Thursday, June 30, 2011

pour Pour POUR!

Yes, I like the Prophets.  They give me hope!  Joel 2:28-29 is one of my favorites:

"...I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days."
To me, this is the ultimate in balance because everyone is included, young and old, men and women.  If only the church leadership could get this idea! 

I've focused a lot on the Millennium generation and young people and young adults.  But there is another segment that tends to get left out-older adults. 

I remember as a teenager that the people I got along with best at church were the older adults.  You know why?  Because they would actually TALK to me!  I loved, loved, LOVED the older members of our congregation!  And when they couldn't come to church anymore guess who the teens in youth group would go and visit?  You betcha-the older adults from our congregation! 

I was incredibly blessed as a pre-teen and young teen to meet a lady with an incredible vision!  Her name:  Winnie Wrisley.  Winnie grew up in Waterbury and became a Deaconess within the United Methodist church.  She was a teacher and spent many years in New Mexico at a UMC mission school on a Native American Reservation.  She retired and came back home to little ole Waterbury, Vermont to take care of her mother.  I first met her when she took over the Friday afternoon children's church class.  We had a teacher, his name was Charlie.  Teaching rambunctious little terrors was not exactly Charlie's gift.  He quit so Winnie stepped in to teaching role.  I loved her right from the get-go!  About that time the Waterbury Center Community church was without a minister and it looked like it was going to have to close its doors permanently.  Winnie's mother had been raised in that church and if I remember correctly, her family had been one of the founding families for the church.  Guess who decided that retirement was over rated?  Winnie.

One of the first things that Winnie did was buy some tape recorders and blank cassettes.  They were placed up front right by the lectern and every Sunday service was recorded.  Once the service was over, the tape recorders with the cassette tapes were placed in a bag with a bulletin and a hymnal and volunteers delivered them to the members who were no longer able to make it to church on Sunday mornings.  She also bought a traveling communion set and would go and offer communion to these members on a regular basis.  We young whipper-snappers were called in to help as well!  We sang a lot of songs out of the old Cokesbury hymnbook because we knew that it was someones favorite and it would brighten their day when they listened to the service! 

Winnie had an amazing gift!  She knew how to bridge the generation gap.  She didn't see the church family in little segments and slices.  Her vision saw everything as part of the whole.  There was warp and weave and rhythm.  Everything was balanced and in proportion and everyone felt included!

Some of the proposals and programs being put forth by the UMC concern me greatly!  In my opinion there is a lot of slicing and dicing and counting going on and a huge thrust to "meet consumer tastes" at the expense of real discipleship!  And I'm afraid that older adults have been lost in the shuffle which is a shame!  As much as I want to see younger children, youth and young adults included I do not want it done at the expense of older members who are still a part of the congregation whether they can come to church or not!  If one lone Deaconess could figure it out back in the late 1970's without the aid of "church growth plans" or consultants why can't our leadership? 

Holy Spirit, pour, Pour POUR your vision out on young and old and everyone in between!  Help us to see the whole picture and not just focus on pieces and segments.  Help us find new and creative ways to serve and disciple all of your children!  That my dear darling friends is my prayer.  I don't want to see anyone left by the wayside because everyone is a precious child of God! 

And Winnie-the rest of the story:  she led the congregation at Waterbury Center Community Church for many years and then retired (again) and moved to a UMC retirement home in North Carolina.  Among the many things that she did while there  was to spend time tutoring at risk youth.  She passed away this past winter.  Servant right up to the end!  I loved her dearly and I miss her greatly!  I wish you could have known her!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

See Your Vision and Make it Plain

Why is it that I can understand Wesley's sermons more easily than I can understand some of the sermons delivered by modern ministers?  Wesley uses terms like "thee" and "thou" and words that you don't even hear anymore like concord (who knew it was more than a grape or a plane!  It means harmony.)  How many of us who sit in the pews get asked "well what did your minister talk about?"  How many of us are unable to come up with a good answer?

I think the first problem may be what some would refer to as "churchese" or "religionese"-the words that get used that sound warm and fuzzy but unless you are within a select circle you have no idea what they really mean.  Every profession has their own unique language-teachers, doctors, lawyers, for example, and it is to be expected but when you are trying to communicate an idea to a lay person, you have to speak in plain language.   

I think a second issue is that we try to take something simple and make it sound more sophisticated or complex than it really needs to be!  Some of it may have to do with ego (see my education paid off, I really do know something) but I think actually it has more to do with this desire to come up with the coolest spin for the latest ad campaign.  Somehow what we have is not cool enough or flashy enough or catchy enough so we have to re-invent it in some way.  The result is a failure to communicate. 

Let me give you an example.  Our church had a workshop where a consultant from the conference came in and gave his presentation.  One of the points that he consistently hammered on was the need to bring in more children, youth and young adults.  But every "contemporary" example that he used came from the Boomer generation.  Being a Gen-X'er I understood his points but I couldn't relate to them.  I (like an idiot) mentioned this at the end during the comments time and he looked at me like I had grown three heads!  (Thanks for listening...not!)  Look folks, I understand the assassination of JFK was a big deal but I didn't experience it personally.  It is modern history but for me it is still history!  The Challenger explosion, I can relate to, but the Millennium generation can't because they didn't experience it as it happened.  September 11th, that is a point in time that the older Millennium generation can understand and relate to because they experienced it happening.  I share this because at this workshop there were young adults (those individuals that the church is trying to involve) and what they got out of it amounted to very little that they could relate to or apply.  And we wonder why our message isn't getting through...

I could give you more examples but I hope you get my point!  I have read enough of the Wesley sermons now that I can see a pattern and even though the wording is archaic I still get the point of his messages.  Wesley takes scripture and if it is Old Testament relates it to New Testament and vice versa.  He explains how it has been understood in the historical context, how traditionally it has been interpreted.  He then follows it up with why it is important to the here and now today!  People may not have agreed or embraced his message but dollars to donuts, they understood what he said to them! 

So I am paraphrasing Habakkuk 2:2 here when I say see your vision and make it plain.  What is the scripture that you want to talk about?  Where is the connection between Old Testament and New Testament?  How has it been historically interpreted?  How do I take this and use it in my life today?  Ask some questions so I have something to mull over during the week!  Point me towards figuring out how I can apply this in a practical way! 

Now this doesn't mean that you have to spill some deep dark secret or that you have to use vulgar language for shock value, which seems to be the latest greatest trend.  What it means is that simple is better!  If you are going to use "churchese" then explain what that warm and fuzzy term really means in plain English! 

If you want members to run with the message, if you want them to "go out and make disciples" then put the message out in a way that is concise and clear so they can understand!  Honest to goodness it really is that simple!  Discipleship in its simplest form means apprenticeship or training someone so they can do the job.  Trust me, there are people sitting in your pews starving for that sort of message!  And when you light that fire, look out cause it's gonna burn!   Ah, what a vision!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Those Who Only Live for Today

I read the book of the Prophet Amos a couple weeks ago.  For whatever reason I haven't been able to shake the word pictures or the points made in this tiny little book.  I see clearly that some of what he describes is playing out today in our oh so modern world. 

Now in times past, Prophets did two things.  They brought a word of warning.  Their message was simple-repent or turn back otherwise, you're heading down a slippery slope.  They also brought a word of hope.  Usually they were ignored.  Sometimes they had to run for the lives.  And once in awhile someone actually listened to them like Jonah when he went to Nineveh.  The point being, there was always a word of warning before catastrophe struck and the listener could choose to heed the warning or go on their merry way living only for today.

Let me just say that I'm not predicting gloom and doom.  I take these modern day end time "prophets" with a grain of salt because A) the Bible clearly states that only God knows when the end will be and B) their message brings about fear rather than hope.  And lets face it, the end for any human can come at any time without warning.  Car accidents can't be predicted.  Earthquakes can not be predicted.  Our short span on this little rock in the universe is fraught with danger every day, so you might just as well do the very best you can and not worry about what is to come!

Does that sound contradictory to my blog title?  On the surface, maybe.  You have to delve a little deeper though to get the full gist of what Amos was saying.  The people he was talking about were only concerned with themselves.  They were driven by a "what's in it for me, what do I get out of this" mentality.  So what if you have to sell me every last thing you own and live on the street, too bad, so sad, oh well.  They based their worth on what they had accumulated.  They took keeping up with the Jones to the extreme!  And if there was a little bribery involved; a wink and a secret handshake well, that was just the way of the world cause it's dog eat dog out there.  Oh and let's not forget their public worship-look at me, look how pious I am!  Look at how generous I am-take a picture of my hugging a poor child that I just handed a toy to!  Isn't it wonderful that I am all that and a bag of chips!  They were living for today with a self absorbed ambition and obsession without regard to how it impacted those around them.  Sound familiar? 

Yes, I see that going on today.  But I also see a great awakening which gives me hope!  There's an old hymn called Simple Gifts that says :
"tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free, tis a gift to come round where you ought to be, and when you find the gift in the place just right, it will be in the valley of love and delight.  When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed, to turn, turn will be our delight and by turning turning we come round right."
It's a silent, quiet, growing movement.  I see it with our young people who want to volunteer in order to help others.  I see it with the "slow food revolution" where people buy locally, grow their own garden produce, cook at home, share meals with friends and family.  I see it in communities that offer music in the park or family movie nights.  I see it with companies that sign on with the "Doing Virtuous Business" project.  I even see it in churches that open up their building to community groups to use and come up with creative ways to help out in the community.  Being self absorbed is not the cool thing to do any more!  It might make interesting and tragic reality television but that's about the extent of it!  Being of service to others is the wave of the future. 

There is a "turning" that is beginning to happen because people realize that there is far more to life than just "things".  There is a longing to be a part of something bigger than ourselves!  When we simplify our lives, when we stop striving for things that we don't really need we experience  freedom and creativity because we're not weighed down by stuff!  We gain the gift of time and the capacity to give.  We are freed to do things that really matter the most to us.   Balance is slowly but surely being restored.

I have great hope because I see that there are individual who understand that living for today means so much more than how we have defined it over the last few years!  Thank you God for carefully timed warnings that bring us "where we ought to be!"

Monday, June 27, 2011

Deep Spirited Friends

So I was reading Philippians this morning and a phrase caught my eye: "be deep-spirited friends".  It was a phrase that really resonated with me because I have friends that I would call "deep-spirited".  It's not a philosophical meaning, rather it's a practical meaning.  They are the kinds of friends that no matter what happens, they stick by you!  When things are good they are cheering and when things are bad they cry with you.  As the Message paraphrase puts it at the beginning of chapter 2-"put yourself aside, and help others get ahead.  Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage.  Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand."

I have friends that I have known for as long as I can remember!  My first memories are playing with them or going to Sunday School with them or starting Kindergarten together.  As far back as I can remember, they are a part of my memory, just like my family.  The great joy of the Internet is that I can renew some of those friendships and keep up with what is going on in their lives on a daily basis!  They know me warts and all and still call me friend even after all these years!  They cheer me on, encourage me and set me straight when I need a reality check!  They are, to me, deep-spirited friends!

I have friends here as well, half way across the country who I would call deep-spirited friends.  They haven't known me as long but they still know me, warts and all and call me friend!  Their gift of friendship to me is equally as special because, now that I am older, I understand that I can pick and choose my friends.  In turn other adults can pick and choose their friends as well and they still choose to be my friend! 

My friends are such a gift to me!  I can say with all honesty that I would do anything for them if it was within my power.  Even if it wasn't within my power I'd still try to help!  And I believe that they would do the same for me.  I think that's what Paul meant-true friendship is a relationship that goes beyond the surface and right down to your very core.  Or, as Anne of Green Gables would say these friends are "kindred spirits."  They may be far away but I know that they have been and always will be my friends!

Having said that, I think we all search for relationships like this and we suffer a great emptiness when they don't exist in our lives.  I think that's why Wesley in the early days of Methodism stressed the importance of the "societies".  They were designed to give an individual a chance to meet with others, study, pray, encourage and hold each other accountable.  With the mobility of our society it becomes harder to develop those sorts of deep relationships but I think they are even more critical now than ever before!  We need friend anchors to help us not feel so alone.  We need those friends to encourage us when we're down and set us straight when we've gone off the deep end!  We need deep-spirited friends!

As the old song says "make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold".  If you have lost touch with an old friend maybe today is the day to try to reconnect.  If you are new in town, maybe today is the day to find a place where you can make some new friends.  And if you have lived in town forever and know someone has just moved in, take the time to reach out to them!  We all need to connect in more than just a superficial way.  Take the time to cultivate those deep-spirited friendships.  You'll be glad that you did!

And to my darling friends old and new-thank you for putting up with me! 

Friday, June 24, 2011

What are you being asked to do?

The United Methodist Church currently has this big push "to go and make disciples" based on Jesus' commissioning of the disciples in Matthew 28.  They have lots of catchy campaign slogans and this is the foundation and driving force behind "Call to Action" and "Healthy Church Initiative" just to give you a couple of examples.  My personal opinion, I think they put the cart in front of the horse.  They have the right idea but they're coming at it from the wrong direction.

The beauty of Wesley's basic Methodism was that he understood that change comes from within FIRST and when you feel that love of God within you, you are compelled to share it with others.  If the heart is "strangely warmed", if change begins to happen within you, ideas start to flow.  You see and notice things that you didn't pay attention to before and you feel compelled to do something!  I think that's why Wesley emphasized (rightly so) the importance of reading scripture, of praying, fasting and being in fellowship with others who help hold you accountable and keep you moving on the right path.  You don't do mission work simply to do mission work.  You do the work because it truly matters to you!  It is a reflection of what is inside of you.

Some friends from church are currently down in Joplin, Missouri helping out with tornado relief efforts.  Cindy, who is the driving force behind this effort, posted on Face book one day "I'm thinking of going down to Joplin to cook, who wants to come?"  That simple question led to a group of friends getting together to go and help out in any way possible.  This wasn't organized by the church.  It didn't have the backing of some slick ad campaign.  It started from the heart of one person who felt compelled to do something! 

The same thing happened when my friend Sonia came up with the idea of creating a coffee house space at our church for young adults who didn't want to go to Sunday School on Sunday mornings but wanted some place to gather.  Sonia shared her idea with some other folks in her adult Sunday School class and Higher Grounds Coffeehouse was born.  One person, with a God inspired idea, who shared it with others to turn it into a reality because she felt compelled to do something!

I could talk about another friend, Crystal, who, as a young adult, felt that it was important that our church offer Vacation Bible School.  It wasn't really in the budget but she shared the idea with others and created a wonderful VBS experience for children on half a shoestring!  Crystal has also taken over as youth group leader as well because she wanted the youth to experience the same positive atmosphere that she did as a teenager!  There are a lot of other things she could be doing but she feels compelled to act and lead!

Great, God inspired ideas, do not come from committee or because they are on some arbitrary checklist.  They come from within, from the heart, from a compelling need to do something for others.  And a changed heart comes from following in Christ's footsteps.  You learn by reading scripture and meditating on what it is saying to you personally.  That leads to the prayer "God, what are you asking me to do?"  That's the point that I am at right now in my spiritual walk.  My guess is that some of you reading this are at that point as well.  I don't have an answer yet but I have hope that I will soon!  Jeremiah 29:11 says "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." 

Maybe God has already given you a plan or idea but you haven't acted on it because you don't think the church will back the idea.  Do it anyway!  If you feel compelled because your heart is telling you it's the right thing to do then do it!  If it's a God idea it's gonna go regardless of what others say or think!  If you feel strongly about volunteering at the battered women's shelter or starting a prison ministry or delivering for meals on wheels than do it!  Change comes because compassionate people act.  People are compassionate not because it looks good, it is because they have a heart for compassion. 

What is God asking you to do?  Study, pray, discern, act.  And God be with you!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Still When I Tried to Figure It Out All I Got Was A Splitting Headache!

The title happens to be a line from The Message Bible paraphrase of Psalm 73. 

There are certain things in life that I don't understand, that I can do nothing about, that I can not change.  To me, they just seem wrong and I don't understand why others do not see what is right in front of their face? 

Case in point:  a headline on Yahoo news-something about the worst desserts for a "bikini figure".  Seriously???  With everything going on this is a headline???  This obsession with being "perfect" I don't understand.  What I do see though is the damage it causes, particularly to young women and young girls who don't feel that they live up to the "ideal" portrayal. 

I understand eating right, getting enough exercise and rest, positive self esteem, etc.  These are things that maintain your health physically, mentally and spiritually.  When certain messages are taken to an extreme they become idols.  Is that harsh?  I don't think so.  When the messages that our children are taking in happen to be "if you don't look like this or dress like this then you're not good enough" that's a problem!  Taken a step further, another message is "if you don't own this, or drive that or live in a neighborhood that looks like this then you're not good enough."  Let's add one more to the list "if you don't act like this or think like us then you're not good enough."  Is this what we have become?  Are we so concerned with appearances that we fail to see the good and wonderful things inside?  Is this really the message and legacy that we want to pass on to our children? 

All through the Old Testament, when Israel was judged and then punished it was consistently because of two things.  First, they turned away from God and turned to idols.  Second, they were judged on how they treated "the poor, the widow, the orphan".  Our "idols" may not be sacrificing our children to Molech or dancing around the Asherah pole but we have our own modern day idols that hang around our neck!  Our track record is looking mighty shaky!  It's right in front of us!  Why do we not see it and why do we not change our ways? 

Jesus, when asked, said that the greatest command was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself.  (Mark 12:30-31)  How do we do this?  Worship the Lord in private and public.  Prayer-pray for wisdom and discernment (the ability to see beyond outward appearances).  Find a way to serve others.  When we start focusing on what is truly good and important then we will find that change is possible.  Not an easy task but with God, "all things are possible". 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Blogger Hookey (Sort of)

Today is an absolutly fabulous, gorgeous day outside!  Sun is shining, humidity is low and there is a bit of a breeze.  It is the perfect day to get out into the great outdoors.  So I'm playing hookey from writing a long blog post so I can get out and enjoy this wonderful June day! 

But I feel like it's a day for Praise!  So with that in mind I asked myself what I would pick to sing for Praise music if I had to create a song service right here, right now.  Here's what I came up with!  My hope is that the You tube links will work and that you'll celebrate today with me!  Enjoy!

Darrell Evans' great song:  Fields of Grace
Israel Houghton and New Breed Rejoice!
Jennifer Knapp and Mac Powell Sing Alleluia
Jewel singing an old classic Simple Gifts (Tis a Gift to be Simple)
Adrienne Liesching and Geoff Moore In Christ Alone
Robin Mark When It's All Been Said and Done
Rush of Fools Wonder of the World
Last but not least Newsboys' I Am Free

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Be Still-It's On My "To Do" List

Today is one of those days.  I'm tired and a bit testy.  It's one of those days when I wish I could just sit quietly in prayer and meditation.  I can picture it in my head-a quiet spot, soft pillows, surrounded by the soft glow of lighted candles, the soft sound of birds chattering in the trees outside, just basking in the presence of God!  Ahh....

Then reality smacks me in the face.  I'm a mother!  Quiet just doesn't happen and hasn't happened in my house for years!  The closest I get to "quiet" is waking up at the crack of dawn while everyone else is sleeping!  Even then, I have to contend with the dogs.  If I am fortunate, all four canines are busily snoring away dreaming their doggie dreams but usually, I'm not so lucky!

Yes, life runs right up against my best laid plans.  During the school year, there are papers to sign, buses to catch, a teenager to get out the door on time!  Other times, there is a dog to let out, a dog to let in, a dog to step over because he's laying right in the way!  Then of course there's laundry to do and dishes to wash and sneakers to be found and a million other things which means continually juggling the "to do" list.  Daily Bible reading-if it's short can be accomplished in one sitting.  Longer daily readings or Disciple Bible Study for the day faces 2 to 3 interruptions at least!  Prayer comes in short snatches between loading the laundry into the washer and putting the clean dishes away in the cupboard.  Meditation-taking a piece of scripture and reflecting on it...yeah, I wish!

Yet, I must be meditating without really realizing it because the connection between scripture and life will catch me in the weirdest places and at the strangest times!  I'll watch my children playing and the verse "you are fearfully and wonderfully made" will pop in to my head.  Or I'll notice a flower in the yard and "consider the lilies" will jump forward in to my thoughts.  Driving the car, shopping at the grocery store, hanging laundry on the clothesline, working in the garden, all of these ordinary moments have been moments of extreme clarity where a scripture verse will pop in to my head and I go "huh, that's kind of cool!" 

So maybe I can't "be still" in the classic sense because life just doesn't work that way for me.  However, God seems to find ways to inject "be still" moments in to my every day moments without any help from me!  Amazing grace indeed!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Future is Bright Thanks to the Millennium Generation

I have to be honest, I wasn't looking forward to Father's Day since my dad was not here to get my annual phone call.  Awhile back an acquaintance of mine had mentioned a "year of mourning" which I hadn't really thought much about but she explained that this year would be a year of first holidays without dad.  Father's Day became my first big encounter with this concept.

Funny thing happened on the way to Father's Day.  Saturday night I got a text from a young friend of ours asking what we were doing for Father's Day.  Now you need to understand, Kelly is more than just a young friend, more than just my daughter's best friend, she's extended family.  I've watched her grow from little girl to confident, capable young woman.  To say that I was thrilled that she accepted the invitation to come join us for the day would be an understatement! 

We spent the afternoon swimming, fishing and conoeing in "Loch Lonnie" (the name we gave to my husband's best friend's pond years ago). We ate potato salad, home made rolls and pork steaks.  But overall, we just spent the afternoon together, hanging out.  Our little extended family just enjoying being together.

As I reflect on this today as I prepare for my son's 17th birthday I am awed and humbled by this younger generation!  So many people generalize about the "millennium generation" how listless they are, how they have no sense of identity or direction.  I beg to differ!  If you listen and let them speak and watch how they are conducting themselves you would be surprised at their clarity, their maturity, their diligence and courage!  This is not a generation that needs saving!  This is a generation that is going to save us! 

When you think about it, this is not a generation that has had it easy.  Sure, they prefer to text rather than talk on the phone.  They tweet and hang out on Facebook.  They have video games and DVDs.  They pierce and tattoo.  Things, merely things, not the real heart of who they are and what they think!  This is the generation that has dealt with divorce and blended families.  This is the generation that has watched a parent or older relative or family friend lose their job after years of faithful employment.  This is the generation who volunteers to go in to the military because they feel it's important to serve their country.  This is the generation who tells you that they are positive that they will never see a dime of Social Security.  They go to college full time and work part time, sometimes full time jobs on the side because they know their parents can't afford to pay for all of the expenses. 

The most amazing thing of all to me is that I have NEVER once heard these young people complain about having to do these things!  This is the reality they face and rather than complain they step up to the plate and do what they need to do.  They do get frustrated by the lack of leadership in this country.  They are offended by the lack of courtesy extended to them and the fact that they tend to be overlooked.  They do get upset when the teacher for their college course (which they are paying for out of their own pockets) cancels class half of the time!  I don't blame them.  If people spent most of their time looking down at me rather than talking with me I would be upset too!

My overall point though is that the future is bright!  I could list positive "example after example" just from my children's circle of friends of young adults doing the right things in the right way for the right reasons. Get past the appearances and look at the soul.  They are amazing young adults!

When dad first became ill and I went home to see him, I didn't want to leave but he made me leave.  He said that my children were the most important things in this world and I needed to be home with them.  Dad would be so proud of this younger generation-his grandchildren and their friends!   

I agree with you dad, I agree.  Thanks for the lesson.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Wesleyan Terminiology Part 2: Justification and Sanctification

Now I know that understanding the old English in a Wesley sermon can be hard but I really encourage you to read all of Justification by Faith because the sermon does an excellent job of explaining what these terms mean.  Also, you will run across a word that Wesley uses in a lot of his sermons: vouchsafe.  In modern English it means to grant or to give as a favor.

Having said that, let's talk about Justification first.  Using Romans 4:5 as the basis, Wesley defines Justification this way:

 "...In consideration of this, that the Son of God hath "tasted death for every man," God hath now "reconciled the world to himself, not imputing to them their" former "trespasses." And thus, "as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation, even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification." So that, for the sake of his well-beloved Son, of what he hath done and suffered for us, God now vouchsafes, on one only condition, (which himself also enables us to perform,) both to remit the punishment due to our sins, to reinstate us in his favour, and to restore our dead souls to spiritual life, as the earnest of life eternal."
In other words, if you accept Christ as Saviour, by faith, God grants forgiveness of sins and there is a restoration of right relationship with God.  Justification.

Sanctification is considered by Wesley to be a "fruit" of Justification.  Although the slate is wiped clean, because we are human, the roots and weed seeds of sin still live within us and they can sprout again if we are not on our guard.  Thus, the saying "from grace, to grace to grace" came about.  I had a hard time understanding this at first because I have heard both terms used to describe the same exact thing.  Then I looked outside at my garden and the explanation clicked.

Here in Missouri we have some weeds that if you don't get them out early will continue to plague you throughout the growing season.  So I went out, garden fork in hand and turned every square inch of the upper half of the garden.  I dug down and pulled out 6 inch taproots, I pulled every runner root, dug every wild onion, put it all in a bucket and stuck it on the compost pile.  I dug it all out, I took all the weeds out of the garden, removed them completely.  The section was completely bare! 

A few days later, after a little rain and a little sun I looked out and lo and behold, there was a blanket of green on that bare ground!  Ah ha!  The light bulb went on in my little head.  I'm forgiven so sin no longer has control but the roots of sin still exist within me.  If I'm not careful they will sprout again!  Wesley put it this way in his sermon On Sin in Believers:
" Let us, therefore, hold fast the sound doctrine "once delivered to the saints," and delivered down by them with the written word to all succeeding generations: That although we are renewed, cleansed, purified, sanctified, the moment we truly believe in Christ, yet we are not then renewed, cleansed, purified altogether; but the flesh, the evil nature, still remains (though subdued) and wars against the Spirit."
Sanctification is an ongoing process.  It's spiritual work.  When a "weed" pops up, it makes you stop and ask yourself if this truly reflects the love of God at work in your life.  If not, then it's time to pray that the spirit renews, cleanses and purifies you so you can be further sanctified. 

For me personally, understanding these concepts was a huge relief!  I know that I don't always get things right!  Sometimes, I just totally and completely blow it, whatever "it" happens to be on my path!  Now, because I have a better understanding of what Sanctification means, I can recognize a mistake, I can admit to it, ask forgiveness, correct what I can and move on AND have faith that the spirit is still working within me!  I understand why it is so important to watch, guard and pray.  I understand why it is so important to read scripture everyday.  It's a spiritual battle.  The tools are spiritual.  Justification is the  good root.  Sanctification is the visible proof or "fruit". 

Thank you God that spiritual perfection is a process and not a prerequisite! 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Love Came First-Prevenient Grace

If you spend much time in Methodist circles online you will hear the term "prevenient grace" tossed around quite a bit!  I know what you're thinking because I thought it myself when I first heard it-what does that mean?

Here's how my dictionary defines it: 
 "the grace which operates on a person's will and disposes him to repentance"
Dandy.  What does that have to do with love?  It's the starting point for understanding why faith is so important.  I think just about anybody who has gone to Sunday School or had a passing acquaintance with church can quote John 3:16:
 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
God loved the world then and he loves the world now-today!  In the beginning there was no need for faith because God was fully present.  Adam and Eve didn't have to imagine what God looked like because he walked and talked with them.  Wesley in his sermon The Law Established by Faith-Discourse Two said this:

  "...Let those who magnify faith beyond all proportion, so as to swallow up all things else, and who so totally misapprehend the nature of it as to imagine it stands in the place of love, consider farther, that as love will exist after faith, so it did exist long before it. The angels who, from the moment of their creation, beheld the face of their Father that is in heaven, had no occasion for faith, in its general notion, as it is the evidence of things not seen. Neither had they need of faith in its more particular acceptation, faith in the blood of Jesus: for he took not upon him the nature of angels, but only the seed of Abraham. There was therefore no place before the foundation of the world for faith either in the general or particular sense. But there was for love. Love existed from eternity, in God, the great ocean of love. Love had a place in all the children of God, from the moment of their creation. They received at once from their gracious Creator to exist, and to love.  Nor is it certain (as ingeniously and plausibly as many have descanted upon this) that faith, even in the general sense of the word, had any place in paradise. It is highly probable, from that short and uncircumstantial account which we have in Holy Writ, that Adam, before he rebelled against God, walked with him by sight and not by faith."
Love came first as well as free will.  Adam and Eve exercised their free will.  They made a choice and there were consequences-separation.  That's the point when sin came in to the picture.  But God so loved the world that he had a plan!  He sent His Son.  John 3:17 adds to the picture:
"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." 
 Let me bring this a little closer to home because lofty terms can be kind of hard to wrap your brain around if you're not a professor of Divinity!  God so loved you, and me, and everyone in his creation that he sent His Son to save us.  His love has been there right from the start and it is STILL here today!  Picture in your mind God holding his arms open wide saying "come to me and let me hold you  precious child because I've always loved you!"  You didn't do anything to deserve it or earn it.  You didn't have to get yourself perfect first.  It's not something you can buy.  It simply is as it is!  You have a choice.  You can accept it by faith through Christ.  Or, you can reject it.  But the opportunity to experience God's love is always there!  It has always been there, right from the very beginning.

Now I am sure that some learned scholar out there could probably give a much more detailed explanation.  From everything I've read either in the Bible or in Wesley's sermons the first step comes down to understanding three things.  First, you're not perfect (in other words-sinful nature).  Second, God loves you anyway, which is why he sent Jesus.  Third, it's your choice. 

Should you choose to say yes, repentance, justification and sanctification come next.  That my darlings, is a topic for another day! 

One last thing.  I'm no expert.  I just want to share and encourage others to believe and understand that they can take this journey as well!  I know the old English can be intimidating but I really encourage you, if you want to know more about the Methodist faith, read Wesley's sermons!  It will add so much depth to your Bible studies!  Be blessed!  Be well! Peace!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Try Loving Your Neighbor (a.k.a. Get a Clue!)

I wish I could say that I was surprised after reading this article on yahoo news about worker's share of national income plummeting to record lows.  I'm not!  Nor are many people around the country surprised by this report.  This is the reality that main street is living with on a day to day basis.  Some refer to this as "class warfare"-the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and those in between are sliding down a slippery slope.

It's not a new concept.  Look back in history at Egypt, Rome, France and even during Wesley's lifetime in merry ole England.  People get wonko when "religion" starts talking about "matters of state" but you need to realize that many of the things that "state" is concerned with are the very same things that "church" is concerned with as well.  The bottom line acid test question-do you love your neighbor as yourself?  Government is supposed to exist to protect the rights the governed.  Church exists to teach people to "love your neighbor as yourself" because God loved you first!  Different sides of the same coin.

Wesley did not shy away from this by any stretch of the imagination.  Not only did he preach on it; the various societies set up prison ministries and Sunday School in order to teach the children who worked in factories how to read-just to give you a couple of examples!  Wesley believed that the inward change of heart was reflected in an outward change of action.  The more love you have, the more you want to share that love with others in practical ways. 

I think the problem we see today is that too many people think they "deserve" something.  On one end of the spectrum you have the philosophy of I worked hard, I earned this, I deserve what I buy, own, etc.  On the other hand there are individuals who feel they are entitled, life has been hard, it's o.k. if I work the system.  Then you have folks in the middle-they would just like to have what they need and they are willing to work for it and they are willing to help others along the way.  Not all rich are greedy.  Not all poor are trying to milk the system.  Not everyone in the middle is willing to lend a hand.  But let's face it, this is typically how the discussion is framed which is a sad commentary on the state of civility and honest conversation! 

Jesus said in Luke 12:48 "...From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." 

Wesley in his sermon "The Law Established Through Faith-Discourse One" talks about how people who are saved by grace suddenly think they do not have to follow the same rules as before because anything goes. 

"...Is your conscience as tender now in these things as it was then Do you still follow the same rule both in furniture and apparel, trampling all finer, all superfluity, every thing useless, every thing merely ornamental, however fashionable, underfoot Rather, have you not resumed what you had once laid aside, and what you could not then use without wounding you conscience And have you not learned to say, "O, I am not so scrupulous now" I would to God you were! Then you would not sin thus, "because you are not under the law, but under grace!"

In other words the Grace of God that kept you humble has exited the building of your heart!  Suddenly, you're a Christian and you do what you want to do, when you want to do it, how you want to do it and you don't worry about anyone or anything else because "you're under grace, not the law!"  Hogwash!  If you truly understand the concept than you KNOW that you are called to a higher standard!  That's the point that Wesley was trying to make in his sermon-don't use grace as an excuse. 

There is nothing wrong with working hard and providing for your family and giving them what they need!  We cross the line when we feel that we have no obligation to help others.  How different would things be today if we had the courage to reach out to others to assist, guide, mentor?  How can we go wrong in loving others by giving them a sense of hope and in some instances, real, tangible assistance? 

There are individuals and groups that put their money where their mouth is and practice what they preach.  More are needed!  Let's humble ourselves and use our resources to reach out to our neighbors.  It's painfully obvious that change is not going to come from Washington D.C.  Real change will come from you and I and a lot of other individuals around the country "loving our neighbors" and making our communities better, stronger places for everyone!

It's time for a little humble pie and a whole lot of loving our neighbors!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In the Beginning (Where a Journey Always Starts)

Living in limbo is not exactly a strength of mine.  I tend to be a creature of habit.  I like to know where I'm going, how I'm going to get there and when I'm going to arrive.  Planning, precision and perseverance are the tools I prefer in getting through the daily routine.  I like feeling that all is right with my world!

Things started to change over a very short time.  Not unexpected changes-I knew they were coming eventually!  My daughter graduated high school and just a few short months later left the nest to start her career in the Navy.  In November my father was hospitalized after being diagnosed with cancer.  We spent Christmas in Vermont with my family-something dad wanted!  He died in February, at home, just the way he wanted to go.  In addition, I was in the process of transitioning out of my role as Praise Team Coordinator at church because I felt it was time to let someone else step up and take over the role.  Add to that the economic and social turmoil over the last year; it added up to a lot of things happening!  Big changes which started the process of asking a whole new set of questions.

The questions seemed to all come at once-who am I, really?  Where am I going?  What am I going to do next?  How am I going to get there?  Why would I want to do certain things or make certain choices?  Some might call this a mid life crisis but I think, for me at least, it's more about figuring out what's the next step.  Where do I "fit" in the grand scheme of things?  I thought if I could figure out the answer to that question then I would have a good starting point to figure out the rest of the list!

Fortunately, I found a place to start.  I love genealogy and history!  I can thank my aunt for that particular passion!  The day she opened up a box and pulled out some old family papers and explained just what I had in my hand, I was hooked!  So I knew that my family had been Methodist for many generations.  I knew that they had helped build the church in town.  What I didn't realize though until this past year is that they were Methodist before there was even a Methodist church-they were members of one of the original Methodist Societies in the area.  The significance of this point is that there were no ministers other than the occasional circuit rider coming through the area.  The groups were organized and led by lay leaders for the purpose of study, prayer and holding each other accountable to the beliefs and practices of the society.  No easy task and there were individuals who chose to leave or were dismissed.  As I did a little more digging the question I started to ask was why?  Why choose Methodism?  Quite truthfully, if I hadn't grown up Methodist I'm not sure I would have picked it on my own!  What was so compelling about the Methodist way that my ancestors not only made the choice to participate but also to help build a church?  

The depth of what I have found so far, not only surprised me but it has challenged me to share what I've learned and to show just how relevant it is for today!  History repeats itself in some very surprising ways and I have found it is worth paying attention!  The journey begins!

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Launch of Lay Speaking Chick

A few years ago, I was at a conference where our church brought in a consultant.  Church growth is a huge topic in the Methodist church and the consultant was leading a workshop on the topic.  When folks were asked to introduce themselves, I responded by saying "I'm no one important, I'm just a lay speaking chick." 

The honest truth, that's what I am!  No letters follow my name, no fancy title to dazzle and impress.  All I have to offer is a passion for God, family and the world at large.  The things that I will talk about, they are my opinion only, it's a look at my view from the pew. 

The view from the pew is not just about church or religion, it's about life.  Are we taking the lessons learned and using them every day to the best of our ability?  Or, are we driving off a cliff unaware?  Are we moving forward in life with zest or wallowing in inertia, or worse, sliding backwards?  Can one person really make a difference? 

I have debated long and hard about starting a blog.  I prayed about it, discussed it with my husband, talked with friends.  I may not change the world, but if I only help one person out there feel like they are not alone, then it's worth the challenge!  I pray that somehow, some way I can be a blessing to you!