Monthly Archives: February 2014

United Methodists on the Holy Spirit

As a United Methodist Elder I am asked what do Methodist believe from time to time. Below you will see the official doctrine of the Holy Spirit. More to come next Friday.


The Holy Spirit is God’s present activity in our midst. When we sense God’s leading, God’s challenge, or God’s support or comfort, we say that it’s the Holy Spirit at work.

In Hebrew, the words for Spirit, wind, and breath are nearly the same. The same is true in Greek. In trying to describe God’s activity among them, the ancients were saying that it was like God’s breath, like a sacred wind. It could not be seen or held: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (John 3:8). But the effect of God’s Spirit, like the wind, could be felt and known. Where do we find the evidence of the Spirit at work?

In the Bible

The Spirit is mentioned often throughout the Bible. In Genesis a “wind from God swept over the face of the waters,” as if taking part in the Creation (1:2). Later in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), we often read of “the Spirit of the Lord.”

In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism, Jesus “saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him” (3:16) and he “was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted” (4:1). After his Resurrection Christ told his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8). A few weeks later, on the Day of Pentecost, this came to pass: “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind….All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:2, 4). As the Book of Acts and Paul’s letters attest, from that time on, the early Christians were vividly aware of God’s Spirit leading the new church.

In guidance, comfort, and strength

Today we continue to experience God’s breath, God’s Spirit. As one of our creeds puts it, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, God present with us for guidance, for comfort, and for strength” (The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 884). We sense the Spirit in time alone—perhaps in prayer, in our study of the Scriptures, in reflection on a difficult decision, or in the memory of a loved one. The Spirit’s touch is intensely personal.

Perhaps we’re even more aware of the Holy Spirit in the community of believers—the congregation, the church school class or fellowship group, the soup kitchen, the planning committee, the prayer meeting, the family. Somehow the Spirit speaks through the thoughtful and loving interaction of God’s people. The Holy Spirit, who brought the church into being, is still guiding and upholding it, if we will but listen.

In the gifts we receive

How does the Holy Spirit affect our lives? By changing us! By renewing us and by strengthening us for the work of ministry.

· Fruits: Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). What sort of fruit? Paul asserts that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22).

· Gifts: Paul also writes that the Spirit bestows spiritual gifts on believers. In 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 he lists nine, which vary from one person to another: the utterance of wisdom, the utterance of knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, the discernment of spirits, various kinds of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.

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Alive Now

Campbell1

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February 26, 2014 · 4:15 pm

Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does It End?

 

Don’t call this world adorable, or useful, that’s not it.

It’s frisky, and a theater for more than fair winds.

The eyelash of lightning is neither good nor evil.

The struck tree burns like a pillar of gold.

 

But the blue rain sinks, straight to the white

feet of the trees

whose mouths open

Doesn’t the wind, turning in circles, invent the dance?

Haven’t the flowers moved, slowly, across Asia, then Europe,

until at last, now, they shine

in your own yard?

 

Don’t call this world an explanation, or even an education.

 

When the Sufi poet whirled, was he looking

outward, to the mountains so solidly there

in a white-capped ring, or was he looking

to the center of everything: the seed, the egg, the idea

that was also there,

beautiful as a thumb

curved and touching the finger, tenderly,

little love-ring,

 

as he whirled,

oh jug of breath,

in the garden of dust?

——Mary Oliver

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Silence and Solitude

Thomas Merton is a sage of the modern contemplative and mystic world. He offers us some sound guidance for our spiritual pathways. He addresses silence and solitude and their impact on our development as whole human beings.

The world of men has forgotten the joys of silence, the peace of solitude which is necessary, to some extent, for Mertonthe fullness of human living. Not all men are called to be hermits, but all men need enough silence and solitude in their lives to enable the deep inner voice of their own true self to be heard at least occasionally. When that inner voice is not heard, when man cannot attain to the spiritual peace that comes from being perfectly at one with his own true self, his life is always miserable and exhausting. For he cannot go on happily for long unless he is in contact with the springs of spiritual life which are hidden in the depths of his own soul. If man is constantly exiled from his own home, locked out of his own spiritual solitude, he ceases to be a true person. He no longer lives as a man. He becomes a kind of automaton, living without joy because he has lost his spontaneity. He is no longer moved from within, but only from outside himself.

——Thomas Merton

The joy of silence and the peace of solitude are missing links in American society. Twenty first century America is searching for its soul and looking in all the wrong places. Merton calls for us to be in silence and solitude so that we might hear the inner voice. There are few among us that would not admit that all of God’s creatures are looking for spiritual peace. Such a peace is very illusive in our society. We find the ever increasing number of people who identify as spiritual but not religious. That very label is a deep interior cry for union with our inner selves. Somehow they have failed to hear the inner voice and therefore, suffer from the agony of separation from the springs of spiritual life that wait them.

Merton acknowledges the impossibility of living as a hermit as the answer for the bulk of society. He does, however, strongly urge us to discover our inner selves. He calls our inner self our “home,” and implies that we are locking ourselves out of our own homes. In this act of exile, we cease to be a true person and become some kind of automated robot that merely functions from day to day.

Let us begin today to heed the advice of this modern day sage, and seek silence and solitude whenever and wherever it presents itself.

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God and Love

The love of Christ is not a different love from the eternal fire in the heart of God or that which flows between the three persons of the Trinity. We are loved passionately by God.the self-sacrificing love between the three persons is the joy at the center of God. What is the response from us to such love? To silently wonder. We enter into the ebb and flow of this divine love. The Holy Spirit enables us to know something of the reality of this love in the depths of our heart.

—-Ralph Wouldham

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United Methodists on Jesus

As a United Methodist Elder I am asked what do Methodist believe from time to time. Below you will see the official answer to two questions. I thought it was a good place to start. Next Friday we will go to the Holy Spirit.


Who is Jesus

In trying to find words to express their faith in Jesus, the New Testament writers gave him various names. Jesus was Master, Rabbi, Teacher. He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He was the Doorway to the sheepfold, the Light of the world, the Prince of Peace, and more. In the church’s long tradition, scores of other names or titles have been given. Let’s look at five of the most central biblical names for Jesus:

Son of God

We believe in Jesus as God’s special child. We call this the Incarnation, meaning that God was in the world in the actual person of Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospel writers explain this in different ways. In Mark, Jesus seems to be adopted as God’s Son at his baptism. In Matthew and Luke, Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit. In John, Jesus is God’s pre-existing Word who “became flesh and lived among us” (1:14). However this mystery occurred, we affirm that God is wholly present in Jesus Christ.

Paradoxically, we also believe that Jesus was fully human. One of the church’s first heresies claimed that Jesus only seemed to be human, that he was really a divine figure in disguise. But the early church rejected this. It affirmed that Jesus was a person in every sense that we are. He was tempted. He grew weary. He wept. He expressed his anger. In fact, Jesus is God’s picture of what it means to be a mature human being.

Christ

We say “Jesus Christ” easily, almost as if “Christ” were Jesus’ surname. Yet this name is another way of expressing who we believe Jesus to be. Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, which means God’s Anointed One. For years before Jesus’ time the Jews had been expecting a new king, a descendant of the revered King David, who would restore the nation of Israel to glory. Like kings of old, this one would be anointed on the head with oil, signifying God’s election; hence, the Chosen One = the Anointed One = the Messiah = the Christ. The early Jewish Christians proclaimed that Jesus was, indeed, this Chosen One. Thus, in calling him our Christ today, we affirm that he was and is the fulfillment of the ancient hope and God’s Chosen One to bring salvation to all peoples, for all time.

Lord

 

We also proclaim Jesus as our Lord, the one to whom we give our devoted allegiance. The word Lord had a more powerful meaning for people of medieval times, because they actually lived under the authority of lords and monarchs. Today some of us may find it difficult to acknowledge Jesus as Lord of our lives. We’re used to being independent and self-sufficient. We have not bowed down to authority. To claim Jesus as Lord is to freely submit our will to his, to humbly profess that it is he who is in charge of this world.

Savior

 

Perhaps best of all, we believe in Jesus as Savior, as the one through whom God has freed us of our sin and has given us the gift of whole life, eternal life, and salvation. We speak of this gift as the atonement, our “at-oneness” or reconciliation with God. We believe that in ways we cannot fully explain, God has done this through the mystery of Jesus’ self-giving sacrifice on the cross and his victory over sin and death in the Resurrection.

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Chrysostom: The monk’s habit is the garment for the Wedding Feast

This is a very interesting post and offers some new insights. I recommend it.

the pocket scroll

14th-c Russian icon of this parable

The other night I read the Parable of the Wedding Feast, Matthew 22:1-14, just before bed. Then I decided to think about it. I sort of understood most of it, but the end is not as straightforward as we all like to think the Bible is:

And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment; And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen. (Mt 22:11-14 KJV)

I wasn’t so much concerned with ‘outer darkness’ and ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ as…

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The Invisible Lion

David Lion

David, when he was fighting the Lion, seized it by the throat and killed it immediately. If we take ourselves by the throat and by the belly, with the help of God, we shall overcome the invisible lion.”

—-Abba Poeman

The wise man points to a very important fact. The enemy we see is easier to defeat, and the hidden one may well overcome us. We are not so anxious to overcome the subtle evil that dwells in every soul. With great joy we can applaud the victory of King David over the lion, but with far less fervor we seek similar victories in our lives. Poeman pointed to David’s quick and decisive action that allowed him to overcome his foe, and advises us to do the same. Unfortunately our lion is invisible. Perhaps it is the lion of a bad habit or evil thoughts.

The way to defeat this invisible lion is to take ourselves by the throat and the belly. Why the throat and the belly? The throat is where our words originate. Words are wonderful when used properly and with good will. Words are deadly, nasty and surly as well. The control of our words is a key factor in overcoming any sin that besets us. The belly represents our physical appetites, those that consume our lives. I would venture to say that Poeman is proposing that we defeat our sins both mental and physical and do what it takes to achieve that goal.

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Affirming Our Faith

ApostlesCreedThe way I affirm my faith is by reciting and believing the words of the Apostles’ Creed. Many times I have been questioned as to the meaning and purpose of the Apostles’ Creed in worship. The words below are my small stab at what the Creed means to me, and what I mean when I refer to myself as an Apostles’ Creed Christian.


The Apostles’ Creed


I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth; 

This beginning of the Creed sets forth our personal profession that we believe in God as Creator. We affirm that nothing was made that did not have His stamp on it. This does not mean we reject evolutionary change, but it does mean that we believe that our God started the process.

And in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord;

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,

In this section we affirm Jesus as the Son of God, and not only a Son, but a self-creation of God through His Spirit. Mary, the virgin, was the vessel by which God brought Himself into the world.

suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;

In these words we affirm that Jesus really did suffer and truly died. His suffering was brought by man, namely Pontius Pilate. This death was a means of victory for Him because He rose from the dead, and by this act overcame man’s greatest enemy, death.

he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come again to judge the quick and the dead.

When Jesus rose from the dead He went to heaven as God sitting in the throne with equality to the Creator God. Because He is not only man but God as well and as such He will sit in judgment at the appointed time.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

After Jesus left the earth in the ascension, He said to His disciples that He would send a Comforter so that they would not be alone. That Comforter is the Holy Spirit, who is God’s real presence on earth. The word catholic means universal, and we are affirming that we belong to the universal church no matter what label we use. By affirming our belief in the communion of saints we are further asserting our belief that all who call upon Jesus are part of the Church. In the final three lines we express our faith in the plan of God to forgive, renew and reward those who have chosen to be a people of good will.


These few words are far from an exhaustive commentary on the Apostles Creed, but I hope that they can stand as a beginning point of faith. Next time you stand and recite this creed, I hope you will think of some of these thoughts.

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A Few Observations from Julian of Norwich’s Showings

I share with you these observations from Julian of Norwich’s Showings.

  • God still does miracles. He intervenes actively in our lives. These are usually preceded by very rough times.
  • God cannot be manipulated by prayer. Asking the intercession of saints, and trying to make prayer more effective by citing arguments or mentioning special things or events, are not helpful. Prayer is effective when it is the result of God wanting a person to receive something, and putting the content of the prayer into the person’s mind. Julian seems well-aware that this sounds as problematic as all other accounts of the power of prayer.
  • God still issues calls to individuals. Apparently He does not call the “beautiful people”, whose lives and abilities seem perfect, for special assignments. Instead, he chooses the obviously flawed individuals, people who get ridiculed for some reason by others through no fault of their own.
  • Christ reveals Himself to living persons.  When He does, He is always a warm, intimate, and “courteous” friend. This increases their faith tremendously, and they in turn are called to share this revelation with others. Julian was one such person, and she expressed the hope that people would not consider her a celebrity or focus on her, but on Christ.
  • The Jewish people will be saved. Julian asked about the good Jewish people and whether they would be saved. It is clear that she was told “Yes”, because right after she mentions this, she adds a few paragraphs saying how she was sure that nothing in the revelation contradicted anything she’d been taught in church

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