Tuesday, January 31, 2006

What is your understanding of the Resurrection?

Jesus told his beloved disciples in “The Upperroom Discourse” that He was going to prepare a place for them. Surely this troubled the Disciples. It does not seem the twelve ever understood the true meaning of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection until after the Ascension. Jesus taught them about His need to be persecuted and crucified. The course of events was probably very confusing for those Disciples who walked with and touched Jesus in the flesh. 2000 years removed from the historical events of the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, I wonder if our understanding is any better.

The plan for Jesus to die on the cross surely upset the Disciples. Some Disciples, especially Judas, held a belief that the Messiah would come to bring about God’s kingdom through a political and militant uprising; The Messiah would finally free Israel from continued oppression. Yet, the plan of the Resurrection was a far better method for freeing all of creation. Jesus suffered and died on the cross. He was buried and in three days He reappeared to His Disciples before ascending to sit with His Father in Heaven.

The Crucifixion and Resurrection illustrate God’s supreme love for us. The fact that God sent His son for the very people who would continue to be hostile to His message of love and peace and reject Him throughout the ages is a bold statement of faith, hope, and love. What is more encouraging than to know that the Creator of the universe loves us unconditionally? St. Paul writes,

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? …in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

This Easter message should give us the confidence we need to have the same kind of faith, hope, and love. The empty tomb was a demonstration of God’s defeat over death. Funerals may now be celebrations. We can rejoice because we know that in Christ death has no sting. We may die, but with Christ we will be made anew and live again.

Our belief is that we have a promised resurrection because Jesus was made alive. This promise is for eternal life but also for today. This resurrection is symbolized in our baptismal services. In this new life, empowered by Christ’ resurrection, we will forgive as God has forgiven us in Jesus’ Resurrection. The peaceful defeat of the Powers by Jesus’ empty grave gives us the example of how we can lead peaceful yet world-changing lives. God loved the world so much that He sent His son to die and be raised anew for us; accordingly, we too must love all of God’s creation with such a passion. Death and sin cannot defeat those who are “in Christ,” because death and sin could not defeat Jesus Christ who died and was raised again.

Monday, January 30, 2006

What is your understanding of the Kingdom of God?

The Kingdom of God is near,” Jesus exclaims at the beginning of his ministry as recorded in Mark 1:15. Many theologians in the pews think the Kingdom of God is not really all that close. It has been my experience that many believe the kingdom of God to be Heaven – the place our disembodied souls float off to for eternal life. There is Truth in this thinking; The Kingdom of God will appear in the final consummation, as described in John’s Revelation. Yet, the sweet pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by is not what I initially think of when I consider the Kingdom of God.

Jesus has great concern for the Kingdom of God. A majority of His parables begin by stating that He is going to describe the Kingdom of God (or Matthew’s Kingdom of Heaven): “Again he said, ‘What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?’” (Mark 4:10). The kingdom of God is like a man who tossed seeds on the ground, like a mustard seed that grows, like a king making a deal with his servants. The imagery continues throughout Jesus’ teaching. Jesus also explains that the kingdom of God belongs to the persecuted and the “poor.” He later tells us that it is difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of heaven – camels have a better shot. We also learn that one must be childlike to enter. Furthermore, He encourages us that it is better to enter with one eye than not at all. Story after story, lesson after lesson, Jesus points to the importance of the Kingdom of God.

I do not think Jesus is simply describing a place far above us with pearly gates and streets of gold. That is a great Augustinian-influenced belief. I think of the Kingdom of God as something much more tangible as stated in The Lord’s Prayer. When I pray The Lord’s Prayer I mean every word, particularly the petition that “God’s will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” The Kingdom of God is the perfection on earth we are striving to bring about. If we trust John’s apocalypse, then we know that in heaven there will be no hunger or thirst, no one will go without shelter, and there will be no more pain and tears (Rev. 7). This describes the task of the justified Christian. We are to allow God to work through us to bring about life “on earth as it is in heaven.” If Jesus claimed the kingdom of God is “near” two millennia ago, then I doubt He was making a reference to time or place. He must have been making a statement about the possibilities of humanity on earth. Through the Church, with the power of the Holy Spirit, we are to help people experience and recognize the possibility of having God’s kingdom near.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Are you willing to make a complete dedication of yourself to the highest ideals of the Christian life?

For the sake of the mission of Jesus Christ in the world and the most effective witness to the Christian gospel and in consideration of your influence as an ordained minister, are you willing to make a complete dedication of yourself to the highest ideals of the Christian life; and to this end will you agree to exercise responsible self-control by personal habits conducive to physical health, intentional intellectual development, fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness, integrity in all personal relationships, social responsibility, and growth in grace and the knowledge and love of God?
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"Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God,” Paul writes to the tempted Corinthians. It is good advice. Everything that I do should be done for God’s glory. Agreeing to this statement means that I agree to be the best servant of Christ and the church I am called to be.

My personal life is just as important to my ministry as the church business. How I conduct my family life is just as crucial as my sermon preparation. My physical, mental, and emotional health are just as essential as the administrative council meetings. Personal care will impact my ability to conduct the ministry to which I am called.

I know that I must set the example. I should heed the words of St. Paul as he advises his protégé Timothy regarding his role as “overseer.”
Now an overseer must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money (1 Timothy. 3:2-3).

Paul’s advice to Timothy some two thousand years ago is just as relevant today. I am aware that people will be watching my family and me. People are paying attention to how I conduct myself. They will notice how I raise my children. People will care about how I spend my time and money. My opinions on current events and other cultural happenings may be sought after. When seen in public, people will expect the pastor to act “appropriately.”

Yet, while I know I live in a “fish bowl,” I am aware that I will never meet everyone’s expectations. I am nothing more than a redeemed sinner. I will let people down; for example, I may be late for a meeting. Mistakes will be made, such as making a joke that could be taken the wrong way. I will disappoint, in that some may expect I should speak more against certain social issues. Others may even be upset if they knew that I occasionally drink an alcoholic beverage, listen to secular music, or watch R-rated movies. At times, I will need to remind the congregation that their pastor is still human. Yet, everyone should know that I seek to bring glory to God in all that I do, even if they do not understand how God can be glorified by a certain action.

Individuals given authority in the church to be ministers should conduct themselves in a way that brings glory to God and gives a positive and effective witness to Jesus Christ. In my life, I pray I will do such by dedicating myself “to the highest ideals of the Christian life.”

Monday, January 23, 2006

What is the meaning and significance of the Sacraments?

All that we do is empowered by God and all that we have is a gift of God’s Grace. We need God if we are to do and have anything. The sacraments remind us of this fact. The title of James White’s book on the sacraments explains in a nutshell the meaning and significance of the sacraments: Sacraments as God’s Self-Giving. He states, “Roman Catholics and many Protestants consider sacraments to be divinely given means of grace wherein God’s self-giving occurs here and now… they affirm that God does act anew in the sacraments.”[1] During the moments of sacrament, more than in any other part of the service, God is pouring out God’s grace. God is giving God’s love. God is giving away part of Godself to the individual receiving the sacrament. During these moments we have an opportunity to respond to God’s grace by receiving the elements. They are the greatest acts we truly do “in remembrance of Him.”

The sacraments are rather ordinary. The elements are merely bread, wine, and water. Yet, through these ordinary items God does the extraordinary. (I regret that this is not what I was taught as a boy in the Southern Baptist Church.) Wesley called them “ordinary means of grace.” He wrote, “By ‘means of grace’ I understand outward signs, words, or actions ordained by God, and appointed for this end—to be the ordinary channels whereby [God] might convey to [humankind] preventing, justifying, and sanctifying grace.”[2]

I, like most people, can relate to the ordinary—the plain and simple, not the spectacular or fancy. We are reminded through the sacraments that if God can use common bread, wine, and water, then God surely can use us, humans, to be a means of Grace. God will work through ordinary humans to accomplish God’s perfect will.

Baptism is perhaps the most significant act in the life of the Church. God does much through the gift of Baptism. Baptism signifies the washing away of sins, cleansing of our souls, new birth (regeneration) in Christ, incorporation into the community of faith, and the transformation by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps most importantly, at our baptisms we are initiated into the ministry of Jesus Christ. God not only claims us at our baptisms but God also assigns us a mission.
Stanley Hauerwas and Bishop Wil Willimon write in their book Resident Aliens, “When we are baptized, we (like the first disciples) jump on a moving train. As disciples, we do not so much accept a creed, or come to a clear sense of self-understanding which we know this or that with clear utterance. We become part of a journey…”[3] Rather than being a one time event, our pious ritual, our baptisms are the point at which we join the journey. Jesus Himself makes this point when He explains that He is constrained by His baptism: “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what a stress I am under until it is completed!” (Luke 12:50) Not that Jesus needs to be re-baptized, but that He has the duty to live out the vow of the baptism which has already taken place.

Because this is God’s gift and because this gift is merely the initiation of a new member on the journey, no one should be rejected for baptism. I affirm the church’s stance on baptism for anyone at any age. Baptism is also an act of the outpouring of God’s divine Grace. It is a communal event that has practical results. Baptism marks the initiation into God’s catholic Church. For a child, it marks the initiation into a process of learning about and participating in God’s Church and God’s Grace wherein confirmation is crucial so that baptized children rightly “remember” their baptism.

Because the sacrament of Holy Communion, like the sacrament of baptism, is God’s gift, all people are welcomed to God’s open table. Everyone needs the spiritual nourishment of Holy Communion. Wesley wrote that, “This is the food of our souls: this gives strength to perform our duty, and leads us on to perfection.”[4] While I affirm our rejection of transubstantiation,[5] in the Eucharist the story of faith comes alive in word and action. We not only remember Christ’s death, we eat of his body and drink of his blood. We remember His ultimate sacrifice for our sins and then, as we pray The Great Thanksgiving together, we “offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to [God]." When we participate, God is including us in God’s story today.

It is my desire to make the celebration of the Eucharist central to our worship. I will seek to teach a United Methodist understanding and explain the sacraments to members of all ages. I strongly endorse This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion as passed by the General Conference in 2004. I also support the report’s recommendations and seek to fulfill its directives. As the report suggests, I encourage my congregation and will encourage future congregations to adopt the weekly celebration of communion as part of our ordinary Sunday service.

In the end, the sacraments are what we accept by faith. They are a gift from God given to the Church. Unbelievers may even find it peculiar the way we perform the sacraments. They are difficult to explain, but once they are experienced one knows they are real. “When the Bible speaks of mystery it refers to a way in which God is disclosed to whomever God chooses. It is a self-giving that transcends human ability to understand fully, yet it can be received in wonder and awe. God’s self-giving is mysterion, beyond our power of intellect.”[6] The sacraments are mysteries, but these mysteries are wonderful, ordinary gifts of God’s grace. For them I am very thankful.

[1] James F. White. Sacraments as God’s Self Giving. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1983) 33.
[2] Italics mine
[3] Stnely Hauerwas and Wil Willimon. Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1984) 52
[4] John Wesley, The Duty of Constant Commuion, 1.3
[5] [5] The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. See Article XVIII of the “Articles of Religion.” (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 2000) 64.
[6] White, 31.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Readers, who are you?

The site-meter program is great for these blogs. I wondered at first who would want to read my musings. I thought maybe my wife (but she doesn’t), or my mom (which she probably will), and the some selected friends. But who else?

Well, the site-meter is telling me that lots of people are reading this blog. People from all over the US and even in a few other countries, Israel, Canada, Portugal, and the Philippines. Interesting. I even got feedback on one of my posts.

It is also interesting to see locations form certain cities that keep coming back. Who are you Little Rock, Arkansas? Just curious. A friend? A fellow Webboarder? You keep coming back… are you amused, interested, or just bored?

For the rest of you, enjoy. I will keep posting and maybe I will one day write something interesting enough to get more feedback.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Christian Unity: Oneness, Not Sameness

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Abraham Lincoln borrowed those words in 1858 when he was running for the Senate to describe the nation on the verge of civil war. But it was Jesus of Nazareth who originally spoke those words. Jesus was not referring to a pluralistic, violent, bureaucratic government; Jesus was speaking of the power of evil and the Kingdom of God.

Today, there is much diversity in God’s House. Just open the phone book and look up “churches” and you will see what I mean. In a recent study of the nations religious affiliations, Indiana rates 7th among the 50 states in terms of diversity. We have 109 active denominations within our borders. Each of these churches has a history, tradition, ritual, and theology all their own.

Even within my own denomination, I have discovered a tremendous amount of diversity. I know this is true of other denominations. One researcher found that in the 1,200 Christian denominations that exist, there are more than 70 different denominations calling themselves Baptist: Seventh-Day Baptist, Two Seed in the Spirit Predestinarian Baptist, General, Regular, Southern, and the list goes on. While there may be similarities with churches that post these names above their doorways, we know that something different can be expected in each one. What brings us together is our oneness in purpose, not our labels or piety. The Holy Spirit does not allow for cookie-cutter Christians. Instead, we should celebrate our differences. We do not have to be divided because we are different. Unity is oneness, not sameness.

Jesus prayed that His believers would be completely united in order to show the world know that God sent Him (John 17). Jesus knew over 2000 years later there would be 109 denominations in Indiana, yet He stilled prayed for unity—for oneness.

Unity is not sameness. We know this from our experiences in our relationships – in marriage, in friendships, in our families. Unity, especially the perfect oneness for which Jesus is surely praying, is a gracious gift. It is an opportunity to come together, overcome our differences, affirm our ancient creeds, and work together to achieve common goals in the name of Jesus Christ. Perfect oneness in Jesus respects the differences, yet still comes together for the purpose of telling the world The Gospel. Furthermore, Evil is pleased when our churches are divided.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. It is true. I pray that you, your pastor, and your church accept God’s gift of unity and that all churches will stand together against the powers and principalities of evil to declare “Jesus is Lord.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

How do you conceive your vocation as an ordained minister?

As discussed in question ¶335(a)(8) (see blog post below) regarding the primary task of the Church, the Church must be the Church if the world is to be transformed into the likeness of God. My vocation as an ordained minister is primarily to serve God in the formation and nurturing of such communities to transform the world into the likeness of God in Jesus Christ. Do I honestly believe that I can change the world? Yes. Throughout these papers I have spoken of my hope for God's kingdom to come, for a world where wars end, the hungry are filled, justice rains down, and Jesus is worshipped as our one and only Lord. I believe that the world can be a better place for the least, the last, the little, and the lost. I can change the world, but I know I cannot do it by myself. It takes more than me. It takes a community which knows its primary purpose, does the little things well, and is the Body of Christ.

Paragraph 340 of The Book of Discipline describes in great detail the responsibilities and duties of Elders and Licensed Pastors. The ministry of an Elder is described as a four-fold ministry of Word, Sacrament, Order and Service. As an Elder, I have the responsibility and joy of performing these tasks in the local church to which I am appointed. It will be my job to preach, administer the sacraments, perform weddings and funerals, give counsel, promote stewardship, teach, administrate, organize, oversee, and perform all the other tasks as listed in ¶340. I will give my all to being the best pastor God helps me to be. All of these tasks will be done to live out my vocation to build God’s Kingdom through the promotion of Christian community. Jim Wallis, in his book, The Call to Conversion, writes:

The purpose of God in Christ is neither simply to redeem individuals nor merely teach the world some new thoughts. God’s purpose in Christ is to establish a new community that points to the plan of God for the world. Forming community has been the social strategy of the Spirit since Pentecost. Community is the basis of all Christian living. It is both the lifestyle and the vocation of the church. The living witness of the Christian community is intended both to demonstrate and to anticipate the future of the world that has arrived in the person of Jesus Christ.

While I will joyfully oversee programs and events at the local church, my primary role in ministry is to work alongside God’s Spirit to foster the type of community Wallis describes.

There are many characteristics indicative of ordained ministry, yet there are many ways to describe what an ordained minister is not. For example, my vocation as ordained minister is not to facilitate more programs for an over-planned, over-committed middle class. In addition, the purpose of my vocation is not to be a “Yes-Man.” An ordained minister is not be what Stanley Hauerwas and Bishop Wil Willimon call a “divinely sanctioned doormat.” As a pastor, I am not called to simply run programs, facilitate carry-in dinners, baby-sit youth, massage egos, or make people feel “warm and fuzzy.” The problem for many churches is “not knowing why their pastor is there, the congregation expects the pastor to be and do everything.”

My primary service is to preach the Gospel, or as Paul says, “preach Christ and Him crucified.”
Failing at [preaching the Gospel], the pastoral ministry is doomed to the petty concerns of helping people feel a bit better rather than inviting them to dramatic conversion. The pastor becomes nothing more than the court chaplain, presiding over ceremonies of the culture, a pleasing fixture for rites of passages like weddings and funerals ... the pastor feels like a cult prostitute, selling his love for the approval of an upwardly mobile, bored middle class….[1]
I must remain true to the Gospel message. This may mean that I have to confront a parishioner with an encouraging or discomforting word of advice or Biblical message. Perhaps, I may have to question programs that are useless or distract us from our primary task.

Being loyal to the Gospel message also means that people are equipped for Christian service to a lost and dying world. We must recall that Jesus lived out God’s plan by serving the people who surrounded Him, especially the outcasts. He brought physical, psychological, and spiritual healing to those in need. He fed the hungry, stood up for the oppressed, and offered salvation and liberation to all. Jesus was a servant. As Christ’s model of servanthood is for the entire church, I serve others by enabling them to live out this purpose in their lives.

This ministry makes us uncomfortable and understandably so. Being part of a culture based on the selflessness, mercy, peace, and sacrificial love of Jesus challenges all our assumptions about who we are and why God created us. Christ’s claim upon the Church calls for a rejection of that which comes easily. Jesus says, “"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” We must give up the ways of the world, including our economic and political comforts, to bring about God’s Kingdom. In the telling of a challenging Gospel I will be helping re-prioritize and re-vision their lives as they know it. As I encourage them to sacrifice I also encourage them to denounce the fears of judgment and persecution and to stand against the Powers. I do not blame anyone for having reservations, but I will devote my life to something this Gospel and this type of ministry.

Essentially my vocation as an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church is to convince the people that we do not just “go to church” but that we are the church. We exist not for ourselves but for the world. It will be my mission in ministry to cultivate a community that allows me to equip the saints of the Church and allows the saints to go and do ministry to change the world.

[1] Stanley Hauerwas and Wil Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1984) 124.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Describe the nature and mission of the Church. What are its primary tasks today?

There are many important things that we do within the Church: evangelism, discipleship, worship, prayer, administration, fellowship, social action, healing, discipline, worldwide missions, helping the poor and needy, prayer, on and on and on. It is difficult to say which of these are most important. In a world that is so dark, in times that are so perilous, there is much that needs to be done and the needs are urgent. However, if what Scripture says is true, then primary task of the Church is simply to be the Church.

The nature of the church is to be “the Body of Christ.” Her mission is to offer salvation and liberation through Jesus Christ. I would dare say that living out this nature and mission is the most difficult challenge before us, the baptized. Amidst our hectic schedules, committee sessions, carry-ins, mission fund-raisers, clothing drives, prayer meetings, and lobbying congress, I wonder if we have forgotten who we are and why we are here. We have been lulled to sleep by our own busyness. The world needs the Church to awaken to recall who She is and whose She is, to go with God’s power, and to be the Body, the hands, feet, heart, and voice of God.

Charles Spurgeon said this about our dilemma, “A slumbering church compels Satan to make it his chief business to rock the cradle... to hush all noise and to drive away even a fly, lest it light upon the sleepers face. His great dread is that this great church might rouse itself from her dreamy repose.” When, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the Church is at work the world will change. When individuals take seriously what it means to be part of this radical community called Church, transformation of lives will occur.

Part of the very nature of the church is that change is a requirement. This change will impact every area of our lives. Our relationships with our family, our co-workers, our neighbors, our friends, even strangers and “enemies” will be changed. The Church will teach her members peculiar ideas to believe and uncommon ways to behave. Primarily, Paul teaches us that “in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” No longer will we think and behave as we have been taught by the world. We will cling to an unusual ethic. Tithing, prayer, worship, baptism, reading and identifying with an ancient text are all some of the strange activities we will do. We will hold to some strange values as well. We will believe it is important to trust that good will result from everything, to love our enemies, to forgive those who sin against us, and to have hope even when hope is rare. It is not normal, but it is what the Church demands.

Further, in carrying out Her mission, an awakened Church will change the world. The very nature of the Church is to be counter-cultural. As St. Paul writes in Ephesians 3:10, “[Jesus’] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold witness of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” Our Lord and Savior Jesus calls us to be counter-cultural when he speaks of salt and light in Matthew 5. As the light of Christ, we will shine on the darkness of injustice, oppression, violence, and poverty. As salt, we will improve upon the bad taste of prejudice, vulgarity, and obscenity that dominates our culture. By offering the love and peace of Jesus as a clear alternative to hate and hostility, we are fulfilling our primary purpose and living up to our nature of being counter-cultural. Being made new in Christ people will give up on the systems of this world which perpetuate this darkness. As a result those systems will either change to be more like the light of Jesus or they will die, having been overcome by good. Irregardless of what the change looks like, when the Church is the Church the world will be transformed.

The task of being true to what it means to be called Church begins by doing the little things well. We will love, forgive, share, and live well. We will offer more that philosophy, propositions, and platitudes. As the Church we will be a living community that does the will of God. The way we live, our ethics, will be just as important as the way we think. In fact, right thinking will impact right living, and vice-versa, when the Church is the Church. Stanley Hauerwas says,

Christian Social Ethics is not first of all principles or policies for social action but Rather the story of God’s calling of Israel and of the life of Jesus. That story requires the formation of a corresponding community which has learned to live in a way that makes it possible for them to hear that story. The church does not have a social ethic but is a social ethic, then, insofar as it is a community that can clearly be distinguished from the world.[1]

There is perhaps nothing greater than for us to awaken to the call simply to be the Church. As the Body of Christ, we will comfort and confront the world like only Jesus can. The development of such communities of faith in the local church as our primary task is the basis of all our other responsibilities; it is the foundation for living out our nature and mission.
[1] [1] Stanley M. Hauerwas. Christian Existence Today: Essays on Church, World and Living In Between. (Durham, North Carolina: The Labyrinth Press, 1988) 101.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A bad week in sports

I am a huge Colts fan, huge University of Cincinnati Bearcats fan, and there is still a place in my heart that pulls for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Well, last Sunday, this:

Monday, this:

Then today this:


Saturday, January 14, 2006


One week in and I have seen visitors to the blog from all over the United States and even one visit form Israel.
I would like to thank you all for coming and please come back. Next week, I will have entries on the task of the church and the vocation of the elder in the UMC among others.

I close by simply saying: Go Colts!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

An apology long overdue

I’m sorry.

For all of you reading this who have been hurt – emotionally, spiritually, or even physically – by the Church, I apologize. I wish I knew your pain. I wish I could feel your anguish. If only I could take it away from you and put it on myself, but I can’t. Perhaps, it is even ridiculous for me to think I can apologize for what others have done to you.

I can’t know what your life has been like since that pastor betrayed you. There is no way for me to know what it was like when “The Holy Huddle” made you the local punching-bag. I will never comprehend what it must feel like for you to hear those stories from your children about being made fun of by the “church kids.”

The best I can muster through a blog is a sincere apology. I am truly sorry.

You must understand that the church has always been unfaithful. God’s people have always been two-faced. The prophets called us prostitutes and hypocrites. They were right. We who have been called out by God to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ have used our resources unfaithfully. We who have been called to be God’s mouth-piece have said some nasty things. We have gossiped, lied, slandered, murdered, warred, and abused our God-given authority in ways that are beyond my understanding.

Honestly, the Church is itself the greatest objection to the truthfulness of Christianity. What the church has done throughout the ages and even today justifies atheism. We can be ugly, mean-spirited, and petty. It is tragic. The Church should be the greatest proof for the truthfulness of Jesus Christ. Yet, we often don’t look like Jesus at all.

What is worse is that in our attempt to reach out to the lost we sell-out once again. We surrender The Truth of Jesus for some vague “truth” without context. In our attempts to make up for the decline of new converts and members, the Church has tried every new idea and joined every movement. We want to be relevant to you. We so badly want you to come to our church rather than worship God we will entertain you and offer self-help classes. We will cut staff, missions, and outreach efforts in order to build bigger buildings with the latest technology. We will sing songs that warm our hearts instead of challenge our living.

Some pastors want to be in the “inner circle” of the latest spiritual trends. It seems that every few weeks there’s a new book outlining the newest spiritual formula by which we can get all that God has to offer us, be it “victorious” Christian living or spiritual blessings of all kinds. We can’t wait to get on the bandwagon hoping that maybe this will be the missing piece that we’ve been looking for. The Church and Her leaders don’t attempt to be counter-cultural anymore; we have simply become a sub-culture of the dominant, market-driven, pop-psychology culture. Our goal is no longer to “make disciples,” instead we desire to “make you feel good.”

This is part of the reason we have been so unfaithful. We are so distracted and that we overlook the wounds we have caused.

It is time we repent. It is time we admit that we are wrong. An apology is long overdue. And it is time that we do something about it. It is past time that we trade in our intellectual, apologetic answers for the plain Truth. Our hope in other institutions and ideologies must be swapped for The Gospel of Jesus Christ. To be faithful, the Church must now be The Body of Christ.

This is our confession and we plea for your pardon. I don’t blame you for being upset. And I will pray everyday that you will find it in your heart to forgive us, to come back to us, to hold us accountable, and to help us be more faithful and loving.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

What changes has the practice of ministry had on your understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit is our Sovereign God’s chosen vessel to accomplish what God wants done in our world. The Spirit works in us and through us. Nothing is untouched by the work of the Spirit. In fact, the Spirit is what works in our lives to bring us to salvation in Christ in the first place. The Spirit enlivens, empowers, refreshes, unifies, illumines, comforts, teaches. The Spirit takes the intiative in our world and invites us to come along side to carry out God’s work.
Right now in my life, I am most reliant upon the work of the Spirit to give me direction. I call upon the Spirit often to guide my steps. Without the work of the Spirit I am just spinning my wheels.

The guiding work of the Spirit needs to be at the forefront of the entire Church. If we are willing, the Holy Spirit will guide our personal lives and the life of the Church. Article III of The Confession of Faith states, “[The Holy Spirit] leads men through faithful response to the gospel into the fellowship of the Church. [The Holy Spirit] comforts, sustains and empowers the faithful and guides them into all truth.” The Spirit is at work in our lives leading us to repentance. Upon repentance, it is difficult for us to go in a new direction without an alternative, a visible demonstration of how we might live changed by Christ. To change how we live will require more than self-help books, radio talk shows, good preaching, pious expectations, or a new Law. Success in our new life in Christ takes nothing less than the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Yet, we seek easy ways out of the challenge of being a follower of Christ. I know from experience that we are easily discouraged. Our limitations are obvious. Our weaknesses are often known. Restrictions stand out like a bright flashing neon sign saying: “This is not for me.” Often we are unwilling to take risks. We have completed “Spiritual Inventories” which approach the work of God from a business model. We see the results and “know” what we can and cannot do. But, just as we lean on our own understanding, God’s Spirit descends upon us and reveals to us a calling upon our lives. The Spirit encourages us to renew our passions and do the work to which we are called. In fact, the Spirit empowers us to do God’s work whether or not we are qualified and have the skills. As God calls us to work outside of our comforts zones, the Spirit comes upon us, encouraging us. Sometimes God challenges the conclusions of our “Spiritual Inventories.” God knows what needs to be done and sends the Spirit to empower us to get it done. If we trust God with all our hearts, then we will step out in faith. The Spirit will do through us what we never thought could be accomplished.

The Holy Spirit does not come to us to make us religious; the Spirit comes to set us free. St. Paul often spoke of the freedom of the Spirit. In his Epistle to the Romans, Paul shares that when abiding in the Spirit, because through Jesus we are justified, nothing will separate us from the love of God. If we will live by the Spirit nothing will stop us. The bondage of sin, the limitations of our flesh, the restrictions of the Powers will not hold us back. We will be free because “through Christ the law of the Spirit of life sets [us] free from the law of sin and death.” Liberty, like all good gifts, comes from the Spirit. Freedom is not something we earn or fight for. It is a free gift of God for us to accept and live by.

In The Book of Discipline, we affirm that “‘Life in the Spirit’ involves diligent use of the means of grace such as praying, fasting, attending upon the sacraments, and inward searching in solitude. It also encompasses the communal life of the church in worship, mission, evangelism, service, and social witness.” We learn from Galatians 5, that if we “live by the Spirit… [we] will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” This clearly indicates that if we will live by the Spirit our sin and death shall be overcome and we will remain in Christ. This does not mean that we piously work to subdue our sinful desires first and then we will live by the Spirit. In living in the Spirit we are to faithfully practice spiritual disciplines. In our freedom, as we live by the Spirit, we will have the courage to live as followers of Christ. We will come to understand that in Christ we are salt and light to a dark world that needs our distinct God-flavors. The Spirit will lead us to claim morals and ethics that are counter-cultural. With the Spirit, the Church will once again turn the world upside-down. It may not be easy. It will always be risky. It may even seem foolish. But as we yield to the Spirit and let the Spirit work in and through us, we will engage the world and transformation is bound to emerge.

Monday, January 09, 2006

...your understanding of the Lordship of Jesus Christ

“United Methodists share a common heritage with Christians of every age and nation. This heritage is grounded in the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, which is the source and measure of all valid Christian teaching.” So states the Book of Discipline in speaking of our Doctrinal Heritage. Each week, Christians around the globe affirm such a belief as we recite the ancient creeds.

It is interesting to observe how people address Jesus Christ. There are many names and each name carries an assumption. To call Jesus Messiah, Prince of Peace, Light of the World, Lord or Savior implies something of how we understand the Son of God. Yet, it occurs to me that Savior is perhaps our favorite name for Christ—appropriately so because we sinners certainly need a Savior. As Savior, through the cross and tomb, Jesus atones for our sins, offering us redemption.

Nevertheless, I wonder if we understand the full implications of making Jesus Christ our Lord. We do not have a context from which we can understand Lordship. We do not have a royal court of “Lords.” My wife has never once served me dinner by proclaiming “your dinner is served, my lord.” So without some context, how can we fully comprehend what it means to call Jesus Christ our Lord? Can we seriously use such a title? Regardless of our lack of understanding, the Lordship of Jesus Christ has major ramifications on our lives and our world. A better understanding of Jesus as Lord is something to which all Christian should aspire.

To call Jesus Savior is safe and easy. Calling Jesus Savior means that there is something in it for me—salvation. But, to call Jesus Lord is much more complicated. To bow down before and serve a Lord requires sacrifice and surrender. This is not something that comes naturally to the modern, enlightened free-thinker. We Americans love our freedom. We pay big bucks for individualism. We desire our “personal rights.” So, to serve something other than ourselves is unnatural, perhaps even un-American.

Fidelity has always been important to our God. From Genesis on we see that our God requires undivided loyalty. Our God is a jealous God. Jesus tells us that we cannot serve two masters. As the early church laid her foundation in a relativistic Roman and Hellenistic culture, it made many claims of exclusion. For First- and Second- Generation Christians to proclaim “Jesus is Lord” was dangerous and intolerant. Robert Webber, in his book Ancient-Future Evangelism, says this about the Lordship of Jesus, “Christians [in the early church] were seen as political anarchists, a social menace, a scourge on society. Yet, pagans came to Christ in droves, and many knew that their conversion to Christ and his church meant persecution and possible death.”

The main challenge to the Lordship of Jesus was the lordship of Caesar. This challenge was both religious and political. Caesar demanded worship and sacrifice, while he provides justice, peace, and prosperity. His control of the empire was not just by force but by the devolvement of religious attraction. The people needed only to put their trust in the military might of the Empire and hope in the “divinely born and appointed” emperor. The nation’s leader was Lord and Savior.

A Biblical example of the challenge faced by those who claimed Jesus as Lord is found in Acts 17. In this narrative, Paul preaches the Good News of Jesus at the synagogue in Thessalonica and persuades a few. Upset, the Jews bring the Christians they could find before the city officials and make this claim: “These people who have been turning the world upside have come here also… they are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying there is another King named Jesus.”
Today, this is rarely a charge made against the Christian. We no longer turn the world upside-down. Christianity has been assimilated into the predominate culture. Our efforts to impact the political landscape through the world’s means are a far cry from the sacrifice of the martyrs who shed blood in service to the Lord of Lords. Instead, we have settled to become one of many options on the pluralistic buffet table of ideas. It seems that the Lordship of Jesus Christ is neutered in the modern world. Though we may not realize it, true service to Christ and recognition of him as Lord continues to be dangerous.

In 21st-Century America we often choose to abandon our Christian heritage and play it safe. Many churches reduce the radical, counter-cultural Gospel to motivational speeches and self-help guides. The Gospel is boiled-down to “seven practical tips to raising a healthy family,” or “an everyday guide to your personal finances.” This is not the reason our Lord died for us; this is not what it means to claim Jesus Christ as Lord. The Rulers, Authority, and Powers should be threatened by a Church which claims Jesus as Lord. Satan himself should quake in his boots. Today, in the richest nation in the history of the world, Christians are in the position to break out and serve our Lord to the fullest. Yet, we guard our personal freedoms and uphold the economic and political systems we have come to rely upon for our stability and income. We put our trust in modern day “chariots and warriors” for protection of “our borders.” We give allegiance to pagan idols and symbols. We sing songs of worship, even in our churches, to ideologies which support oppression and violence. We, like the early Christians, face the challenge of declaring our loyalty to our Lord Jesus Christ and denouncing the Lordship of Caesar.

Yet, I am hopeful. In a post-Christian world that is growing increasingly hostile to Christianity, we may one day soon have to cling to the exclusive message of the Gospel. We may soon take seriously what our Lord meant when He spoke of the cost of discipleship: “If you want to find your life, lose it. Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Maybe we will better understand why our Lord more or less discourages people from becoming His disciples when He speaks of the sacrifices involved. Jesus said that even “foxes have holes and birds have nests” but those who follow after Him must be willing to give up everything. Undivided loyalty is required, as Jesus may require us to “let the dead bury the dead” and “hate [our] father and mother, [our] wife and children, [our] brothers and sisters—yes, even [our] own life” to be His disciples. Jesus wants us to count the costs. Of course, in requiring such things of us He declares that there would be costs for claiming the exclusive Lordship of Jesus Christ. If we are faithful to Scripture and the faith it expresses to us, then we will know that in claiming Jesus as Lord we too will have a price to pay.

It begs the questions: Which Lord do we serve? To whom do we bow? The Golden Calf demanded little from the Israelites. The Romans would not kill people who bowed to Caesar. If we can keep our Christianity leashed up today, then we can live out our lives without too much trouble. Jesus, our One and Only Lord, demands more of His followers. If we take seriously what it means to call Jesus Christ our Lord by giving sacrificially of our resources to serve the least and defying the decrees of the government as we give voice to the voiceless, then we are building our Lord’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Nature of UMC Doctrine

George Lindbeck, in his important book, The Nature of Doctrine, defines “doctrine” as “communally authoritative teachings regarding beliefs and practices that are considered essential to the identity or welfare of the group in question. They may be formally stated or informally operative, but in any case they indicate what constitutes faithful adherence to a community.”[1] We in the United Methodist Church need to consider such a definition..

Lindbeck makes an important point in stating that doctrine is “communally authoritative teachings.” The second part of this sentence is obvious – doctrines are “teachings regarding beliefs and practices.” Yet we need to understand they are “communally authoritative.” Another important point Lindbeck makes in this definition is that doctrine impacts both identity and practice of a community: “indicating what constitutes faithful adherence to a community.”

In a culture which puts high value on individualism this is a problematic definition of doctrine. We, as individuals and as groups, have a difficult time agreeing upon and accepting this communal responsibility. We have been taught to prize our opinions (despite that fact that everyone has one) and autonomy. We do not respond well to hierarchy or authority. We, as humans, desire control, influence, and power. We don’t want someone else telling us “how it is” and “what is what.” Yet, for doctrine to be as effective as it is essential, submission to a communal understanding is crucial. This is part of the problem in the United Methodist Church, not that we lack good doctrine, but that we embrace individuals who refuse to hold them as communally authoritative.

As a probationary elder in the UMC, in process for ordination, I am required to answer questions from our Book of Discipline about how I understand our doctrines. However, I refuse to answer by offering up “my opinion.” In the end, “my opinion” doesn’t really matter. What should be more important to those who decide my future as a pastor in this denomination is whether or not Chris Roberts, as a clergyperson in the United Methodist Church, will uphold the communally authoritative teachings… essential to the identity and welfare of the United Methodist Church and our Wesleyan tradition. It should be the will of the Church at-large that I, as an ordained minister in the UMC, faithfully uphold that which “constitutes faithful adherence to the community.” I will teach and practice in the churches to which I am appointed less my opinions of various doctrines and more what our church holds as formally stated or informally operative doctrine. The good news is that “my opinions and beliefs” match the “doctrines” of the UMC (and if they don’t then I should not be permitted to continue in this ordination process).

It confuses me that so many ordained clergy in our church have such strange opinions on matters of our doctrine. How they ever became ordained is beyond me… except that the people in charge also hold their personal opinions as more important than our doctrine. It is past time that the UMC review issues of doctrine and our clergy... all our clergy.

[1] George Lindbeck. The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Post-liberal Age. (Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1984) 74.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Preaching As Though We Had Enemies

Below is a link to an article from First Things by Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School. This is perhaps the most important article I have ever read as a pastor. I thought others would like to read it.


I do find it puzzling, however, to watch theologians, both conservative and liberal, come to the defense of the human, the rational, objectivity, the "text," "moral values," science, and all the other conceits the modern university cherishes in the name of "humanism." It is as though Christians have forgotten that we also have a stake in atheism. Christians do not believe in the "human"; we believe in God-a God we believe, moreover, who intends to kill us all in the end. So we Christians do not oppose nuclear weapons because they threaten to destroy "mother earth," but because the God we serve would not have one life unjustly taken even if such a killing would insure the survival of the human species. Indeed, it is not even clear that we Christians know what the human species is or what status it may have since we have surer knowledge that we are creatures than that we are human...

Christians in modernity thought their task was to make the Gospel intelligible to the world rather than to help the world understand why it could not be intelligible without the Gospel. Desiring to become part of the modernist project, preachers and theologians accepted the presumption that Christianity is a set of beliefs, a "worldview," designed to give meaning to our lives. In the name of being politically responsible in, to, and for liberal social orders, the politics of Christian discourse was relegated to the private realm. We accepted the politics of translation believing that neither we nor our non-Christian and half-Christian neighbors could be expected to submit to the discipline of Christian speech...

If postmodernism means anything, it means that the comforting illusion of modernity that conflict is, can be, and should be avoided is over. No unbiased viewpoint exists that can in principle insure agreements. Our difficulty is not that we have conflicts, but that as modern people we have not had the courage to force the conflicts we ought to have had. Instead, we have comforted ourselves with the ideology of pluralism, forgetting that pluralism is the peace treaty left over from past wars that now benefits the victors of those wars...

One hopes that God is using this time to remind the Church that Christianity is unintelligible without enemies. Indeed, the whole point of Christianity is to produce the right kind of enemies. We have been beguiled by our established status to forget that to be a Christian is to be made part of an army against armies. It has been suggested that satisfaction theories of the Atonement and the correlative understanding of the Christian life as a life of interiority became the rule during the long process we call the Constantinian settlement. When Caesar becomes a member of the Church the enemy becomes internalized. The problem is no longer that the Church is seen as a threat to the political order, but that now my desires are disordered. The name for such an internalization in modernity is pietism and the theological expression of that practice is called Protestant liberalism...

Enjoy the rest

Friday, January 06, 2006

How has the practice of ministry affected your experience and understanding of God?

My understanding of God has become both broader and narrower as I have been a pastor the past several years. God is the creator of all. Yet, God is also a God made known through a very specific revelation which is experienced through a very specific community.

“For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Not that our faith can be reduced to pantheism, but God is everywhere. God is heard in the cry of a newborn baby and the wisdom of the “senior saints.” God is felt in the desperation of the prisoner and the widower who has just lost his wife of 60 plus years. God is touched as we hold close to the ones we love. God is seen in the majesty of the stars hung in the heavens and the molecules of our cells. God is experienced in the worship of a congregation and the daily routine of our busy lives. God is inescapably everywhere.

The fact that God is everywhere confirms that God is in control of everything. God is sovereign. God is the One who set time into motion, caused the universe to spin, and created all that there is. Life is God’s to give and take. Our days are in those Divine Hands. Nothing is out of God’s control. Our salvation is credited to God. Any good of which we are capable is only because God has allowed for it—that is a relief.

I used to think I was in control. If something needed to be done, I needed to get it done. If the church needed to be fixed, I needed to fix it. When my wife was hurt, only I could “heal” her. I thought I had all the answers. I was salvation. Now, I believe St. Paul and I would have to debate about who is “less than the least of God’s children.”

I have come to realize that I need only lean on God to get things done. While this good news impacts all areas of my life (as husband, father, friend, son, Lt.JG US Navy, etc.), it is especially helpful as pastor; I do not have to solve the problems, fix the church, heal the wounds, save the world, have all the answers. God is the One who will solve the problems, fix the church, heal all the wounds, save the world, and tell us what we need to know. God has total control; I am merely a vessel. Praise be to God, through God’s grace I am able to do some good. I do not have to be in control. I need to prayerfully discern God’s will and be willing to submit to that will.

The practice of ministry has also helped me understand that God is a God of community.
God has always been revealed to us as a God of relationship. It is in relationship that we come to both understand and experience the true charcter of God. Before the beginning God was in relationship within Godself. The Father is in the Son and Spirit; the Son is in the Father and Spirit; The Spirit is in the Father and Son. Within the Trinity the total being of One is for the Other. It is in this type of “mutually indwelling,” or perichoresis, existed before anything else existed. So, as God create us in His image, we were created for community.

From Genesis to Revelation God is revealed to us via a plan of salvation that is found in a community of believers. In the Hebrew Bible, YHWH and His salvation was found only in the tribe Israel. Yet, God’s plan pointed to a Messiah who would open the door for God to be revealed to the whole world. In the first century, God sent Jesus. Jesus created a community of disciples and followers. After Jesus was gone, with His commission, the Church was formed. Still today, we seek to be unified, as Jesus prayed, so that the world may believe.

God chose to be revealed by means of a very specific community. It is a community which is centered around and focused upon the extraordinary life, powerful ministry, bloody cross, and empty grave of Jesus Christ. I have come to realize as I practice the ministry to which I have been called that we are offered the fullness of God’s presence only in this community, the Church. Yes, we can find God everywhere, but it is only within the Church community we can “mutually indwell” with God and with each other. We come to this place and we hear the stories about how God is alive and working in this world. We join forces, pool our resources, overcome our differences to be God’s light in this world of darkness. It is in the relationships we have within the Church that we experience the fullness of our relationship with God.

The Prophet Jeremiah describes the relationship we have with God as clay in the hands of a master potter. Only in this type of relationship do we have hope. So this is our prayer as we sing:
Have Thine own way, Lord!
Have Thine own Way!
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me, after Thy will,
While I am waiting yielded and still.

The Church is the safe place where we can come and be yielded and still. We gather together in a very specific community to worship and commit our lives to God, the creator of all things. It is only through the church of Jesus Christ which we can fully experience and live out God’s amazing grace in our lives. God’s Spirit will fill us, until the only thing people see in us “is Christ only, always living in me.”

Thursday, January 05, 2006

What effect has the practice of ministry had on your understanding of humanity and the need for divine grace?

We tend to think we are pretty good people. I am not sure why we believe such a thing. It may be that we quantify our “goodness” based on a scale of what appears “normal.” We are good as long as we think, act, sound, and smell like those who we consider to be good. If we are good people we will listen to the right music, vote for the right politician, hug our children, kiss our wives, and call our parents; maybe then God will be pleased.

Of course, it is all a lie. We are not as good as we may want others to believe. We are sinners. I am not pointing fingers at the people “out there.” All of us, believers and unbelievers, struggle with the sinful, rotten-to-the-core self. “For all have sinned and fallen short…” Paul writes in Romans. According to both Scripture and our United Methodist doctrine, all humanity is fallen, totally depraved, tainted by something called “original sin.” Considering what we are taught in Genesis, I prefer to say that none of us are anything but “dirt-bags.” Further, none of us deserve anything but the punishment of an eternity in Hell.

Now, I am aware that preachers in the 21st-Century are not supposed to talk about such nasty rumors. People do not want to get up early on Sunday morning, forego the golf course, yard work, Meet the Press, and small crowds at Wal-Mart, to hear the pastor tell them that they are “dirt-bags.” But, that is what I do. Perhaps, I am not always so blunt. Like Paul shows in his epistles, there are lots of ways to remind the congregation that we are still sinners.

I tend to think that part of the problem of commitment to Christ and His Body, the Church, both in the world and in the membership, is that we tend to think too highly of ourselves. We think we are good enough… good enough for God and certainly good enough to enter the Heavenly Gates. Why bother with God and The Bible and all of those commands? Why do we need the Church and all that talk about discipleship, tithes, evangelism, fellowship, and transformation? If acts of piety and/or charity, being a “good person,” acting “normal,” or simply holding to a list of certain beliefs is good enough, then we simply need God to notice how good and right we are.

Wesley wanted us, Methodists, to understand our status as “dirt bags” when he gave us Article VII of The Articles of Religion:
Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelegians do vainly talk), but in the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually. (Italics mine)

And so, humanity sorely needs divine grace. In my own life, I cannot begin to praise myself for being such a good father, loyal husband, superb preacher, compassionate pastor, and devoted Christian. In the life of the Church, we Christians should not begin to think too much about all the great works we do. It is dangerous to get swept away by such false ideas. What we need to remember is that we can do no good on our own.

This belief is affirmed for United Methodists in John Wesley’s sermon On Working Out Our Own Salvation. Wesley is expounding on Philippians 2:13 which reads, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Wesley explains:
The meaning of these words may be made more plain by a small transposition of them: "It is God that of his good pleasure worketh in you both to will and to do." This position of the words, connecting the phrase, of his good pleasure, with the word worketh, removes all imagination of merit from man, and gives God the whole glory of his own work. Otherwise, we might have had some room for boasting, as if it were our own desert, some goodness in us, or some good thing done by us, which first loved God to work. But this expression cuts off all such vain conceits, and clearly shows his motive to work lay wholly in himself-in his, own mere grace, in his unmerited mercy… God breathes into us every good desire, and brings every good desire to good effect.
Sure, we do good, all the good we can, as Wesley directs. We manage to do lots of great things. United Methodists are nothing if not mission-minded with a heart for loving the least, last, little, and lost. We help the poor, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, care for the abused, share the good news all around the world. Yet, any good we do is the work of God in our lives. It is only by God’s grace, that we accomplish any good work. God uses us in our poor, sorry, sinful states to work out the master plan of salvation.

If being a pastor has taught me anything, it is the need for divine grace. We can never be good or “normal” enough. We cannot earn God’s grace. Grace is an “indescribable gift” given to believers and unbelievers alike. God loves us just as we are. This is great news. Though the world is fallen, good can be done; though we are sinners, we can do good. We can be good spouses, children, neighbors, employees, and fellow committee members and pew-sitters. More importantly, the world can still be redeemed (2 Peter 3:8-15a). All of this can be done only by God’s amazing grace through the blood of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in God’s Holy Church.
Cost of the War in Iraq
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