Category Archives: Church

Religion and Mythology

Religion and mythology differ but have overlapping aspects. Both terms refer to systems of concepts that are of high importance to a certain community, making statements concerning the supernatural or sacred. Generally, mythology is platostorytellingconsidered one component or aspect of religion.

I have developed a real love for the works of the very early church. In this discipline, I have discovered a new appreciation of myth. In western thought, myths are “tall tales” that have little or no meaning. For the early church, however,  myths were wrought with deep meaning and were lights along the way to God. Myths were stories that expressed deep faith and allowed God to become real. Without regard to what really happened, these stories were written about what God would do, and they were of great value to the people. I want to share a few with you today.

A wealthy young orphan-girl of Alexandria saved a man from hanging himself by giving him all her wealth to pay his debts. She was reduced to prostitution, but then she repented and sought baptism, not without difficulty — for she must find guarantors. In the absence of any others willing to do so, angels in disguise stood surety for her at the font. The Pope of Alexandria recognized that this was a case of divine intervention. The girl reluctantly confessed her one good deed and then died.

When Julian the Apostate was in Persia, he sent a demon on a mission to the west, but it was delayed by a monk named Publius who prayed all the time. Julian threatened vengeance against this monk when he returned to the west, but he was slain in battle. One of his generals however sold all his goods for the benefit of the poor and became a monk close by Publius.

A brother was granted the privilege of beholding the departure of a just and of an unjust soul. A wolf took him to a hermitage by the city wall where a famous hermit (Sozomen) was expiring. But his soul was delayed in the body by the resentful devil which plunged a fiery trident into him to make him suffer as long as possible. Then, in the city, the brother saw a sick brother, a stranger, lying untended in the square, whose soul refused to be led away by Gabriel and Michael. They were sent to bring it but commanded to use no force. They requested the Lord to send David with his harp to charm the man’s soul out of him.

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My Church

Professor and preacher Fred Craddock tells about visiting a church one time where he was supposed to hold services on Friday evening, Saturday evening, and Sunday morning. When he pulled into the parking lot of the church, a funeral was concluding. People were moving to their automobiles; the hearse was still there. The minister saw him, recognized him, and motioned for him to come over. Craddock didn’t want to intrude; he was just waiting until the funeral was over. He was standing next to the widow. The pastor introduced her to Craddock, and Craddock felt awkward. He said to her, “This is no time for you to be meeting strangers. I’m sorry, and I’m really sorry about your loss.” Her husband had been killed in a car wreck and left her with four children. He said, “I know this is a very difficult time for you.”

She said, “It is. So I won’t be at the services tonight, but I’ll be there tomorrow night, and I’ll be there Sunday morning.”

Like any sensible and caring person, Craddock said, “Oh, you don’t need to.”

“Yes, I do,” she said.

He said, “Well, what I meant was, I know it’s a very hard time.”

And she said, “I know it’s hard. It’s already hard, but you see, this is my church, and they’re going to see that my children and I are okay.”

My church is going to see that we are okay. Isn’t that what a church is supposed to be all about?

Come to me, all of you who are weary and loaded down with burdens, and I will give you rest.

—Jesus

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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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A New Look

Missional_life_960221731I am the kind of person who likes to have things figured out ahead of time. That’s my style and  I can be a little stubborn about it. I wonder if that a good thing for a Missional Christian? Let look to see how God handled people like me in the Bible. let’s pick three, Moses, Jonah and Peter.

Moses-Long before God had tapped Moses for his mission to lead His people out Egypt Moses had begun his own freedom movement. After seeing one of his fellow Jews being mistreated by an Egyptian he killed the Egyptian. The result. Moses had to live in hiding and exile for 40 years. Moses did it his way. When he submitted himself to God at the burning bush he became the leader of the nation.

Jonah-As soon as he received God’s call to preach to the people of Nineveh, Jonah ran away because he knew that “those people” were not worth his effort. After spending three days in the belly of the fish Jonah led one of the most dramatic revivals in history.

Peter- He was just a simple fisherman who just didn’t seem to know when to keep his mouth shut. In his time he had a tendency to talk BIG but on the night that Jesus was condemned he didn’t talk so big. Jesus later confronted him and he expressed sorrow for his denial. After that experience with Jesus he seemed to know when to talk big and when to be silent.

The point is simple. When we encounter God -things are different. It doesn’t matter that we have everything figured out. When we allow God to speak, and we really listen, things are just different. As Missional Christians we have to be forever aware of the still small voice of God prodding and poking us every moment of the day. He has a message for you. Please listen and things can be so different.

 

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The Church: Being in Becoming (a Sunday pre-game)

This a very interesting look at the church in this post modern world. WE all need to take a creful look at the mission of our church.

the long way home

church-philly-bw-cross-market-eastFor my Gospel, Culture, and Church course this past week, we had to read the opening chapter of this book on the Church as mission, rather than seeing the Church as something that does mission. We also had to read some mind-blowing pages from Hans Kung’s epic work The Church. It got me thinking a lot about what precisely the “church” is and how it is that thing. I just wanted to share some disjointed thoughts today.

Throughout the readings, the (perhaps over-used) term “Being in Becoming” kept coming to mind. (For my more philosophically-trained friends, forgive me if I’m simplifying this term too much; My main exposure to this has been cursory, in the context of the Trinitarian theology of Karl Barth and how he describes God).

In others words, the Church’s very Being is in its efforts to more faithfully “Become” what it is. It is not…

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Hypocrites in The Church

Hypocrites in The Church

By Rev. Weldon Bares

( Weldon is Senior Pastor of First Unite Methodist Church of Lake Charles, and  a good friend.)

Over the years I have heard many reasons why people don’t go to church.

In my opinion, one of the weakest reasons is when someone claims, “There are so many hypocrites in church, so I am not going to sit among them.”

I cannot argue the fact, hypocrites are in the church. In fact, hypocrites are found everywhere. But I don’t say, “I will no longer go to football games because some people in the stands are not real football fans. Some of those people aren’t really sincere about football, so I will not attend.”

I don’t say, “I am no longer going to concerts because some people in the audience don’t really love music.”  I don’t say, “I am no longer going to the movies because some people in the audience at the movie theater are not really sincere about liking movies and are not there for the right reason. Their heart is not in it.”

Certainly, every church has hypocrites. There is no escaping that fact. May God forgive us and help us to do better. But I thank God that there is room for everyone in God’s house: saints, sinners and yes, even hypocrites. There is room for all of us!

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The Church’s Fourfold Purpose

English: page of the Acts of the Apostles from...

One of the great challenges of today’s Church is the quest for vitality. Recent years have been marked by an increasingly rapid decline in church attendance and dwindling interest in the organized church as a whole. Many people are seeking new ways of expressing their spirituality, or simply abandoning spirituality all together. The movement of being “spiritual but not religious” borders very closely to agnosticism.

People are looking to the ancient writings of the mystics and monastics for answers to this disturbing situation. In my own journey, I have discovered some very helpful materials in that arena of thought, but there is more. Perhaps we can look to the foundational story of the Church as found in the Book of Acts. This sacred writing chronicles the formation of Christianity as a separate movement. Acts is an eyewitness account of the birth and growth of the early church. This book begins with the coming of the Holy Spirit and ends with the preaching of Paul. Acts 2:42 gives us a foundational model for the Church that is well worth a look today. The scripture proclaims to us: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Let’s unpack that fourfold charge of the church.

Teaching – We are told that the early church devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching. Indisputably, they taught the words and actions of Jesus as only an eyewitness could. They spoke of His miracles, retold His parables, and made His teachings come back to life. Today we have a movement within the Church known as “Red Letter Christians.” These Red Letter Christians get their name from the day when Bible publishers printed the words in the Bible that were attributed to Jesus in red. I believe that those words should once again become the heart of our teaching.

Fellowship – This means that all Christians were a part of a community that shared in the common commitment of the good news of Christ. By sharing all things, they took this concept a little further than we can in our world. We may not be able to live in community, but we are called to be a community. A community shares, loves, supports and lifts one another up in all ways possible. If the Church neglects the concept of community, it ultimately fails. Today’s Church must take community seriously.

Breaking of Bread – Scholars and theologians are not completely on the same page on this issue, but the end result is the same. People who eat together, sacramentally or by sharing a meal, feel a great bond to one another. My own view is that the early Church practiced Communion every time they met. In was through that common bread and cup that they gained great strength. As a Church of today we should not neglect the fellowship of the table sacramentally or otherwise.

Prayers – The early Church prayed. They prayed as an act worship and not just for the things they wanted or needed. Prayer was a regular part of their day whether they were assembled together or not. Prayer has to become more than it is in the Church of today. The practice of mental prayer, silence and sacred reading are a “must do” for the Church if we are to see greater vitality.

That is a fourfold formula for the revitalization of the Church. Nothing new is expounded at all: it is a simple call back to the foundational purpose and work of the Church. Victory is not found it the new, but in the birth documents of our Church.

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Atheism, Skepticism and the Church

A few days ago I posted a CS Lewis quote that I titled,” C. S. Lewis on Atheism.” For me it simply seemed to be a typical wordsmith type quote-clever language and deadly logic. Something quite surprising happened. That quote had more reads than anything else I had ever blogged, overcoming my previous highest day, ” When God Dies.” Was there a connection? I believe so. Many internet viewers are very interested in atheism and skepticism. That would indicate a pattern in our culture.

We live in a time of skeptics and doubters. The popularity of doubting God is at all-time high. From 2007 -2012 the number of non-religious Americans grew from 15% to 20%. This increase is by far the largest increase in any five year period. That, as well as the rise of people that called themselves agnostics and doubters, causes these types of blog entries to have many readers. Why are we headed in this direction?

America is becoming highly secularized – There is not one easy answer to our rapidly increasing secularism. We are far more diverse than ever before.  In any given community there are people from various parts of the world, and they practice many faith traditions. Our diversity, instead of allowing us to celebrate our identity, has caused us to lose our identity in the name of being fair and accepting. The easy answer is for all to be “secular” and non-offensive.

People are just busy – The demand of success and productivity seems to leave little room for God or religion. Society demands that we be productive, do our best, and produce and spend at ever increasing rates. That means success is king, and it is measured with the bottom line. Workers are expected to put in long hours and give all to the job.  That leaves very little for God or religious practice.

Churches have hardened attitudes – Our world is crying for mercy and grace and the church just seems to demand more. With all the other pressures people have in our culture, it would be nice if churches offered a place of refuge and comfort. On the contrary, the church has become as success oriented and demanding as the workplace. The church needs to offer help and understanding instead of rules and judgment.

Perhaps if you find yourself reading this because you are interested in atheism or skepticism, you might consider that God meant for His church to be a place of peace. Let us all take the advice of Mahatma Gandhi who said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” As a believer or a skeptic, just give such an idea a chance. Become that change you want to see in the church

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Factors of Destruction

The Jesuit theologian and mystic Anthony de Mello tells us: “These things will destroy the human race: politics without principle, progress without compassion, wealth without work, learning without silence, religion without fearlessness, and worship without awareness.” Let’s unpack those words for a minute.

Politics without principleIn a recent poll it was found that only ad men and salespeople were less respected than politicians. Sadly our world is losing confidence in our elected leaders. There have been far too many stories of graft and corruption. The art of political leadership has been replaced by a hoard of unprincipled power brokers. What ever happened to principles?

Progress without compassion- The official death toll of the Rana Plaza collapse in Sri Lanka is 1,129, with 301 bodies still unidentified. This is without a doubt, the worst example of progress without compassion I have ever seen. Sri Lanka is a very poor country that cries out for economic and social progress, and in a way the high-dollar clothing companies who pay their workers very low wages have brought some progress to the country. This progress is without any form of compassion or care for the working conditions of the employees. Thus, the horrific results.

Wealth without work In my city of New Orleans there is an alarmingly high murder rate, and by all indications it is largely connected to the drug trade. Drug dealers are able to make large sums of money with very little work. Consequently, the destructive results.

Learning without silence The wisest and most learned people on earth know that all knowledge must be processed and analyzed. In our time of 24/7 “breaking news” much hurtful and unnecessary information is distributed without any thought or care. What has become of careful weighing of knowledge?

Religion without fearlessness The Bible tells us, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us fearful, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7) Today’s religious people spend far too much of their time fearing everything from change to stability, and forget that we have a powerful spirit that is on our side. Learn to be bold in your faith.

Worship without awareness- Worship is the presence of God. Too many people leave God out. Worship is not about being motivated but about finding the presence of the creator. When He is found we become more alive, more aware, and through that sense of His presence we truly are transformed. Challenge yourself to be keenly aware of God when you worship.

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Hope in Exile

 

It happened one day that one of the brethren in the monastery of Abba Elias was tempted.   Cast out of the monastery, he went over the mountain to Abba Anthony. The brother lived near him for a while and then Anthony sent him back to the monastery from which he had been expelled. When the brothers saw him they cast him out yet again, and he went back to Abba Anthony saying, ‘My Father, they will not receive me.’ Then the old man sent them a message saying, ‘A boat was shipwrecked at sea and lost its cargo; with great difficulty it reached the shore; but you want to throw into the sea that which has found a safe harbor on the shore. ‘When the brothers understood that it was Abba Anthony who had sent them this monk, they received him at once.

—-Sayings of the Desert

This saying deals with a very difficult dilemma. I am going to assume that the brothers who expelled the monk had a legitimate reason to do so. When people live in community, or attend the same church, there are times that personalities clash, mistakes are made, and the boredom of sameness hits. In all these situations there is usually a more guilty party that pays the price of the conflict, but there should be a desire for reconciliation. Abba Anthony reminds us in this saying that we are all potential victims of a personal or spiritual shipwreck. Further he tells us we would never turn our backs on the victims of a true shipwreck that comes to our shores. The real key to the saying is this; when someone asks to be reconciled with the community, we must give them a chance at redemption. Permanent exile, or expulsion, is not the way of the Christian.

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Filed under Antony of Egypt, Christian Living, Church, Church Conflict, Community, Desert Fathers