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.

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.

Greenhouse – Contemporary Worship at First UMC

One of the ministries I am privileged to be a part of as the new Associate Pastor of First United Methodist Church is Greenhouse.  Greenhouse is the Sunday morning contemporary worship service at First Church.  In Greenhouse we sing praises to God, share in prayer and praise, and focus on how God can touch our lives today is we hear a relevant message from Holy Scripture.

This Sunday I’ll preach my second Greenhouse service.  In the coming months there are a lot of exciting things coming up for the Greenhouse service.

First UMC is renovating Scott Hall, the church’s multipurpose fellowship space, to be the new home of the contemporary service.  There will be a new stage for the praise band, new lighting, a new sound system, and new projection equipment.  The location will give the service a new, fresh, and relaxed feel in a setting designed specifically for contemporary worship.  In the coming months I’ll be sharing more with you about exciting things happening in contemporary worship at First.

At this time Greenhouse is at 9:45 a.m. on Sunday mornings.  Or if you are looking for a more traditional style of worship First Church also has an 8:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. traditional services as well.

Ignition!

One of the services of worship offered by First United Methodist Church of Cedar Falls is the Wednesday night service called “Ignition.”  Tonight was my first Ignition service.  Pastor Steve Braudt, Associate Pastor for Youth and a design team created the Ignition concept.  The service consists of cutting edge contemporary Christian music, a time of sharing, a time of prayer, a testimony, and weekly communion.

Pastor Steve asked me to share my testimony of my call to ministry.  He and I also served the Communion together.  I thought the service was a blast!  The young people and adults seemed engaged in the service, were having a good time, and enjoyed the upbeat spirit of the service.

As always the sacrament of Holy Communion is a special and holy time.  One of the things I love about the United Methodist understanding of communion is that as a means of God’s grace the table is open to all.  So adults, youth, and children alike can come to the Lord’s table.  No one is left out who wants to eat of the bread of life and experience Christ’s loving embrace.

I also much prefer communion by intinction to the small cups and small pieces of bread. (Though Methodists do have communion that way at times) For me it more closely fits the Apostle Paul’s metaphor of the body as one using one loaf and one cup as an example.  It also requires you to receive communion from another rather than “take” communion.

I’ll look forward to attending Ignition in the coming weeks, hearing the testimonies, and sharing at the Lord’s table with sisters and brother in Christ!

If you are in Cedar Falls on Wednesday nights at 7:00 a.m. come join the fun and the worship at the Ignition Center!

Online Behavior

I’ve done a fair amount of blogging and discussing with other Christians online over the years.  And I’ve been surprised at times at the behavior of some Christians in online discussion.  I ran across this article this morning called “My Take:  Why Christians are jerks online.”  I don’t  necessarily agree with everything the author says.  But I think he makes some good points that for some reason some people, including Christians, think that the rules of proper behavior, etiquette, and just plain manners our mothers, Sunday School teachers, and pastors taught us for some reason doesn’t apply online.

Besides some of the reasons given by the author Jonathan Acuff, I would add that some people online post anonymously with the belief that they can then say anything they want, however they want, to whomever they want.  They can be rude, nasty, and inappropriate and no one will be the wiser.

Well there are a couple of fallacies in that.  As Christians we are supposed to be treating people as God would treat them even if no one else knows we are doing so.  We answer to God and we can’t be anonymous in his eyes.  Also nothing is every really truly anonymous on the internet.  Someone can figure out who you are if you act like a big jerk.  Every internet post or email has an IP address attached to it.  And IP addresses are easy to track down.  If you are using broadband you have a static IP and that means you have the same address all the time.  There is no real 100% anonymity on the internet.  So if you it is something you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying at church or seeing printing in the New York Times then don’t say it.

My own take has always been that if I can’t feel comfortable attaching my name to statement then maybe I just better not say it at all.

4th of July Celebrations

This year the 4th of July falls on a Sunday.  First United Methodist Church of Cedar Falls will be having only one service tomorrow which will be at 9:00 a.m.  We will be celebrating the opportunities we have to serve God because of our freedoms.  We will also be celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion.

If you are in the Cedar Falls area and looking for a place to be thankful to God on July 4th we hope you come worship with us!

I’m a New Circuit Writer/Rider

I am the Associate Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Ceder Falls, Iowa.  My appointment to First officially started July 1 (yesterday!).  This is my first appointment in the United Methodist Church having come to the UMC from the American Baptist denomination.  In recognition of starting a in an exciting new church position in an exciting faith family I decided to fire up a new blog.

On this blog I will be talking about happenings at First United Methodist Church, the activities, ministries, and mission of the church and in particular the Greenhouse contemporary worship service which I will be preaching in on a weekly basis.

I will also share reflections on my growing understanding of the United Methodist faith family and anything else that I find interesting.

I also wanted to share a bit of information about the name of the blog.  I have been a member of Ecunet for many years.  Ecunet is one of the oldest and most interesting faith communities on the internet.  The history of Ecunet is too long for me to share it all here.  But at one time one of the constituent networks on Ecunet was “Circuit Writer Network.”  It was a network for United Methodists on Ecunet.  And while I was mainly a reader of ABNET, I enjoyed reading the Ecunet notes on Circuit Writer Network as well.  I’m sorry to say that Circuit Writer Network is no longer active.  But I alway thought the name was creative.  It is an obvious play on words for Circuit Rider.  So I have adopted part of the name as the name of my blog.

United Methodist pastors are “itinerant.”  This means that those of us serving in the UMC agree to be placed where the Bishop and the Cabinet of the Conference believe we can best lead and help in ministry in the Annual Conference.  UMC pastors are sent to local churches and when ministry needs arise, “itinerate” or move to another ministry setting under direction of our Bishop and the Cabinet.  In the beginning of the Methodist movement circuit riders road on horse back all over the country side preaching, teaching, and leading people to faith in Christ among Methodist societies and churches and circuits they were assigned to.  I will share more about itinerant ministry in future blog posts.  But suffice it to say I found the name “Circuit Writer” compelling in recognition of the unique servant ministry of circuit riding ministers and the fine networks that were once a part of the Ecunet family.