Category Archives: United Methodist Church

Struggling with Our Faith

The gospel reading for this Sunday tells the story about Jacob wrestling with God. For me it is all about a human being struggle with what it means to relate to God.

I grew up with a view of Christian faith that gave the impression that the Bible was like a rule book with all the answers to all the questions we have about life and faith and that the particular set of interpretations I was being taught was the “New Testament faith.”

I did not have to gain too much theological education to realize that many passages of scripture have more than one interpretation and that many Churches/Denominations have been founded based on those differing interpretations.

While there was a lot of talk about the Bible being a book of all the right rules, there was also what became to me a more valuable emphasis on a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

When I look back on my early faith I realize that many of my views on quite a few specific Christian teachings have changed radically. But I still very much appreciate having learned that one of the most important things about being a Christian is a relationship with God through Christ.

Of course it is more than just our own personal connection with God. John Wesley, our most famous United Methodist founder, declared that that the only holiness is social holiness! What Wesley meant was that our relationship with God is not for our personal self-fulfillment. In fact the relationship’s value is much diminished if we are not allowing our experiences with Christ to lead us to want to make our world a better, more loving, more gracious and more just place.

Jesus did not die for us so that we could horde God’s love. Jesus came that we might live life more abundantly and share that abundance. That balance of personal and social holiness is one of the reasons I am a United Methodist Christian.

While I believe I know more about my relationship with God now than before, I do still struggle with parts of my faith. (Did you know that pastors do and can struggle with faith? And if they do not, that is something else to worry about!) Paul Tillich said that doubt is a part of faith. And I believe that struggle is also a part of faith. What do I struggle with?

I struggle with why good people suffer, why children go hungry, why God yet allows evil in the world, and if the Church in the world will get over its own internal struggles enough to represent Christ’s love. I struggle with why Christians sometimes believe that being right is more important than being grace filled. (This list is not exhaustive!)

There are days I wrestle with God searching for the answers to the questions I struggle with. Some of the highest and holiest experiences are that wrestling with God because I’ve learned that it is not me finding the answers that is important, it is that God is loving and gracious and willing to wrestle with me. And of course, the best answer God gives me in those struggles is, “I am with you always.”

If you are struggling with your faith, know that God is there to struggle with you. Know that God does not stop caring for you. No matter how much you struggle, God is with you.

 

 

God is For “Us”

Sunday I’m preaching from the passage of scripture in Romans eight in which we talk about how God is for us, how God cares about us, and how God works in our lives for us to become conformed to the image of Christ.

Of course for me the first question I want to ask is, who is “us?” I grew in the context of church from a congregationalist background where the congregation was “us.” So much so that communion was only for the members of that congregation. Even fellow members of the same denominational family were not really “us.”

When I was first getting to know United Methodists I would often refer to the UMC as “they” and “them.” A mentor in UMC ministry told me that as I transitioned into the Church that one day I would find that it was no longer “they” or “them” but that I would become part of “us.” I learned that I did indeed transition to a place where I am part of the “us” of the United Methodist Church. And it feels good to be one of “us.”

Beyond United Methodists the wider “us” is all of the Christian faith. All of “us” who call on the name of Jesus are part of the same “us” known as the universal Church. It is what we mean when we say the Apostles’ Creed and say, “I believe in the holy catholic church….” Catholic in that context means the universal “us.”

But is that enough? Is that adequate? When God created humanity he created the yet bigger “us.” We are all part of the same human family. We are all God’s children. So when I say that “God loves us.” God doesn’t mean God loves us United Methodists or God just loves us Christians, or God loves us Americans or God loves…. You get the picture.

God loves the whole diverse human family, not just the “us” that I like to make myself a part of or am the most comfortable in.

We as the church at First UMC Indianola and as the United Methodist Church need to think about a bigger “us.” When we seek to share the love of God and that God loves everyone, that God loves ALL we are saying that you are a part of “us.” We want to tell Indianola that you are part of “us” and are welcome. We want to say to people who are unique and different that we want them to be part of “us” too. Because God is for a really really big “us” not a narrow, small “us.”

So the next time you read the words “if God is for us who can be against us” read that in the context of the big “us” of humanity. God is for God’s children and God calls all of us God’s children. That’s us!

Casting a Wide Vision

Kindness-Pic-3Tomorrow morning I’ll preach just my second Sunday at First Church. The scripture for the morning is the passage from Matthew 13 sometimes called the parable of the seeds and sometimes the parable of the soils. Without giving my entire sermon away, the parable deals with both the responsibility of the one sowing seed and the variety of the way people react to the message of the gospel. (To get the full sermon, come join us at First Church tomorrow, or check out the website later in the week to watch the video. )

But one of the points of my sermon tomorrow will be to talk about the need not only to open our own hearts to the work of the gospel in our lives, but also the need to have a wide vision for the ministry of the Church. (capital “C” Church, not just Indianola First.)

Often when we plan for the Church we think to small. We think about growth in ministry of the Church looking like what we are already doing, only bigger. Our own human limitations limit the scope of God’s vision to do more, much more than you and I can imagine or dream. So we often cast small visions, or at least visions that appear manageable.

But God’s visions for us are never manageable. God’s visions for the Church are like the Pentecostal Sunday rushing wind that swept over the Disciples and sent them out into the streets preaching in every language. It is not something we control. It is not something we manage. God’s vision for us is more like a wave we ride. It is our job to figure out where God’s wave is going, and jump in!

God’s vision for humanity is that we not just scatter the seed where we are comfortable, were we have scattered before, and in the way we have always scattered. God’s vision for us always calls us to cast the grace of love of God further, wider, bigger, bolder, with joy and grace.

When people ask me why I’m a Methodist Christian my first answer is always, “grace!” The vision that captured people like John, Susanna, and Charles Wesley was a vision of God’s grace sweeping over a nation like a mighty rushing wind or a wild fire.

However big you think God’s love is, it is bigger. Whomever you think God loves, God loves even more, wherever you believe God wants us to go to share grace with people, God wants us to go further.

Until everyone has had the opportunity to know and experience God’s grace and love and seen that love and grace in the hearts and minds of God’s people we must scattered the seed wider, wider, always wider.

The call to scatter the gospel into all the world is so bold and so big that it must consume our efforts as the Church. More on that in another post. 🙂

Drawing Wide Circles

Yesterday was my first Sunday to preach at Indianola FUMC. I can honestly say that I had a blast! 

It was great to start meeting the members of First Church. We sang songs of praise together, we shared in the holy scriptures and, we shared together in the means of grace through the sacrament of Holy Communion.

The sermon I shared with the congregation utilized the Lukan Emmaus passage. The focus of our sharing was about how faith is a great journey. In that journey we have an opportunity to walk together, learn together minister to others together and be taught by Christ together as we journey.

Jesus was on the journey with us before we even knew he was there. Christ was the one whispering in our ear that we could take another step with the road got hard. Christ was the one reaching down to lift us up when we stumbled and fell. Christ was the one who put arms around us when we needed grace, love and support. 

That prevenient love and grace was there before we asked or even knew how to ask for it. It is offered freely to all God’s children.

So much of the conversation of Christians today is who is in and who is out? Who fits into our circle and whom do we exclude? Who is “orthodox” and whom can we tell they are wrong?

You see very little of Jesus in any of the desire to draw small circles to exclude people. Jesus says, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” “Come to me and I will give you rest.” Jesus was never one to push people away. Jesus was the one getting in trouble for eating with sinners and tax collectors.

In my minds eye as Jesus walked with the two companions on the road to Emmaus I see him pulling others into the conversation, walking with still others on the road, and step by step, mile by mile cheering the hearts of weary travelers as Christ finds places and times to break bread in fellowship with all who come to Christ’s table.

I cannot be a part of drawing a smaller circle because Christ drew the circle wider to let me in. I cannot exclude those whom God loves. If I  am ever condemned, let me be condemned for offering too much grace rather than hoarding it for myself. 

The Ministry of Christ like Relationships

My wife and move to Indianola this week to become a part of the family of faith at Indianola, First UMC. We’ve just been here 48 hours so there are a lot of part emptied boxes both in the parsonage and in my new office. Unpacking is a messy business and it often looks more scattered before it starts to look ordered.

Now is one of the most important times of ministry at a church, that is the beginning of new relationships. My former District Superintendent Tom Carver says, “Relationships are everything.” I believe Tom is right. We are able to minister together, serve Christ together, dream dreams of faith together, and travel along the path of faith together because we are relationship.

Our first relationship is our relationship with Jesus Christ. People often confuse the Christianity faith with a set of rules or a set of beliefs. But in truth Christianity is a living relationship with our living savior, Jesus Christ.

Similarly, church is not just a collection of people together in the same building worshipping. We are a faith family, we are the body of Christ. For a body to work well together it must move together, travel together, and head in the same direction together.

One of the things I love about being a pastor is that I get to spend time building relationships with other followers of Christ here in Indianola. Over the coming weeks, months and years it will be one of my focuses to build Christ like, loving, caring and growing relationships with God’s people here at Indianola First and in the Indianola community.

It is in relationship that the spirit of God is revealed to us. It is in relationship that we experience God and God’s love. It is relationships that grow and transform us into the likeness of Christ.