Tag Archives: Wesley

SONG: Wesley’s Prayer

Below, I have inserted a link to a new song based on the traditional Wesley’s Prayer that I have fallen in love with. I heard it for the first time at the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s inaugural event in Chicago in October 2016. Check it out!

Here’s the traditional Wesley’s Prayer as well.

“I am no longer my own, but thine.

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,

exalted for thee or brought low for thee.

Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

thou art mine, and I am thine.

So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,

let it be ratified in heaven.

Amen.”

https://youtu.be/ePZTzAVY_5A

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Acts of God?

Recently, I’ve heard, read, and watched different supposed Christians who want to take all the hurricanes and fires and earthquakes and ascribe them to God as if GOD had evilly created a plan to punish people with Hell on earth in the nasty now-and-now…
And other people who try to use these events as reasons to “prove” that there is NO God anywhere, nor has there ever been.
In response, today, I want to share a great resource actually written and published by the denomination to which I belong: The United Methodist Church.

Ask the UMC: How do United Methodists understand human suffering from natural disaster?

A tire swing sways in the wind from Hurricane Rita over the remains of a beachfront home destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in Ocean Springs, Miss. Rita made landfall in East Texas Sept. 24, 2005, nearly four weeks after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

A tire swing sways in the wind from Hurricane Rita over the remains of a beachfront home destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in Ocean Springs, Miss. Rita made landfall in East Texas Sept. 24, 2005, nearly four weeks after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi.

Ask the UMC: How do United Methodists understand human suffering from natural disaster?

Sometimes the devastation is overwhelming. The waters rise and the rain won’t stop. The ground shakes beneath our feet, or the wind blows the roofs off homes. Sometimes, even the side of the mountain roars into town. The problems seem insurmountable, the destruction beyond our comprehension.When tragedy strikes, it is common for us to ask why. We turn to our faith for answers, but answers don’t come easily. We wrestle with making sense of the suffering we witness, in light of our Christian faith. Questions are left unanswered. The tragedy is not explained.In a sermon titled “The Promise of Understanding,” John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, says we may never know. He writes,

“[W]e cannot say why God suffered evil to have a place in his creation; why he, who is so infinitely good himself, who made all things ‘very good,’ and who rejoices in the good of all his creatures, permitted what is so entirely contrary to his own nature, and so destructive of his noblest works. ‘Why are sin and its attendant pain in the world?’ has been a question ever since the world began; and the world will probably end before human understandings have answered it with any certainty” (section 2.1).

The short answer is: We do not know why natural disasters and other suffering are part of our world.

Did God do this?

While Wesley admits we cannot know the complete answer, he clearly states that suffering does not come from God. God is “infinitely good,” Wesley writes, “made all things good,” and “rejoices in the good of all his creatures.”

Our good God does not send suffering. According to Wesley, it is “entirely contrary to [God’s] own nature, and so destructive of his noblest works.” Suffering is not punishment for sin or a judgment from God. We suffer, and the world suffers, because we are human and part of a system of processes and a physical environment where things go wrong.

God with us

In another sermon titled “On Divine Providence,” Wesley again writes of God’s love for humanity and that God desires good for us. He then adds how God is always with us, even in the midst of tragedy. Wesley shares,

“[God] hath expressly declared, that as his ‘eyes are over all the earth’ [see Psalm 34:15; 83:18], so he ‘is loving to every man, and his mercy is over all his works’ [Psalm 145:9]. Consequently, he is concerned every moment for what befalls every creature upon earth; and more especially for everything that befalls any of the children of men. It is hard, indeed, to comprehend this; nay, it is hard to believe it, considering the complicated wickedness, and the complicated misery, which we see on every side. But believe it we must” (paragraph 13).

This is good news. While we cannot fully comprehend the why, we know that God is with those who suffer. Note that Wesley says God cares for “every creature.” We are never alone in our suffering.

In our experience, we know that tragedies happen to Christians and non-Christians alike. As Jesus said, “[God] makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). The good news we proclaim is that God is with us through it all.

A different question

When Jesus and his disciples encounter a man born blind, the disciples ask Jesus the question we are asking. “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” (John 9:2). Jesus, why does seemingly arbitrary suffering occur?

Jesus’ answer, “Neither he nor his parents,” tells us that the disciples are asking the wrong question. “This happened,” Jesus continues, “so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). Jesus asserts that it is in our response to suffering that God is found, in moments of everyday grace and in grand and sweeping gestures of care and solidarity with the suffering. God’s mighty works are found in hospitals and nursing homes and shelters.

Jesus is calling his disciples and us to a ministry. We are to join Jesus in displaying God’s mighty works. We are an extension of God’s presence in the midst of the tragedy as we come beside those who are suffering in ways we don’t comprehend. We are to be agents of healing, working to restore God’s order to people’s lives and communities. We are to be representatives of the day of resurrection to come, as we seek to rebuild and renew.

In our United Methodist congregations, we join together in these ministries. We assemble flood buckets and work alongside those who shovel the muck from floodwaters from the floors of their homes. We rebuild homes. We stand in the gap alongside the suffering. We support our local food banks, help build houses in our communities, take care of one another’s cars, visit those who are ill and imprisoned, and so much more. We are also active in our communities, working to change systems that inflict suffering on people in our communities.

In the aftermath of tragedy, we give witness to the love of God. In our outpouring of support, we proclaim the value of every human life. As we grieve with those in mourning, we share the love of God. When we send supplies through the United Methodist Committee on Relief, we witness to God’s provision. When medical professionals bind up wounds, Jesus is shown as a healer. When homes are rebuilt, we proclaim resurrection.

We may not know why things happen, but we embrace the ministries of healing, renewal and reconciliation to which Jesus calls us, and in doing so, God’s mighty works are revealed.

Related:

Turning to the Bible when sorrow strikes

‘Jesus wept’: Finding God’s comfort when times are bad

 

Have questions? Ask the UMC. And check out other recent Q&As.

This content was produced by InfoServ, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.

First published Aug. 31, 2017.

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Marks of a Methodist

John Wesley wrote the following as a preface to a tract he called THE CHARACTER OF A METHODIST: He wrote “SINCE the name first came abroad into the world, many have been at a loss to know what a Methodist is; what are the principles and the practice of those who are commonly called by that name; and what the distinguishing marks [are] of this sect…”

And with that introduction, he began, in 17 points, to logically argue what one could look for that would help identify what a Methodist was really like.

This, then, in today’s words, was the essence of his response…

  1. THE distinguishing marks of a Methodist are not his opinions of any sort. His agreeing to this doctrine or embracing that belief have nothing to do with it. So anyone who imagines that a Methodist is someone with a certain dogma mistakes the truth completely. Yes, we do believe that “all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God;” and so we are distinguished from Jews, Muslims, and atheists. We believe the written word of God to be the only needed source of guidance for us to live the Christian life; and so there is a fundamental difference between the Roman Catholic Church and us. We believe Jesus Christ to be the eternal, supreme God; and so we are clearly different from groups like the Mormons, the Jehovah Witnesses, and others like them. But as to all of the other disagreements in Christianity, if they aren’t at odds with those basics of the faith, then we think and let think. Our individual beliefs on those things, whatever they are not what makes us Methodists.
  1. Neither are words or phrases of any sort. We don’t get hung up on a particular religious way of talking. We prefer to make our conversations and our preaching as easy to understand for those who are new as well as those who’ve been in the church for years.
  1. Nor do we desire to be distinguished by meaningless practices or habits that try to show how religious we are. Our religion isn’t about what we wear or what we do or don’t do, or eat or wear. Unless instructions are specifically found in the word of God, you won’t find it being a Methodist practice.
  1. Nor can you define a Methodist by how we make our beliefs and practice try to stand up to a particular Scripture passage. We recognize that our faith is a gift God gives us and we grow into clearer understanding as we go to ALL of the Scriptures… not just by setting up tests by which we judge and evaluate each other based on some favorite Scripture. In other words, we don’t look to the Bible as a way to compare ourselves with others. That would be as bad as a woman who decides she is absolutely virtuous just because she isn’t a prostitute; or a man who convinces himself that he is truly honest just because he does not rob or steal. Methodists, and Christians in general, can’t be seen just by trying to compare them to others.
  1. So you might ask: “What then is the mark? Who is a Methodist?” Wesley answers: A Methodist is one who has “the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit;” a Methodist is one who “loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength.” God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul.
  1. A Methodist is happy in God. He has “a well of water springing up into everlasting life,” and overflowing his soul with peace and joy. Having found forgiveness of his sins through Jesus, he can’t help but rejoice, whenever he looks back on the horrible pit out of which he has been delivered. He can’t help but rejoice, whenever he looks on the way his life is now, because he has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
  1. A Methodist is one who has hope because of Christ and thus gives thanks to God in all things, for he has learned to be content in whatever situation he finds himself. Whether in ease or pain, whether in sickness or health, whether in life or death, he gives thanks from his heart to God who directs his life; knowing that every good gift comes from above. He therefore can cast all his care on God in all things, making his request known to him with thanksgiving.
  1. In fact, a Methodist is known as one who “prays without ceasing.” Not that a methodist is always in the house of prayer; though he doesn’t miss a chance to go to church when he can. Neither is he always physically on his knees in prayer. But he’s one that offers God his very heart, and in the times of praying or even in the times of silence, his heart is ever lifted up to God. Whether he lie down or rise up, God is in all his thoughts; he walks with God continually.
  1. And while a Methodist can be known by the way they love God, by praying without ceasing, by rejoicing evermore, and in giving thanks in everything, there’s another commandment written in his heart that says, If you love God, then love your fellow humans also. As Jesus said it, a Methodist loves his neighbor as himself; he loves every man as his own soul. His heart is full of love to all. That someone comes along who’s not personally known to him, is no irrelevant. Even if someone comes along that dislikes him or wants to harm him, a Methodist “loves his enemies.” And if it isn’t in his power to “do good to them that hate him,” still he’ll pray for those who “despitefully use him and persecute him.”
  1. For a true Methodist is “pure in heart.” By that we mean that a methodist seeks, and lets, the love of God purify his heart from all revengeful passions, from envy, malice, and wrath, from every unkind temper or malign affection. A Methodist forgives, if he had a quarrel against someone else; in the same way that God through Christ has forgiven him.
  1. In the same way, a Methodist tries to do the will of God. His one intention at all times and in all things is, not to please himself, but to please God. God then reigns alone in his life.
  1. And in the same way that you can tell a tree by the fruit it bears: an apple on a tree reveals that it is an apple tree and oranges hanging from the branches reveals the orange tree, so it is that you’ll be able to tell a Methodist by the fruit of his life… his actions and attitudes, behaviors and choices will show that this is a person who is connected to Jesus Christ. Whatever God has forbidden, he avoids; whatever God hath commanded, he does.
  1. A Methodist seeks to love God by obeying God as much as he can. For his obedience is in proportion to his love, the source from whence it flows. And therefore, loving God with all his heart, he serves him with all his strength. He continually presents his soul and body a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God; entirely and without reserve devoting himself, all he has, and all he is, to his glory.
  1. So, by consequence, whatever the Methodist does, it is done for God. His business and entertainment, as well as his prayers, all serve this great end. Whether he sit in his house or walk by the way, whether he lie down or rise up, he is promoting, in all he speaks or does, the one business of his life; whether he put on his clothes, or go to work, or eat and drink, it all is meant to give glory to God. His one invariable rule is this, “Whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”
  1. Nor does the Methodist take his cues from the world around him. He knows that sin does not stop being sinful, just because everyone else is doing it. Even his very thought life is directed not by the society in which we live, but by the Scripture passage that says, “Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right.”
  1. Finally, as he has time, he does good to others… whether neighbors or strangers, friends or enemies. A Methodist reaches out physically, emotionally, and spiritually, so that those others that God brings into their path, might meet Jesus through them.
  1. These are the principles and practices of our group; these are the marks of a true Methodist. By these alone do we desire to be distinguished from others.

You might say, But the things you’ve described are only the common fundamental principles of Christianity!”

Yep! You got it!

John Wesley meant that very thing. He said: I would to God that everyone understood this truth that we vehemently refuse to be distinguished from others, by any but the common principles of plain, old Christianity. In fact, we renounce and detest all other marks of distinction.

And that’s who a Methodist is… he is a Christian, not in name only, but in heart and in life. He is inwardly and outwardly conformed to the will of God, as revealed in the written word. He thinks, speaks, and lives, according to the method laid down in the revelation of Jesus Christ. His soul is renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and in all true holiness. And having the mind that was in Christ, he so walks as Christ also walked.

  1. By these marks, by these fruits of a living faith, do we labor to

distinguish ourselves from the unbelieving world, from all those whose minds or lives are not according to the Gospel of Christ. But from real Christians, of whatever denomination they be, we have no real desire to be distinguished at all, not from any who sincerely follow after Christ. Like Jesus said: “Whoever does the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

Wesley hoped that Methodists would be known by our Christianity… that there would be no other divisions among ourselves. He paraphrased a Scriptural passage and asked “Is your heart right, as my heart is with yours? If it be, then give me your hand. Do you love and serve God? It is enough. I give you the right hand of fellowship.

Like Paul so long ago, Wesley would ask: “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and sympathetic? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one heart and purpose.” “Lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace. We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and there is only one God and Father, who is over us all and in us all and living through us all.”

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What is United Methodism?

In 2001, in Patton, PA, most of the town’s churches (Protestant and Catholic) gathered during Lent, as they had done for years prior. But this year, 2001, the pastors agreed to them their ‘devotional’ message (given on the week their congregation served the soup & sandwich supper) around the beliefs and traditions of their Church. These are essentially my notes from that night 10 years ago. The only changes were spelling and grammar.

 = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

DAYTON’S NOTES for Lenten Supper March 27, 2001

What is United Methodism?

So… What makes us United Methodists unique?


You see, in the early part of the 1700s, an Oxford student named John Wesley and his brother Charles, were part of a small group of college buddies that got together regularly to pray, read the Bible, and encourage one another in their Christian walk.


Their intent was to help each other be obedient to the Biblical command that called for holiness and holy living from the people of God.


And they knew that alone they were going to mess it up. The church of their day was filled with priests and people who simply went through the motions of religion when they were in church services and lived like the devil all the rest of the week.


So these young men banded together to try and help each other face the temptations and the distractions so that they might be “holy unto the Lord.”


They believed a set pattern of consistently immersing themselves in God’s Word was needed if they were going to be Christian. They also felt that Jesus’ instructions about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoners, were to be taken seriously… and that we as Christians ought to be about Jesus’ business in those areas.


At one point, they called their group a “holy club.” Other students laughed at them and called them names like “method–ists.”


The name stuck, and Methodist to this day is a good description of what this denomination of Christians believes.


We believe that we must be INTENTIONAL about following Jesus Christ. You can’t simply be baptized and then never acknowledge Christ again. You can’t simply claim to have “accepted Jesus” and then live like the devil from then on. You can’t simply go to church and figure you’ve made it into Heaven.


The analogy of a newborn baby fits pretty well here. Just like a baby has quite a bit of time between conception and its birth, so Methodism teaches that God’s grace is poured out on us even before we are “spiritually born” and that the church, like the mother of that baby in the womb, has a role in caring and nurturing the yet unborn child of God.


In the same way that the baby in the womb eventually reaches a critical moment when the mother’s water breaks and the baby is born, so Methodism teaches that there will be a critical moment where each of us will be “born again,” consciously deciding to allow Christ to be our Lord, our Savior, our source of hope and life. The difference lies in the fact that as humans, we have a choice as to whether we will be born in spiritual birth.


Likewise, just as parents of that newborn baby must then spend years feeding and caring for the helpless baby, Methodism teaches that we must care for the spiritual babes, and discipleship and training are hallmarks of Methodism.


But Methodism also recognizes that that physical child will never be able to quit feeding on physical food and caring for his or her physical body, and in Methodism we find a belief that we, as maturing Christians, can never be satisfied with our past history of being a Christian, but must be intentional about regularly feeding on Gods’ Word, serving Him, gathering together with His people, and talking and listening to Him in prayer.


So far, we could probably be almost any church group represented here… and that’s part of the message of Methodism. Wesley never intended to make a new church denomination. Methodists were a small group accountability, discipleship and evangelism movement WITHIN the regular church that its members already belonged to… the Anglican Church.


You would go church on Sunday at the Anglican Church, receive communion, be faithful to the church, you would have been baptized there and there you go to receive Holy Communion.


But then, sometime during the week, a Methodist would then gather at a Methodist meeting and study the Bible, pray together, and ask each other nosy, penetrating questions like `What sins have you committed this week that you need to repent of?’ and ‘How is it with your soul?’


Methodism was an accountability group… in fact, if you covenanted with these people to be a “Methodist” then you HAD to pay a set apportioned amount into the group coffers to be able to help pay for the ministries of reaching out to the poor with food and clothing. And if you covenanted with these people to be a “Methodist” you HAD TO be present each week. You miss more than a couple of times (without being sick or something) you were kicked out of the Methodist Society.


In fact, it wasn’t until the American Revolution, when the Anglican priests were called back to England, that John Wesley finally consented to actually having “ordained” pastors in American Methodism. In so doing, the preachers, which had simply been lay ministers, were now able to become ordained and thus, able to officiate over the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.

The new American brand of Methodism, in 1784, was called the Methodist Episcopal Church, meaning we were Methodist in our beliefs and episcopal in our structure. (The word ‘episcopal’ means led by a bishop.) Today we are known as United Methodists, because the Methodists have united with others of similar beliefs through the years.

Methodism really is a lot like almost all other churches. Especially the Anglican Church and its American brothers and sisters, the Episcopal Church. Methodists and Anglicans both come out of the Anglican Church and our views on so many things are similar. We work together well.


Methodism shares a heritage with Catholicism, Roman and Byzantine, for it was Wesley’s reading and consuming the works of church writers from both realms that helped influence his formulation of what it meant to be a Methodist. And we, like they, to this day find bishops discerning where its pastors will be best used in ministry settings.


Methodism shares a heritage with the Presbyterian’s Calvinistic background. Wesley found he could agree with many of the ideas Calvin put forth about heaven and hell… although Wesley stressed that WE the individuals had free will to respond to God’s outpoured grace.


Methodism then and now, believes strongly in the idea that EVERY believer in Jesus Christ is a minister. Agreed, some of those believer/ministers are called to some extra tasks in the church as ordained pastors, but the ministry of evangelism, nurture, outreach, and witness, is the role of EVERY Methodist.


The annual conference, made up of all the pastors and all the local churches in an area, sends pastors on a rotating basis, to help train and equip the saints in doing those various ministries. Sunday morning, to a Methodist, is supposed to be a weekly re-equipping time for them as a minister.


In fact, in Methodism, the highest a pastor can hope to go is to become an `elder’, which in most denominations is simply a layperson who is in charge of leadership in the church… And as pastors, our highest call and greatest recognition is simply as one of the “everyday believers…” who has a specialized ministry.

The final hallmark of Methodism is again something set in motion by John Wesley himself when he said “I am a man of only one book.” In reality, he read A LOT of books, but only one, the Bible, could be used as the reliable, authoritative source of knowing about God. Today, our primary source of knowledge and belief is still the Bible. Sure we use our reason, our experience, and our heritage to help us make sense of the Bible and how it can be applied to us today, but the Holy Scriptures are where we always start.

John Wesley, when answering a question about “What is a Methodist?” responded that a Methodist was simply a Christian who had the love of God in his heart. 

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John Wesley Clayride

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They’ll Know We Are Christians, By Our …???

On April 3rd, I finally got so tired of people calling me and questioning me (and even a couple who wanted to take me out to lunch to talk) about what had, or had not, happened when I met with our bishop, Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, that I wrote about it in a blog. I even gave my conclusions at the end that I believed he had NOT tried to be dishonest nor deceptive… but I felt, rather, he had simply misunderstood a situation and perhaps reacted differently than he might have if he had known more of the situation. As I reported then, the bishop personally apologized to me and I felt that “all was well.”

It was a very successful event in our common ministry, because we learned that we could communicate with each other… and that our common ministry and common brotherhood as fellow Christians and as fellow clergy was important enough to do the hard work of facing the uncomfortable conversations in order to clear the air… and ensure that misunderstandings didn’t come between us.

I believe we followed Jesus’ teaching that when you have something that bugs you about someone, you go to them personally and confront them, privately, face to face, and “alone” (Matthew 18:15f). If that doesn’t work, then you take someone else with you and so on… always looking for reconciliation in the relationship. Wasn’t it Paul that said that in becoming new creations, the old ways of the world were no longer our ways? As Christians, we’re different people, new creations, and “behold, all things become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Even the ways the world goes about dealing with conflict are not our ways.

And in that very next verse, the very next sentence, we are presented with the instruction that since God “has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ…” that He has now “given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Tom Bickerton and Dayton Mix did that kind of individual, private, face-to-face reconciling work… and, I believe, we both walked away feeling like brothers… CHRISTIAN brothers… not the Cain and Abel kind. I felt we were reconciled. That’s what Jesus said we were to be about. That’s what Paul said was to be our ministry.

So I am at a loss why this keeps coming up in other people’s conversations, letters, emails, phone calls, and planning.

Then there were anonymous letters sent trying to prejudice lay people against the bishop. Being clergy, I didn’t get one, but I’m told that I wasn’t named in the letter, but the background of this situation was. What was included were misunderstandings and confusion… some pieces of true information… but because they’re out of context they are not accurate.

And for the record, anonymous letters have NO PLACE in Christianity. In both Scripture and in the history of the church, the ones who were truly led of God to “take a stand” and “defend the faith” always publicly spoke out. They wrote with their names attached… regardless of reprisal… even if it meant burning at the stake, or persecution, or excommunication. Those are the ones we look back to and honor them for ‘defending the faith.’

The times that so-called Christians hid behind the cover of anonymity were times of hiding under bed sheets and white hoods so that they could make a point about what was bothering them and so they created fear, division, and intimidation. Christians aren’t supposed to work like that. We’re supposed to do the hard work of standing up for what you believe and confronting someone who has hurt you in order to seek reconciliation.

Folks, the Ku Klux Klan mentality of anonymity is evil… it can never lead to reconciliation… it can never lead to spiritual healthiness of a church or its people. It is not Christian to attack… let alone anonymously.

Now, as we’re about to leave for our annual conference sessions where we supposedly gather to “discern” what God would have us do as a covenanted people who are all united to do His work together in this area, I received an email that thanked me for some information and the writer included a question:

“Thanks for the info. Now, how do we depose a bishop?”
WHAT?!!!!

Although there have been several bishops (and pastors and lay people as well) that I wonder how they ever made it past their own local pastor asking them the “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” and “Do you repent of your sins?” questions when they were first joining the church as lay people, THIS bishop is NOT one of those I wonder about. I believe him to be a good and decent man who loves Jesus as Lord and takes seriously his responsibility to shepherd the church.

Yes, he can be a bit of a politician too… in that he would like to do what he can to have EVERYONE be happy. I guess I don’t see that as horrible… Jesus himself calls us to be peacemakers. Maybe he made a mistake in how he tried to keep the peace. Maybe he would do things differently if he could.

Frankly, I would have made some decisions differently if I had been in his position… But then, in MY OWN LIFE there are MANY decisions I’d make differently if I could. Therefore, I MUST show a leader, even a bishop, that same graciousness that I would want to be treated with… and HAVE been treated with, by the people of God.

What happened to the Christians who pray for and love each other? In fact, wasn’t that the very definition Jesus used as to how you could tell a REAL Christian: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35)?

For that matter, if you believe that there are some in our church that truly are “the enemy,” then why aren’t we praying for them and showing them overwhelming love like Scripture says (Luke 6:27-28)? If we consider someone to be our enemy, Jesus said that we were to ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘go the second mile’ and ‘not resist an evil person’ (Matthew 5:38-42).

As for the issues that keep dividing us… war, abortion, sexuality beliefs & practices, particular doctrines, or whatever… I come from a background where we believed that the Bible taught that “whosoever would” could come to Christ and they could come as sinners “just as they are.” Sins and all… They could accept Christ and be a part of the family of God and still screw up occasionally… The question wasn’t ‘Are you without sin yet?’ but rather ‘Do you repent of your sin?’

And even then, we recognized that we all screw up… and need to repent again! In fact, last night before bed, I downed a huge bowl of ice cream with a large scoop of peanut butter and a chocolate candy bar… and I wasn’t even hungry to start with… I SINNED!!!! I had to repent of my sin of gluttony! And no one has kicked me out of the church yet…!

What makes my sin okay, or perhaps the sin of talebearing or gossip all right, but a bishop misspeaking, or a whole congregation that doesn’t seem to “get it” the way I believe on homosexuality, NOT acceptable?

YES, there are sinners in the church… and IT’S US!!!! We’re them! ALL of us…

I’ve been looking forward to conference for months and months and months. Not so that I can make a political stand or get my way on an issue… but because I’m a follower of Jesus Christ who follows John Wesley’s example of needing to ‘conference’ with my brothers and sisters. And yes, there will be unpleasant conversations at times and things might not always go my way, but if we’re truly Christian, then we’d better be about loving each other… including our bishop and our leaders… loving each other so much so that the people around us who watch us can recognize that we truly do love one another.

Either that or or we ought to quit calling ourselves followers of Christ…

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Feeling Blue…

News of an area pastor committing suicide has reached us and it feels like my world has been rocked… again.

While I knew this particular pastor, I didn’t really know his situation, nor his struggles… whatever they might have been. I simply knew who he was and appreciated his smile and laughter on the few times he and his wife would join our breakfast group a couple of churches ago. But then I moved, and he retired, and, like so many other pastors, I sort of lost touch.

And I have spent the past eight hours since I heard the news just thinking and meditating, praying and just feeling down… sad… depressed.

While I don’t know his issues, I know mine. And, as the saying goes, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

I was diagnosed a couple of years ago with a severe depression. The therapist I went to called me “high functioning” which I guess meant that you couldn’t really tell from the outside just how depressed I really was. He talked about how people with scores like mine on the Beck Depression Inventory usually find themselves in the hospital ward just to make sure they don’t commit suicide.

I haven’t considered suicide as an option, not back then and not now. There were times when I hurt inside enough that I could understand Jonah’s words when he said, “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than live!” I wouldn’t kill myself… but thought how nice it would be if God decreed that it was my time to go and ‘poof’ I didn’t have to deal with the ‘stuff’ anymore.

There were issues from my childhood, relationships that had never been healed, decisions (and lack of decisions) from college times that have followed me, and then, change and loss… and as a pastor I experience A LOT of change (after all, we move for a living, right!) and there have been A LOT of losses. Loss of financial stability, loss of hope, loss of dreams, loss of friends, loss of stability. And a lot of funerals. Mostly for parishioners, but there have been some family members in there… my Grandpa Mix, Gay’s dad Max, and her Grandma Beryl. And a miscarriage just a year before our son was born. And now-a-days, I understand much better the grief experienced with loss of health as I have gotten my first couple of tastes of arthritis, kidney stones, high blood pressure, gout, and recently, the cancer scare.

There are times when I feel SO alone out here in the hinterlands of rural America. I miss the comraderie and fellowship of having a group of us pastors that got together every week for breakfast. Sometimes it was more of a complaint session, but we could laugh about the messups and discuss what we might be able to do differently in this or that situation. And we weren’t “Rev. This” or “Pastor That.”

That’s why it’s been so important to deliberately seek out friends. People who aren’t reliant on me for their spiritual care. Even when I don’t feel like it, I know that there are times that I need to go to some activity just so that I don’t become too introverted and inward focused. Especially in times when things seem to go wrong with the other Christians one finds in the church… when it’s Christians who seem to be attacking or condemning or complaining. In the same way that our parishioners need to have encouragement, so do us pastors.

Part of my thinking and meditating this afternoon and evening is how far have I come? I feel better (as in better than I used to feel… not that I feel ‘all better’). How have I gotten there? Because I suspect that I’m not the only pastor out there to experience the ‘blues’ or outright depression.

I think the number one thing I did that helped me begin to heal was to find someone who took me seriously that maybe I had something going on. Out of fairness, my wife had said I was depressed and needed to see a counselor for several years, but the defense mechanisms were well oiled that I couldn’t hear her. It wasn’t until my physician, my medical doctor, gave me a prescription for an anti-depressant that I was finally able to start the process.

And even then, I was looking at the need to lose weight, and recognized that I probably needed help to step away from the comfort-food/stress-eating times. He prescibed a low dose of prozac as a way of ‘taking the edge off’ in order to allow me the chance to walk through some of the issues.

It helped… some. It helped me enough to let me see that I was dealing with A LOT of unresolved issues that were weighing heavily on me… not because any of them were super-huge dilemmas, but rather because there was such a vast array of undealt with emotions and unresolved concerns that the sheer volume of them threatened to drown me in a sea of grief.

And it took ALL of my defense mechanisms to ‘stay afloat.’ Thus the comfort foods, etc. (and A LOT of extra weight gain).

That low dose of anti-depressant allowed me to realize that I needed to deal with the ‘stuff’ so I began seeing a counselor, mine happens to be a Christian psychologist, but there are many fine counselors who aren’t Christian and many who come from a community counseling or sociology background rather than the psychology end.

With his help to unpack all the stuff in the closet of my mind and emotional storage center, I have been able to rethink through things that I hadn’t dealt with since I was a kid, or a teen, or a mixed up (often inebriated) college kid… only this time to think them through with an adult perspective and adult coping skills. Those events and feelings and stuff are still there… and always will be… It’s just that before I started this process, it was like they were haunting me and waiting for me from behind some hidden closet door in my mind. Now, after working through this process with medication and a counselor, those thoughts and feelings and memories are being sorted and rearranged and reevaluated and stored in a more orderly, understandable way… Rather than vague memories that haunt and hinder my growth, these rearranged and ordered thoughts and feelings can now serve as tools that help me find strength of character as I face the still unknown future.

Somewhere in the process, with the help of the counselor and the medicine, I began to be able to focus mentally enough again to be able to return to reading. And that, at least for me, has made a world of difference.

Some of the most helpful books have been:

  • Antagonists in the Church: How to Identify and Deal With Destructive Conflict, Kenneth C. Haugk, Augsburg Fortress Publishers: 1988
  • Becoming a Healthier Pastor: Family Systems Theory and the Pastor’s Own Family (Creative Pastoral Care and Counseling Series), Ronald W. Richardson, Augsburg Fortress Publishers: 2004
  • Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations Under Attack, G. Lloyd Rediger, Westminster John Knox Press: 1997
  • Coping With Depression, Siang-Yang Tan & John Ortberg, Baker Books: 2004
  • Pastors in Pain, Gary D. Preston, Baker Books: 2005
  • The Wounded Minister: Healing from and Preventing Personal Attacks, Guy Greenfield, Baker Books: 2001
  • The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society, Henri Nouwen, Image (reissue): 1979
  • The Other Side of Love: Handling Anger in a Godly Way, Gary Chapman, Moody: 1999
  • They Smell Like Sheep: Spiritual Leadership for the 21st Century, Lynn Anderson, Howard Books: 2002
  • Walking Through The Valley: Understanding and Emerging from Clergy Depression, Robert L. Randall, Abingdon Press: 1998.

Of course, there have been other books… some light easy to read books and some theological wonders… along with some C.S. Lewis and some J.R.R. Tolkein. But these were the biggies.

I have had to have my medication increased several times… I’m a big guy and it took a lot. I had to see my counselor pretty often there for awhile. But now, two and a half years later, along with some other healthier choices and a very understanding district superintendent that I’ve been able to be very honest with, I see my counselor only once in a while and am on the very lowest possible medicine dosage again.

Ultimately, it’s my wife that’s probably helped me the most… despite the times when I have all of the defenses going, thinking I’m being self-protective, it’s usually my wife that alerts me when I’m starting to bottle things up and keep my feelings inside… and that’s when I start to get ‘sicker’ with this depression. When she says she doesn’t know what’s going on inside of me, it’s a red flag that I’ve been keeping it all in too much.

I am not completely healed. I still need a lot of healing and help. But as long as I don’t isolate and allow myself to try and be some kind of a lone ranger, there’s hope ahead for me.

And I don’t believe I’m alone in the pastoral ranks in this realm either. Catch the words of Charles Wesley’s song from 1749 about the Methodist pastors who would come together in conference once a year…

1. And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face? Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace!
2. Preserved by power divine to full salvation here, again in Jesus’ praise we join, and in his sight appear.
3. What troubles have we seen, what mighty conflicts past, fightings without, and fears within,since we assembled last!
4. Yet out of all the Lord hath brought us by his love; and still he doth his help afford, and hides our life above.
5. Then let us make our boast of his redeeming power, which saves us to the uttermost, till we can sin no more.
6. Let us take up the cross till we the crown obtain, and gladly reckon all things loss so we may Jesus gain.
http://gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/hymns/umh553.stm

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Filed under Grief, Journaling, Mental Health