Identity

Welcome to stop number 25 of the Lenten Blog Tour. This tour, organized by the publishers of the new Common English Bible, involves 41 different blog reflections from Ash Wednesday to Easter Monday. Be sure to leave a comment below. The publishers are giving away a copy of the CEB New Testament to one commenter (chosen randomly).

Today’s reading is Romans 8.12-17

12 So then, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation, but it isn’t an obligation to ourselves to live our lives on the basis of selfishness. 13 If you live on the basis of selfishness, you are going to die. But if you put to death the actions of the body with the Spirit, you will live. 14 All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. 15 You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children. 17 But if we are children, we are also heirs. We are God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ, if we really suffer with him so that we can also be glorified with him.

Throughout life, we are engaged in a constant battle between living for God and living for ourselves. When we live for ourselves, we are confused about who we are; we’re confused about our identity as God’s children. Paul says “we have an obligation.” We have an obligation to be true to our identity as children of God!

The Apostle Paul celebrates the fact that we are God’s children, that we are part of God’s family. Paul addresses readers as “brothers and sisters” and “God’s sons and daughters.” Paul argues that we have been “adopted as his children,” and that with God’s Spirit, “we cry, Abba, Father.” We are part of God’s family.

Often, though, we “live our lives on the basis of selfishness,” a way that leads to death. We live as if we’ve received a “spirit of slavery” that leads us “back again into fear.” But Paul reminds us that we have received God’s Spirit and that we are his children.

We have an obligation to be true to our identity as children of God!

Part of the obligation is that we continually “put to death the actions of the body with the Spirit.” We must be rigorous and intentional. We must guard against living selfishly. Paul warns, “If you live on the basis of selfishness, you are going to die.”

To live as a child of God, we must be intentional about cultivating intimacy in our relationship with God by practicing what John Wesley called “means of grace.” Means of grace are simply ways in which God chooses to work in us (i.e., prayer, reading the Scriptures, Holy Communion, etc.). As we engage in these practices, God forms us and strengthens our identity in Christ.

There’s a great promise for those who live true to their identity as children of God. Paul contends, “We are God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ.”

But it’s not always easy. Jesus warned his followers …

34 … All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. 35 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. (Mark 8.34-35, CEB)

Living as followers of Jesus involves hardship. Paul says we are heirs “if we really suffer with him.” Suffering is part of the journey; it goes with the territory. But, the good news is, “we can also be glorified with him.”

Know who you are. Know whose you are. Be true to your identity as a child of God. Stay close to God. Watch out for the distractions. Guard your heart. Focus on God, not self. We have an obligation to be true to our identity as children of God!

Goodbyes are hard!

Sunday was a day of saying goodbye. We spent our final Sunday worshiping with, and teaching, the people we have been serving in our current ministry appointments. It was an emotionally intense day.

We’re grateful for the time we’ve had here in the Juniata Valley and Huntingdon areas, for the people we’ve had the honor of knowing, loving, serving, and leading. We pray that the seeds that have been planted in our time here will continue to bear fruit for God’s kingdom in the years ahead!

We also pray for the pastors to whom we pass the leadership torch. May God use them to lead the congregations we leave behind that they may accomplish God’s purposes!

Goodbyes are hard, but they go with the territory. With our final Sunday behind us, we now turn our attention more fully to preparing for our journey ahead.

Well, that an finishing up our packing on Tuesday, moving to Clearfield on Wednesday and Thursday, and then unpacking! 🙂

The Itinerant System

Since our announcement a couple weeks ago (i.e., about our upcoming move), we’ve been reflecting on the process of appointment making in The United Methodist Church (e.g., how we got here).

In The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church (2004), ¶338 addresses “The Itinerant System” …

The itinerant system is the accepted method of The United Methodist Church by which ordained elders are appointed by the bishop to fields of labor. All ordained elders shall accept and abide by these appointments.

This page at UMC.org offers more detail on pastoral appointments. There could very well be some changes as a result of General Conference 2008 (e.g., guaranteed appointments for ordained elders is no more, which means conference leaders will no longer be forced to find places for ineffective pastors/leaders to serve).

Anyway, the overview states …

The primary goal of the appointment system is to match the gifts and graces of a particular pastor to the ministry needs of a particular congregation at a particular time. This itinerant system, where pastors move from one appointment to another, dates back to American frontier days when circuit riding preachers traveled on horseback from town to town. At that time, bishops matched preachers to circuits four times a year. Now bishops typically fix appointments once a year.

Four times a year? Wow. See also History of the Itinerary.

Finally, umc.org has a commentary on the itinerant system as a strategy for the church’s mission by the Revs. Robert Kohler and Mary Ann Moman (staff with the Division of Ordained Ministry at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry). While it’s a bit dated (2001), it still has some valuable discussion (see also the links at the bottom of the page for more resources).

Hopefully, these resources will provide plenty of background and information about the practice of the UMC’s open itinerant system.

Why We Blog

During this transitional time in our lives, it might be a good time to recast the vision for this blog. This blog started out as a place for us to post summaries of our sermons (in late 2004) and it has broadened over the years.

The current tagline of our blog is: Life. Leadership. God’s Mission. The purpose of this blog is to provide a resource in these areas — for the people we serve and lead and for anyone around the world who may happen to land on our site by way of a search engine.

In order to live out this purpose, we’ll sometimes write about what’s going in our lives — as long as our experience can be a helpful resource and influence others for God.

We also want to be a resource for leaders. So, we’ll sometimes write about movies as long as that movie has a particularly strong life and/or leadership lesson (see Randy’s post, Movies for Leaders; there’s also a Movies category, where you can view all the movies we’ve written about). We’ll also occasionally write about leadership books that we’ve read (see the Books category).

Since the beginning of 2007, we’ve sought to be a resource for people considering adoption, particularly international adoption (see the Adoption category). That’s one of the main reasons we continue to share details about Ethan’s transition (of course, we also know that our friends/readers like to see how Ethan is doing).

It still amazes us that the biggest day in the history of this blog (in terms of visits) was “gotcha day,” the day Ethan joined our family, February 12, 2008, when this blog had 531 visits! (FWIW, some of our biggest days since our time in Korea have been in the days since the announcement of our relocation last Sunday, hitting/surpassing 200 a couple times.)

While our blog will continue to change and evolve in the future, we expect the basic purpose to remain the same: to be a resource for others!

How We Got Here

Not everyone may be aware of how pastoral appointments are made in the United Methodist Church (UMC), so we thought we’d share briefly a little bit about the process we’ve gone through in the last couple of weeks.

In the UMC, bishops (and district superintendents) have the responsibility of making pastoral appointments. In our conference, there are nine district superintendents who work with the bishop in setting the appointments for more than 800 churches throughout central Pennsylvania. (We’ll say more about the UMC’s itinerant ministry in a future post.)

Around November/December of each year, pastors and Staff Parish Relations Committees (SPRC) are given the opportunity to offer input in the pastoral appointment process. The Bishop and Cabinet then take all of that input into consideration as appointments are made for the next conference year.

A couple weeks ago, we received a surprise phone call from our district superintendent, Rev. David Norris, informing us that we would receive a call from another district superintendent. A few hours later, we received a call from Rev. Dr. Pam Ford, district superintendent of the State College District. We scheduled a meeting for the following day where we discussed the possible moves to West Side and Centre Grove.

As we understand it, because of our family transition we were given the opportunity to accept or decline the move. We took about 48 hours to pray and think about the decision. While it was a fairly difficult decision to make, we ultimately decided to accept the new appointments.

On Sunday, April 20, we spent the afternoon and evening in Clearfield. We met with the SPRC at West Side in the afternoon. Then, after a tour of the parsonage and dinner with Pam Ford and West Side’s current pastor and friend, Jay Jones, we met with the SPRC at Centre Grove.

SPRC members are asked to not share/discuss the news about the new pastor with anyone before the appointment is publicly announced in the respective churches at the same time. In our case, announcements were made at the churches we are leaving and at the churches we are going to on Sunday, April 27.

The SPRCs at Manor Hill and 12th Street/Hope met shortly after the announcements — Sunday afternoon at Manor Hill and Monday evening at 12th Street — in order to put together their church profiles, which will be used in the selection of their new pastors.

In the next few weeks, the district superintendent will meet again with the SPRCs to introduce them to their next pastor. Once again, SPRC members will need to hold the information in confidence until the official announcement is made the following Sunday.

We are always grateful for God’s leading in our lives (see Randy’s previous post, Prayers for the Journey). In our denomination, part of that leadership is expressed through our conference leaders. We are grateful for the manner in which they seek to spiritually discern God’s will in the setting of pastoral appointments. This sense of knowing and trusting God’s leadership gives us excitement about the next chapter of our journeys!

More Transition

We’ve experienced a lot of change in recent weeks/months — bringing home a baby from Korea and becoming parents, and finishing our dissertations, and completing our doctor of ministry programs.

If that wasn’t enough transition for one year, we’re throwing in some more. As we announced this morning in our worship services, we are moving to new pastoral appointments.

We will be moving to Clearfield (in the State College District of the Central Pennsylvania Conference) in late June and the new appointments will take effect July 1, 2008. Joleen will serve West Side UMC and Randy will serve Centre Grove UMC.

While living in the village of Mooresville for the past 7 years, Joleen has served the Manor Hill Charge. During most of this time, Randy served the Petersburg Charge. After Alexandria and Barree (part of the Petersburg Charge) merged in 2006 to become Hope UMC, Randy continued to serve them as well as taking on 12th Street UMC as part of a realignment following Hope’s merger.

This transition impacts a lot of people — the congregations we’re leaving, the congregations we’re going to, the pastors we will follow, as well as the ones who will follow us.

In the coming weeks, we will write about the experience — leaving people we’ve come to know and love, moving on to new places of ministry and dreaming new dreams, and doing all of this with a baby we’ve only recently brought home from Korea.

No one can accuse us of doing things the easy way! 😀