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!”

Mea Culpa!?

Confíteor Deo omnipoténti et vobis, fratres, quia peccávi nimis cogitatióne, verbo, ópere et omissióne: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa.  Ideo precor beátam Maríam semper Vírginem, omnes Angelos et Sanctos, et vos, fratres,oráre pro me ad Dóminum Deum nostrum.

Translation in English

I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters,that I have greatly sinned,in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault,through my most grievous fault;

Thus we find a prayer of confession used in the Roman Rite of the church and the originas of “Mea Culpa.”

Lately I feel like the Church is being asked to say “Mea Culpa” about a lot of things in our society, some of which can be honestly placed at the feet of the Church but also many of which the Church has no control over.

Right now the Church and the culture are in a time of huge social changes which may have the greatest changes on the ministry of the church since the Reformation.  Phyllis Tickle, author of “Great Emergence” sees the Church as being in a cycle of change which happens about every 500 years.

The culture is changing around us at an astounding pace and the culture of the Church is having a very hard time keeping up with it.  So it has become fashionable in some circles to blame the Church for these changes.  You hear phrases like “the church isn’t relevant,” “the church is behind the times”, “if they 1950s ever come back my church is ready!”

Yes, I do believe we are in a time when the Church has to look hard at its ministries and make changes to continue to be able to share the loving gospel and grace of Jesus Christ with an every morphing and changing world.  Yes, sometimes the church is resistant to that change and Christians are distressed by the need for change in a social structure that they have come to depend on and are comfortable with.

But, it is not fair to blame the the good people of the Church for the changes that are happening in our society, nor is it fair to make hard working, God loving, people serving, ministry active, self-giving, self-sacrificing Christian people feel guilty or bad about themselves because they are having as much trouble as anyone else in this world figuring out why the world is so very different than they knew growing up in the church.

In Iowa Conference’s most recent Orders meeting the speaker, Peter L. Steinke the author of “Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What” talked about the importance of non-anxious leadership.  He talked about how tough it is for people to deal with the fact that they rules of the game have changed for them mid-ministry.  He talked about what he calls “leadership in anxious times.”

Well it appears to me that one of the first steps in being a leader in anxious times is to quit trying to place blame for what has changed in world and instead look to how we can work to be the best witnesses of our faith for Jesus Christ that we can be in a world that is confusing not just for Christians but for everyone.

Gil Rendle, another Alban Institute author, taught in a course on Appreciative Inquiry that I attended a few years ago that the way to plan for the future of the Church is to work from our strength, to work from our positives in ministry, to find out what we do well and seek to emphasize, grow, and expand on our strength until those strengths fill in the weak gaps.

Appreciative Inquiry is based on the idea that we can do more when we look at our growing edges rather than obsess about our failures or about our inadequacies.   While there are some places where the Church can honestly say “mea culpa” there are many places where the Church has helped the poor, fed the hungry, ministered to the needy, visited the sick, helped the dying, administered the sacraments, taught our children, worshiped the living God and met the needs of its members and the community.  For these things we have nothing to apologize for!

Let’s stop expecting the Church to say “Mea Culpa” and start asking where we can best grow to share the gospel to a world that still needs it.

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!

Stepping Out in Faith

Last week First United Methodist Church in Church Conference decided to move forward with its building and rennovation program. This program has been in the works for a number of years but in the last two the church has made major steps forward in honing the vision and raising funds for this very important project.

In the building plan a new addition will be added to the building which will include a new entrance, a new welcome area, a new coffee fellowship area, a new nursury, chapel, and meeting room. The sanctuary of the church will be renovated and brought up to date, the chilren’s area will be remodeled and the offices will be moved and redesigned. It is an exciting and historic project!

Through the process the building committee and the church have captured a vision for how God might use our church in Cedar Falls, how we might expand our ministries, and how we can work to be a light for Jesus Christ in our community.

The history of First UMC is that this is a building church. It is a church that has build new facilities but also a church that has built ministries in this community. It is a place where generations have been baptized, confirmed, and raised up in the faith of Jesus Christ. It is a church that teaches people how to act on what they believe.

Now First UMC has taken another step of commitment and stepped out in faith to say to Cedar Falls that we are here, we want to grow and help you grow. We want to contribute even more to this community. We want to share in your faith want and growth in faith. And we want to let you know that all are welcome to come and share in Christ’s love and grace and at Christ’s table.

We walk by faith and not by sight because we believe that if we do what Christ calls us to do he will help us to meet the needs of others in the name of Jesus!

We will be breaking ground on July 3rd following a 9:00 a.m. Transformation Worship Experience with the entire church. Meet us on the church lawn as we commit not only to transform our building but also to let the transforming power of Jesus work in our lives!

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!

Holy Week Journey with Jesus

Sunday is Palm/Passion Sunday.  On Sunday we begin a journey with Jesus through his last days before his crucifixion, death, and resurrection.

Palm Sunday has always been a time for the triumphal entry of Christ.  We have the children carry palm branches down the aisle and we sing loud hosannas.  But in recent years the Church has also reemphasized the passion, that is death of Christ on the cross.  It is too easy to jump from the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday to the triumph of the resurrection and never talk about the scandal of the cross.  It is too easy to forget to talk about the suffering servant when we are singing songs of joy and triumph.  So this Sunday we will talk about Christ’s death and what that means for our faith.

On Maundy Thursday many churches around the world will celebrate the institution of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion.  First UMC in Cedar Falls will have a reenactment of the last supper with the disciples and we will also share in the sacrament together.  In the days between Palm/Passion Sunday and Maundy Thursday Jesus has been meeting the challenge of the religious and political leaders of his day.  He has continued to talk about his radical gospel of love and the grace he offers.  When he comes to Thursday it is time to again try to get the twelve to understand that he intends to give his life for them.

On Good Friday we will celebrate Christ’s sacrifice.  Ten churches here in Cedar Falls, including First UMC, St. Timothy’s UMC, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, and seven other congregations will participate in a procession of the cross from Overman Park through downtown Cedar Falls to the foot of the steps at St. Patrick’s Church.  We will read portions of the stations of the cross and remember Christ’s love and sacrifice for us and for the whole world.

There are many theories about the atonement of Christ, that saving act which happens for us on the cross.  Different Christians describe Christ’s work on the cross with different metaphors from scripture.  But what we all agree on is that Jesus Christ died to give us knew life and to offer us the saving gospel.  It is hard to imagine such a sacrifice, it is hard to comprehend what Christ gave up for us, it is hard to imagine such a cruel death.  But what we can know and do know is that the scriptures tell us that we can love God because he first loved us.  When are given God’s grace so that we can respond to him.  We are given God’s grace when we respond to him.  And we experience God’s grace each and every day as he sanctifies us and leads us to grow in grace each day.

If we really look at the cross and really look seriously at the one who would call us to be servants to all for the sake of the gospel then when we reach Easter Sunday and the tomb is found empty we can with even greater joy should and sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today!” with joy, with amazement, with wonder that the one who is our savior became the greatest by being the servant all.

Lord Christ let us travel with you this week in your way and on your path that we might see the glory of your resurrection this week with new eyes, with new hearts, and with greater joy!