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!”

Into the Darkness

Today the Church has been observing Good Friday.  It was a dark, wet, and dreary day in Cedar Falls, a day that befits the solemnity of our observance.  

At noon Cedar Falls had its first of what we hope will be an annual Procesion of the Cross using the stations of the cross as a model. The Procession was very well attended despite the weather.  I am sure over 100 of us braved the weather to walk with the cross, read scripture, and pray.  I am glad that more than ten churches gathered together to be reminded of the sacrifice of Christ and our oneness as part of his body!

This evening our Associate Pastor for Youth and College, Steve Braudt and our youth group led a Tenebrae Service.  It was a powerful service of dramatic scripture readings, extinguishing the lights, and stripping the sanctuary of its faith symbols.  We all left in silence and awe and the acts of Christ on the cross and the death which he suffered.

This time from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday is called by the Church the Holy Triduum.  It is a space and time during Holy Week that is a unit of worship experiences and contemplation.  From the Upper Room, to the Cross, and into the darkness we wait.  We await the coming of our Savior.  We await answers to the evils of hell, sin, and death.  We await empty needing to be filled.  We await knowing that Christ has died for us and hoping against hope that the darkness in our lives will not continue without relief.

Tonight and tomorrow the Church of Jesus Christ mourns so that on Sunday, as the sun rises in the east, we can shout and sing.  We can run to the tomb with Peter and John.  We can say with Mary “I’ve seen Jesus” and we can walk the Road to Emmaus with a pair of Jesus’ followers.

Every year we retell and relive the old old story of Jesus and his love!  Every year we come again to face the darkness knowing that Jesus faced it for us and that he was there before us.  Unlike the Disciples we walk into the darkness knowing that Christ’s light is coming!  That Jesus will rise again!  That the tomb will be found empty!  That the angels will sing!  That the graves will be opened!  And finally that our hearts will be healed, redeemed, changed, transformed by the overcoming grace of Jesus Christ.

We walk into the darkness awaiting the coming of the one who has enough love for the whole world.

As the thief on the cross said to Jesus those many years ago.  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!”  Jesus remember me!

Remember Your Baptism And Be Thankful

Anytime the church has the opportunity to sharing in the sacrament of Holy Baptism with a child in the church it is an opportunity for thanksgiving!  Today I had the privilege of baptizing a beautiful little girl into the church as her parents shared in her baptismal vows and friends and relatives looked on.  I got to introduce her to her new church family and give thanks for the grace of God that is poured out on her in baptism.

For me it also was special for another reason.  This was my first opportunity to perform a baptism since receiving my first appointment in the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church.  If you’ve read my blog you would know that I had previously served as a pastor in the American Baptist denomination where immersion baptism of professing members is the normal practice.

So you might wonder how it felt to baptize an infant for the first time.  Well, it was a wonderful experience!  It was a wonderful experience because infant baptism is such a powerful picture of God’s love and prevenient grace.  In a Wesleyan understanding of baptism the sacrament is a gift from God and not an act of the candidate for baptism.  God loves all of us, and like a helpless infant, we are unable to understand God’s love fully or at times to even respond to it.  But God loves us simply because we are his children.

In truth when we act like we can fully explain, comprehend, or describe God’s love we’ve forgotten that the salvation we have in Jesus Christ is from God who is beyond our full understanding.  The purpose of baptism isn’t to understand or comprehend God’s love.  The purpose of baptism is to receive God’s love and, when we are able, to accept it.

It was also a wonderful experience because there is nothing quite like welcoming children into God’s house and sharing the joy that new parents have at the birth of a new and precious life.  Jesus loved children and welcomed them into his presence and told us that they are a part of the Kingdom of God and that if we want to be a part of God’s kingdom we better be ready to accept God as a child.  What that means to me is that we accept Christ with child like joy accepting God’s love even though God’s grace and love is sometimes beyond our understanding.

Remember your baptism and be thankful!

Experiencing God’s Grace in the Sacraments

This Sunday in Transformation Worship we will share in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Next Sunday the church will sharing in the sacrament of Holy Baptism as I have opportunity to share in the baptism with a beautiful new baby girl in our church.

Baptism and Communion are both powerful and important means of grace in the life of the church. In Holy Baptism we will have opportunity to share God’s prevenient grace and love with a child who is already experiencing love from her parents and family and now has the blessing of receiving in a new way God’s love and the love of Christ’s church.

In Baptism God marks this child as His own. He says to that child, her parents, and to the world that he loves and gives his grace to her before she is able to respond or even know the full extent of what that loving care means. In this way Baptism is such a beautiful example of God’s love for us. None of us deserve God’s love, none of us fully understand God’s love, and none of us can earn God’s love. God loves us just because we are His children just like parents love their child even before they’ve done anything to recypricate that love.

Baptism is a one time event in the life of an individual. United Methodists don’t rebaptized because baptism isn’t the act of the individual or the family, it is an act of God. To redo a baptism would imply that something was wrong with what God did the first time. We may church many times in our life to renew our baptismal vows and thank God for our baptism. But we never need to repeat it because God never ever stops loving us.

Holy Communion is a sacrament in which the church on a regular basis seeks the loving grace of God in the Holy Mystery of bread and cup. We know and believe that Christ is really present with us when we gather around His table. We know that the one cup and the one loaf represent the one body of Christ we are a part of. And when we share in Communion we commune with each other, we commune with Christ and we truly receive his power and grace in our lives. Holy Communion strengthens us for our spiritual walk just as food strengthens us for our physical walk.

In Baptism and Communion God calls us His own. Or as the old hymn says, “Now I belong to Jesus, Jesus belongs to me. Not for the space of time alone, but for eternity.

Lenten Blessings,
Tim

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 Worship

Tomorrow is the first Sunday for the Transformation Worship Experience at First United Methodist Church of Cedar falls, Iowa.  Worship begins at 8:30 a.m. followed by fellowship and the opportunity to attend Bible study as part of the FUMC Sunday School program.

As part of our worship we will be sharing together in the sacrament of Holy Communion, we will sing praises together, read from the scriptures, and celebrate God’s transforming grace in our lives!

If you are in the Cedar Falls area please come be our guest for the inaugural Sunday of this new worship experience.

Getting Settled In

Tomorrow will mark one month since my family and I drove up from Johnston, Iowa to spend the night here in Cedar Falls before our moving truck showed up on June 25th to move us into the First United Methodist Church parsonage.

It has been an exciting month.  I’ve had opportunities to preach, share my testimony, and share at the Lord’s table both in Sunday worship and in Wednesday night Ignition.  I’ve had a lot of fun getting acquainted with the wonderful church staff and church members of First Church.  And I have been pleased to see that First Cedar Falls is a church on the move, looking to grow and change for the future.

It has also been a good month meeting some of my new United Methodist colleagues both here in the Northeast District and from the Iowa Annual Conference center.

My family and I are starting to feel settled into our knew home.  We are seeing less boxes around the house.  We are starting to find our way around the community.  And we are beginning to adjust to our new a new place of ministry and service.

Sometimes change can be scary.  But I believe it is best to view change as an adventure.  And oh what an adventure it always is serving Christ in ministry!