Last Five Sermons? What do I say?

June 17th will be my last Sunday at First UMC Cedar Falls.  With a Sunday of vacation and my attendance at Annual Conference, it has dawned on me that I have five sermons left to preach at First UMC in Cedar Falls.

When a pastor finds out that she or he is making a pastoral move we are all faced with what we should say in our last opportunities as we worship with our congregations.  It is important in those last sermons, last acts of worship, and last opportunities to share with a church family things you believe will aid them in the transition to new pastoral leadership and allow you to appropriately bring to a close your pastoral relationship with them.

I believe in those last sermons it is always important to be encouraging.  Change is always stressful.  Change brings about new opportunities for service, ministry, fellowship, and friendship.  Change can bring fresh perspectives and new ideas.  But still, change is scary for all of us.  As human beings we long for the familiar well worn paths even when that path may not be the one we should continue on.

I also believe it is important hold up the future of the church.  First UMC is a great church which is going through some big changes and transitions.  We are in major building and renovation project.  We are working hard on invisioning and planning for the future which also will require changes in ministry, leadership, service, and yes changing our very selves for the cause of Jesus Christ.

I believe that attitude is a huge part of the success of any institution but especialy the church.  Our attitude about our church and the cause of Christ makes a huge difference in our ability to serve God.  If you look at the Emmaus Road ecounter with Jesus, we see that those on the road to Emmaus were dejected, stressed, grieved, and hurting from the death of the beloved teacher and friend Jesus.  Their attitude was one of defeat even though Jesus Christ was already risen.  But their attitude, created by not realizing the risen Christ’s victory, meant that they could do nothing for the cause of Christ.  But when they discovered that Jesus Christ is risen indeed it changed their attitude, their actions, and their lives.

In the United Methodist Church right now we are worrying about the same issues that all of the mainline churches are worrying about.  We are worrying about shrinking membership numbers, not enough young people in our churches, and shrinking resources.  Because of that in some ways we can fail to remember that we live in the light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Like those on the road to Emmaus, we can fail to live out the full joy of what God is doing for us because we are looking at all the wrong things.  We have Jesus walking right beside us but we fail to see him because we are dejectedly staring at our feet.

Well as a long time admirer of the United Methodist Church who  has now embraced this family of faith, I can tell United Methodists that in may ways we are too hard on each other.  The United Methodist Church has powerful gifts and graces to share with the world.  Our Wesleyan theology of grace and love and our acceptance of people gives us a great message to share with the world.  We are an Easter people living in the Great Fifty Days of the resurrected Christ and we need to quit moping around about what isn’t working and instead share with the joy the message that God has for us to share.  If we recapture our joy as a people of God then the other problems will take care of themselves.

I also believe in a pastors last sermons in a church it is important to say those thank yous to the church for their love and support.  The church needs to receive a pat on the back when they’ve done good.  They need to know when their pastor has been loved and supported and how much a difference that made in their life, ministry, and the lives of their family.

So I’ll close this post by saying something I intend to say several more times in the next few week.  Thank you First UMC Cedar Falls for taking care of me and my family these past two years, for making us a part of your family, and for giving me strength and allowing me to lead among you because of your support, love and prayers.  Thanks be to God for your witness on behalf of our risen Savior!

Tech Detox or Generation Gap?

The August 8, 2011 of the Christian Century had an article about young people, church camp, and technology called “Tech Detox.”  The article largely bemoaned teenager hyperconnectivity and expounded on the importance of praying cell phones and gadgets out of the hands of young people while at camp so that they can meet God.

I’ve read several articles in recent months which seem to complain or give advice about the need to disconnect in order to experience God, reconnect spiritually, etc.  The more of these articles I read the less I believe that this is really about toxic technology and the more I am convinced that this is actually about a generation gap.

We all know what a generation gap is.  As each new generation is born, grows up, and comes into adulthood there are generational differences that due to changing culture, technology, life experience, and circumstances that cause misunderstanding and mischaracterization of younger generations by older generations and older generations by the younger.   One of the areas it seems to me that is misunderstood is in the area of technology.

Because people are living longer we find that we have not just one or two generations living together in our society but as many as five generation.  My Grandfather was a rural mail carrier who began his work with a horse and buggy and retired delivering mail in a jeep.  Baby Boomers and Tweeners like myself and many Millenials remember times with much less technology before email, before the internet, and yes before VCRs, and DVDs.

Changing technology is a facet of the larger subject of “change.”  Different people adapt to change at different rates, some are slow to change, and some out right oppose any change to the lifestyle they are comfortable with.  So when it comes to the use of technology by our teens there are some things we have to recognize and adapt to:

1. Change is inevitable.  The way people live today is a far different than it was in my Grandfather’s day and also different than the society my parents grew up in.  So why should we expect that our children would live and interact the way we do?

2. The purpose of church is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  It isn’t to make young people experience church, camp, or life they way we do or did.

3. If we insist that young people experience God the way we did following our own culturally bound ways of doing things we are just as likely not to reach them at all, and not to make disciples of them.

So what does this mean?  Does it mean we never tell young people not to use their cell phone in a church venue.  No I don’t believe it does.  But I do believe at all costs we must stop treating and talking about changing technology and change in general as if change is “toxic.”

When it comes to camp I don’t care if young people are making wood carvings and shooting arrows or sitting in a room playing video games.  What I do care about is that we give them a contextually relevant message about the love and grace of Jesus  Christ and God’s love for each of us.  When we go onto the mission field we seek to meet people where they are with their own culture, their own language, and in their own context.  We don’t expect them to dress like we do, talk like we do, or have a culture like ours.  We better be doing the same thing with those around us here in the US as well if we ever hope to share the gospel message with them.

How can we speak about the transforming power of Jesus Christ if we are sharing the not so subtle message that change is bad?  My reading of the gospels gives me the impression that Jesus was never about us staying the same.  In fact Jesus was about radical change, radical hospitality, radical commitment, and transformative life changing world shaking grace and love.  If anything is toxic it is stagnation.

So lets stop singing that old song “What’s the Matter with Kids Today” and instead let younger people share with us the changing technology they love and we can share with them the transforming and changing gospel that we can all love together!

Finding a Passion for Holy Living!

Right now I’m in the process of taking a course on United Methodist History.  I’m currently reading about the early years of John and Charles Wesley’s ministries.  And, though I’ve read about them before, I am again struck with John Wesley’s passion and drive to seek to live a holy Christian life.  His careful journaling of his daily activities including his triumphs and his failures show us a man who to the very fiber of his being wants to be what God wants and created him to be.

I am not yet to the part of Wesley’s experience where his “heart is strangely warmed.”  And this is before Wesley has developed his understanding of grace, particularly Prevenient Grace.   So I know that he is in the early stages of his spiritual development.  But I am reminded also that another reformer, Martin Luther, was also very concerned with pleasing God and holy living.

And it makes me ask the question, where has our passion gone for seeking to be a holy and set apart people as Christians?  Some Christians seem to focus on the moment of justification and once they feel like they’ve had a justifying experience with God they feel like they are “saved” and no longer have to worry about God stuff.

In other words we’ve turned being a Christian into a transaction or a commodity.  Much of our Christian culture tends to think of salvation as something in the past.  And this thinking of our faith as a past thing kills any desire for holy living.

Others become discouraged and believe deep down that God really can’t change them.  They have missed the gospel message that what God is about isn’t a transaction or a done deal in the past but about making us into followers/disciples of Jesus Christ.  We are to be a community growing and learning in God’s grace.

But we can grow in God’s grace because God provides us, as Wesley called them, omeans of grace.

By means of grace Wesley meant “By means of grace I understand outward signs words or actions ordained of God and appointed for this end to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men preventing justifying or sanctifying grace.”  (Sermon XVI Means of Grace.)

He listed as ordinary means of grace prayer, searching the scriptures, and receiving the Lord’s Supper, and healthy living.  He also lists baptism, Christian conferencing, and works of mercy.

As Christians we should be attending daily to our prayer lives, reading, study, and hearing sermons from the Bible, participating in the sacramental life of the church, ministry together, and doing good to and for others in the name of Jesus.

The Christian life isn’t a spectator sport.  It isn’t a club we join to then sit on the sidelines.  As one of the recent UMC emphasis called “Rethink Church” says we should think of church not as a noun but as a verb.

We need to recapture and re-emphasize John Wesley’s focus on holy living, through both personal and social holiness.  It isn’t enough to just become a Christian any more than it is just enough to be born.  We must have a passion for growth, maturity, and change.  It are to seek after the goal of being made perfect in love.

Would that we would all recapture the passion of the reformers for not just knowing Christianity in our heads but living faith of Jesus Christ in our hearts and with our hands!

 

Things Change, Things Stay the Same

Out in front of my house, one of First UMC’s parsonages, I see a freshly paved street.  The road crew for Cedar Falls is near completing new curbs and pavement for the street between my house and the church.  On one hand it is a completely new street.  They tore out the old curbs, they put in new gravel, the poured new asphalt.  It is brand new, not even striped yet.  But on the other hand it is still a street and still has the same purpose of any street.

The same is true with worship and our new Transformation Worship Service.  Transformation, the contemporary worship experience at First United Methodist Church, is in a new location.  And even that location is going to begin going through some exciting changes.  The first of these is that in the next several weeks construction will begin on a new stage and storage facilities for Scott Hall (our worship venue) which will provide the Transformation experience with a new permanent central stage for the Praise Band and for preaching and leading worship.

In preparation for making room for construction we’ll be moving our current portable stage to another part of the room changing the shape of our worship space yet again.   We are also working in different ways to update our worship experience, work on the logistics of a new service location, and seeking to figure out how we can make our worship one that helps us to focus on our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

But, what we are doing is still worshipping God.  We will still be singing, we will still be praying, we will stil be reading the scriptures, and we will still be sharing in the sacraments.   So while Contemporary worship has stylistic elements that are different from our two traditional worship opportunities we still have the same purpose we have always of seeing that, as the song says, we see Jesus lifted high!

So that effects how we change and how we don’t change.  When we make changes in the coming months it will be for the purpose of lifting up the faith of Jesus Christ, helping us worship God, helping us grow in our faith as Christians, and helping us to leave worship to go out into the world to serve others in the name of Christ!  Changes won’t be willy nilly or just change for the sake of change.  But worship change has to match the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

A Year of Change

The only constant in the world is change.  But this has certainly been an exciting year of change for my family and I.  It has been a year and a week since I first starting checking into the possibility of transferring my ordination to the United Methodist Church.  It was something that had been in the back of my mind and my heart for a long time.  And finally life I allowed myself to take a step out in a new direction.  During that time I’ve been blessed to receive appointment to Cedar Falls First United Methodist.  I began in July and I feel really blest to be here!

I am enjoying the challenges of living in a new community, being at a new church and getting to know a new denominational family.  Shortly I will begin course work on a course from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry on United Methodist history.  Following that I will take courses in UMC doctrine and UMC polity.  I’ll be continuing to work with the Board of Ordained Ministry to complete my transfer of orders as I serve here in Cedar Falls.

At the same time my wife and I have become empty nesters as our daughter transferred from DMACC to Iowa State University.  We have all be making that adjustment, and I’m proud of how well she is doing in Ames!

So often we are afraid of change, avoid change, try to hold change back.  Yet change is a part of life, ministry, and following our Lord and Savior.  As I’ve said before we need to embrace change!  And we do so we can embrace to miraculous activities of God in a world that God is working to change and grow for the better.