God in The Flesh – The Incarnation and the Birth of Christ

Today around the globe millions of Christians will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and the beginning of the Christmas Season.  We will do so with services of worship, singing of carols, the sharing of word and table, in dozens of language, in numerous liturgies, all proclaiming the birth of Jesus.

So why is the birth of Jesus a big deal?  I mean, isn’t his death and resurrection the cornerstone of our faith?  Isn’t it Christ’s gift to us through the cross that is the very center of Christianity? Yes, but Christmas reminds us why Jesus’ gift of giving his life for us matters so very much.  It is Christmas that reminds us that Jesus’ birth is about God being with us, God being in the flesh, God being present here and now.

The incarnation is one of those bits of theology than confuses people.  We contend as Christians that Jesus is both human and divine.  It sounds like an esoteric truth, something that does not matter to our every day faith.  But in truth it really does matter a great deal to our understanding of how God is present with us how God does God’s work among us, and how God through Christ redeems us.

Because Jesus is human and life the life of a human being here on this earth he has walked and lived among us.  He is “Emmanuel, God with us.”  It means that God is not far off and inaccessible but instead is near to us.  It means that God understand loss, sickness, death, pain, sorry, joy, hunger, poverty, and plenty.  Jesus has, so to speak, walked in our shoes.

But also because Jesus is the very son of God, as Jesus said, “one with the Father” Jesus also can offer us the gift of God’s grace which is always there for us, always reaching out to us, always pursuing us, always seeking us always wanting to redeem us.

Christmas is so wonderful because it reminds us that God isn’t just up there in heaven, God is here among us walking with us, traveling with us, supporting us, sustaining us.   God wants to be there not just at the beginning of our faith journey and not just at the end of life’s journey, but with us every day and every step.

Too often we focus on the Jesus of the afterlife or the Jesus of the “end times” all in the future.  Andre Crouch, gospel singer and composer, wrote, “If heaven was never promised to me, even God’s promise to live eternally, it has been worth just having the Lord in my life.  Because living in a world of darkness he brought me the light.”

What we celebrate on this holy evening is that we who live in the darkness have seen the light of God through Jesus Christ.  It is a light that guides us, it is a light that lives with us and in us, it is a light that warms us on a cold bleak night, and it is the light we hope against hope to share with love and grace with others.

May you have a blessed and holy experience of the presence of Christ as we celebrate Christ’s birth in this holy season!

Milestones of God’s Grace

I started this blog almost three years ago to talk about God leading me to change the direction of my ministry and became a pastor in the United Methodist Church.  For those of you who have read my posts you probably have noticed that my posting has been much less frequent in recent months.  Well, life has just been both good and busy.  

I have been blessed these past nine months to serve in my new appointment at Grace UMC in Sioux City.  It has been a lot of fun getting to know the people of Grace, learning my way around Sioux City, and working in ministry with my new charge.  As the same time I have been continuing the process of working with the Board of Ordained Ministry of the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church to complete my transfer of orders to the UMC and seek recognition as an Elder in Full Connection.  

Part of the requirements of receiving such a recommendation involved me completing courses in UMC history, doctrine, and polity.  I completed all of those classes in February of this year.  Also in February I had what will probably be my last meeting with an examining committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry.  And I am pleased to say that the BoOM has recommended me for full membership in the Iowa Conference!

This means that my name will come before the Clergy Session of the Conference in June for a vote.  If I receive an affirmative vote from those eligible to vote in the Clergy Session I will be an Elder in Full Connection in the UMC.  

For me this is a milestone in a lot of ways.  It is a milestone in completing the process with the BoOM.  In that process I felt very encouraged and affirmed while the examining committee members continued to ask good questions, seek understanding of my ministry and calling, and make decisions about my progress in the process.

It is also a milestone for me because, as I’ve shared many times now, I have felt for a long time that God wanted me to be a United Methodist serving God in a UM local churches.   I’ve shared here in this blog how I believe God nudged me and guided me over the years into a Wesleyan understanding of the Christian faith which led me to seek out the UMC as my church home.

Each Christian tradition has its strengths.  But what has continued to attract me and continues to pull me into the UMC has been John Wesley’s teaching and understanding of Grace.  God’s gracious love, described by Wesley as Prevenient, Justifying, and Sanctifying continues to capture my heart and my imagination.  What Wesley called the scripture way of salvation with its emphasis on the work of God’s grace in each of our lives throughout our lives colors and enriches everything that is best about United Methodists.  

I am also empowered and enriched by the sacramental theology of the UMC.  I was reminded again this Sunday in Communion how much my heart is warmed by the liturgy of the Great Thanksgiving and in the breaking of the bread and sharing of the cup.  There is something so right and so heavenly to bend down on one knee so that a small child can take a piece of bread and dip it in the cup with a joyful smile on her face as she is told that the body of Christ was given for her!  There is such Holy Spirit power in the voices of the congregation declaring as one that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!”  Some Sundays I can only think to myself, “it just doesn’t get any better than this!”

Yes indeed, I am deeply honored that the clergy of the Iowa Conference will consider my credentials this June, and I am deeply blessed to be serving the Lord in the Iowa Annual Conference of the UMC and here in Sioux City at Grace Church.  I am very glad to be a United Methodist!

May each of you be blessed as we continued to celebrate the Risen Christ in these Great Fifty Days of the Easter Season.  “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!  Alleluia!”

I Believe….

I am in the third week on a sermon series in Transformation Worship at First UMC Cedar Falls called “I Believe…”  It is a sermon series based on the outline of doctrines taught in the Apostles’ Creed.  (If you want to remind yourself of the content of the creed click on the tab “ecumenical creeds” at the top of my blog.)  The series is in a response to a request that I preach about basic Christian beliefs.  I cannot think of a simpler easier to understand summary than the Apostles’ Creed.

A lot of Christians do not realize that in the same time frame in which the ecumenical creeds were being formulated to answer doctrinal issues of the day the church was also deciding which books would end up in the canon.  The canon is the list of books which are found in the Bible.  In particular the Nicene Creed and issues around the incarnation of Christ were very much a part of the discussion at that time.

The canon didn’t just drop out of the sky.  The Church chose books which were in use of the church, were believed to have Apostolic authorship or connections, and which taught the faith of Jesus Christ as taught by the church, Christ, and his Apostles.

The Discipline of the United Methodist Church declares that the scriptures are the primary source for our doctrine and that we utilize scripture, tradition, experience, and reason as we work out our faith life together.  It is important that we have these bedrock teachings on which to give a basic foundation to our faith.   Certainly there is a lot of room for differences of viewpoint and understanding.  But there needs to be a basic outline of agreement which defines what it means to be Christian just as the Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith of the EUB outline for us what it means to be United Methodists.

I believe that these faith statements are vital because connect us with the historical church, they remind us of the priorities of faith of the early church, and they give us a framework on which to begin the difficult and important task of Biblical interpretation.

In the coming weeks I will be preaching about Christ’s death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit, what it means to be part of the holy catholic church, and finally the eternal life which we can all experience through the love and grace of Christ.

While someone may think that a sermon series of basic Christian doctrine could be dull, it should not be.  We should be excited to talk about what we believe and how it has changed and is changing our lives!

I Believe!