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.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Revisiting the Articles of Religion-- Part 7 Sin and Free Will

So it has been a few months but I am back with the series of revisiting the Articles of Religion as passed down through the Evangelical United Brethren. Today's stop is the topic of sin and free will. Sin is thought to be one of the most difficult topics in Christianity. Lets see what the article says, then chat about it.

 Article VII—Sin and Free Will
We believe humanity is fallen from righteousness and, apart from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is destitute of holiness and inclined to evil. Except a person be born again, they cannot see the Kingdom of God. In their own strength, without divine grace, people cannot do good works pleasing and acceptable to God. We believe, however, people influenced and empowered by the Holy Spirit is responsible in freedom to exercise their will for good.

I am sorry if you have already had a rough day and this is one of the first things you are reading. This is some heavy stuff that on the outside does not seem very encouraging. In many traditions, this is where there is a discussion about original sin. While that would be a fun debate, as to whether there is original sin or not, the point is that if we go back to Adam and Eve, or to this morning we can find evidence for the fallen or broken nature of humanity. Regardless the form it takes, let's just call it good to say that sin is a part of the equation for all humanity. Tragically the established church likes to spend countless hours and dollars focused on sin. Every attempt is made to figure out what is sinful and what is not. Included in this is the gradation of sinful activities, apparently some sin counts more than other sins and therefore some is acceptable and some is an abomination. I cannot help but wonder what might happen if we focused more on the love and grace of Jesus Christ and pointing people to fall head over heels in love with Jesus.

This brings us to the free will side of the topic. Our lives are chuck full of choices. Before we are fully awake for the day we begin the process of making decisions, one snooze push or three? While it feels like there are more choices before us, choice is certainly nothing new to humanity. The greatest challenge and opportunity of our relationship with God is found in that we are free to make choices. It is the greatest opportunity because we can choose to live lives that show evidence of following
Jesus marked by grace and love. This really can only be a choice, we cannot demand it. This means we also have the choice to live however we see fit no matter what we might feel the teachings of Christ and the Scriptures have for us. God's love does not demand that we choose God, we can make another choice. At time God longs for us to choice a life that is faithful to the call of God. It appears that God has opened the door for one of the all-time greatest risks, leaving our faithfulness and embodiment of love and grace to choice.

More often than I'd like to think about it, I have made this choice poorly. There are also times when I have made a choice that allowed me to more fully experience God's love and grace as offered through Jesus Christ. You see that is the Good News of the Gospel. Our sin is not the end of the story, we can choose a different ending. Each person, each day, each moment is given the opportunity to exercise their free will and choose a life of forgiveness, love and grace. What is more, even when we blow it in the choice, we can still make a different choice.

Though the language is dated and archaic in many ways the concept is true and accurate. Sin is part of the equation for all people. We, the church would be much further a head is we stopped trying to quantify and qualify sin and simply pointed to Jesus. In fact many turn away from Jesus because we in the church spend so much time managing the sins of humanity that we cannot do anything about outside the grace, love and forgiveness of the God through Jesus Christ. What would happen if the people of God in the church chose to highlight the grace and the joy in choosing to follow Jesus more than the sin that we see in another person. I wonder if the Bride of Christ, the church, would once again become radiant.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Revisiting the Articles of Religion Part 6-- The Sacraments

Today we turn to part six of our journey through visiting the Articles of Religion that are from the Evangelical United Brethren church and were formed as part of the UMC constitution.

Article VI—The Sacraments: We believe the Sacraments, ordained by Christ, are symbols and pledges of the Christian's profession and of God's love toward us. They are means of grace by which God works invisibly in us, quickening, strengthening and confirming our faith in him. Two Sacraments are ordained by Christ our Lord, namely Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
We believe Baptism signifies entrance into the household of faith, and is a symbol of repentance and inner cleansing from sin, a representation of the new birth in Christ Jesus and a mark of Christian discipleship.
We believe children are under the atonement of Christ and as heirs of the Kingdom of God are acceptable subjects for Christian Baptism. Children of believing parents through Baptism become the special responsibility of the Church. They should be nurtured and led to personal acceptance of Christ, and by profession of faith confirm their Baptism.
We believe the Lord's Supper is a representation of our redemption, a memorial of the sufferings and death of Christ, and a token of love and union which Christians have with Christ and with one another. Those who rightly, worthily and in faith eat the broken bread and drink the blessed cup partake of the body and blood of Christ in a spiritual manner until he comes.

For many years of my journey the idea of Sacraments was present. The value they held for me was very low. In fact when I was in process of ordination one if the challenges I had was the importance of the Sacraments. If I was going to be an Elder in the UMC, the Sacraments would need to have a fairly high value. I wrestled through and was ordained and I have been celebrating the Sacraments of the church for many years now.

Most helpful to my understanding is viewing the Sacraments as an outward sign of an inward grace. To use the language from the Articles, they are symbols that show the work of God's love and grace found in Jesus Christ. Sacraments are a primary example of inside out living that we are called to as followers of Jesus. Jesus Christ transforms our inner life to the point that the external changes. The Sacraments give us a visible and tangible reminder of this process. 

First is baptism. Whether it is through the sprinkling, pouring or immersion in water, baptism marks an outward sign that we belong to God through Jesus Christ. Jesus himself was baptized, and would continue to encourage the baptism of others. In fact it is named are part of the Great Commission in Matthew 28, that we are to go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Whether it is an infant, child or adult, baptism represents initiation into the family of God, and into the care of the church. For those who are able, this initiation is also associated with a public declaration of being part of the family of God by becoming a follower of Jesus. This outward sign of water and the spirit reveal an inward decision made through the grace of God. Holy Baptism is one of the most important and sacred moments in the life of the church.

Second is the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion. Again this is one of the practices that Jesus himself ordained and instructed for followers to continue. In the celebration of God's grace we remember the suffering and sacrifice Christ made on our behalf as well as remembering Christ presence with us currently in a real and tangible way. 

Deeply rooted in the celebration of Holy Communion is the celebration of the Passover Seder. We are reminded of how God has been in the practice of moving people from captivity to sin and slavery for centuries and our present celebration is the continuation of God's grace and faithfulness. It is with joy that we offer an open table, meaning that anyone is welcome at the Holy Table. Further, the celebration of Holy Communion is what John Wesley called a saving ordinance. Meaning it is possible for someone to decide to follow Jesus from simply by sharing in the celebration of Holy Communion. 

In it all, the Sacraments have become so much more than a dilemma or empty religious activity. For this follower of Jesus, the Sacraments have become vital to my life and journey. There are few greater joys than celebrating baptism, and there is almost nothing more sacred and important than the celebration of Holy Communion. The deeper I engage my journey with Christ the more their importance grows. 

My prayer is that as we develop new ways to celebrate these sacraments. As we use varied methods and materials, may we never forget or become disconnected from the deep meaning and presence offered to us in them. My we continue to be quickened and stirred by God in such ways that we need to show through signs and symbols who God is working with in us.