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!”

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!

 

Transformation, Sanctification, Perfection

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2

Spiritual transformation is the goal of the Christian life.  The motto of the United Methodist Church is “Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.”  Why transformation?  Because transformation because doesn’t just want to forgive us of our sins, God doesn’t just want to redeem us, God wants to sanctify us and transform us.

In other words God wants us to change, grow, mature, be more like Him and His Son Jesus Christ every day.  He wants us to progress and move forward.  He doesn’t want things to stay the same for us leaving us in our old barren and empty lives.  He was to transform our life of sin and loss into a life of love, grace, peace, and joy.

Sometimes some Christians will say words like “I was saved on…..” and then give you a day in which they what they perceive as a their first experience with Christ.  Now the truth is that the day you became a professing Christian is not at all the day you had your first experience with God.

Before you even knew that God was there, before you could respond to God love, before you can move towards God he loved you and offered you his love through his Prevenient Grace.  But then when you first experience the Justifying Grace of God that doesn’t end the story.  No!  the first time reconciled with God through Christ was only the beginning!!

Now God’s Sanctifying Grace has been working, is working, and will work to make you more like Jesus every day, to transform you life, and yes to seek to lead you on to perfection (that is the full measure of Christian maturity God wants for you.)   Perfection, in a Wesleyan sense doesn’t mean you are perfect but that Christ is working perfectly in you.

When I attended my first Annual Conference of the Iowa UMC I heard the Bishop talk about “perfecting a motion.”  It wasn’t terminology I was familiar with.  But it was clear what it meant.  That the product the conference was seeking to create could be made better, fuller, more whole, and more worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The rough draft (you and me) needs to be made whole.

It isn’t enough for a Christian to declare “I was saved on…”  That’s talking about the past.  The truth is that God has redeemed us, is redeeming us, will redeem us and will work on us to make us the people he created us to be.

I want to be forgiven.  But I don’t just want to be forgiven.  I want to be transformed!!

Why United Methodist? – Part 3 – The Sacraments

I have had a long appreciation for the United Methodist understanding of the sacraments. (If you want a full theological understanding of the sacraments read “By Water and the Spirit” and “This Holy Mystery” which explains the theology of the two sacraments recognized by United Methodists, Baptism and Holy Communion. )

In a United Methodist understanding Holy Communion and Baptism are “means of grace” meaning that we experience God’s grace as we participate in the sacraments.  Some evangelical Christians tend to think of Holy Communion and Baptism as “just symbols” and Communion as “just a memorial.”  I’ve come to believe over the years that this is a very one dimensional view of what God does for us in the sacraments.

Over the many years I have officiated at the Lord’s Table I have had powerful experiences of God’s love and grace in sharing and partaking of bread and cup.  “This Holy Mystery” tells us that Christ is truly present in Communion.  It is more than mere remembrance!

I have always appreciated the United Methodist understanding of the openness of the table.  When I first partook of communion with my family in an Emmaus Gathering all the children present, no matter what age, were welcome at the table.  In fact the table is open to anyone who is seeking to have an experience of God’s love.  John Wesley believed that Holy Communion could be a “converting element” leading to the conversion of a sinner who comes to the table through the power of God’s prevenient and justifying grace.

My own personal preference is to take communion via intinction (dipping bread in a common cup) rather than with small cups and wafers because it reminds me of the oneness of Christ and the oneness of the body of Christ partaking of one loaf and one cup.  The Sacraments are a very important part of Christian and United Methodist worship.  And I appreciate the emphasis on God’s grace that weaves its way into so many facets of United Methodist theology, worship, and experience.

As I have grown in the faith God’s loving grace calling me to be more like Jesus each day has become a very important part of my spiritual journey.  Meeting Christ at the table and experiencing His presence there gives me strength, hope, joy, and a sense of communion with my Savior and His church!

Why a United Methodist? – Part 2 – Grace

John Wesley talked about God’s grace in three ways, Prevenient Grace, Justifying Grace, and Sanctifying Grace.

I think my previous faith background probably was most focused on Justifying Grace and that is also an important Wesleyan emphasis.  It is that grace that comes as we appropriate our faith and as we become not only a baptized Christian but a professing Christian as well.  Sanctifying Grace is that work of Christ in us to seek to make us more holy and like him.  It is growing in grace. United Methodists use the term “perfecting.”  Sanctify comes from the Latin “sanctus” or holy.

What I appreciate about Mr. Wesley’s concepts of sanctification is that Christians are supposed to be working to be more like Christ and are in order to be like Christ we must be working for Christ.  We don’t come to know Jesus so that we can just sit and warm a pew!  We come to know Jesus so that we can “make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!”

What is powerful for me about the way that United Methodists explain the grace of God is that it emphasizes God’s actions in our lives each step of the way.  In Prevenient Grace God loves us and draws us, in Justifying Grace God helps us to accept God’s love into our lives and commit our life to following Christ, and in Sanctifying Grace God seek to “perfect” us, that is make us more like him, give us the strength to service him, and have not only a personal piety but seek social holiness as well.

I’ve just touched briefly on the the implications of grace and a United Methodist/Wesleyan understanding of them.  But many sermons and books have been written which explain more fully these concepts.  But suffice it to say that this way of explaining grace has become very powerful for my understanding of how God works in my life and in the lives of others.

The next topic I will post about that drew me to the United Methodist Church are the sacraments.