Tag Archives: UMC

Why am I a church member?

given on Sunday, August 14, 2016

Scripture connection:

Ephesians 2:19-21 19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.

Ephesians 4:12-13 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

Reflections:

 

How many of us have moved from one community to another? We are living in an extremely mobile society and communities are so different in our country that stepping into a new community is frightening.

When I first moved into Lexington, I knew it would be a challenge as I had always called Winter Wonderland in Montgomery County home. Certainly I had moved to Columbia for my college years, but home was still that farm about three miles from Buell, population around 30, and eight miles from Montgomery City, population around 2,400 and the county seat.

I knew the community and its people. I knew its values, it economic base, and the traditions that were all part of that community. Lexington was a state away and I knew no one on the west side of Missouri. I moved into the new community and felt totally alone.

The one place I recognized and knew was the Methodist Church, and that is where I felt safe and accepted. The church was my community even on the opposite side of the state from where I grew up. I stepped into the sanctuary and was at home. The stained glass window was the same one I had in my home church. The music was the same; the messages were the same. I was at home.

Belonging to a Methodist Church created a home wherever I was. Even the move from Lexington to Warrensburg was easier because I simply moved into my church. The setting was different this time as the stained glass window I knew was not there, but the music, the liturgy, and the messages were familiar.

The people there were still the same family members I had known in Lexington and in Montgomery. We all believed in God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. My baptism as a child was just as valid in any church as it was in my home church. Only a request to change membership was necessary to be automatically included in the ‘new’ churches I attended.

When I hear someone ask why he or she should be a member of a specific church, I cringe. Church membership is not the same type of membership that one might have in a professional or social club. Church membership is merely a step in one’s spiritual journey that is unique to each individual.

Today belonging to a church may be more important than ever. Our 21st century culture brings each and every one of us into close proximity to each other. There is a global community and what affects us in our own homes may very possibly affect someone else half the world away.

The same sense of proximity makes the role of Christians even more critical. What we do can have a ripple effect that really can provide a positive—or negative—influence on someone in a different country with different life circumstances, different traditions or customs.

What we do in our church does make a difference and as a member of a local church community, we are empowered to make a difference that can be combined with other local church efforts to create a powerful difference in ministry.

Believing in God, our creator, and in Jesus Christ, our redeemer, is personal, true. But when joined together with other believers the power of community worship and service grows our faith journey in ways that can only be explained by understanding how the Holy Spirit works within us.

This is why we need to be church members—to make a difference as a body of Christ rather than as a lone believer doing all that one can do by one’s self. Stephen Covey, one of the most respected authors in time/business management, would say that working in a team creates synergy making the results more successful, more dramatic, and more lasting.

The value of being a church member depends on understanding what church membership means. Answering that can be as basic as understanding the principles of team dynamics, but church membership goes beyond a work setting or a sport competition.

Church membership places believers in settings that Paul and the earliest disciples knew first hand. Church membership is designed to spread the Word in ways that change lives and the world that one could not do alone.

John Wesley saw that working in small groups addressed spiritual growth in a systematic way holding each other accountable for their actions as well as assisting in understanding God’s Word and its application in one’s immediate culture.

Small group study leads to small group actions. Small group actions spread God’s love and grace more effectively than any person could do by his or her self. Small groups working collectively with other allows for God’s Word and work to grow even faster and further—mathematically it is called exponential growth.

Rick Warrens, even though he follows the Baptist doctrine, his message of living purpose-driven lives follows the Wesleyan format of using small groups or class meetings to grow in faith and in service, also. His spiritually successful movement is one our generation has witnessed.

In all of the small, early churches that Paul established to the Wesley’s class meetings and Warren’s small groups, the role of the church member is the same: live a Christ-centered life and do whatever you can to spread the Word and make disciples of Christ. At the same time, all the work that one does to meet the needs of others in all the different ways possible is what Christians do.

Being a church member looks like Jesus. Being a church member looks like being Wesley and Warren. Being a church member looks like the members of our church who have served one another in our own community with love and grace in so many different ways. We recognize them and we try to model their examples in our own lives.

Being a church member and working side by side with others who believe in God and serve as God’s emissaries in our own communities makes a difference in our own faith journeys as well as in the lives of those around us. As a church member teaming up with others in the church, God’s actions can reach out to others more effectively and efficiently.

Being a local church member provides us a personal safety net when challenges become so overwhelming we feel lost. We can turn to each other with confidence that our church family will guide us and put their arms around us to provide the grace and the love that we need as we struggle through the challenge.

Being a church member means we can join together to defend ourselves from evil but also work to keep evil from invading our community. As a team, we can rally to the needs of others struggling with financial battles, with addictions, with broken relationships, and with life challenges of raising families.

Being a church member creates a family when forced to leave one community and relocate in a new community. Church members hold in common the same values whether in one’s home community or whether located in a community in a different town, state, or even country because God’s love reaches everywhere in this world.

Question: Why are we church members?

Answers: (1) We are church members because we believe in God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. (2) We are church members because we can grow in our own faith journey through the small group studies, fellowship and Christian relationships. (3) We are church members because as a team we can make a difference in a world–whether local or global–that is challenged with all types of evil challenge whether man-made or nature-made. But maybe most importantly, (4) we are members of The Church because God commissioned us to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world; and working together we can accomplish more than we can by ourselves.

Closing prayer

Dear Lord,

The Word clearly tells us that we need to be in fellowship

with other believers.

Thank you for this community of faithful believers

with whom we join in fellowship.

Jesus demonstrated how fellowship and worship

with other believers strengthens our faith.

Thank you for those who lead our small groups

as we work to learn study and to serve.

The earliest disciples accepted their responsibility

to grow the church by telling the story.

Thank you for our brothers and sisters in faith

who encourage us in our local and global missions.

Faithful leaders throughout the millenniums

have guided The Church’s growth.

May we work together to learn and to grow

in our personal faith journey.

Today a revival is underway in order to spread the Word

in as many ways as we can whenever we can.

Guide us, Lord, to find the best ways to preserve

and to spread the good news of your grace and love.

In your holy name, amen.

 

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How to take God on vacation

given on Sunday, July 26, 2015 (I was not in the pulpit on July 19.)

How to take God on Vacation

Summer brings vacation time for most of those in the United States. With school in session for 9-10 months of the year, summer traditions have included going to church camp, vacation Bible school, picnics, family reunions and vacations. Sadly though, vacations have a way of skipping God.

How can Christians skip over God in their lives? Well, vacations take us to new locations and change daily routines. You may only be gone a few days, but typically that includes a Sunday. Away from home, many chose not to attend church on Sunday morning.

In fact, I doubt that many weekly churchgoers know that as a member of a UM church, there is an expectation members should not miss more than four Sundays a year. Church attendance is one of John Wesley’s acts of piety. Yet, on vacation finding a church to visit is typically not on the itinerary and it takes God out of our vacations.

Taking God on vacation means locating a church to visit. Maybe there is tourist information you can check to locate a historically significant church to visit. Another possibility is to visit a different denomination to learn about other churches, or maybe attend a family member’s hometown church. Some campsites even offer a Sunday service that might be on Saturday evening or at a different time on Sunday.

Of course, vacation is for self-renewal and another possibility to take God with you is to design your own worship time. Maybe you need to step away from the family and find a quiet spot to read, to reflect, and to pray privately. If you are camping, nothing compares to a quiet time in God’s world looking at the lake or a river or a mountain or a canyon. God’s world becomes the sanctuary and it can be any place you stop and focus on God.

Speaking of camping, the kids home for summer have options, too. The tradition of going to church camp still continues even if it changes the format. Nothing requires going to church camp, but it provides opportunities to grow in faith as well as provide a break in the summer—for the kids and the parents.

Of course, some kids have other camp opportunities. Maybe it is 4-H camp or a favorite sport camp. These are not necessarily church-related, but God can go along, too. Each time young people learn how to interact with other kids in a Christian manner, they are learning to live their faith. God does not walk away from anybody, young or old, just because they go camping or on vacation.

Young people brought up in church and in a Christian family, learn how to take God with them. God is there to protect them. God is there to give them the strength to try new and different things. And parents, they can let the kids go off by themselves knowing that God is with them.

But what about the grown ups? How come they take off and forget to take God with them? Maybe they don’t, but sometimes their actions do not reflect their Christian standards. Sometimes there is a little too much indulgence in food and alcohol. Entertainment may not follow their beliefs like gambling too much or going to entertainment that is questionable. Why simply overspending while gone could be a problem.

Taking God on vacation is just as important for adults as it is for kids. Maybe there is no church camp, but there are retreats adults can attend to renew or revive their faith journey. During spiritual retreats, the itinerary includes worship times, classes, and quiet reflection time. In these retreats, maybe participants are not taking God with them, but God is taking them.

Probably taking God on vacation is much simpler than one might imagine. Living a Christian lifestyle, God is always present. In this week’s lectionary, the reading from Psalm 14 and Ephesians 3 emphasize how God is always present with us. The readings remind us that it is important to stay connected with God all the time.

On vacation, God’s world is revealed to us in new and different ways. Our country has taken steps to preserve some of the natural wonders and to recreate recreational sites of beauty, too. This is God’s world and vacation time is perfect to thank God for all he created. Maybe the view across the lake takes one’s breath away. God is there and you tell him how awesome he is.

Vacation sites are filled with natural beauty, but some sites are human-made. The gifts God has given humans have created glorious architectural structures. Some gifts are shared through artistic creations that hang in museums; some are heard from a stage; and others are found at a table with tantalizing scents. God is there; God is everywhere.

God is on duty whether you are struggling to locate a specific address or dealing with a flat tire along the roadside. God is there to protect or to send help. Maybe the person pulling up beside you is a stranger; but when they stop to offer help, they are the hands and feet of Jesus.

Of course, you, too, can be the arms of Jesus for someone else, too. Christians treat others, as they want to be treated; and the server at the diner looks to be having a bad day. Take the opportunity to put God into action. A kind word can do wonders; or maybe a question and offering the time to listen to her answer shows God cares.

Taking God on vacation really is important. Not only do you need God for protection and security; but also others need you to share God with them. Mission trips are another way to vacation with God. It may be hard to offer your vacation time to help others in crisis, but the benefit may be just the prescription your spiritual life needs. The results of the mission trip can be evident at the site, but the lasting results within one’s soul might be more valuable.

Planning a vacation does not mean that everything has to change. Just make sure to look for God’s gifts around you. Offer yourself as God’s servant when opportunities pop up. Pray.

Pray all the time whether it is in thanksgiving, in praise, or in supplication. Just pray. Maybe the prayer is for the drivers along side you on the roads or maybe for that server in the restaurant. Offer prayers for the natural wonders dazzling your eyes. Maybe you continue prayers asking for God’s guidance at the job to which you will return.

God is pleased when his children make decisions that demonstrate their faithfulness. Certainly it is easy to think only how the vacation is going to be just for personal fun, but vacationing with God enriches our lives spiritually and assures God of our desire to be in a right relationship with him. And when your return to work and to your daily life, others, too, will se what a vacation with God can do for one’s quality of Christian life that comes with the promise of eternal life—or eternal vacation.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

Summer is half way over for our community.

Many friends and family find ways to vacation

And we know you are with them always.

Thank you for their safety and their fun.

With summer half way yet to go,

Help us strengthen our Christian lives on vacation.

As eyes see your glory in nature and made by humans,

Hear our praises and accept our thanks.

And as summer vacations come to a close,

Let us find the spiritual and physical renewal

Needed to continue along our journeys.

May others see you in our lives and ask why.

May others find vacationing with God a sample

Of life ever lasting along side you and your son. –Amen

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Rule No. 1: Do No Harm

given on September 9, 2012

Rule No. 1:  Do no harm

based on Rueben P. Job’s

Three Simple Rules:  A Wesleyan Way of Living

         Bishop Rueben P. Job did not generate a new approach to John Wesley’s methods.  Wesley wrote down the ‘three simple rules’ in his essay “General Rules.”  There is no change in any wording.  The three rules are identical:  1.  Do no harm.  2.  Do good.  3.  Stay in love with Jesus.

Why did the Bishop decide to write his little book?  Why has the book created such a whirl of interest?  The answer lies in the introductory quote shared last week:

Forgetting the struggles and sacrifices of the past may have lead to a complacency that took community too lightly, individualism too seriously, and neglected our call to faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (p.11)

This ‘blueprint’ for living is simply the Wesleyan interpretation of the Greatest Commandment:

Matthew 22:37-39  ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it:  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  (NRSV)

The same commandment is repeated in John 15:17 and again in Romans 13:9.

We know this commandment.  We have read it, preached it, listened to it, and live it.  Or do we live it?  Maybe we are so complacent that we must have it hammered into our conscious once again.  The Bishop stated that in the preface:

Now it is up to us to see if we will take it, teach it, and practice it until it becomes our natural way of living—a way of living that will mark our life together and our lives as individual Christians.  (p.10)

This is the reason we are reviewing these three simple rules.  And the first one, do no harm, is hardly simple.

Yes, the rule does sound simple, but the Bishop’s analysis demonstrates just how complicated the rule really is.  He begins with a quote directly from the Book of Discipline which states in the paragraph 103, “Our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules”:  “. . .By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced, such as . . .”  The paragraph continues to outline the evil practices.  The list is lengthy and encompasses a great deal of our most unflattering behaviors.

In our scripture, Galatians 5:13-15, Paul equates this rule with giving us Christian freedom.  In the NRSV translation the verses are more focused on this idea:

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

The translations are similar and the point the same, but the application still is not easy.

How do we practice this rule?  We certainly must believe that we are, yet I began realizing how easy it is not to practice this rule.  The focus on gossiping seems the clearest example of how easy it is to slip up and fail maintaining this rule.

Think of how many times you are visiting with a friend or a co-worker or even a family member.  You start talking about somebody’s behavior in one way or another.  The person about whom you are talking has no idea what you are saying.  In that one-on-one conversation there is no intent to harm someone, but all too often that private conversation is opened up with another person and the story is retold.

Each retelling has a way of changing.  Even the fact that a rumor or an opinion shared is then shared with somebody else risks becoming twisted or colored by another’s emotions.  Gossip is so easy to join in, and just as easy to end up harming someone else without them even knowing it.

This week one of the most damaging ways of harming someone became a focus.  Students become victims of negative talk.  When we begin working with at-risk students, we know that all too often they have been hurt by words to the point that they begin using the same negative talk about themselves.  They do not love themselves and that becomes evident when they lash out and do not love others as themselves.  They were harmed by talk, they harm themselves by talk, and they harm others by talk.

On Friday, we have “boot camp” some time in the day.  Now this is just a term we use for our teaming, not literally a boot camp.  Anyway, Friday the challenge was issued—run up the hill directly outside the building.  The hill is a steep grade and is about three blocks long.  It is not an easy hill to walk up and the kids were asked to run up the hill.

All kinds of kids—short, tall, lanky, lean, not so lean, athletic and not athletic, male and female.  Running up that hill would not be for me, but the key is that it takes a team to run up the hill, to encourage, to praise, and to support—maybe even physically.  The hill was tough, the experience was self-rewarding, but the lesson was even bigger.

When we came in to process, or discuss, the reason that it is so important that everybody work together to accomplish a goal.  The Director elegantly demonstrated the Wesleyan rule, even using that famous quote—do all that you can, for all that you can, in all the ways that you can….

The team, whether you are an athlete or not, needs you.  No matter how small you think your contribution, it is needed.  The Director emphatically demonstrated that even if it is just this tiny little bit of verbal encouragement that you could provide, you are needed.  If you use negative talk, whether against yourself or others, you cause harm—you fail the team in reaching the goal.

Are we failing as Christians?  Are we causing harm in such small, almost non-existent negative self-talk that we are causing harm?  Are we gossiping?  Are we judging one another?  Are we promoting ideas that harm someone else?  Are we doing harm?

We do not live in isolation.  In fact, our homes are no longer our private safe sanctuary away from all the madness of the world.  Our homes are now literally connected to homes wrapped in a net all around this globe.  The internet, the world-wide internet, has linked us to one another in ways we could not imagine only 25 years ago.  We can cause harm or we can do good within this net.

The television program 20/20 demonstrated this on Friday night.  The show focused on how people now use the instant media available to record and to share all the life-changing events and transitions we now experience.

To begin they safely shared how cats have been equipped with cameras to learn what they do 24 hours a day whether owners can see them or not.  Cats were being cats, and the knowledge that the cameras revealed to the owners was upsetting—hunting for birds, mice, snacks; roaming through the streets and sewers; and even adopting a neighbor as a secret second family.

The negatives and the harmful ways of reaching into one another’s life is a reality of today’s technology, yet there is the good, too.  The show went on to share how many different events people are recording and sharing through this global net.  There were the engagements, the pregnancy tests, and the acceptance into college; but it was the last story that demonstrated the enormous value of this net.

The loss of a digital 35mm SLR camera in a mountain stream became the tool of doing good.  One man’s discovery became another man’s reconnect.  One month of devoting time to finding the camera’s owner allowed for one man to heal.  Just like the Director tried to emphasize to the students.  You may not realize how important your efforts are in this world, but you make a difference.  You may become the blessing for someone else just by doing no harm.

We cannot ignore the immense power we possess to harm others.   With the 21st century technology, the risk to harm others is infinite.  We must do all that we can to keep from harming others even through our own negative self-talk.

Once we are committed to look at this world through God’s eyes and not to do harm, we are given a freedom that opens up this world to us in ways we cannot imagine.  The Bishop stated it like this:

When I am determined to do no harm to you, I lose my fear of you; and I am able to see you and hear you more clearly.  . . .

 

To adopt this first simple rule as our own is a giant step toward transforming the world in which we live.  . . .

 

When I commit myself to this way, I must see each person as a child of God—a recipient of love unearned, unlimited, and undeserved—just like myself.  . . .

 

And this personal transformation leads to transformation of the world around us as well.  . . . so those who practice this simple rule begin to think, act, and perhaps even look like Jesus.  (pp. 23, 30-32

Just one of three simple rules for us, Methodists or not, are needed to transform the world.           Wesley wrote them down first in our denomination, but his words were from Jesus.  Bishop Job wrote them again so that we see them through our lives today, the 21st Century.  Are we capable of taking them and polishing them up so we can shine as Christians today?  Or, have we failed to use them and tarnished the Christian images being broadcast around this globe.

Do no harm.  Experience the freedom it provides you.  And then be ready to move on to the second rule:  Do good.

Dear Heavenly Father,

We ask you to guide us this week

     as we analyze our own behaviors.

We ask you to show us the ways

     in which we harm ourselves and others.

We ask you to lead us in ways

     that cause no harm.

Let us find that freedom that comes

     with loving one another.

Let us find ways to share that love

      even in the smallest of portions

      so this world can be transformed

      by love.

                           Amen.

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An Introduction to Three Simple Rules

given on Sunday, September 2, 2012

Three Simple Rules:

                              A Wesleyan Way of Living by Rueben P. Job

Today’s sermon is based on this book.  Methodists grew out of a Christian movement of service, of making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.  –Pastor Susan A. Smith

 

Here is the problem:  How can we be Christians in today’s culture?              And how can the John Wesley methods work any longer?

How can United Methodists possible fulfill the Greatest Commission of making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world?

This places us in a real quandary, yet the very Wesleyan methods of serving one another is needed now more than ever because the chaos of the 21st century is causing more and more distance between humanity and God.

Rueben P. Job, a United Methodist Bishop, has taken Wesley’s mission statement and framed it into just “three simple rules.”   He said in his introduction:

Forgetting the struggles and sacrifices of the past [referring to WWII] may have led to a complacency that took community too lightly, individualism too seriously, and neglected our call to faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  (p.11)

The problem that we are not following God’s commandment and fulfilling his commission places us in a dilemma.

We have created a self-centered world taking care of just ourselves even though we hear the cries of so many around this globe.  The dilemma seems impossible and we are so busy in our personal lives, how can we possibly live up to Wesley’s expectations.  In today’s culture, Job’s choice of the word ‘simple’ just does not fit our lives, especially with our scientific and technological based world.  Simple sounds just too easy.

Today, we desperately need a plan to live the Christian lifestyle described by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians.  At the same time, we need to work to fulfill the commission that Jesus gave his disciples as he left the earthly life.  This challenge sounds difficult, not simple.

Today, as tired as you are, stop and dream what life would be like if the world really did follow just three simple rules, rules that support and expand Jesus’ commission.  Wouldn’t just three simple rules make the dream a reality?

Today’s United Methodists, and other denominations following the Wesleyan tradition, hear the words Wesley wrote in the essay, “The Character of a Methodist,” and struggle to understand:

What then is the mark?  Who is a Methodist, according to your own account?”  I answer:  A Methodist is one who has the ‘love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him;” one who “loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his soul; which is constantly crying out, ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee!  My God and my all!  Thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever!”  (in Works, Vo. 8; page 341)

Add to this description the philosophy that Wesley presented and is probably one of the most recognizable quotes from Wesley:

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

All the images created by these two statements from Wesley places 21st century Christians face to face with a culture that seems to defy the very basis of Wesley’s theology—to serve one another.  The small little book Three Simple Rules is Job’s attempt to demonstrate how easy Wesley’s methods can and do work right now in 2012, almost 400 years since Wesley began his efforts to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.

Job’s argument for the Wesleyan lifestyle is presented in his preface:

I believe we have reached a place where, as a people of faith, we are ready to give serious consideration to another way, a more faithful way of living as disciples of Jesus Christ.  This way must be so clear that it can be taught and practiced by everyone.  It must be accessible and inviting to your and old, rich and poor, powerful and weak, and those of every theological persuasion . . . Now it is up to use to see if we will take [Wesley’s blueprint], teach it, and practice it until it becomes our natural way of living—a way of living that will mark our life together and our lives as individual Christians.  (p.10)

Let’s study this small book.  During the next 2-3 weeks we are going to learn these three simple rules:

  1. Do no harm.
  2. Do good.
  3. Stay in love with God.

What better time to learn how to simplify our lives?  We continue to dream of a transformed world whether right here in our community or anywhere on the globe.  Now, let us pray together to hear God’s words as we learn these three simple rules.  And then, lets act on our new understanding.  We may not have been at the cross when Jesus died, but we trust the words of the Bible, and now we will take up the cross in order to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.

Dear Heavenly Father,

Help us to learn together how to be better Christians.

Help us to listen to Wesley and Job

     in order to simplify our lives.

Help us to take our dreams

     for our community, our family and our church;

     and move into action to transform our world.

Thank you for speaking to our leaders

     who step out and guide us in your name.

Open our arms, our hearts, and our minds

     to new ideas, to new practices, and to new faces

     as we struggle to serve one another in love.

Amen.

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