Monday, April 24, 2017

Reaching People Under 30: Not All The Same

Through a non-scientific poll I learned people are interested in hearing more about how to reach people under the age of 30. Writing about this comes with some challenges for me; First, it has been a few years since I have been under 30. Second, there is no "secret" or magical formula. Therefore what follows are the ramblings of someone who has experienced connection with those under 30 in the past.

Not All The Same
The word here is monolithic. A great tendency exists to treat various groups of people as all the same. We live in a world that thrives on labels, conservative, progressive, older, baby boomer, millennial, and so on. While it is helpful for conversation and description, something significant can be missed. As long as there are people involved it is impossible to apply monolithic labels. Our friends at offer a definition of monolithic as consisting as one piece, solid or unbroken, among the listed definition.

Principle #1 for reaching people under 30 is to remember not all people under 30 are the same. Just as this is true of any label we apply, people under 30 defy monolithic definition. When reaching people under 30 is talked about it is easy to get a mental picture of the person attempting to be reached. Our challenge is the image created has elements that are accurate while also being incomplete at the same time.

So how do we navigate this? Investing in relationships is the primary path. However, the relationship cannot be only a learning expedition. Utilitarian relationships are always found out, and cause greater distance and hurt. There must be a willingness to build relationships for the sake of relationship and the learning is a byproduct of a healthy relationship.

The reality is a majority of the effort in reaching people under the age of 30 is the same as reaching any person, relationship building. Having stated that, there are some understandings of being the church that will help create an environment to build healthy relationships. Over the next couple of entries additional principles will be explored with the understanding that treating people under 30 as all the same will not result in healthy relationships or congregations.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Returning to Our First Love

I am not sure if it is because the calendar shows it is Holy Week, or if God is once again stirring me to write my thoughts but for the first time in almost a year here I sit typing. As I write my heart and mind are filled with gratitude for almost five years in the ministry role of coming alongside congregations and leaders across New York and other places. I pray God and the Bishop allow me to share in this role for years to come.

During the time in this ministry I have had opportunity to visit hundreds of congregations and visit with thousands of leaders. It has been a joy to hear the stories of the congregations along with the stories of the leaders. I have felt the hurt and pain as both struggle to make their way in the current landscape of culture to be vital and growing. As you might guess some similar stories and concerns have emerged. The reality I find is deeply connected with the Scriptures, and not a portion that is often at the forefront of increasing the vitality of congregations.

The Book of Revelation is filled with all kinds of images and messages I do not fully understand. There are however a few items that seem very clear to me. The words of Jesus given to John from chapter two seem relevant,
"These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (Revelation 2:1-5 NIV)"
It feels too simplistic to be a real solution. After all we are highly educated through schools and life, we should be able to figure this all out. There has to be more to increasing the vitality of the church than returning to Jesus. There are certain systems and practices needed, however there is nothing more important to the future of the church than to return to our first love. I fear that we have forsaken Jesus!

Some will begin the debate at this point about what that means. Debate will rage about who Jesus is and was. Others will argue over what it means to turn to Jesus, or what version of Jesus are we talking about. The fact that we would rather debate than repent reveals the challenge Jesus is offering the church in Ephesus and to us today. All too often I want to sanitize Jesus so that he will fit into my paradigm or life. Great effort is given on my part to define and shape Jesus into an artifact of faith that affirms my beliefs and desires. Repentance has me give up pursuing Jesus created in my image and begin the work of conforming my life to the life Jesus is calling me toward. A return to simply following after Jesus instead of complicating the journey with all my thinking and rationalizing.

Whether terms like conservative, progressive, centrist, or any other problematic label are applied, churches that are centered on the person of Jesus Christ and invite others to join them in the journey of being centered in Jesus, vitality shows up. Theological ideology has replaced and relentless pursuit of Jesus, we have forsaken our first love.

As I urge the cursor across the screen with letters we are on the edge of the single most important remembrance of the Christian church. Today we remember when Jesus gathered for the meal we now celebrate as Holy Communion. Tomorrow we remember Jesus giving his life on the cross so that we could experience forgiveness of sin and have a full relationship with God. Sunday morning we celebrate the crowing moment as the tomb could not hold Jesus, Resurrection. May this resurrection be more than a calendar celebration. May this resurrection be a repentance moving us to return to our first love.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Articles of Religion Revisited-- Part 12: The Judgment and the Future State

It is normal to go almost a year between posts right? Not at all, so the three of you who read this I hope that you are blessed. I will be continuing the series that was suppose to take a few weeks that is now over a year, on revisiting the Articles of Religion from the United Methodist Book of Disciple.

So here we go, Article 12:
Article XII—The Judgment and the Future State

We believe all people stand under the righteous judgment of Jesus Christ, both now and in the last day. We believe in the resurrection of the dead; the righteous to life eternal and the wicked to endless condemnation.
Nothing like jumping back in on an easy statement! Today in the Western world there is a high value of equality for all people. Regardless of your heritage, background, lifestyle, sexuality, gender identity, or any other quality by which people find an understanding of who they are, there is a desire to have everyone be treated the same. This Article of Religion shares the idea that we are all treated the same by Jesus. Everyone of us sits under the righteous judgment of Jesus. It is great to see it highlighted that this is not something locked away in some future many have long given up on arriving. No, the judgment we are under is a present reality as well as a future appointment. In other words we are not living for some great future, we are accountable to the life we are living here and now.

Judgment is not a topic I particularly like to think about. The mere thought of sitting under the judgment of Jesus makes me more than a little uncomfortable. This discomfort comes from two places. First, I do not like anyone to hold a measuring stick up to my life. I am far from perfect, yet having an external measure of my righteousness seems unfair. Second, I know that I do not measure up to the fullness of life offered to me through Jesus Christ. I know that as judgment is rendered in the here and now, I fall short. With these two primary reasons in hand, it might be easier to simply skip over the topic and move right to the next Article on Public Worship.

However we cannot simply skip over this matter, because it matters. In the book of Judges, the very last words of the book shed light on why judgment and the future state matter. "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. (Judges 21:25)" For as long as there has been people, people have struggled with being judged, especially when our righteousness hangs in the balance. If we do not have judgment in the equation we constantly find ourselves at the point of Judges. 

My struggle is once we start down the road of judgment there becomes those who are in and those who are out. The words I just typed might be the most offensively true statements of our day. Article 12 is clear about this, there are those who move into life eternal, and those who move into endless condemnation. That just seems wrong by every value of the modern, western world. Clearly God must have had this one wrong, or at a minimum we are not understanding God correctly. The God of love and grace would never create such a differentiation. Right?

The reality is all of us are sinning and fall short of the glory of God. If you have a pulse and are taking respiration, sin is part of the equation of life. It is impossible to flee from all sin, we are too good at finding it. The issue of judgment is not about whether we are sinful, it is about how we respond to our sin. Do we seek forgiveness and ask for ongoing grace to change our ways, to be transformed, or do we simply conclude we can and should live however we see fit?

Judgment is an inescapable part of life. We must take care to remember that it is Jesus that holds us accountable. It is ultimately God who is the one who determines our righteousness. We are not to sit in the seat of the judge. Our role is with love and grace enter into accountability with our fellow travelers so that we may all experience the fullness of life offered to us both here, and now, and in the future. The way we respond to judgment today has a direct impact on how we will respond to judgment at the final resurrection. Our primary question is not whether there is judgment, rather it is whether we will respond to the present judgment with obedience and submission, or will we continue the resistance and rebellion? Will it be written of us, they did was they saw fit?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Articles of Religion Revisited -- Part 11: Sanctification and Christian Perfection

Article XI—Sanctification and Christian Perfection We believe sanctification is the work of God's grace through the Word and the Spirit, by which those who have been born again are cleansed from sin in their thoughts, words and acts, and are enabled to live in accordance with God's will, and to strive for holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Entire sanctification is a state of perfect love, righteousness and true holiness which every regenerate believer may obtain by being delivered from the power of sin, by loving God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength, and by loving one's neighbor as one's self. Through faith in Jesus Christ this gracious gift may be received in this life both gradually and instantaneously, and should be sought earnestly by every child of God. We believe this experience does not deliver us from the infirmities, ignorance, and mistakes common to humanity, nor from the possibilities of further sin. The Christian must continue on guard against spiritual pride and seek to gain victory over every temptation to sin. A person must respond wholly to the will of God so that sin will lose its power over them; and the world, the flesh, and the devil are put under their feet. Thus they rule over these enemies with watchfulness through the power of the Holy Spirit.

With the days of Annual Conference still ringing in my head I am drawn to a couple of my favorite times of the session. Ordination if my ultimate favorite time. Second is the time of the Historical Questions. For those who have not shared in the journey that is the United Methodist Historical Questions, this is a time when the Bishop asks those who are about to be ordained questions that have been asked of the ordained throughout the life of Methodism. They revolve around the theology and practice of ministry that are the hallmarks of Wesleyan theology. During the questioning all the people are asked if they are moving on toward perfection, and if they hope to achieve it in this lifetime. 

This is the question of sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace is the grace of God that continues to work in our lives as we grow in our love and response to the work of God in our lives. In this we find that we are not simply done as a Christian once we give our lives to Christ and are born again to use Wesley's language. Once we are justified through the grace of God in Christ Jesus our journey is by no means over. In fact it is just beginning in many ways.

Until the moment that I breath my last the work of sanctification will be ongoing. There will not be a day when I can simply sit back thinking I have mastery over sin and do not need to remain vigilant. Further, I will constantly be growing in my ability to live the life that Christ has shown me, as empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Through it all we find a faithful Christian to be one who is on a quest not one who has figured it all out. Constant reaching and striving for more of who God is and who God is calling us to be in requires the grace of God. Sanctification and the pursuit of Christian Perfection remind us there is always more to learn and practice as we follow Jesus. Also, we are reminded the grace of God is present with us every step of the way.

Am I moving toward perfection, with help of God. Do I expect to achieve Christian Perfection in this lifetime, again with the help of God. The commitment of my ordination, more importantly the commitments of a person trying desperately to follow Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Articles of Religion Revisited--Part 10: Good Works

Article X—Good Works "We believe good works are the necessary fruits of faith and follow regeneration but they do not have the virtue to remove our sins or to avert divine judgment. We believe good works, pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, spring from a true and living faith, for through and by them faith is made evident."

The relationship between faith and works has been explored and debated for centuries and I am confident the post will not end the discussion. My hope is that it adds to the discussion in some meaningful way, and that it instigates conversation among you the readers. 

At the root of the faith and works discussion is whether or not we can earn a right relationship with God, or if it is something that is given to us. More plainly, can we earn our salvation? A quick review of the previous posts and the Scriptures reveals that there is only one way to experience justification and regeneration(salvation), at that is through the acceptance of the offer of grace through Jesus Christ. There is nothing we can do to earn that which God is offering to us through no effort of our own.

Still there is a danger in this understanding. It is easy to accept what God has done in Christ Jesus for us and think that is the end of the story. What if salvation is not the end of the the story but the major turning point of the story? The goal of following Jesus is not salvation, the goal is to be fully the person God has create and called us to be. For me, and perhaps for you this requires significant growth, especially after accepting the grace of God finding justification and regeneration. My natural or normal way of being in the world does not always reflect the life of the One who has called and restored me. As I grow in faith and understanding, however, my life, my works hopefully begin to reflect God more.

Our good works do not instigate regeneration, not at all, they are a product of a life that is forever different because of the work of God in our lives through Jesus Christ. Management of sin and elimination of judgment are not the goal of good works. Good works are the evidence that our lives are no longer driven by our sinful nature or lived in the fear of judgement. The works are proof that God is active in our lives, and it is no longer sin but it is Christ that is alive and at work in me.

May we be people that cultivate a relationship with God that producing good works. May we avoid doing good works hoping that it will produce a full relationship with God. I pray that my life and good works show evidence of a great God who by love and grace offered in Jesus Christ is in the business of transforming the hearts of all people.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Articles of Religion Revisited--Part 9 Justification and Regeneration

Today we continue to look at some of the theological underpinnings of the United Methodist Church as we revisit the Articles of Religion.

Article IX—Justification and Regeneration: We believe we are never accounted righteous before God through our works or merit, but that penitent sinners are justified or accounted righteous before God only by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. We believe regeneration is the renewal of a person in righteousness through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, whereby we are made partakers of the divine nature and experience newness of life. By this new birth the believer becomes reconciled to God and is enabled to serve him with the will and the affections. We believe, although we have experienced regeneration, it is possible to depart from grace and fall into sin; and we may even then, by the grace of God, be renewed in righteousness.

This article feels like a direct continuation of the previous on reconciliation through Christ. We are reminded that it is only through our faith in Jesus Christ that are counted as righteous, not by good works. Further, that our reconciliation with God through Christ transforms who we are. The power of the Holy Spirit works in our lives to transform the way we think and behave in the world. We move from being self-focused to being focused on the the transforming grace and love of Jesus Christ which brings about hope, love and justice for all people in all places.

It has become commonplace to hold the claim of reconciliation with out showing the evidence of regeneration. Claims are made to be justified and reconciled yet the way we, note the we, struggle to live into the new creation that we are because of Jesus. The life of a follower of Jesus is not as much about being "saved" it is about the transformation of our lives to reflect the reign of God in our world. Understanding that our ability to live the transforming life requires our decision to receive the gifts of God's grace and love in Jesus Christ. To be justified thought Christ and reconciled to God through Christ. However, this is not the end of the story of God. The story of God in the world and in our would continues today as we live transformed. 2 Corinthians 5:17 reminds us, "Therefore is anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has gone and new has come." This begs the question that Steven Curtis Chapman asks in the above video, what about the change?

I so struggle with this. All too often I struggle to live a changed life. The level of commitment and intention is constant and can feel overwhelming. Yet when I do remember to stay connect with Christ, and that in Christ I am a new creation doors open for me to live the change. My movement is not in perfection rather it is toward perfection and only by the ongoing grace and love of God as shown in Jesus Christ can I continue to grow in my ability to live a transformed life. I am so grateful that the grace of God is never-ending. That even though I have begun the work of regeneration and fail, God's grace remains.

May we all embrace the love and grace of Jesus. May we open our hearts and lives to the transformation of the Holy Spirit that the reign of God would be experienced in and through us.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Articles of Religion Revisited—Part 8 Reconciliation Through Christ

Thanks for digging in for the next installment of this series on revisiting the Articles of Religion from the Evangelical United Brethren that became part of the United Methodist Church in 1968. We have now reached the eight article of 16. Yup that puts us at the halfway point. I am hopeful and covet your prayers that I will get back to more regularly posting. Not only so we can complete this series, but so another series can begin. Before jumping into today's post I want to invite everyone to check out another blog that my wife Sarah and I have started, it is our devotional journey through the year.
Article VIII—Reconciliation Through Christ
"We believe God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. The offering Christ freely made on the cross is the perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, redeeming man from all sin, so that no other satisfaction is required."

This is one of the shortest of the Articles, and in some ways the most simple. At the same time this is one that is most intensely struggled with. I remember back to the days in seminary when there was great discussion about atonement. All the different theories of atonement were, and are, often enough to create sharp differences and intense discussions. It seems particularly interesting to have this discussion in light of Wesleyan theology, and in respect to the Articles of Religion considering the language that is used. The Articles do not use the language of atonement, rather the focus in on reconciliation, that all people are reconciled with God through the free offering of Christ on the cross. Further, that no other satisfaction is required to be part of this reconciliation. So, for today the conversation will not be about atonement, rather it will be about journeying to a full and whole relationship with God.

As I see it this means a few important things. First, God is at work in the reconciliation. Not only is God at work, but God is the director of the work of reconciliation. There is an intense and passionate desire by God to have a complete and whole relationship with individuals and all creation that something had to be done to deal with the sin present in creation. It is completely possible God could have continued the patter of destruction and exile we find in the Old Testament. However, that is not the course of action God chose. Instead there is a path of reconciliation, and that path must run through Jesus Christ.

This leads to the second thought. It is through Jesus that all creation finds reconciliation. Throughout time, and currently, many have proposed a many paths to God understanding. To some extent I agree with this and by saying to some extent I am also saying there are aspects of the sentiment that I do not agree with. The best way to sum up my understanding on Jesus as the path for reconciliation is this. Jesus is the only way to a full relationship with God, and there are many paths to Jesus. In other words there is no one set way by which we come to Jesus, yet no matter the path to Jesus we must journey through Jesus to get to the fullness of God.

The final thought is to remember that nothing more than Jesus is needed for reconciliation. As we will see in coming posts, when we connect with the reconciliation offered by Christ to all creation we are never again the same. We begin to embody the way of life that Jesus modeled during the earthly pilgrimage. It is more than a matter of saying I have Jesus so who cares how I live. Reconciliation is not the end point of faith, it is a turning point. Perhaps better said, reconciliation is the point of reorientation of our mind, heart, soul and strength so that we may in greater ways embody Jesus teaching to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself." Mark 14:30-31.
All the works of the faithful are important and are part of the re-oriented life found in Christ, however be clear it is only through Jesus that we are reconciled to God not by works.

A challenging question for me and whoever would engage it. What are the things other than Jesus am I trying to find my reconciliation with God? In the days of old we would call these things Idols, perhaps we can still call them that. As we move into the new year, I invite us all to lay down the idols of our lives and run to Jesus.