Tag Archives: United Methodist Church

The Disappearing Word

Abba Poeman asked him weeping, ‘Give me a word that I may be saved.’ But the old man replied, ‘What you are looking for has disappeared now from among monks.’

— Abba Macarius the Great

Sometimes it can be stunning how many things have disappeared from a church or a culture. As a United Methodist I am keenly aware of my church’s decline over the past 40 years. The decline has been steady and damArsenius 2aging. The recent Pew Study finds: “The decline of Christians in the U.S. has corresponded with the continued rise in the share of Americans with no religious affiliation (religious “nones”).” Upon hearing this news many that are predicted the fall of Christianity in America. We Americans are so short sited that we assume that such a time of decline has never happened before. Do not misunderstand, American Christianity has some deep wounds.

  I am always astounded at the “back door” messages that I receive from my study of the fathers and mystics. Abba Poeman goes to the great monk and seeks a word of salvation, and the great monk says that such words have disappeared from the community. I can just imagine the discussion about the good old days and how they wish to return to that wonderful time during the social hour of the monastery. Additionally, I hear the cry that monastery will soon have to shut its doors because of a multitude of troubles.

Hard times are not exclusive to our era; they have plagued the church throughout its existence. The answer for such woes is always the same, ”work and pray.” Those of us who believe that God will be faithful are compelled to do the work of the church as if we believe He is faithful. We must never neglect our prayer and even ramp up our prayers in this time of need. In taking these simple steps, we have opened the way for God to give us understanding and maybe growth.

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RULE OF LIFE

Note: I am not sure where I got this document, but it has been in my files for a long tome. I’ve taken the liberty to make a few changes from the original. This rule would make for a good way to observe Lent.

This Rule of Life is based Wesley’s General Rules, the membership vows of the United Methodist Church and St. Benedict’s Rule. We believe this rule opens our eyes to God’s grace, balances life and enables us to pursue holiness in all aspects of daily living.  IB

A RULE OF LIFE

PRAYERS

· We will pray daily

· We will use a variety of forms of prayer such as the reflective reading of Scripture and other spiritual texts, confession, the prayer of Examen, intercession, journaling, and contemplation.

· We will fast from food once a week (either a full or partial fast)

PRESENCE

· We will practice a contemplative stance in order to be present to God, the world, and ourselves

· We will be hospitable to our neighbors in our families, neighborhoods and workplaces

· We will be hospitable to our faith community through participation in our worship, fellowship and mission

GIFTS

· We will honor and care for the gift of the earth and its resources, practicing ecologically responsible living, striving for simplicity rather than excessive consumption

· We will practice generosity in sharing our material resources, including money, within and beyond this community

SERVICE

· We will serve God and neighbor out of gratitude for the love of God

· We will practice mutual accountability with a covenant group within the community, for how we serve God and neighbor

· We will practice regular Sabbath as a means of renewal so that we can lovingly serve God and neighbor

WITNESS

· We will practice racial and gender reconciliation

· We will resist evil and injustice

· We will pursue peace with justice

· We will share the redeeming, healing, creative love of God in word, deed and presence as an invitation to others to experience the transforming love of God.

I commit to this rule of life and to the well-being of this community, out of gratitude to God who forgives, heals, and makes all things new. May my life be a blessing within and beyond God’s church, for the transformation of the world.

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Filed under Benedict of Nursia, Benedictine Rule, John Wesley, Monasticism

Ash Wednesday and Lent

Lent is about mortality and transformation. We begin the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday with the sign of the cross smeared on our foreheads with ashes as the words are spoken over us, “Dust thou art, and to dust thou wilt return.” We begin this season of Lent not only reminded of our death, but also marked for death.

ash_wednesday picThe Lenten journey, with its climax in Holy Week and Good Friday and Easter, is about participating in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Put somewhat abstractly, this means dying to an old identity—the identity conferred by culture, by tradition, by parents, perhaps—and being born into a new identity—an identity centered in the Spirit of God. It means dying to an old way of being, and being born into a new way of being, a way of being centered once again in God.

Put slightly more concretely, this path of death and resurrection, of radical centering in God, may mean for some of us that we need to die to specific things in our lives—perhaps to a behavior or a pattern of behavior that has become destructive or dysfunctional; perhaps to a relationship that has ended or gone bad; perhaps to an unresolved grief that needs to be let go of; perhaps to a career or job that has either been taken from us or that no longer nourishes us; or perhaps even we need to die to a deadness in our lives.

You can even die to deadness, and this dying is also oftentimes a daily rhythm in our lives—that daily occurrence that happens to some of us as we remind ourselves of the reality of God in our relationship to God; that reminder that can take us out of ourselves, lift us out of our confinement, take away our feeling of being burdened and weighed down.

That’s the first focal point of a life that takes Jesus seriously: that radical centering in the Spirit of God that is at the very center of the Christian life.

—Dr. Marcus Borg

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The Lenten Observance

The 40 weekdays beginning on Ash Wednesday, going through Holy Week, and ending on the Saturday before Easter is the season of Lent. The six Sundays occurring during Lent are not counted as the 40 days since Sundays celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

Originating in the 4thLent 2015 century of the Church, the season is marked by a time of prayer and preparation to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter. Many biblical events are associated with the number 40, but Lent is most commonly connected to the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for his ministry as he faced the temptations that could lead him to abandon his mission.

Christians today use this period of time for meditation, introspection, and repentance. The Church usually marks the season by prayer, fasting, and charitable giving. It is a time for the Church to focus on prayer, penance, and repentance as we acknowledge our need for God’s grace. All of this is a preparation to celebrate Christ’s atonement and resurrection of Easter.

The last week of Lent is Holy Week. During this holiest time of the liturgical year, the Church relives the final week of Christ’s life. On Palm Sunday, believers celebrate the triumphant entry of Jesus in Jerusalem. On Maundy Thursday, we revisit the Last Supper, while on Good Friday we recall the passion and crucifixion of the Lord.

Lent is about what Christ gave the world – salvation. The observation of Lent is a way to place ourselves humbly before God as we confess our inadequacies, strip ourselves of pretense, and open our souls before God to receive His grace.

We are part of a continuous line of Christians who have celebrated for 2000 years the One who was born in poverty, lived sinlessly, died on a cross, and rose from the dead. Jesus secured us a place in the Kingdom of God – here and now, and eternally in heaven. He opened wide the doors of kingdom – living in today’s world. He offers peace beyond our dreams, joy beyond our expressions, wisdom beyond our understanding and accomplishments beyond our abilities.

Lent gives us 40 days to prepare for a joyous Easter response to grace.

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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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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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United Methodists on God

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 Jesus.


Who God is

When we say the Apostles’ Creed, we join with millions of Christians through the ages in an understanding of God as a Trinity—three persons in one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. From early in our Judaic roots we’ve affirmed that God is one and indivisible, yet God is revealed in three distinct ways. “God in three persons, blessed Trinity” is one way of speaking about the several ways we experience God.

We also try to find adjectives that describe the divine nature: God is transcendent (over and beyond all that is), yet at the same time immanent (present in everything). God is omnipresent (everywhere at once), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omniscient (all-knowing). God is absolute, infinite, righteous, just, loving, merciful…and more. Because we cannot speak literally about God, we use metaphors: God is a Shepherd, a Bridegroom, a Judge. God is Love or Light or Truth.


What God does

We cannot describe God with certainty. But we can put into words what God does and how we experience God’s action in our lives. God works in at least these seven ways:

  • God creates. In the beginning God created the universe, and the Creation is ongoing. From the whirling galaxies, to subatomic particles, to the unfathomable wonders of our own minds and bodies—we marvel at God’s creative wisdom.
  • God sustains. God continues to be active in creation, holding all in “the everlasting arms.” In particular, we affirm that God is involved in our human history—past, present, and future.
  • God loves. God loves all creation. In particular, God loves humankind, created in the divine image. This love is like that of a parent. We’ve followed Jesus in speaking of God as “our Father,” while at times it seems that God nurtures us in a motherly way as well.
  • God suffers. Since God is present in creation, God is hurt when any aspect of creation is hurt. God especially suffers when people are injured. In all violence, abuse, injustice, prejudice, hunger, poverty, or illness, the living God is suffering in our midst.
  • God judges. All human behavior is measured by God’s righteous standards—not only the behavior itself but also the motive or the intent. The Lord of life knows our sin—and judges it.
  • God redeems. Out of infinite love for each of us, God forgives our own self-destruction and renews us within. God is reconciling the individuals, groups, races, and nations that have been rent apart. God is redeeming all creation.
  • God reigns. God is the Lord of all creation and of all history. Though it may oftentimes seem that the “principalities and powers” of evil have the stronger hand, we affirm God’s present and future reign.

When all is done, if we have difficulty in imagining who God is or in relating to God, there’s a simple solution: Remember Jesus—for in the New Testament picture of Jesus, we see God.

From United Methodist Member’s Handbook, Revised by George Koehler (Discipleship Resources, 2006)

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A Rule for Missional People

This past weekend I had the pleasure of sitting under the teaching of Dr. Elaine Heath, who is Professor of Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology. Her topic was “New Monasticism.” She shared ways that people can band together in intentional communities, and what it would take for that to be successful. Elaine, with a group of others, has formed the institute for Missional Wisdom. This institute has proposed a “Rule of Life” for those who want to commit to living in community. I would like to set forth this rule as not only a way to live in community, but also a way for individuals to live a Christ centered life. I want to share it with you today.

RULE OF LIFE

Our Rule of Life is based Wesley’s General Rules, the membership vows of the United Methodist Church and St. Benedict’s Rule. We believe this rule opens our eyes to God’s grace, balances life and enables us to pursue holiness in all aspects of daily living.

OUR RULE OF LIFE

PRAYERS

  • We will pray daily
  • We will use a variety of forms of prayer such as the reflective reading of Scripture and other spiritual texts, confession, the prayer of Examen, intercession, journaling, and contemplation.
  • We will fast from food once a week (either a full or partial fast)

PRESENCE

  • We will practice a contemplative stance in order to be present to God, the world, and ourselves
  • We will be hospitable to our neighbors in our families, neighborhoods and workplaces
  • We will be hospitable to our faith community through participation in our worship, fellowship and mission

GIFTS

  • We will honor and care for the gift of the earth and its resources, practicing ecologically responsible living, striving for simplicity rather than excessive consumption
  • We will practice generosity in sharing our material resources, including money, within and beyond this community

SERVICE

  • We will serve God and neighbor out of gratitude for the love of God
  • We will practice mutual accountability with a covenant group within the community, for how we serve God and neighbor
  • We will practice regular Sabbath as a means of renewal so that we can lovingly serve God and neighbor

WITNESS

  • We will practice racial and gender reconciliation
  • We will resist evil and injustice
  • We will pursue peace with justice
  • We will share the redeeming, healing, creative love of God in word, deed and presence as an invitation to others to experience the transforming love of God.

I commit to this rule of life and to the well-being of this community, out of gratitude to God who forgives, heals, and makes all things new. May my life be a blessing within and beyond God’s church, for the transformation of the  world.

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Filed under Benedictine Rule, Christian Living, Commitment, Community, contemplative, Intentional community, Missional Living, Monasticism, New Monasticism