholeness and perfection of the soul”), I think all of our Christian experience is a process of growth and cleansing, with our souls moving toward the likeness of Christ.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Am I Supposed to Take This Seriously?

Two things I want someone to confirm for me:

Is this for real? (click here) "Hannidate - The place where people of like conservative minds can come together to meet. Whether you are looking for a life partner, or just someone to hang out with, here you'll be able to find exactly who you are looking for, locally or around the world."

Sean Hannity is running an online dating service? Surely not.

2. Al Franken, a/k/a Stuart Smalley, is considering running for senator of Minnesota?

These guys are good entertainers... but an online dating specialist and senator?

I guess the daters and voters will decide.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Future of Episcopacy in the UMC – Part 2

It’s been said that among the many oxymorons (such as military intelligence, friendly fire, plastic silverware, Microsoft Works) that one should be added to the list: United Methodist. It is quite evident that as a denomination, we are not united.

Could it be that the way we elect bishops is partially to blame? Is the way that we elect bishops truly representative of the whole Church, or do we elect regional leaders that fit the political and social demographic of an area? I think in reality we do the latter, and the problem with that is that we then become a denomination of regions, rather than a united denomination. If we were like the Southern Baptists, where every congregation is autonomous, that would make sense. But at least in theory, our Book of Discipline says that we are a covenant Church. Moreover, our baptismal theology states that our membership exists at three levels; (1) the Church Catholic, (2) the United Methodist Church, and (3) the local congregation or parish. That means – in theory – that a United Methodist in Alabama should feel somewhat at home at a United Methodist Church in Washington state (and vice versa). Moreover, children going through a confirmation class should be taught similarly and come away with the same “method” of Methodism. Again, at least in theory.

We know that practice tells a quite different story.

What would happen if we elected bishops at General Conference instead of at Jurisdictional Conferences? Before someone says “we’ve never done it that way before,” it actually WAS done that way for many years, and jurisdictions are a relatively new invention. The change that created jurisdictions was primarily born of racism… and we ought to be ashamed that we still have such barriers up in a truly United Methodist Church.

One of the first things I learned in a polity class in seminary was that when we elect a bishop, we elect someone to the general superintendency of the whole Church. But in reality, we really don’t. To quote Richey and Frank in their book Episcopacy in the Methodist Tradition:
…[I]f bishops are elected in a region, and if their “residential and presidential supervision” is restricted to that region only, in what sense can the Church maintain the myth that bishops are general superintendents or bishops of the whole Church?… [T]heir primary responsibilities lie in the region in which they were elected. (p. 108)

It seems to me that one of the ways to restore unity in United Methodism would be to elect bishops at General Conference. Why? The same people who are shaping legislative and doctrinal policy, mandating missions, and discerning spiritual, liturgical, and sacramental actions in our denomination would be electing people that they believe would best shepherd the church in such a context. Richey and Frank believe that such a change would grant the Council of Bishops more episcopal oversight over the whole connection, as they would be a more representative of it as a whole.

It may be that the reason we don't want bishops to have too much oversight is because, regionally, we don't seem to fully trust them as a Council! We might trust "our" bishops ("our" meaning "from our jurisdiction"), but we are reticent to fully trust them collectively. The recent skirmish between the Council of Bishops and the Judicial Council more resembles our U.S. government than a covenant Church.

Jurisdictional conferences tend to “elect their own kind,” and my own Southeastern Jurisdiction is as guilty as anyone in this regard. Such a concept may be in keeping with a United States caught up in the religion of individualism, but it seems antithetical to a United Methodist Church that is supposed to be bound in covenant.


Related blogs here and here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Forgiving in Order to Love

There is a chapter in Roberta Bondi’s book To Pray and to Love that has always grabbed my attention (Roberta was my Christian History and Theology professor in seminary). The chapter is entitled “Our Life and Death Is with Our Neighbor.” She makes the very bold comment that wanting another’s well-being is not necessarily wanting what he or she wants; it is wanting to be able to live in the love God created us for.

Her book reminded me of something that happened in Atlanta while I was in seminary. A brutal murder took place by a MARTA train station; four teenagers tried to steal a man’s car as he waited for his wife to get off the train from work. He resisted and the boys shot and killed him. It was a black-on-black crime, and it outraged the city. Three of the boys admitted their part in the crime, and testified against the fourth, who was the boy that actually shot the man. Despite the testimony of the three boys and several other witnesses, the boy who pulled the trigger never admitted his guilt. At the sentencing, the judge gave the widowed woman an opportunity to address all the boys. She had nothing to say to the gunman. She said this to the other three:

"I’d like to say it takes a lot of courage to admit your guilt… [my husband] cannot be brought back to life,” she told them in calm, reassuring tones. But the killing, she said, “doesn’t have to be a stumbling block for the rest of your lives. I challenge you to rise above this, to realize that God loves you and you are somebody. You can be better. I bear no ill will toward you. Your life can make a difference. We’re losing our young, black men every day… For your sake, for your mother’s sake, make a difference. That’s what I challenge you to do.” Atlanta Constitution, July 18, 1990.

The three boys received a light sentence. The gunman drew a lengthy sentence. The widow wanted these three boys to rise above the murder, become good men, and join the community of faith.

It doesn’t mean that Christians are suckers – and “repeat offenders” of any sin or crime need to be dealt with accordingly for the sake of community. But in order for us to love, we have to be willing to forgive. So many of us carry around hurts that are a result of our being unable to forgive: injuries that parents or adults inflicted upon us, injuries from former marriages, injuries from children, wounds from strangers, wounds from loved ones.

How do we do it? We pray for their well-being – not for what they want, but for what they need. That prayer not only benefits those whom we need to forgive – it needs to be our prayer, too. In the words of Jesus, son of Joseph: “Father, forgive them… they don’t know what they’re doing.”


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Ministry of Hospitality

"Distributing to the necessity of the saints; given to hospitality..." - Romans 12:13

Monday night at the Worship Committee meeting, we discussed and identified strategies in greeting visitors who come to our church. As I did some research in this area, I stumbled upon this except from a recently retired UM pastor, Rodney E. Wilmoth, who visited several churches upon his retirement and found ALL of them wanting in regards to greeting visitors. Here is an excerpt of what he said:

For 47 years, as a United Methodist pastor, I worshipped where I was appointed. Now retired, my wife and I are shopping for a church. We have found that many congregations must be more proactive when welcoming visitors…Churches could ask, “Are there opportunities we are missing in welcoming visitors?” Or, “Would we do things differently if we knew some first-time visitors would be coming?”

Here are four tips for congregations cultivating their ministry of hospitality:

1. Develop an intentional ministry of welcoming visitors.
2. Develop a specific plan for what to do with the visitors.
3. Seek suggestions from people who recently visited the church and then joined.
4. Help members and regular attendees understand how important it is for them to greet people.

A church that takes seriously the ministry of welcoming visitors will grow, because visitors will say, “That’s a friendly church! I think I’ll go back there next week.”

We need people who will serve as church hosts and hostesses. We need some folks who will put together visitor bags. Our church needs to develop a brochure that includes Sunday School information for each class. Our bulletin format will be changing to something more “user friendly.” And we need everyone to be pro-active in their greeting of visitors: making them feel welcome, asking them if their small children might be more comfortable in the nursery or attending Church in the Yard, etc. Just as we would make visitors in our own homes feel comfortable, we should do likewise for visitors in our church – God’s house.

This is not a job for the evangelism committee; it’s a job for all members of our church! Just think of how much our church has been a blessing to us – let’s share the blessing! As Jesus reminds us: the way we greet strangers is a measure of the way we would greet Him.

Jesus may be at church on Sunday – in the form of a stranger. How will you greet Him?


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Family Reunions and the Family of God

Family is the first social unit for developing the qualities of the heart. A true family grows and moves through life together, inseparable in the heart. Whether a biological family or an extended family of people attracted to each other based on heart resonance and mutual support, the word "family" implies warmth, a place where the core feelings of the heart are nurtured. Family values represent the core values and guidelines that parents and family members hold in high regard for the well-being of the family. Sincere family feelings are core heart feelings. They are the basis for true family values. While we have differences, we remain "family" by virtue of our heart connection. Family provides necessary security and support, and acts as a buffer against external problems. A family made up of secure people generates a magnetic power that can get things done. They are the hope for real security in a stressful world. - Doc Childre and Howard Martin, The HeartMath Solution

Our annual conference policy says that with my number of years of service I’m entitled to three weeks vacation plus professional development and continuing ed. time off. I’ve never been able to see how to practically work all that in.

But one thing I am realizing more and more – spending time with family is not just vacation time; it’s blessed time. Everything said in both Testaments points toward the fact that the way we view and live out our family life has a direct impact and witness on how we live out our faith.

What haunts me is this question: is my witness of time spent with my family a good one? If it haunts me… I suspect it haunts many. If we’re too busy for what God and others have considered to be primary and formative in our lives, it may be that our faith and the life of the Church will suffer.

I’m at the McCracken family reunion today – in Bourbon County, Kansas - and going to try to place faith in practice. The last reunion I went to was when I was just a tiny boy. My cousin Mark was in the Navy. Now I’m 41, and Mark is 60. His sister just had bypass surgery. How have we let all this time get away from us?

Perhaps we should all challenge each other about spending more time with family, and by doing so create a better family of God in the Body of Christ. By His blood, we are all made brothers and sisters.