Tag Archives: Discipleship

Whose Job Is It?

Back home, in my home church, the Shinglehouse UMC, the bulletin each week listed the pastor, the organist, and then listed: “Ministers: All The People.”

That basic idea is also one of Methodism’s foundational beliefs: that everyone who follows Jesus is a “minister.” And a few of those ministers are asked to be pastors as well.

That little church had captured that. The pastor is there as servant, administrator, and preacher, but most of the ministry of the church actually comes from the lay people who sit in the pews each and every Sunday.

In John 13:3-17, we read how Jesus got up from the table and took off his outer clothing. Kneeling down like a servant, he washed the feet of all the disciples.

Now, this is the last night before his crucifixion. The Twelve still don’t ‘get it’ that he’s about to die, so he tries one more time to remind them of key lessons. He chooses this idea of serving and ministering to others as one of those keys. And Jesus goes about it in a way that they cannot forget. He, the leader, the master, the teacher, the KING, starts acting like one of the lowest of slaves. He gets down and washes their feet.

HE serves THEM!

Verse 4 reads: “so he got up from the table…”  and he washes their feet. Later in verse 26, he is back sitting at the table and dipping the bread. Jesus shows them, and us, that service can sometimes be inconvenient; maybe even in the middle of a meal. Now, this was arguably the most famous meal in history (The Last Supper). Yet, by his own example, we see that even a meal is no excuse to keep us from serving others.

When I was growing up, my Grandma Mix really demonstrated this. I remember the big Sunday dinners  when she was up & down, back & forth, throughout the meal; making sure there were enough potatoes or meat or beverage or vegetable. If she saw that one of us needed something, especially my Grandpa, she would drop her fork, with food still on it, to go get whatever was needed.  Then she would return to her plate.

That’s what Jesus did here. Even though it’s the middle of the meal, he stops eating and takes off his outside coat, rolls his sleeves up (so to speak), grabs a towel, and starts washing feet.

Sometimes service as His disciple will be equally inconvenient, yet still necessary. Yet how many times do we say, ‘Sure, but just wait for awhile, I’m busy now.’?

ALSO, notice that he washes Judas Iscariot’s feet too. They sit down to the meal, Jesus gets up, washes feet, and then goes back to the meal. That’s when he says that the one who will betray him is the one he gives the bread to, and then Scripture even records Jesus talking to Judas. There is no question about it: Judas was there when Jesus washed feet.

How many times do we say we want to serve Christ, but then refuse to serve some just because they’ve  hurt us in some way?  Unfortunately, we are more likely to say something like “If that’s the way she’s going to be, then just see if I ever try to help her again!” Yet here is Jesus, who already knows what Judas is up to and what he’s about to do, and he still serves Judas!

And lest we think that this is just a message for just the “church leaders” on how to serve their church and their God, look towards the end of this passage in John 13:

15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

ANY of us who call ourselves followers of Christ are his disciples and are called to follow his example.  We are to be involved in service; through the local church and as individuals. How has he equipped you to help this church serve those around us?

Throughout this month our Nominations & Lay Leadership Committee will be recruiting people to serve on the 2017 Ministry Team. Where does God want you? Has he called you to a specific ministry?

It reminds me of the story I once read about “Who’s Job Is It?”

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done. (author unknown)

Jesus is our example here. We are to serve. We are to serve even if it’s inconvenient. We are to serve even those whom we don’t like or who hurt us. But how we serve speaks of how we love our Lord.

(Adapted from the Sunday morning sermon on September 18, 2016 and used as the pastor’s letter for the Carmichaels: First United Methodist Church newsletter, October 1, 2016)

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Fear of the Lord

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…”           — Proverbs 1:7

I heard a radio preacher talk about the fear of the Lord yesterday. i expected him to go to start talking about the fearful, terrified, condemnation-style fear and how God was, well, almost like a bully that we’d be afraid of running into. But he didn’t! Instead, he talked about the kind of fear that I would call reverence.

And then this morning, I opened up a devotional called Augustine Day By Day and today’s entry, “Chaste Fear,” was bringing out this same approach.

Just from the fact that you try to avoid evil, you improve yourself, and you begin to desire what is good. When you begin to desire what is good, there will be a chaste fear in you.

That fear by which you fear being cast into hell with the devil is not yet chaste, since it does not come from the love of God but from fear of punishment. But when you fear God in the sense that you do not wish to lose Him, you embrace Him, and you desire to enjoy Him.

YES!

When I was growing up, so many of the gospel presentations were not GOOD News, but rather FEARFUL WARNINGS!

  • ‘You better make the right decision or you’ll go to Hell!’
  • ‘If you accept Jesus, you’ll be saved from Hell!’
  • ‘Turn or Burn!’
  • ‘Make sure you’ve got you’ve signed up for your eternal  fire insurance!’

I have one fellow pastor and friend who is always dwelling on the negatives. And yes, I know that seems like a generalization, but in this case it’s pretty accurate! He tries to draw people’s attention to how horrible, bad, awful, and sinful the world is around us. And that’s his attempt to share the “good” news! I love him and he has the sweetest wife, but I can only be around him for short periods of time and generally avoid reading anything he writes. It’s all pessimism and fear based. I don’t need more of that in my life!

It seems to me that that radio preacher (I don’t even know who he was) and St. Augustine have the healthier, more Godly approach. Yes there is a gratitude for what Jesus saves us from eternally in regards to punishment, that’s NOT the motivation for my walk with Christ or my understanding of God. Instead, there is a JOY in getting to know God better as I walk with Christ… as I learn to be His disciple and become more like Him. My relationship becomes more and more about love and respect and gratitude and reverence… not fear of punishment.

After all, the definition of “gospel” is supposed to be “GOOD news.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

entry for July 29 “Chaste Fear” in Augustine Day By Day, compiled and edited by John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., Catholic Book Publishing:New York, 1986, page 113. Quote drawn from Augustine’s sermon on 1 John 9, 5.

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MUST NOT!

A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. 

— 2 Timothy 2:24-26 (NLT)

In our Tuesday Bible Study recently, we spent some time looking at a couple of the cults that we’ve encountered in our area from time to time. And while we discussed specifics about what they believed, and how it differed from True Christianity, another topic also arose: That of how do we treat people who are not like us… whether they are in a group we consider so different from our beliefs that we call them a cult, or perhaps just from another one of the Christian churches, or even an entirely different religion, or race, or political persuasion, or even sexual orientation… whatever.

As I’ve taught this class on and off in six churches over 19 years I’ve been a pastor, I’ve been inundated with different folks’ beliefs on how to best ‘get rid of’ a cult member who’s coming to your door: hiding in the closet till they go away, putting all the shades down, yelling at them to go away, standing there and belittling them with the fallacy in their belief, or deliberately showing up dressed in nothing more than a single undergarment.

I’ve also been at annual conference 18 of those 19 years (and to one of our General Conferences) when every time something legislative was brought up trying to sway the United Methodist Church to change our condemnation of homosexual behavior. (By the way, it is ALWAYS brought up and it has ALWAYS been voted down.)

My concern as a pastor relates to the passage up above. The way we talk to each other in the church, and to those outside of the church, is commanded that we never stoop down and quarrel in anger and bicker and fight like the non-believers do in the public forum. As Christians, regardless of how wrong we are convinced someone else is, we do not have the right to parley with our tongues like weapons and using our words like ammunition. Read that passage again: catch the words “gently” and “kind” and “patient” and the command to “not quarrel.” And the language used is not like these are suggestions. The emphasis is laid out in the very first phrase: “must not.”

And to top it all off, Jesus Himself is quoted as saying: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” — John 13:35 (NRSV)

If we are to be his disciples, then the world around us will see it and hear it in through the love we show them. Because that’s what a Christian is like… at least according to Jesus. If we are just making a point and zeroing in for the kill by scoring a win over another person’s point, or argument, r discussion point, then we are JUST AS WRONG AS they are… in fact, we are MORE wrong, because we are Christians and are given CLEAR instructions in these two passages (as well as others) as to what the expectation is for a Christian.

In closing this month, my prayer is the prayer embedded in Psalm 19:

“May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be pleasing to you, O Lord…”                             — Psalm 19:14 (NLT)

 

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Franciscan Morning Prayer

For the last couple of years, I have been reading and learning about St. Francis. One of the books I picked up was called the Secular Franciscan Companion.

This morning I came across the Franciscan morning prayer. Let me share that with you:

“Jesus Lord, I offer you

this new day because

I believe in you, love you,

hope all things in you

and thank you for

your blessings.

I am sorry for having

offended you and

forgive everyone who

has offended me.

Lord, look on me and

leave in me

peace and courage

and your humble wisdom

that I may serve others

with joy, and be

pleasing to you all day.”

— From the Secular Franciscan Companion, compiled and edited by Marion A. Haif, O.F.M. (Franciscan Herald Press: Cincinnati, Ohio) 1987.

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Seeing Things As God Sees Them

“Get away from me, Satan! … You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” (Jesus to Peter when Peter tries to talk Jesus out of the cross, from Mark 8:33, NLT)

In August, I preached on this passage of Scripture where Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is. In Mark 8:29, Peter nails it with “You are the Messiah.” The next verse shows that Jesus immediately told them not to tell anyone else about it. Then, in what seems like a change of subject, we read that Jesus begins to teach them that the Son of Man has to actually suffer and face death. The disciples, who have heard him confirm that he IS the Messiah, are upset because they’ve been taught all about the Messiah all their lives: The Messiah is supposed to come and destroy Israel’s enemies. The Messiah reigns as conqueror! The Messiah can’t die at the hands of the Romans… It’s not supposed to work that way!

So when Peter tries to reprimand Jesus (Yes… it says “reprimand”), Jesus denounces him. He actually uses the word “Satan” to describe Peter because the word “Satan” is not just a name, it’s also means “accuser” or “opponent” in Greek. Peter has set himself against Jesus and is tempting Jesus to be the human idea of a Messiah… There’s no reason to suffer or face death on a cross. Peter is opposing Jesus and trying to get Jesus to do things the way everyone expects him to.

My point that day, which apparently threw some folks off, was that we, like Jesus, need to see things GOD’S way, not just the way our traditions have taught us. Far too often we in the church are like Peter and the disciples who have trouble seeing things the way God sees them.

To illustrate that, I tried to talk about how people have become concerned that Christianity’s numbers of worshipers and members have fallen since the 1950s. Simply put, there are less people in the pews. My contention that day was that those falling numbers don’t really tell us the spiritual story the way God sees it. You see, back in the ‘50s, it was a socially acceptable and expected thing that people who were worth anything, of course would go to church. Even non-Christians went to church because it was expected and people thought less of them if they didn’t attend. So Christianity’s numbers were much bigger.  Now-a-days however, if they don’t really want to go to church, there really isn’t a social expectation that they will go. You go because you want to. I tried to suggest that going to church because you want to, because you love Jesus Christ and want to worship him, is a much better reason to attend. And so the statistical numbers that say Christianity is fading aren’t real. Yes, we have fewer people in the pews, but hopefully they are people who are really Christians, not just people who were shamed into attending church. In fact, we’re better when we’re NOT shaming people into church worship services.

Seeing church attendance as something you HAVE TO do is seeing things the way the world sees (or at least saw) it back 60 some years ago. But there is a better way… seeing things from God’s perspective. God wants people in church because they love him and WANT TO worship him. That’s why there are texts like these, clear back in the Old Testament: “You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.”  (David to God, from Psalm 51:16-17, NLT).

Let’s make sure we look at things from God’s point-of-view, whether it’s about church attendance, responding to God when he wants us to do something different than the way we planned, or anything else that comes our way.

(This devotional article first appeared in the newsletter of the Clarks Mills United Methodist Church)

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Guarding the Intellect

As part of my Lenten preparations, I attended a clergy retreat at Olmsted Manor, a retreat center in the midst of the beautiful Allegheny National Forest in Ludlow, PA. This is one of the reflections from my time away at Olmsted.

            —————————————————————— 

Of all the spiritual practices, and spiritual professions, one could choose as part of one’s faith, I think being a hermit one of the most extreme. Coming from a Greek word meaning “person of the desert,”[1] the hermits were ones who, because of their love for Jesus Christ, they left their old life behind and moved into a solitary place like the desert so they could devote themselves fully to seeking God in prayer and meditation.

I just finished an English translation of one of the writings of one of these Desert Fathers of our faith: “On Guarding the Intellect” by St. Isaiah the Solitary. There’s debate about exactly who this Isaiah was (and WHICH Isaiah was he), but we know that this devotional piece was written somewhere in the fourth or fifth century in the Israel/Egypt area of the Middle East.[2]

St. Isaiah begins with a description of one of the emotions human beings find arising within themselves; an anger of the intellect. He outlines the idea that this anger burns against that inside of me or you that is disgusted (and angry) about our flaws, our failures, and especially our sins. “Without [that] anger a man cannot attain purity.” He explains to those who want to follow his example that there are times when this kind of anger will ease up and one might be lulled into thinking that everything is okay now. However, the Christian is most in danger then. He cautions that we (those who might learn something from him) need to stay in an attitude of prayer over our sins, otherwise we will be tricked into believing we have nothing to worry about.

Having a “hatred for sin” is a sign that the anger has steered you in the right direction… away from sin and towards God. Isaiah explains to prospective monks that they “should shut all the gates of [their] soul, that is, the senses, so that [they are] not lured away.”[3] He believes that it is through the senses of touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing that we are most easily ensnared… not to fall into some big sin, but usually to simply get distracted from what we were supposed to have been doing.

Watching out for attacks from the enemy of our souls and from the distractions of our senses is not the only prescription St. Isaiah has identified though. In paragraph #13, which are called “chapters” even though they are only a paragraph or two long, the hermit admonishes “Unless a man hates all the activity of this world, he cannot worship God.”[4] It sounds extreme, yet he simply means that to truly worship God and give God the praise and devotion He is worthy of, requires that we be so single-minded, and clearly focused on serving, loving, and following God. Thus everything else in this life pales by comparison.

To continue to be clear minded in our worship of the Lord, he also stresses that each prospective follower “Examine yourself daily in the sight of God” and see what really is in your heart. Thus you can cast away any distractions and be wholehearted in our devotion.[5]

Ultimately, the goal St. Isaiah the Solitary is striving for, as were all of the Desert Fathers, was to become a hesochast, meaning a person who has found the stillness and silence that brings inner peace and tranquility. But this stillness is “Not simply silence, but an attitude of listening to God and of openness towards Him.”[6]

Regarding the intensive self-examination for sin, St. Isaiah challenges the potential followers: “If you are afraid of sinners like yourself seeing your sins, how much more should you be afraid of God who notes everything?” [7]

His concluding word of encouragement and hope is blunt: “Whatever you are doing, remember that God sees all your thoughts, and then you will never sin.” [8]

[1] http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=hermit

[2] From the introduction to this document found in The Philokalia (vol. 1) edited by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth (Faber & Faber Publishers, London) 1979, p. 21. (This book is referred to as Philokalia hereafter)

[3] Philokalia, p. 23, chapter 7.

[4] Philokalia, p.24, chapter 13.

[5] Philokalia, p.26, chapter 20.

[6] Philokalia, glossary entry “Stillness” on p. 365.

[7] Philokalia, p. 28, chapter 27.

[8] Philokalia, p. 28, chapter 27.

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You Alone

I’m not much of a resolutions kind of person, but I have decided to reread the little book The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis throughout 2015.

While I pretty much expect to go from front to back in order, I stumbled across a passage that caught my eye: book 3, chapter 59. I had marked it AND highlighted portions back in the late ’90s when I first read this book.

It’s in the form of a prayer from a person who is simply identified as “Disciple.” In other chapters, we read of Christ’s response, but it’s just the Disciple praying here.

He starts with a question:
“My Lord, God, what can I depend on in this life, or what is my greatest solace on earth? Is it not You, my God, Whose mercy is infinite? Where have things gone well with me without You, and where have things gone badly for me when you were with me?”

The Disciple then identifies that God alone is all he really desires and then he says:
“And so I come to the realization that I cannot fully trust in anyone to help me in my necessities save only You – my hope, my trust, my comfort, and my most faithful Friend.”

Section 2 continues:
“All persons look out for their own interests; You seek only my salvation and my benefit, turning all good things to my good. Even though You permit me to be tested by various temptations and all sorts of trials, You do so for my profit.”

But it’s the declaration that begins in section 3 is it really caught my eye. “Therefore, in You, O my God, I place all my hope and fly to You for refuge. On You, I cast all my troubles and anxieties; for all his uncertainty weakness and instability outside of you.

“Many friends cannot help me; influential people are of no avail; consulting the wise will not give me the answers I require; the books of the learned can bring me no inspiration; nor is there any precious substance to ransom me, no secret hiding place to shelter me. Only you yourself, my God, can stand by me, help me, comfort, counsel, teach and defend me.”

Later in section 4 there is this little prayerful declaration that strikes deep into my heart as I think and plan what I want to be like on New Year’s Day next year.
“To you, O Lord, the Father of mercy, I raise my eyes, and In You alone, my God, I put my trust. Bless and sanctify my soul with Your heavenly benediction; may it become a holy place where You may dwell – the place of Your eternal glory. Let nothing be found in this temple that may offend the eyes of Your Divine Majesty.”

You know, that’s enough to start a new resolution any day of the year, but it seems especially appropriate as we started new year!

Oh God, this is my prayer as well: Bless and sanctify my soul with Your heavenly benediction; may it become a holy place where You may dwell – the place of Your eternal glory.”

AMEN!

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