Saturday, July 4, 2015

Flourishing Spiritually

The Cabernet Sauvignon grape
 growing at the Cascia vineyard.

Credit: M. Cascia, 
        The Bible invites us to lay aside any unproductive works we might be engaged in, and rather to cultivate beneficial works, bearing spiritual fruit. Paul listed nine types of spiritual fruit in the King James Version: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.  Three more included in the Vulgate are generosity, modesty, and chastity.  These twelve fruits of the Spirit have traditionally demonstrated the kind of results we can expect from living and walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23; 
Catholic Church 1832).
            Jesus gave several examples to illustrate the importance of bearing good fruit.  One was about knowing false prophets by the fruits they bear (Mathew 7:15-20).  Another was about the seed landing among thorns and being choked out by the distractions of life, “and bring no fruit to perfection” (Luke 8:14).  On the night He gave Himself up for us, after instituting the Lord’s Supper, He gave the parable about the vine being pruned to bear more fruit and said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).
            The first fruit Paul listed, love, is how Jesus said everyone could tell whether or not we actually are His disciples (John 13:35). Some are also included in the attributes of love in his first letter to the Corinthians.  Others exemplify the types of growth we can expect as our faith matures.  Like “the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month” along the banks of the river in the city of New Jerusalem, God invites us to flourish spiritually, bearing all kinds of good fruit in our lives (Revelation 22:2).  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Revival of Love

          We need a revival to break out!  For the next few months, our Sunday morning worship services at Briensburg will be themed “A Revival of Love.”  The sermons will each address a different aspect of agape, framed as a series on First Corinthians 13. 
            The revival should be contagious, transcendent and transformative.  We pray the sacred flame of love will “leap from heart to heart” as we share the renewal experience with each other and the world around us.  Respect for each other’s cultural, religious and political differences must enable us to put “Christ Above All” as we freshen our commitment to the more excellent way (1 Co. 12:31).  Remember all the changes we identified during Lent?  Well, now is the time to implement them!
            The kind of love Jesus demonstrated is what we are expected to emulate in fulfillment of the New Commandment, empowering us to love even our enemies.  This is the true evidence by which everyone can know for sure whether we are actual followers of Jesus or simply impersonating discipleship for lesser motives.  Love not only completes the joy of our salvation but effectively addresses our problems. 
            The world needs love now as much as ever.  Strife, poverty and despair are rampant among so many people, sometimes in nearly hopeless situations.  God’s love has the power to overcome so many of the challenges confronting humanity on every level.  Individuals and whole populations are suffering due to causes that could be eradicated by a revival of love “spreading scriptural holiness throughout the land.”
            This revival includes a comprehensive altar call. Encouraging each other to surrender anew to our first love, we are inviting everyone to begin or to reaffirm a personal saving relationship with God in Jesus Christ, to allow the Holy Spirit to work within and among us in new and fresh ways, and to continue in the sanctifying grace toward perfection in love.  All who want to share in this revival may do so first by praying as we have been for those in our “72+U” lists of Family, Relatives, Associates and Neighbors.  You may also participate in our online ChurchSchool version, where we will have study notes, worship videos, discussion groups and other resources.  We would love to have you attend the 11 a.m. worship services any Sunday.  Please pray for the church as we reorient our efforts in this direction.  Pray for a “Revival of Love” to break out across our community.
Revive us again;
Fill each heart with Thy love;
May each soul be rekindled
With fire from above.
Hallelujah! Thine the glory.
Hallelujah! Amen.
Hallelujah! Thine the glory.
Revive us again.

 (William P. Mackay)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Let’s Update Our Discipline

Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS
     Our Discipline is written by all of us together, either actively or passively. United Methodists share our Book of Discipline as part of our covenant with each other.  At times we may prayerfully identify needed changes to spread the Gospel more effectively, bolster our resistance to oppression, and fully implement the teachings of Jesus. We may seek improvement in some paragraphs by advocating their greater conformity to our understandings of Scripture.
Whenever we want to make revisions to our Book of Discipline, it is because we are prayerfully compelled by the love of Christ to stand in agreement with some sisters and brothers, albeit in disagreement with others.  We all share similarly motivated yet sometimes divergent views.  Modifications should be meaningful and important to the mission of our church “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  They should clarify our united purposes, strengthen our ministries, and empower those who are unjustly marginalized in the life and service of the church.
Any United Methodist member and organization may petition General Conference for changes to our Book of Discipline.  The process for updating this complex instrument requires humility, patience, and unity.  If we are willing to blend our thoughts with others toward a more harmonious view, engage our persuasive influence on the common intellect, and forego personal interests in the pursuit of spiritual wholeness, then we can augment the conversations that shape change.
One way to participate in the work of updating our Discipline is to write petitions.  Another way is to support, through our conversations and writings, the petitions submitted by others.  We can all engage by following the news, preparations, and other developments related to the next General Conference session. We should pray for our delegates and the votes they will be making on our behalf.  What a wonderful opportunity for all United Methodists to contribute to the future of our Christian faith!

·         The article “Instructions for Submitting petitions to the 2016 General Conference” provides detailed information for creating the petitions for submission between April 1 and October 13, 2015. 
·         General Conference 2016 information page on tracks news, legislation, and preparations leading up to the event May 10-20, 2016.

·         The United Methodist Book of Discipline, free online edition

Friday, February 20, 2015

3D Lent

Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMComm
     Lent is a multidimensional spiritual journey.  A variety of religious dynamics converge during Lent to make it a uniquely powerful opportunity for renewal and growth.  The blessings, drawn from each discipline, are multiplied by blending them into a mixture of private reflection and public engagement. 
     One dimension of Lent is our quietly secretive withdrawal from normal activities to make room for fasting, prayer and alms-giving. Lent invites us to give up some of our normal daily habits to make room for more sacred enterprises, some of which may become enduring changes in lifestyle.  Spending extra time in prayerful devotion heightens our awareness of the divine presence and freshens our personal relationship with God.  Charitable contribution of our time and resources bends our focus toward the needs of family, friends and neighbors, clarifying our success and failure in loving others as Christ has loved us. The more secretive we are about these aspects of our spirituality, the more our Heavenly Parent who sees us in secret rewards us openly (Matthew 6:4,6,18)
     The public dimension is also an important part of Lent, empowering personal and corporate growth along with a witness to our faith.  The Transfiguration reminds us of the importance of shared experiences, even of prayer (Matthew 17:1-9).  While Jesus cautions us not to be hypocritical, warning that anything done in public has the potential of limiting the benefits, most of the events in the Gospels and Acts took place openly.  Additional worship services, Bible studies, retreats and other group programs the Church emphasizes as we prepare to celebrate the Resurrection serve to unite the faith community, strengthen our witness together, and enrich our individual discipleship.
     Spiritual housecleaning is another crucial dimension of Lent.  Through the year, our schedules fill with all sorts of things that diffuse our attention and detract from our discipleship.  Many of these are intrinsically good and wholesome, but they crowd out our calling like the proverbial seed that fell among the thorns (Mark 4:7).  Our lives can easily become cluttered with thoughts and feelings as with material objects.  Annual renewal includes sorting and divesting of unnecessary burdens, liberating ourselves for holiness and service.  “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God(Romans 12:2).  (Romans 12:2).  
     Lent equips us to face ourselves honestly and make the inward and outward changes required for reviving our spirits.  At the end of these few weeks, our self-examination leads to celebration of the new life we share in Christ.  Some of the changes we make during Lent will be lasting, while others will fade as the year unfolds. We are reminded of who we are, where we have come from and where we are going, as we repent and believe the Gospel (Mark 1:15).

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Teach Us to Pray

Photo by Mike Dubose,
United Methodist Communications
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.  Matthew 7:8 & Luke 11:10

          Jesus invites everyone to pray.  Prayer is the most ecumenical, interfaith, intercultural enterprise of humanity.  No one is excluded from the promises associated with prayer as envisioned and taught by Jesus.  All people everywhere are invited to turn to God in whom “we live, and move, and have our being,” and to communicate with God as children of our divine parent (Acts 17:22-31).  We each are invited to pray according to our best understandings. With the liberty of this invitation comes the responsibility to learn more about prayer, and the assurance of its increasing effectiveness as we implement the practice.
          Jesus gave the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father, as a gift to those who want to know how to pray.  One great feature of this enduring prayer pattern is that it consolidates so many prayer principles from throughout the Bible in general, and specifically those taught by Jesus Himself.  Each part of the Lord’s Prayer unpacks a whole dimension of spirituality, leading to boundless exploration and infinite application.
          Prayer has always been offered as a practical element of solution to any and all challenges.  Jesus pointed out that some forms of prayer are empty and void, and in Paul’s words, “having the form of godliness, but lacking the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5).  Yet, Jesus also promises that sincerity, persistence and diligence will transform our prayers from empty words into powerful and effective contributions.  “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16b)

           Briensburg UMC is launching our new Online Church School & Learning Center with “Teach Us to Pray” as an ongoing peer learning group for sharing information, prayer concerns, news and discussion about prayer.  The study is offered in conjunction with the similar Pastor's Lenten Study on the Lord's Prayer (starting tomorrow, a couple of weeks early).  Everyone is invited to participate.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Religious Tolerance

University of Evansville faculty and students share a Middle Eastern meal with Imam Morgra as part of the university's Interfaith Pilgrimage Project. Photo by Tamara Gieselman. (Giesleman is the university chaplain and dir. of religious life:
Religious tolerance is much more than just putting up with other people.  It is a confident recognition that our faith journeys are converging, regardless of where they have started. When taken as a promise instead of a threat, the words of Jesus in John 14:6[1] invite us to accept and walk respectfully with people of all different beliefs, trusting that Christ Himself is bringing us together. Interfaith friendships empower us to share as equals our understandings of the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Many teachings and practices are shared among adherents of various religions and their denominations, with the same goals for this life and for that of the world to come.  People of differing faith experiences share common concerns in matters of civil society, justice issues, and spiritual ministries.  If our true motive is love, then we should have no problem at all working together on providing social services for those in need.  If our true desire is for people to follow the teachings of Christ, then we should have no problem sharing religious education facilities and resources, especially at points of overlapping instruction.  If we indeed are truly interested in worshiping our Creator “in spirit and in truth”[2] then we should have no problem sharing hymns, prayers, liturgies, Scriptures and sermons with others whose intentions are the same.  However, if our motive is anything less than love, if our desire is to manipulate the thinking of others, or if our interest is to control how others experience spirituality for our own advantage, then our tolerance will certainly be diluted accordingly.

[1] John 14:6 -- Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
[2] John 4:23 -- But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Barriers Into Bridges

The Rev. David Foray crosses a bridge into Moyollo, Sierra Leone, to help provide education and relief in the fight against Ebola. Foray is superintendent of the Moyamba District of The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone. Photo by Phileas Jusu, UMNS.
The diversity addressed by Paul in Galatians 3:28 encompasses every aspect of our humanity.  Our differences are meant to unite us, not divide us.  All cultural, social, and gender related issues should be seen as opportunities for us to support, encourage, and learn from each other, especially in matters of faith and ministry. Those areas where we are most unlike each other, even at points of strongest disagreement, are particularly well suited for mutual understanding and growth.  None should be treated as excuses to undermine the rights, privileges, or ministries of others. Christian faith challenges us to be intentional about transforming every barrier into a bridge.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Hello World!

Called to preach as a child, my life has been spent both embracing and resisting spirituality.  Though silence is often my preference, my spirit is driven to expression.  The Church has provided wonderful opportunities for preaching, learning and service.  Now, the other end of my life is starting to come into view. My experiences have shaped my perspectives, and I want to share my feelings. I hope my thoughts will inspire you in your faith journey, whether you support or oppose my viewpoints. I don’t want to write about things that don’t matter, but about significant topics of consequence and even controversy.  The cutting edge of my relationship with God has always been at the points of conversion. Your responses are solicited.  I hope you will change me, Dear Reader, or be changed by me.