Elk Country

The last several-month leg of our journey has been a very busy and stressful time in our lives while completing work for ordination. So after Easter Sunday, we finally carved out some time away.

We stayed fairly close to home, renting a cabin for two nights in neighboring Elk County. The rainy/stormy season continued during our trip but we did have some decent breaks. In fact, some of the photos below were taken at the Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette, PA before and after a thunder/hail storm.

The new Elk Country Visitor Center is a nice place to visit. The 22-minute multimedia movie in the Story Theater is well-done (that’s where we were during the storm, which we didn’t know about until afterward). We saw a lot of elk at the visitor center after the storm.

It was a good time away. We stopped at a nearby playground in Benezette on our way home. The kids enjoyed the playground, including the climbing wall. Ethan has always been a climber, and now, Sarah climbs whatever Ethan climbs.

Take Up Your Washbasin and Towel!

Last night, at the combined Holy Thursday service of the Centre Grove and Curwensville UMCs, my sermon was on the example of Jesus in washing the feet of his disciples, hours before his betrayal.

The story in John 13 is loaded with topics and lessons but I chose to focus on Jesus’ example. Jesus’ example teaches us to be “doers of the word and not only hearers” (James 1.22, CEB).

After Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, he says …

Do you know what I’ve done for you? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. 14 If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example: just as I have done, you also must do. 16 I assure you, servants aren’t greater than their master, nor are those who are sent greater than the one who sent them. 17 Since you know these things, you will be happy if you do them. (John 13.12-17)

Our faith (what we know) and action (what we do) must go hand in hand. Jesus says, “Since you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.”

But what drove Jesus to wash his disciples’ feet (an action performed by the lowliest of servants, in his day)? It’s the same thing that drove Jesus to the cross—love! At the beginning of the story in John 13, we’re told that Jesus, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them fully.” (Psalm 36.7 says, “Your faithful love is priceless, God!”)

Before Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he “took off his robes,” and after he washed their feet, “he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table.” This is the same language Jesus used when he talked about laying down his life and taking it back up. We, too, are called to lay down our lives for others.

Jesus gave us an example. The point is …

God’s love compels us to lay down our lives for others!

Jesus gave us an example. Now, he sends us. After washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus talked about “those who are sent.” Interestingly, Jesus’ first words to his disciples after his resurrection were, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20.21).

As people who have taken up their crosses, Jesus teaches us to also take up our washbasins and towels, to lay down our lives for others by serving them with humility.

After this experience, leading up to his betrayal later that night, Jesus continued talking about our call to love others …

34 “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” (John 13.34-35)

12 This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. … 16 You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last. (John 15.12-13,16)

Take up for washbasin and towel!

Chuck Swindoll on Leadership

Randy is the cluster leader for the Clearfield Cluster, made up of twenty United Methodist churches in the area. The pastors of the cluster meet monthly for breakfast. Recently, we added a monthly gathering for personal growth.

One day a month, we meet for about 90 minutes (including lunch) to watch a leadership lesson on DVD. Randy and I have several DVDs of past Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summits. Randy also won a set of DVDs from the 2009 Catalyst conference.

Recently, we watched a session in which Chuck Swindoll spoke at Catalyst. Swindoll, who’s been in ministry for 50 years, talks about God’s work of crushing in the lives of leaders. He offered ten things about leadership that he’s learned over the years.

  1. It’s lonely to lead. Leaders make the tough decisions.
  2. It’s dangerous to succeed, especially young. One needs to experience the crushing, the disappointment, the failure.
  3. It’s hardest at home.
  4. It’s essential to be real; to stay real.
  5. It’s painful to obey. God will ask things that are not easy.
  6. Brokenness and failure are necessary.
  7. My attitude is more important than my actions.
  8. Integrity eclipses image (what you do behind the scenes, rather than up front).
  9. God’s way is better than my way.
  10. Christlikeness begins and ends with humility.

Swindoll concluded with a list of statements worth remembering about the next 50 years …

  1. Do more with others, less alone (accountability).
  2. Whenever you do it, emphasize quality, not quantity.
  3. Wherever you do it, do it the same as if you were among those who know you best (keep from exaggerating).
  4. Whoever may respond, keep a level head.
  5. However long you may lead, keep on dripping with gratitude and grace.

Insight from a seasoned leader!

Earnestly Striving After Perfection

Christian perfection was a core value for John Wesley and the early Methodists. Christian perfection was ultimately about loving God and neighbors. Joel Green points out in Reading Scripture as Wesleyans, which I blogged about yesterday, that …

Wesley read Scripture with this aim in mind: to nurture love of God and love of neighbor. In the end, this is the theological context within which he practices biblical interpretation. (112)

This value carried over into the questions that ordinands have been asked for more than two centuries, which I posted a couple months ago (see also the follow-up post with the questions from 1784). After the first question (“Have you faith in Christ?”), the next three questions address Christian perfection. Question 2 asks, “Are you going on to perfection?” Question 3 follows up with, “Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?” And question 4 asks, “Are you earnestly striving after it?” (the original question was, “Are you groaning after it?”).

One could answer the first two questions fairly easily, but the third question leaves little wiggle room. The only way we will go on to perfection in love is by earnestly striving after it, by being intentional and disciplined in our pursuit of it.

In reflecting on these questions, my mind goes to Philippians 3 where the apostle Paul lists, and then writes off, his accomplishments. He adds …

12 It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. 13 Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. 14 The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus. 15 So, all of us who are spiritually mature should think this way … (3.12-15, CEB)

That’s the attitude of one earnestly striving after perfection in love!

Are you going on to perfection? Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life? Are you earnestly striving after it?

“Reading Scripture as Wesleyans”

I just finished another book that I’m reading before ordination (see 75 Days of Preparation for Ordination). Reading Scripture as Wesleyans by Joel B. Green (now at Fuller Theological Seminary, formerly at Asbury) is described as “ideal for use with the Wesley Study Bible.”

I enjoyed reading this book. It takes a look at how Wesley used a number of different New Testament books in his sermons, which also provides a Wesleyan view of Scripture.

Here are some statements I highlighted …

There is only one church. So words addressed to God’s people in the first century are actually addressed to the whole people of God, everywhere and at all times. (3)

In discussing Wesley’s use of Matthew, Green points out a “hallmark of Wesleyan faith” …

Becoming Christian is not simply an event in the past; rather, one ‘becomes’ Christian through ongoing formation of heart and life in ways that reflect the image of Christ. (11)

I’ve used orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxy (right action), and I’ve used orthopathy (right passion) (similar to Green’s use of orthokardia, right heart), so I love this statement …

… neither orthodoxy (‘right doctrine’) nor orthopraxy (‘right action’) can substitute for orthokardia (‘right heart’). (22)

Besides discussing Wesley’s use of Scripture, the book also gives a nice overview/summary of some of the New Testament books. For example, on Luke’s writings (his Gospel and Acts), Green notes …

… the account of Jesus’ suffering and death comprises some 25 percent of the Gospel, so Paul’s arrest and trials account for some 25 percent of Acts. … Taken together, the writings of Luke comprise the single largest contribution to the New Testament (28 percent of the whole). (63)

On Hebrews …

For Hebrews as for Wesley, salvation was not merely a fixed point in the past but an ongoing pilgrimage as one moves forward to maturity in the faith. (105)

Jesus thus walked faithfully the path of obedience to God and blazed the trail of holy living that others might follow. (108)

I love this statement …

Moving on in the journey of salvation is nonnegotiable. Not to move on is to fall away. (109)

Green does a nice job discussing how our practices form us …

Christians engage in such practices because of their allegiance to Christ, and their engagement in those practices forms them more fully in their allegiance to Christ. (114)

On “testing” and “temptation” …

The paradox, which we find in both James ad 1 Peter, is that the very process that can lead to growth in faith and faithfulness toward God (that is, ‘testing’) can also lead to loss of faithfulness, even falling away from faith (that is, ‘temptation’) (121). … It is a ‘trial’ (that leads to maturation) when believers respond to it appropriately, with joy; but it is a ‘temptation’ (that leads to death) when believers respond to it inappropriately, out of their own evil inclinations. (122)

Finally, a couple quotes from Green’s treatment of Revelation …

… the basic Christian response to which John calls his readers is nothing less (and nothing more) than ongoing, stubborn allegiance to the kingdom of God. (165)

Indeed, what a remarkable scene John has given us—not in order to feed curiosity or nurture speculation about the end, but in order to cultivate hope in the God who will set hings right, and to call for present responses of faithfulness and praise. (171)

Good stuff!

Theology of Ordination

In my recent post, 75 Days of Preparation for Ordination, I stated that I planned to review Bishop William Willimon’s Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry. Here, I will simply post some quotes from the first chapter, which specifically deals with ordination. As we prepare for ordination (in less than two months), these words from Bishop Willimon are good reminders.

Those who think the call of God is for privilege or prestige, think again. … it is for suffering in service to the crucified Christ. (14)

… ministry is not a profession. It is a vocation. One could not pay pastors for what is routinely expected of them. One must be called in order to do it. Although pastors may struggle with exactly what it means to be called by God to lead a church, they must have some sense that they are in ministry because God wants them to be. (14)

All Christians, by virtue of their baptism, are called by God to witness, to teach, to heal, and to proclaim. … Yet from the ranks of the baptized, some are called to lead. (16)

Ordination is a gift of God, to be sure, but a gift of God through the church, for the church, that the church might be the church of God. (18)

Though ordination is an act of God, the church chooses and proposes the candidate. … God calls and the church recognizes, examines, and validates that divine vocation. (39)

Careful preparation for pastoral leadership is a moral matter of the need for clergy to submit themselves to the leadership needs of the church. A warm heart and good intentions are not enough to fulfill the requisites of this vocation. (20)

Too many pastors never rise above simple congregational maintenance, never have any higher goal in their ministry than mushy, ill-defined ‘love’ or ‘service.’ To find ourselves yoked, bound to our profession of faith, namely, that Christ really is present in Word and Sacrament, overturning the world through us; this is great grace. (22)

In so many ways, ministry is difficult because it is about the construction, the evocation, the invocation of another world. (22)

Reflecting on Ephesians 4.11-12, Willimon argues …

These ministers have as their purpose ‘to equip the saints,’ that is, the whole church, so that the church can be about ‘the work of ministry.’ (36)

Willimon reflects on a prayer found in the tradition of Hippolytus (early third century) used in ordination and offers the following points …

  1. Ordination is an act of Christ and his church.
  2. Ordination is for service to Christ and the church.
  3. Ordination arises “from above,” as a gracious gift of the Holy Spirit.
  4. Ordination arises from below, from the church’s need for, and wisdom in designating, leadership.
  5. Ordination forms those who are to serve as priests to the priests.
  6. Ordination sets apart those who are to serve as exemplars to the congregation, being in all things without fault.
  7. Ordination is an act of collegiality.
  8. Ordination is effected through the laying on of hands and prayer.

Willimon elaborates on each of these points. I’ll wrap up with one last quote …

The central liturgical gesture for ordination is the laying on of hands, a sign that is full of significance for clergy. There is in this gesture a conferral of power and authority from those who have borne this burden to those newly called to lead. Any authority and power that clergy have is never their own; it is a gift, a bestowal from the Holy Spirit and the church. Though most of us today associate the laying on of hands with ordination, it is a baptismal gesture. When used in ordination, the laying on of hands is a sign that the call to ministry is preceded by the call that arises out of the general ministry of all Christians in baptism. (48-49)

Good stuff from Bishop Willimon on ordination.

Lenten Prayer Guide 6.0

At West Side, we handed out prayer guides each Sunday during Lent. Here’s the final one for use during Holy Week (see the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth guides).

Lenten Prayer Guide

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?” (John 12:27a)

Ask God in prayer:
What have I been avoiding in life?
What have I been avoiding in prayer?
Who have I been avoiding?
What has God been asking me to do that I have been afraid of and not wanting to listen, but I can still hear?
Is there something in my life that keeps me from praying or approaching God or worshiping?

If there’s something troubling your heart and you can’t name it, cry out to God and share your emotion with him. Your spirit can communicate with his Spirit without words. (Romans 8:26)

No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:27b-28a)

Just like Jesus, it is in prayer we find the courage and the confidence to face the hard things in life. And we know that God has the final say and he will be glorified!

… for God’s direction and his courage and confidence.
… that I rely upon God and God alone in this situation.
… that God be glorified in the midst of this situation.
… that I be surrendered to God’s will and that God gives me his peace.

Philip Yancey says that for Jesus, in time of testing and conflict, prayer was the battle itself. “Prayer mattered that much.” Haddon Robinson asks where was it that Jesus sweat great drops of blood. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane. There he “offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save him from death” (Hebrews 5:7).

Had I been there … I might have said, “what will he do when he faces a real crisis? Why can’t he approach this ordeal with the calm confidence of his three sleeping friends?” Yet, when the test came, Jesus walked to the cross with courage, and his three friends fell apart and fell away.

What The United Methodist Church Needs

When Joleen and I came into The United Methodist Church, we knew that the denomination had been in steady decline. But we were young—and hopeful that the denomination would soon experience a turnaround.

Thirteen years later (and two months before being ordained in the UMC), we still believe a turnaround is possible, but it’s obviously a bigger deal than we realized at first!

The UMC continues its decades-long decline (primarily in the U.S.). For years, leaders have been trying to figure out how to stop the leak and turn things around. The basic question is, how does an institution that was once a movement become a movement again?

The most recent (and current) effort is the Call to Action from the Council of Bishops (see last week’s post: United Methodist Leadership Summit). I’m all for calls to action (as long as we move beyond studying it and talking about it to acting on it).

While I certainly don’t have all the answers, I believe that restructuring agencies, tracking vital statistics, and redirecting resources—all necessary—will only accomplish so much, in and of themselves.

John Wesley once wrote “Thoughts Upon Methodism” (see page 315 in this volume of The Works of Wesley) in which he stated …

I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.

Wesley makes reference to 2 Timothy 3.5: “They will look like they are religious but deny God’s power” (CEB). While we must make sure the structure is as missional as possible, we must not leave out what’s most important.

What the UMC needs most is an awakening by the Holy Spirit. That’s the only way we will truly be passionate about, and focused on, God’s mission in the world. That’s the only way we will be equipped for effective, fruitful ministry in the world.

Sure, we should make the structure more missional by redirecting resources, restructuring the agencies, tracking vital statistics, and equipping clergy and lay leaders for missional leadership in the 21st century. But most of all, we need to seek God for an awakening that only God’s Spirit can bring.

Seeking God includes declaring our dependence on God. During Lent, I’ve been preaching through Jesus’ messages to the seven churches of Revelation. The final message is to the church in Laodicea, a church that was neither hot nor cold. The worst thing about this church was not that it was lukewarm, but that it thought it was rich and didn’t need anything. However, in God’s view, the church in Laodicea wasn’t strong and rich but “miserable, pathetic, poor, blind, and naked.”

God’s advice to the church in Laodicea is good for us today as well:

… buy gold from me that has been purified by fire so that you may be rich, and white clothing to wear so that your nakedness won’t be shamefully exposed, and ointment to put on your eyes so that you may see. (Revelation 3.18, CEB)

God is our source. We must get what we need from God. Until we do that, the effectiveness of anything else we do will be limited, at best. If we want to become a movement again, we must declare our dependence on God.

That’s the only way I’m going to see us become a movement again in my lifetime—and I want to be part of a world-changing movement of God’s Spirit!

“John Wesley: A Preaching Life”

I recently finished reading one of the books on my list of things to read/do before ordination (see 150 Days of Preparation for Ordination and 75 Days of Preparation for Ordination). The book is John Wesley: A Preaching Life by Michael Pasquarello, who teaches at Asbury Theological Seminary.

I was interested in the book because it was about John Wesley and preaching (i.e., Wesley as a preacher). What I like about the book is that it discusses the people/writings that influenced Wesley—people like Erasmus, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, as well as the Church of England itself. There’s no such thing as a “self-made person.” We’re all influenced and shaped by a host others.

Pasquarello states the book’s purpose this way …

My hope is that attending to Wesley as a homiletic theologian may yet guide us to see that the truth of God matters in every aspect of preaching. (x)

On Wesley’s preaching, Pasquarello contends …

Wesley’s work encourages us to be more faithful ministers of the gospel in assisting the Spirit’s work of evangelizing and transforming listeners to become participants in the way, truth, and life of Jesus Christ. (xi)

Similarly, Pasquarello later writes …

The primary aim of preaching, then, is assisting the Spirit’s work of making and building up Christians through attentiveness to the Word of God in the words of Scripture. (21).

In the book, Wesley is quoted as saying, “I do indeed live by preaching” (xx). Pasquarello argues that Wesley’s life was a “preaching life,” which Pasquarello says is about …

becoming an exemplary witness of the gospel by which the Spirit calls and builds up the church to be a visible sign of God’s kingdom through participation in the righteousness of Christ. (xx)

I love what Pasquarello says about the place of prayer in the preacher’s life …

Preaching was the fruit of prayerful attention. (xxii)

Pasquarello highlights the importance of congruence in the preacher’s life and words. This is what I get at in my post on 5 Stages of Sermon Preparation, specifically the first two stages, “cultivate,” and “immerse.” Pasquarellow writes …

Wesley integrates theology and life, uniting knowledge and love in counseling pastors that the work of ministry has its basis in, and springs from, devotion of the heart and mind to God. (35)

Further …

Wesley encouraged pastors to immerse themselves in prayerful study of Scripture to receive its saving wisdom and to speak its truth in love. (36)

Pasquarello notes that …

preaching is best understood as the expression of ‘truth in action’—an integrated way of thinking, living, and speaking that is engendered by grace and participates in the knowledge and love of Christ. (37).

And finally, toward the end of the book, Pasquarello states …

the activity of preaching and the goal of preaching are one; rendering faithful, public witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ through the presence and work of the Spirit in the worshiping life of the church. (119).

I thought the level of reading difficulty was a little high, but overall, it was good stuff on preaching, looking at the preaching life of John Wesley!