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!

 

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!

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 1 – Grace

Many of you will be aware that my previous ministry has been in Baptist churches.  So the question does come up fairly regularly, “why are you becoming a United Methodist?”  I could try to answer the question in one post but there are several facets to my decision which include theology, polity, and practice.  So I’m going to write several posts about the distinctives of the UMC that attracted me to this great connexion of Christians!

The very first time I really thought about and heard about the different facets of grace as taught and understood by John Wesley was on my very first Emmaus Walk.  The Emmaus Walk is a program of the Upper Room of the United Methodist Church which is based on the Cursillo movement with the goal of strengthening Christian leaders.  It is an ecumenical program and churches of many different denominations are involved with Emmuas.

It was in the Emmaus Walk that I first heard about Prevenient Grace, Justifying Grace, and Sanctifying Grace from a Wesleyan perspective.  Baptists believe in grace too of course.  But in particular on that Walk I remember the emphasis on God’s Prevenient Grace.

Bishop William Willimon states in his book “Why I Am a United Methodist”,

“We believe from the beginning of life God is busy working in that person’s life.  The image of God is never completely erased in an individual, no matter how bad that individual is.  Prevenient Grace may precede any direct consciousness of God, any great awareness that one is being led by God, coaxed toward salvation.”

It was made clearer to me in the Emmaus Walk that Prevenient Grace meant that God loved me before I ever knew it, that God wanted me reconciled to him before I ever responded to him, and God was seeking to call me into his loving presence before I ever loved.  To quote John Wesley, “Grace for All, Grace for All!”

When I left the Walk I began looking for where this brilliant theological idea of God’s Prevenient Grace had been best conceived.  What I found was that it was best expressed in the preaching of the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley.

“Amazing Grace!  How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see!”  It was my first taste of Wesleyan theology.  And it is where I trace back the beginning of my journey to the United Methodist family.

More about grace in my next post.