A City Set on a Hill Cannot be Hidden

A little more than a week ago I returned from my first trip to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage with Bishop and Mrs. Trimble and thirty-four other participants from the Iowa Annual Conference UMC.   This past week I’ve been trying to absorb spiritual impact of this experience on my life and ministry.

When I agreed to go to Israel and Palestine I knew I would see locations which we read about, preach about, and talk about in church every day.  We sat in a boat on the sea of Galilee, many of us stood in the Jordan river as Bishop Trimble helped us remember our baptisms.  We walked the streets of Capernaum and gathered at the Garden of Gethsemane.  I knew that I would see those places.

But the spiritual impact of being in places where Jesus walked, taught, preached, and yes gave his life for us, was powerful!  I have been preaching the gospel of this Jesus whose steps we followed for more than 25 years.  That gospel felt as real, immanent and powerful as it ever has at any point in my life and ministry.

There were so many good things about being on the trip.  It was wonderful to be with colleague for a week and a half and get to know them better.  It was good to travel with Bishop and Mrs. Trimble and hear their insights and experiences about the Holy Land and about ministry.  It was great to travel with eight other friends from Grace United Methodist Church who I see weekly but got to have a wonderful shared experience with on this pilgrimage.

Along with the trip being powerful, moving, and spiritual it was also sobering and even in places a little painful.  It was tough to see the divisions that exist between Christians, Jews, and Muslims in a land that all three faiths call holy.  It was tough to see the wall around Bethlehem and know that people suffer because of the security measures involved all over the Holy Land no matter what you believe about the need for security in this very divided land.  It was tough to hear a faith leader tell us that religion has as often led to division as it has led to unity in a land filled with holy places and places of worship.

As we traveled I also learned a lot about the geography of the place Jesus called home.  I learned why you “go up to Jerusalem.”  I learned that so many of the cities Jesus saw as he preached and taught were set on the hills an valleys of the land around him.  So the words, “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” gives new meaning as I saw much of Jerusalem and also Nazareth built on the hillsides.

I am going to be integrating and processing this experience for a long time and I know also that I’d like to return again some time in the future as the Lord wills.

While we were in the Holy Land our Bishop encourages us to pray for peace.  And so now on my continued prayer list are prayers of peace for the peace of Jerusalem, the peace of Israel, peace for the Palestinian people, peace among people of good will of all faiths in that land, and that all of us would be instruments of God’s peace wherever we are.

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!

No Prayer, No Power. Little Prayer, Little Power. Much Prayer, Much Power!

“No prayer, no power.  Little prayer, little power.  Much prayer, much power!” – Bishop Julius Calvin Trimble, Bishop for the Iowa Conference UMC.

The above statement was repeated several times this week by our Bishop during the Iowa Annual Conference as we participated in holy conferencing this week in Des Moines.  This simple statement speaks volumes about the spiritual strength and focus of our Bishop who is obviously a man of deep faith and prayer.  Bishop Trimble often reminded us and brought as back to our faith just as it might appear we were being bogged down in the business of being a conference.

The idea of the connection of prayer with the power of the Holy Spirit reminded me how much prayer was central to my decision to become a United Methodist.  More than three years ago when I felt led to follow my heart and my growing Wesleyan spirituality into ministry in the UMC I felt compelled to be in constant prayer about God’s direction in my life.  During this time I believe I prayed more and more often than I had previously in any other time in my life.  I needed to the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit to help me to make the right decisions about the future of my ministry and calling.

The more I prayed, the more I read, the more I studied United Methodism the more I became convinced that this is where God wanted me to be.   Wesley’s descriptions of God’s grace captured me and would not let go, even as I continued to serve in another family of faith for quite a few years.

I started this blog in July of 2010 as I was starting my first appointment in the UMC.  This weekend at the Iowa Annual Conference of the UMC I because an Elder in Full Connection in the United Methodist Church.

While this is opportunity to celebrate God’s work in my life it is also just a beginning.  Now and in the future, with God’s help, I will have the opportunity to continue living out the itinerant ministry of a United Methodist Elder.  It is a ministry that I have just begun.  It is a ministry that I am experiencing with great joy, and it is a ministry that I have now dedicated the rest of my life to.

Now that I have reached one of the goals I set which prompted the beginning of this blog, I will be changing the direction of my blog to posts about my impressions of ministry and mission in the UMC, the work of my current appointment at Grace UMC in Sioux City, and the day to day issues of ministry and faith in a world that still needs to hear about the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

It was Prevenient Grace, as described in the Emmaus Walk and by John Wesley, that first started to transform me into a Methodist Christian.  It is God’s grace that continues to lead me onward as I am blessed and honored to serve as a United Methodist Elder within the United Methodist family of faith.

Thanks be to God!

 

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!”

One in the Spirit, One in the Lord

First United Methodist Church in Cedar Falls in a very exciting time in our ministry and it is an exciting time to be serving in the church! The church is in the midst of an exciting building program which is going to give us knew tools for sharing the love of Jesus Christ with our community and with each other.

But even more important than our exciting building project is the work that the members of the church are doing in our TEAM Christ envisioning process looking and planning for the future ministry of our church!

First United Methodist Church has the distinction of having been in downtown Cedar Falls for a long time! We were the first Methodist Church planted in Cedar Falls. We are old enough to have a cornerstone which proclaims us as the “First Methodist Episcopal Church,” a denomination that merged with other Methodist group in 1939 to form the Methodist Church and again in 1968 with the Evengelical United Brethren for from the United Methodist Church.

At times in our advertising we have emphasized “First” as our identity. But as we come into a new era of the church being here “first” isn’t nearly as important as being “United.” So as part of our vision under the leadership of our Pastor Steve Williams you may notice us emphasising the importants of being a “United” people.

We are United Methodists, we are diverse denomination with people of many backgrounds who have grown up in my places in many kinds of churches or maybe no church at all. We want to be a church of Open Doors, Open Hearts, and Open Minds. We want to be a church that welcomes all in the name of Christ. So we have an open table where all can share in the Supper of the Lord, we have an open understanding of God’s grace believing that it is God’s desire that all experience God’s love and care no matter who they are.

There is an old chorus which I believe may have originiated with our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers that says “We are One int the Spirit and one in the Lord and we pray that our unity may one day be restored.”

That is the spirit in which I see our church becoming “united.” We are finding ourselves more and more united in purpose, united in fellowship, united in the grace of God, united in a desire to serve God, united in worship, and united in service.

In our membership vows as United Methodists we promise to support our church with our “prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness.”

Being first is a great thing! But being United in the Spirit and One in the Lord is even better!

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.