Tag Archives: United Methodists

Pharisee or Disciple

given on Sunday, October 16, 2016

Opening scripture: Matthew 25:34-36, 44-46 [NLT]

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ . . .

. . . 44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

Scripture connection: Luke 22:37-42 [NLT]

37 As Jesus was speaking, one of the Pharisees invited him home for a meal. So he went in and took his place at the table.[a] 38 His host was amazed to see that he sat down to eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony required by Jewish custom. 39 Then the Lord said to him, “You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness! 40 Fools! Didn’t God make the inside as well as the outside? 41 So clean the inside by giving gifts to the poor, and you will be clean all over.

42 “What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens,[b] but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.

Plus: I Timothy 4:11-13 [NLT]

11 Teach these things and insist that everyone learn them. 12 Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. 13 Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.

Bishop Bob Farr’s statement:

“Part of the burden of becoming Bishop is learning of other people’s burdens. Watching the pain of our black and brown brothers and sisters has become too much for me to bear. Witnessing our first responders face increased risk due to escalating tensions in many of our neighborhoods has weighed heavily upon me. I have often felt helpless, not knowing what I should do, but that isn’t true. I follow a God who is always on the side of those who are hurting. It is not enough to be non-racist. That is far too passive. As white people who follow Jesus Christ, we are called to be anti-racist. We are people of action and of spirit. As Methodists we are called to both social and personal holiness. We must be wary of what our founder, John Wesley called quietism. Faith without works, he said, was the “the grand pest of Christianity.”

Closing scripture: Matthew 25:40 [NLT]

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!



One more political ad on television and I may just snap. I listen to the vicious accusations and slamming of one candidate against another and I groan. How can our country hope to reclaim a sense of decency in such a poisonous campaign—not just nationally but also at the state level!

This week the first letter from Bishop Farr arrived in the mail. Missouri has been a focal point for much of the unrest these past two years and now the political arena is creating so much turmoil, too, that it quickly tarnishes the idealism into which baby boomers were born. The decades since the 1950’s have marched on, and the idealism has turned into cynicism.

No, this is not a political commentary; this is a Christian commentary. As Christians we are tasked to serve one another in all the ways we can. Yet, as Bishop Farr mentions in his letter, it is difficult to understand all the injustices that occur because we do not travel in the shoes of others. We travel in our own shoes.

Rev. Cody Collier admonished the newest ordained elders and deacons as well as all church members to walk the walk of Jesus Christ. As disciples, we are to step out of our churches, out of our comfort level, and walk out into the streets to serve. Walk the walk with others, and we will find ways to serve and to introduce others to God.

Today’s scripture from Matthew 25 is so familiar. Many of the verses are memorized and echo in our minds when we hear just a small piece of the verses:

35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’


Yet, today, do we hear these verses and think we have indeed done all that we can? Or do we hear these verses and cringe knowing we have failed to follow God’s words?

The neighborhoods in which we live are not the same as the ones we knew 10, 25, even 50 years ago. The neighborhoods evolved into unfamiliar communities and we feel like outsiders. The communities no longer look like those etched into our long-term memory. And the memories are so entrenched they are like concrete, and we refuse to see that even those memories are showing wear and tear.

When Jesus was walking the paths in ancient Israel, he did not care what others were thinking about him. He cared what was happening to others. He did not dwell on the fact that he exiled himself from his own hometown; he kept walking, teaching, healing, and preaching.

Scripture repeatedly shares the stories of Jesus being harassed by the Pharisees. They were accustomed to being in charge and their goals were to preserve the status quo. The Pharisees were accustomed to a certain lifestyle, a certain pattern of life in the community, and Jesus was challenging everything they knew. When this young whipper-snapper challenged them, they bristled and defended what they knew.

Jesus stood firm. He refused to be quieted. He refused to follow the legalistic style of religion the Pharisees were preserving. He saw someone sick, and he healed them—even if it was Sabbath. He heard the plea of friends begging that a daughter or brother be healed or returned from death.

Jesus demonstrated how to live a God-centered life regardless of the ancient traditions of the Jewish Pharisees. Jesus called the apostles to follow him in his shoes/sandals and teach others to love one another. The evolution of today’s Christian faith was not easy. It was a life-and-death battle to see that the newest disciples could transform an imperfect world through one simple commandment: Love God above all else, and love one another as you want to be loved.

Today’s church is at risk of being as legalistic as the ancient Jewish religion. The Pharisees could not hear God because they were so focused on preserving the culture in which they had been trained. This was the very tribe, the very profession, and the very way it always had been. Yet, the ancient world was filled with challenges just like today’s world.

The drive to make fortunes in the region around the Mediterranean Coast brought many cultures together as land trade routes connected to marine trade. The same drive to financial success challenges us. The fallout often turns into employment challenges, economic stress, challenges of business ethics, and so much more.

Mix the economic challenges with political power and the problems of Biblical times seems so much like to today’s global culture. The Pharisees were doing everything they could to preserve the social and political culture to which they were accustomed. The message that Jesus was sharing shook the very foundations of their world, so they fought to keep things as they were—even to the point of trying to get rid of Jesus.

Yet, Jesus was teaching a new way. Jesus was showing that as long as one does all that one can to love one another, all the other evils in the world can be avoided. Jesus and his disciples were flexible. The disciples had to step outside of the cultural box in which they were raised and discover that life loving one another could create the kingdom of God the Pharisees kept just out of reach.

Today we must decide whether we are Pharisees or whether we are disciples. We must take an honest evaluation of our personal mindset and ask if we are a Pharisee or whether we are a disciple. Do we do all that we can to reach out to others in the community that no longer looks like the one in our memories? Do we see ways that we can help those in the community or do we just want to keep things like they have been for decades?

When Paul wrote his letters to Timothy, he had to guide this young disciple through the personal experiences he had following Jesus’ example while sitting in a Roman prison. He could not be present in Timothy’s mission field to guide him. So when we read the books Paul wrote to Timothy, we need to see if we are going to be Pharisees or whether we will follow Timothy in an effort to keep Jesus’ work alive even two thousand years later.

Are we Pharisees or are we disciples of Jesus Christ? Be honest. What have you done to see that God is alive in this community just as much today as it was when you were born? You have been active, but what can you do or what can you support being done so that the newer community members are shown God’s love?

Did Jesus ever quit? Did Paul ever quit? Even the ancient Jewish faithful never quit. The Bible is filled with stories of how God taught his disciples to love one another. The Bible teaches us that in the face of every kind of adversity, God is beside us and will be with us and for us as long as we are disciples and not the rigid Pharisees who could not accept Jesus as the Son of God.

As we step forward with our efforts to do all we can for the kids in the community and as we step up to vote, we do so with prayer and with the fervor of the earliest disciples. We must try to do whatever we can, even if we fail, to demonstrate to those in our community God’s love for each and every one. We must pray for our neighbors, for our leaders, and for each other as we challenge ourselves to be disciples.

As we move into the holiday season, we need to consider what we can give to God. Remember, whenever we feed someone who is hungry, clothe someone who is naked, provide a drink for someone who is thirsty, to listen to someone who is lonely, and more, then we are Being God’s disciples.

Do not be a Pharisee who refuses to see the message Jesus shared. Do not be one who turns to God only to say:

‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

Even disciples may not make the best decision every time, but the disciples are willing to take a risk and try to do whatever they can. If a ministry no longer is working, then stop and move on. Disciples moved on from one location to another when the message was ignored. We must be disciples willing to risk doing whatever we can for all we can

Closing prayer:

Dear God almighty,

For centuries your tried to teach your faithful to follow you.

You gave them opportunities to serve as good stewards,

and to follow the Ten Commandments.

Yet, even the Pharisees chosen to preserve the laws

and to lead the community in worship,

did not recognize you as Jesus Christ, the son of Man.

Accept our prayers to stay disciples of Jesus

and to find ways to share your story with others.

Guide us to be your disciples through the power

of the Holy Spirit as we step forward in ministry.

May we discover your kingdom of Heaven

while serving one another in love,

right now, right here in our own community.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen!




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Know What You Believe: John Wesley’s church

given on Sunday, September 25, 2016

Knowing what one believes certainly is not easy. The demands of our daily lives tend to eat up so much time that careful reflection on who we are or what we believe just seems impractical. Yet, who we are and what we believe are evident to others around us, so we should try to figure it out. Psychologists make careers out of it when life clashes with one’s personal identity.

Why is it important for Christians to know what they believe? Basically what one believes is the very operating system one uses in all the various relationships, work settings, home environments and even recreational times. The choices we make are connected and controlled by the belief system we live. Sometimes what we say we believe and what we do are not aligned causing friction within one’s self as well as friction within personal, professional, or casual relationships.

The relationship we maintain with God is the most critical one we have during our earthly lifetimes. A healthy relationship with God places us in an excellent position to develop and to maintain healthy human relationships. Plus life challenges are handled with less destructive force when God is part of one’s operating system.

United Methodists follow John Wesley’s inadvertently developed theology that could be termed ‘practical theology’ for his followers in order to take the Bible and move it into action. Wesley modeled how religion was a lifestyle rather than a Sunday-worship event. He delivered the Story to the unchurched, the poor, and the laborers in any way he could—even though he was raised in the Anglican Church attended by affluent and influential people.

Reviewing the various types of theology, I discovered how creation theology seemed be a positive fit for me; but knowledge not implemented fails God. Certainly knowing what one believes establishes one’s foundation, and God asks us to use faith knowledge as our operating system. We are to be God’s presence in this real world and that means we need a method to do God’s work. Wesley provides that structure.

Wesley was born into a faith-filled world. The son of an Anglican priest, the family environment placed Wesley in direct connection to religion. His family also struggled with the structure of the Church of England. Wesley saw the world around him and coupled that with Jesus’ model of living to develop the methods that put scripture into real life application. No easy task, for certain, but as he refined his faith and his methods, he demonstrated how the Holy Spirit works through God’s faithful.

Wesley lived what he read in scriptures, but he struggled with many of the same issues that Christians today do. How does God work in our lives? My perception of Wesley’s own story is that one simply must begin by living in the world as best as one can. He was fortunate that his parents were educated and determined that all their children were, too, despite the financial stress it placed upon the family. This history is repeated in Christian families throughout time.

Yet, Wesley struggled to understand God. He saw the poverty and the injustices in the world around him. As Wesley continued developing his faith, he could not ignore that world. He saw the people who were suffering and were unable to manage due to harsh work conditions, poor economic situations, and even deplorable health situations.

Wesley took God to the people. Not only did Wesley live his faith personally and actively within the community, he took God’s story to the people. He preached the Word. He demonstrated how to live faith actively and he studied struggling to fully comprehend God.

The practices that Wesley used became the structures of the Methodist denomination. Using small group study structures and the acts of piety and acts of mercy, he established the methods that put God’s words into action.

The Methodist denomination developed from Wesley’s disciplined approach to living his faith. The personal struggles Wesley experienced to discover what God’s grace means and how to live in a faithful relationship with God provides a model of holiness that continues to lead others to Christ and to transform the world one person at a time. In fact, God’s grace reaches out exponentially when Wesley’s model is implemented individually and corporately. This is a structure I want to follow.

Wesleyan scholar Hal Knight shares how God’s grace interacts in our lives: “Grace is relational, an encounter with the transforming presence of God’s love, eliciting our response.” The four levels of grace makes faith an active process, even developmental, which for an educator provides more clarity how growth in one’s faith leads to the Kingdom of God. Wesley outlines the four levels of grace as a map for our lives.

Born we are granted prevenient grace even before we can cognitively recognize it. As we grow, we become conscious of God’s presence in our lives. Educationally this might mean that the rote learning that attempts to develop an awareness of God’s presence begins to become an internalized knowledge, and with that new understanding the comprehension of God’s presence—justification.

Developing knowledge begins with introduction of an idea, which is then practiced and/or committed to memory one way or another. Once a knowledge base is in place, practice moves to different frameworks as the student sees the knowledge in different settings. For instance, number facts must be learned, but until the student begins using number facts in calculations the new knowledge is still unused. Now the student must begin applying the knowledge in real-life settings—sanctification when talking about one’s faith.

Sanctification moves the Christian into action. Developmentally the Christian is now able to take the awareness of God’s presence in one’s own life and aid others in the discovery of God, too. Sanctification, as Knight states, transforms Christians “. . . to be a loving person.” This leads the Christian to the final state of grace known as perfection. Knight states:

Christian perfection comes when the holy tempers of love for God and neighbor fill our hearts and govern our lives. While we never entirely do God’s will (“involuntary transgressions” remain), we can be freed from intentional sin and motivated by love. Wesley believed Christian perfection was a promise of God that could be attained before death, followed y continued growth.


Wesley articulated the developmental process of reaching the Kingdom of Heaven and argues that reaching such an internalized relationship with God is possible even within the confines of an earthly existence. This is a religion that makes sense in a world that battles evil continually. This is a religion that provides hope to those in the worst of circumstances. This is a religion that puts theory into action. This is a denomination that works now as much as it did in the past and will in the future. This what I believe faith is in my life.

As part of our community, knowing what you believe transforms you into the Christ-like figure you are. Knowing what you believe defines the quality of your life regardless of life’s challenges. Living what you believe draws others to God as they strive to be more like you and that is how we share God’s story and bring others to Christ transforming the world one person at a time.

Closing prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,


How easy it is to live our lives with little thought about our faith.

We can become numb to the needs of others if we ignore You.

We fail to practice what we believe,

so we fail to fulfill your commandment.


Help us, Lord, to follow Wesley’s model of faithful disciplines.

Help us to see those in need, sick, lonely, and lost.

Help us to find ways to share what we believe

so others may discover your saving grace.


Thank you for loving us despite our failures.

Thank you for teaching us how to love one another.

Thank you for granting us the presence of the Holy Spirit

so we may serve as your disciples in our own community.


In the name of the Jesus Christ, amen.

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Early Christians adapted: Can today’s

given on Sunday, May 3, 2015:

Fads come and go: a new look, a new food, a new toy, a new technique, a new design, or a new hobby. As much as we do not want to admit it, we all go through the experience of trying out a fad. Looking at the big picture of our lives, the fads usually do not damage our lives, so we tend to shrug our shoulders and look past different fads.

One of the more recent fads that might baffle some of us is the trend of wearing two different colored socks—one on one foot and the other color on the opposite foot. When I first started seeing it, I would quietly go up to a student and mention it and ask if they had a difficult morning. They all thought I was nuts.

The origin of fashion fads may not be very clear, but some fads do have a base in a scientific study or an observation that became noteworthy and thus publicized as the newest way to improve or to do something. I wonder if the earliest Christians were perceived as a fad.

Consider this: the Jewish people were well entrenched in their way of life. The structure for the week had worked as well as anything else for them. The successful businessmen would not need to see anything change because it might upset the profitable work they had created.

Everybody knew what was expected of him or her. Men ran the business or the farm. Women had to maintain the house; kids even understood they had a role in the culture, and the rhythm of life preserved the standards they knew.

Oddly the Jewish culture was centered on the faith that waited for a new leader. The leaders of that faith kept the story well taught, but when Jesus was born and grew into the adult minister that our generation now identifies as the leader, the Jewish culture could not accept it as anything more than a fad.

Today is a first Sunday of the month, and we celebrate communion. We certainly do not see this ritual as a fad, but did the ancient Jewish families just see it as a fad or did they quickly embrace the practice as evidence of their commitment to God?

Have you ever wondered if you would have said Christianity was just a fad and ignored it; or would you have joined the movement committed to its mission?

As the weeks after the crucifixion continued, the earliest believers dealt with an enormous set of challenges. First, the leader was gone after only three years of ministry. Who, if anybody, would take over?

Then, if Jesus was executed, was it even safe to be Christian? How would they live what they believed if they feared for their lives? Do they hide? Do they run away from their homes? Do they think that it was just a fad and return to the old ways?

Today’s scripture gives us insight into the transition early followers made into a new Christian lifestyle. First, some did return to the old ways of the Jewish faith. Some gave up all their possessions and joined into communal living arrangements, many located on the northern coast of Africa.   These newest Christians were expecting the second coming of Jesus any moment. And then there were others who openly lived the new beliefs regardless of their future.

For those who continued openly living their beliefs, Christianity was no fad. The old ways were re-evaluated under the lessons Jesus taught. The new leaders were Jesus’ handpicked and trained disciples. They did not run away and hide, they began the work Jesus commissioned them after Jesus’ resurrection:

16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[b] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The earliest Christians quickly had to adapt to the change they had witnessed. The work started and the ‘fad’ of Christianity became a solid faith system that has transformed the world.

The earliest Christians had to face persecution, to demonstrate God’s new covenant: Love one another. The crucifixion could not shut down the simplicity of living the Christian lifestyle. The results were fruitful and the ‘fad’ was no longer just the latest crazy idea.

The love that is defined in today’s scripture from 1 John 4 and even included in the gospel of John so dramatically changed the faith practices that it made a difference to every culture. Loving one another supersedes all other laws. It is adaptable to all cultures. It can be flexible and it can tackle enormous disasters or the smallest of paper cuts.

These qualities have caused the earliest Christians to spread the word about how much God loves us, and how that love is demonstrated in all the different ways we love one another. Christianity has never been a fad, and the adaptability has made it grow exponentially around the earth.

Today, we are locked into a routine that has boxed us in as Christians much less as a Christian community.   The small rural churches are struggling to meet the ever-changing culture around them. Are we able to adapt God’s law to the daily world in which we live today?

Are we able to be honest about the changes in the community? Are we able to identify the needs within the community? Are we clear about what the church is doing or can do or should be doing to demonstrate love in action? Are we able to share the story in ways that all neighbors young and old can understand?

The scripture in 1 John 4 is very clear:

  • 7“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another; for love comes from God.
  • 10This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
  • 12God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. 13And God has given us his spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us.
  • 16We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.

This is the foundation for the Christian faith. No matter what rules or organizational structure is placed upon a church or a denomination, God’s gift of love as demonstrated through the life and death and resurrection of his son. Are we satisfied to leave the story just like that or are we going to do whatever we can to share the story but maybe more importantly show God’s love?

The scripture from 1 John 4 continues with a few more clear directives:

  • 19We love each other because he loved us first.
  • 20 . . . if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?

The truth about what we are doing can be painful and it can make us feel as though we are guilty of not fulfilling our promise to God. Christianity was no fad, and the thousands of years since the crucifixion the church has continued to adapt to the cultural changes.

Regrettably, I am afraid that many of the suggested changes for today’s churches are being ignored as though they are just a fad. We must evaluate what the church is doing, what it represents, and then design the best practices the church can do to keep Christianity meeting the needs of the community right now in 2015 and into the future, not the past.

As May scurries past us, we need to equip ourselves for making disciples of Christ. Can this church adapt to the culture around it in order to share God’s love?

The gospel of John 15 explains the proper way to prune a grapevine in order to provide the best fruit. We have heard that message year after year, but are we being honest about how strong our vine is here? That fourth verse spells it out:

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

The needs of the community provides for the direction of the church’s ministry. The outreach of the church is our personal responsibility. This month is one to evaluate and to plan for a new year. We must remember the eighth verse, too: When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.

We are tasked to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world and we know this world has many needs. The Christian faith was no fad, but it takes adaptability in order to continue the work God assigned to each and every one of us.

Closing prayer

Dear Loving Father,

Thank you for the gift of your son

And even the meaningful ritual of communion.

At these times, may we reflect that love

Right here in our community

So others may come to know your love, too.

Guide us in looking for ways to share the word.

Guide us in working together to help others.

Guide us in the decisions as to what is best

For the community and for the church

As we work to adapt in ways to share your love.

May all that we do show others the love

That transpires all struggles in our lives. –Amen

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Easy or Hard?

given on Sunday, June 2, 2013–based on preparing for Annual Conference where the theme will be “Praying Hands and Dirty Fingernails

Praying Hands & Dirty Fingernails:  Easy or Hard?


Five days from now Annual Conference convenes.  I recognize that the value of this meeting seems distant, unimportant, or maybe even detrimental in some ways.  Yet, as United Methodists, the Annual Conference is a time to review, to be accountable, to renew each church’s commitment to the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission.  The theme this year is “Praying Hands & Dirty Fingernails.”

Stop and think about that combination of images for just a moment . . .(pause) . . .and now put yourself into the picture.  Do you have praying hands?  Do you have dirty fingernails?  Do you have both praying hands and dirty fingernails?  Or, sadly, do you have neither?

John Wesley did not separate these two images; he felt it was one in the same.  He also developed the structure to keep members accountable to their Christian responsibilities.

Annual Conference is all about God’s greatest commandment and his commission.  Annual conference is Wesley’s method of accountability to God.  Bishop Schnase’s leadership keeps our Missouri churches on task, and this year an added element of preparation appeared in our inboxes—“21 Days of Prayer.”

This three-week study came to my attention a little later than it should have because I was closing out the school year.  My focus was simply to make sure the students graduated and then to look forward.  My secular world collided with my spiritual world, even though I believe they work together to fulfill my Wesleyan purpose.

As school wound down and I cleaned up a room and moved into a new position, I began to let go of the school year and look ahead to the new church year—at least the conference’s church year.  I began reading the materials that are sent out and signing up for the various workshops and projects so I could be prepared.  And, I stopped to read the “21 Days of Prayer.”

First, I must apologize for my lack of pastoral responsibility.  The past two weeks, I should have shared this study with you and ready to introduce the final week of the study today.  But, with that aside, let me share some of the phenomenal words that are in this study.  Rev. Jenn Klein, from the Country Club United Methodist Church in Kansas City, wrote the study based on the Bishop’s book, Remember the Future:  Praying for the Church and Change.

All Christians are to follow one simple commandment that I have repeated over the last five years:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’  –Matthew 22:37-39, the Message

Following this commandment should make life so simple, but in our world, it seems nothing can be simple.  And Rev. Klein wrote it in just a slightly more expansive manner for the study:

“The Great Commandment tells us to love the Lord our God with our full selves; with our mind (intellect), heart (emotions), soul (intuition and divine instinct) and body (physical).  We are also to love others as ourselves.”

Her expanded explanation for each element–mind, heart, soul, and body—makes the commandment more than a statement; it makes it an internalized, comprehensive action—a lifestyle.

Over the past several years, I have tried to describe how being a Christian is a lifestyle.  I know you recognize that idea, but I simply must state it again.  A lifestyle is a way of living that comes automatically; there is no need to write out a specific plan of action or to prepare for the day’s event consciously to live as a Christian.  A lifestyle reflects who you are down to your innermost living cell.

Of course, a Christian lifestyle appears out of sync in today’s society, at least on the surface.  We are living side by side with a secular world that demands more and more un-Christian like behaviors.  The demands from our work world push our ethical standards to a point we become bitter, angry, and stressed not only mentally but physically.  We reach a point that we want to just quit everything because it seems we are demanded to live in a manner that does not match our beliefs.

The Bishop’s book acknowledges this, and then provides a Wesleyan viewpoint to help us continue maintaining a Christian lifestyle:

John Wesley modeled acts of piety and acts of mercy and taught that both are essential to our life in Christ.  The words piety and mercy sound curiously quaint today, perhaps even stirring negative responses.  Piety brings to mind self righteous, sanctimonious arrogance.  And no one wants to be at the mercy of anyone else.  Mercy connotes weakness, dependence, surrender.

Personally, I agree with the Bishop.  Today’s world has twisted the concepts we were taught in the 20th century, even clear back to the 18th century when Wesley began his ministry.

Yet we are living in the 21st century.  We cannot change that fact and we seem to have made many adjustments to the secular lifestyle that suits us.  The problem is that we are not making the adjustments in our Christian world to maintain the Wesleyan standards for the disciples of Jesus Christ that we profess we are.

Quoting again from the Bishop’s book:

Sometimes we act as if our living in Christ and leading the church require us to emphasize piety to the exclusion of mercy or to choose ministries of mercy at the expense of congregational vitality.  This presents an unhealthy and dangerous dichotomy.  It forces us to ask ourselves.  “Which kind of Christians are we?”  Are we those who seek a deeper spirituality in the changed heart that comes through worship, sacraments, prayer, the Scriptures and fellowship?  Or those who pour ourselves out through ministries of service and justice, helping people to rebuild their lives, and offering hope to a hurting world?

Is not that true?  His words sting; and I want to feel better.  Unfortunately no one can force anyone else to do something they are unwilling to do.  It takes modeling.  It takes valuing.  It takes understanding.  It takes God to open our hearts, our minds, and our hands to maintain a Christian lifestyle.  It takes God to do the same in non-Christians, too.

Here again comes a quandary:  How can our dwindling, aging populations continue to develop vital congregations?  Acts of piety and acts of mercy may be the actions Wesley demanded, and those same two types of acts are still needed today.  The Bishop quotes Martyn Atkins, the general secretary of the British Methodist church who says,

“Acts of piety and acts of mercy are like two wings of a bird; without either one, we cannot fly.  . . .  Following Christ involves praying hands and dirty fingernails.”

Yes, there is the theme of annual conference.  The Bishop connects Wesley’s images of a Christian lifestyle with this explanation:

We can’t evangelize hungry people without giving them food, and offering food alone never completes the task God gives us.  . . . vital congregations include not only a focus on the means by which people grow in Christ together but also an emphasis on ministries that reach into the community and world to serve in Christ’s name.  We cannot separate the two.  These feed each other.  Every faithful and fruitful congregation practices both acts of piety and acts of mercy.

That last line sets up the accountability tools.  To remain a vital congregation, an honest evaluation needs to be completed.  The checklist is simply the acts of piety and the acts of mercy written down and then logged by the congregation.  What proof does the church right here, right now have to show God that his Commandment is being fulfilled and his Commission is the congregation’s driving force.

Over the next two weeks, I challenge each one of you to create such a document.  List the acts of piety and write down what you do regularly that Wesley would approve.  Follow that with the list of acts of mercy you support or do personally.  Be honest.  I know the economy is often a limiting force, or maybe it is physical health that creates some limit.  But unless we can demonstrate our Christian standards, we must admit we are not a vital congregation and we have work to do.

Here is the first step during the conference week:  Prayer.  Make a conscious decision to pray for the church.  One of the different types of prayers available to us is the Prayer Knots.  Most of us would equate this with the Catholics’ use of a rosary, but there are some differences.  With your bulletin, you have a set of 8 knots on a cord.  Each knot is for a specific question as listed in the bulletin.  Add this prayer format to what you typically do in order to be more focused in your talks with God.

  • Knot One:           The first is this,
  • Knot Two:           You shall love the Lord your God
  • Knot Three:         with all your heart,
  • Knot Four:                  and with all your soul,
  • Knot Five:                  and with all your mind,
  • Knit Six:                  and with all your strength,
  • Knot Seven:         The second is this,
  • Knot Eight:         you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Rev. Klein offers a few other questions to consider after repeating this prayer twice:

  1. What word or image grasps your attention?  This is God’s word for you this week.
  2. What response, thoughts, insights were stirred within?
  3. How have you experienced the love of God?
  4. How might you be able to help another experience God’s love?

For five years, the one concern voiced over and over is how can we do that when we are so tired and so few.  Over these five years, I have seen the congregation’s attendance go up and down.  I know some swells are seasonal, as are some drops.  Some are temporary; some are not.

Over these five years, the acts of piety are maintained during worship, but seldom outside of that one hour.  The acts of mercy follow traditions primarily, but the traditions change.  New acts tried may fail first, but tried again may thrive.  The old acts continue, but do they grow?

During the next two weeks, use the prayer knots or cord and evaluate the vitality of your own faith, but also the vitality of our congregation.  It is not easy, but it is necessary.  In two weeks, let’s have an honest conversation that identifies a purpose and a goal for keeping the healthy balance of the past with the present.  A purpose and a goal that create a vital congregation.

Dear God,

Thank you for providing our congregation

the strength of history and the durability of now.

Guide us as we pray for our congregation,

our community, and our members.

Help us to be honest with our evaluations.

Help us to reflect upon the words

from the Bishop, Rev. Klein, Wesley,

and so many of your other disciples.

Use our time apart to build us up

so we can continue to keep your commandment

and to carry out your commission.  –Amen

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