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Archive for November, 2008

Growing Deep as a United Methodist

November 22, 2008 1 comment

Michael Spencer, aka the Internet Monk, asked me to respond to the following question:

A person comes to you and says “I want to grow significantly as a Christian in the next year. Using the resources we all share and the specific resources of your tradition, what kind of guidance would you give this person? Be as specific as possible.

In many ways the history of the Methodist movement is richer than its present.  Wesley was an evangelistic preacher who called people to faith in Jesus Christ and not content to leave converts with only faith, he organized them into groups that met regularly, holding each member accountable and taking care of one another.  This is our Wesleyan DNA.  We may have lost some of our evangelistic fervor, but one thing we continue to do well is organize for the sake of discipleship.

If a person came to me and said, “I want to grow significantly as a Christian in the next year”, after I recovered from my initial shock I would guide them in one of several ways.  The first thing I would offer is participation in a Disciple Bible Study.  Disciple is a 32-36 week Bible study through which participants not only learn the Bible, they also get to know one another, pray for one another, and are called to act as disciples as a response to the weekly readings.  In my last church, I saw a man wrestle with the Old Testament prophets and their call to watch out for the widows and orphans.  Through those deep questions, his faith in Christ led him to active roles in caring for widows in the community and orphans in Guatemala.

If the interest or resources were unavailable to get a Disciple class started, I would try to get this person to start a Covenant Discipleship Group or check to see if there was already one in the area this person could get into.  Covenant Discipleship groups encourage participants to be spiritually engaged on a personal level and in a group setting both in works and in piety.  It is a well-rounded program that helps believers grow in many different areas.

If none of these were a possibility, I would take the time to disciple this person one on one in much the same way I was discipled by one of my seminary professors who is also a United Methodist elder.  We would study Scripture together, pray together, and find some way for our growing faith to manifest itself in the service of love in this world.

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Enduring Faith

November 5, 2008 Leave a comment

Dean Karnazes, ultra-marathoner extraordinaire said in an interview once:

Western culture has things a little backwards right now. We think that if we had every comfort available to us, we’d be happy. We equate comfort with happiness. And now we’re so comfortable we’re miserable. There’s no struggle in our lives. No sense of adventure. We get in a car, we get in an elevator, it all comes easy. What I’ve found is that I’m never more alive than when I’m pushing and I’m in pain, and I’m struggling for high achievement, and in that struggle I think there’s a magic.

I’m going to rewrite that quote and will bold the places I’ve changed and see if it makes any sense to you:

The Western Church has things a little backwards right now. We think that if we had every comfort available to us, we’d be happy. We equate comfort with happiness. And now we’re so comfortable we’re miserable. There’s nothing worth struggling for in our churches. No sense of adventure. We get in a car, we get in an elevator, we sit in a chair, it all comes easy. What I’ve found is that I’m never more alive than when I’m pushing and I’m in pain, and I’m pressing on toward the goal, and in that struggle I think there’s grace.

It’s too easy. Dean gets it right in the original quote and I think I’m accurate in translating it into the reality of the disciple’s life. What growing and meaningful gatherings of disciples have in common is that they are enduring and persevering in faith rather than passively participating in discipleship once a week. A couple of hours a week isn’t enough which is why we have people in our churches who are comfortably numb to the reality of what Jesus calls us to.

Karnazes recently ran 50 marathons on 50 consecutive days yet many of us can’t find the time to pray for five minutes a day for five days. Why is it so difficult for us to push and persevere and find true happiness in than rather than comfortability and uneasiness? I think the key may be found in the way it is so easy to find distraction – to find a way out. It would be easy for Karnazes to hit the snooze button on his alarm clock at 4 a.m. instead of getting out the door to run for hours on end, but he has found something worth struggling for. I fear that the church has not found Jesus worth struggling for. I fear that I have found Jesus not worth struggling for and I pray that for me and for you, we do press on, we do struggle and in the midst of that grunting and groaning we find grace.

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Dear Fellow Evangelicals — The Morning After the Election

November 4, 2008 3 comments

Dear Fellow Evangelicals,

We’ve long been associated with the Republican party, something that should cause us to pause for a moment and wonder how on earth something as subversive as the gospel might wind up in association with a government political party.  Certainly, there are those among us today who believe in the basic doctrines of our Creator God, human depravity, the atoning death of Jesus the Messiah, the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, and the certainty of justice – the world made right – in the second coming of Jesus and at the same time inexplicably have fear because of Barack Obama’s election.  Friends, this is a good thing.  Since you believe that the Bible is infallible and inerrant then you cannot argue that all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

The sun came up for those who mourn last night’s election results which means that a new day has dawned.  Not a new day in which politics are being discussed.  Not a new day of humanity as though something has magically changed within us because of President-elect Obama.  I mean that God has graciously given us a new day to live, to learn from the Master, and to expand the Kingdom of God to all nations.

Some of you won’t want to hear this because you have been so wrapped up and so entrenched in the politics of this world that to step back might be an admission of addiction to control, power, and influence.  Here’s what you need to know on the heels of an election that has no doubt made some in our ranks very unhappy:

1. Salvation still belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb (Revelation 7). Barack Obama’s election did not change this.  George W. Bush’s two elections did not give the throne to God, either.

2.  There are still lots of people out there who need to repent and believe. George W. Bush didn’t convert the masses and Barack Obama won’t either.  Nor will he drive them away.  Do something about it.  A truly great world is the one in which we will dwell when Jesus returns.  Let’s start practicing as though we’re already living there.

3.  That Presidential Prayer Team that you pushed when President Bush was elected?  Obama gets it, too. We will not withhold our prayers for wisdom and blessing for President-elect Obama just because he is a Democrat.  Paul tells Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:1-4).”

4.  This is an opportunity for your light to shine as you react in gracious humility to those who might feel the urge to lash out at you because you treated them poorly during past elections. Go ahead, give it a try.  We desperately need more humility if we’re ever going to evangelize the world.

Both candidates tonight were winsome and humble.  Let’s pray for them and all of us, that our character may reflect that of Jesus, even when we least feel like it

Congratulations, President-elect Obama.

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Jesus and The Wire

November 4, 2008 1 comment

I spent last week at a conference/retreat with about 15 other colleagues from my Annual Conference.  As my wife can attest, I am a strong introvert from a Myers-Briggs standpoint so I spent most of the evenings by myself in my room.  On the first night I purchased the pilot episode of the HBO series The Wire because I had read some pretty good reviews of it.  Then I bought another episode.  And another until I had the entire first season on iTunes.  If you haven’t seen the series, you’ll have to bear with me for a moment.  It is set in modern Baltimore and, at least through season one, centers around some detectives from both the homicide and narcotics units who are trying to bring down a heroin kingpen.  The writing for The Wire is fantastic and while there are many reasons to like this show, what really sticks out is how real the series seems.  Problems don’t magically go away and character flaws don’t disappear overnight.  Your favorite characters are flawed people and sometimes make flawed decisions.  It’s like real life.

One of those flawed characters I like and for whom I feel a great amount of empathy is Bubbles.

bubbles_thewire

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Why I’m Thankful the Election is Almost Over

November 4, 2008 Leave a comment

Polling in Arkansas ends in 3.5 hours from this writing. I am very thankful for that. It means that some of the worst E-mails I’ve ever received in my life will stop for a time. I did not vote for Barack Obama. I’m not comfortable with his platform as my political leanings trend toward small-government conservatism with a dash of “let’s get out of Iraq”. Even though I have great political differences with Mr. Obama, I’m happy to stand by him and say “That’s not just wrong, it’s sinful” to the E-mails wondering if the Obama White House menu will include things like fried chicken, collard greens, and watermelon. To the E-mails wondering if the presidential vehicles will have hydraulics. To the E-mails denouncing Obama as the Antichrist. To the E-mails of those who believe Sarah Palin is the Esther of our generation.

If nothing else, tomorrow will bring relief to my inbox. Oh yeah, tomorrow, no matter who won, Jesus will still be Lord. Not Obama and not McCain. Jesus. Hallelujah.

P.S. In case you are wondering, I didn’t vote for McCain, either.

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