United Methodist Monday

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John-Wesley-engravingThis will be the first of my weekly articles related to United Methodism. Generally this will not be about  UMC beliefs, history or how United Methodists do things (polity.)  As I did not grow up in the United Methodist Church, I love learning more about this part o God’s family.

If someone asked me why I am a United Methodist, the one word answer would be “grace!” Not Grace UMC, the church that I am blessed to be appointed to, though I love Grace and its members. What I mean is the Wesleyan/Methodist understanding of God’s grace.

When United Methodists talk about God’s grace they often talk about it in three ways or in three movements. “Prevenient Grace”, “Justifying Grace” and “Sanctifying Grace.” Today I’ll just share some ideas about Prevenient Grace.

I first heard about Prevenient Grace on March 8, 1996. How can I be that specific? Because I was attending a Walk to Emmaus as a pilgrim, my first ever Walk. The Walk to Emmaus is a renewal program of the Upper Room of the UMC. It is modeled off of the Cursillo Movement. The Walk to Emmaus has fifteen “talks” or presentations on the Christian life. Five of those presentation are about grace and are given by clergy. I was attending the Walk to find an avenue of spiritual renewal for my local church. More that, I found an avenue of spiritual renewal for me!

The first of these talks is on Prevenient Grace. As a young pastor in another faith tradition, I had never heard of Prevenient Grace. 

Prevenient Grace is God’s grace working in our lives before we respond or are even able to respond. For me, one of the best pictures of Prevenient Grace is found in infant baptism. When I baptize a baby or small child they, as yet, have not learned to respond to the love that is given them by family, parents and God the way they will be able to respond as the grow and learn. But God, like a parent, loves them just as much as God ever will even though they are not able to respond.

It is Prevenient Grace that carries us, nudges us and gently pushes us towards a relationship with God and accepting the love of God in our lives. 

Prevenient Grace reminds me that it is not what I do or have done that causes God to love me. It is not how well I respond to God or how obedient I am able to be that leads God to call me God’s child. God has always loved you and me. God has always wanted a loving relationship with us. God never stops seeking out that relationship no matter how far we drift away.

Once I heard about Prevenient Grace I was hooked. I did not know it yet, and it took a number of years for the transformation to be realized, but twenty years ago last March I took my first steps to becoming a United Methodist.

After the Walk to Emmaus I decided I had to look up and find the author who had come up with this powerful concept of grace that describes the Scriptures so well. Of course, I ran right into John Wesley. 

It took me some years to realize that the best way to be able to teach and display this concept in my own life was for me to become a United Methodist myself.

Fifteen years later I stood with others in front of the Bishop Trimble, of the Iowa Annual Conference, and answered the following question (among several others.)

“Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church, accept its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline, defending it against all doctrine contrary to God’s Holy Word, and committing yourself to be accountable with those serving with you, and to the Bishop and those who are appointed to supervise your ministry?”

And in response to God’s Prevenient Grace in all the years of my life from birth to now I was blessed to respond as a United Methodist. “I will, with the help of God!”

I am still hooked on God’s Prevenient Grace. I believe it is one of the most powerful messages of God’s love United Methodists get to share. God loves you, God has always loved you. You, even if you do not know it, are children of God and part of God’s family and God is just waiting for you to come home. God will never give up on you. God will never turn God’s back on you. God is always there for you!

Under the wings of God’s loving grace,

Tim