Pray for The United Methodist Church!

If you’ve been following church-related news lately, you know The United Methodist Church is in turmoil. Some are even calling for schism, seeing no way out of the current mess.

The best thing we can do, though, at this point, is PRAY.

That’s what the Aldersgate Covenant is planning to do. They have called a gathering for May 16-17, 2014, which will take place at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, KS. (I’m not able to attend; I keep hoping some or all of it will be webcast!)

I wrote in 2011, What The United Methodist Church Needs is nothing short of an awakening by the Holy Spirit. As I noted, John Wesley said …

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 seems to indicate that survival of the organization isn’t the most important thing; being faithful to God and staying connected to God is.

I’m grateful for the UMC and I’m hopeful that God will revive us and make us a movement again. Here are a few posts I’ve written in recent years that come to mind …

What are your prayers for the UMC?

2014 Confirmation Trip

The Clearfield Cluster of United Methodist Churches offers a two-day confirmation bus trip every few years. We left last Thursday morning around 5:30 and returned home around 10:30 Friday night. It was a full, fast-paced two days!

The trip included nine youth from three area churches plus seven adults. We made stops at the Pennsylvania Capitol Building, The Neighborhood Center, the United Methodist Home for Children, the Conference Center of the Susquehanna Conference, Mission Central, before ending the first day with dinner and free time at the Galleria Mall in York.

After spending the night sleeping on the floor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church, we embarked on our second day with visits to Strawbridge Shrine and Lovely Lane United Methodist Church. Both locations are significant in United Methodist history.

Everyone enjoyed the trip. The youth also seemed to enjoy getting together with youth from other churches.

One of the highlights of the trip was a spontaneous one. Driving by the Governor’s Mansion, we saw Governor Corbett in his gated driveway. We stopped and a couple of women from our group approached the gate and asked Governor Corbett if he’d be willing to greet the confirmands. Surprisingly, he agreed!

While the Governor was on the bus, I tweeted (and the Governor’s staff later retweeted) …

Pretty wild. Not only did the Governor greet the group, he also took photos with everyone on the bus. The Governor certainly scored some points with the group!

Here are some photos from the trip …

2014 Bishop’s Retreat

We just returned from the 2014 Bishop’s Retreat for Our Clergy Family, which was held in Lancaster, PA. The retreat is for pastors and their families from our conference.

Tracy Radosevic, this year’s presenter, is a storyteller, and she was excellent. Tracy spoke often about, and from the perspective of, the Network of Biblical Storytellers. She said their goal in storytelling is 75% word accuracy (with the biblical text) and 95% content accuracy (the gist of the story, maintaining the integrity of the text).

Tracy told several biblical stories and also presented tips on the process of preparing to tell stories. Tracy’s storytelling was nourishing and replenishing. And her teaching provided some helpful tools for storytelling and sermon preparation.

Tracy talked specifically about storytelling (i.e., telling the biblical story), her teaching can also be applied to general sermon preparation. She talked about “MULLing the text” (MULL is an acronym for Master the text, Understand the text, Live with the story, and Link personally with the story). She offered some practical tips for each area.

I will work on incorporating MULL into my 4 Ss of Sermon Preparation, which have some similarities. I should also be able to improve the way I mark up the text during sermon preparation (see my post, Sermon Prep With iAnnotate, for my current process). And, I am especially looking forward to getting better at “mastering the text” (which does NOT mean memorizing the text).

This was the sixth retreat that Joleen, Ethan (who’s 6), and I have attended, and it was Sarah’s fifth (she’s almost 5). This was also Joleen’s and my first full year on the planning committee for the retreat.

The retreat includes four sessions—Monday evening, Tuesday morning and evening, and Wednesday morning. We like to arrive a day early for extra downtime Sunday evening, Monday morning and afternoon, in addition to the built-in free time on Tuesday afternoon. The kids enjoy child care during the four sessions, but their favorite activity is the children’s indoor water playground during free time (see photos below).

Interestingly, Tuesday was a snow day, as a major snowstorm moved through the region. Below, you can see a photo of our car halfway through the storm, and one from my ill-advised drive around town late Tuesday afternoon (the worst part was driving on secondary roads that didn’t seem to be plowed)!

All in all, it was a great event and a good few days away for our family!

A Heart Strangely Warmed

Today is Aldersgate Day, and it marks 275 years since John Wesley recorded these words in his journal …

In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given to me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

This experience was huge for Wesley and for the people called Methodists who follow in his footsteps. Prior to May 24, 1738, Wesley was a Christian, serving in Christian leadership. But after that fateful day, he was a new person!

This story reminds me of the disciples Jesus interrupted on the road to Emmaus, hours after his resurrection. After Jesus left, the two disciples said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?” (Luke 24.32, CEB)

When was the last time your heart was strangely warmed and your passion for God increased?

Partnering With Churches in Sierra Leone

Both of the churches we serve participate in the Sierra Leone Initiative, which allows us to partner with United Methodist churches in Sierra Leone.

Two guests from Sierra Leone are currently touring churches in our conference, reporting on the work in their country. We met both of them this past weekend, and one of them, Rev. Solomon Rogers, stayed with us Friday afternoon through lunchtime on Sunday (Ethel Sandy was also with us Friday afternoon).

The significance for us is that Solomon is the pastor of the church Centre Grove partners with (Kercher). Solomon is also the district superintendent of the Kenema district where West Side’s partner church is (Rorucks), as well as a second church one of Centre Grove’s Sunday school classes partners with (Dodo).

We enjoyed having Solomon in our home, and the kids enjoyed having a guest, as well. The Kercher church presented Joleen and I with nice, locally made shirts, and pants for Joleen. We wore them on Sunday, which matched the shirt Solomon wore.

Solomon spoke at West Side on Saturday night. He began Sunday morning at Centre Grove with breakfast and speaking during the Sunday school hour. Solomon attended and participated in worship services at Centre Grove and West Side. Both churches prayed for Solomon and the work in Sierra Leone.

The United Methodist Church is growing and vibrant in Sierra Leone (as it is throughout much of Africa), in spite of tremendous challenges. We are grateful for the privilege of connecting with Solomon. Communications in Sierra Leone can be pretty challenging, but we hope to be able to communicate more in the future.

Thanks to church photographers, John Kordish (Centre Grove) and Russell Unick (West Side), here are some photos from Sunday services at Centre Grove and West Side …

The Holy Club’s Accountability Questions

Lent is an ideal time for personal reflection and self-examination. It’s also a great time to remember the importance of accountability.

Recently, I came across a list of twenty-one daily accountability questions used by John and Charles Wesley during their days in the Holy Club at Oxford University.

It’s a pretty intense list of reflective questions.

  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
  2. Am I honest in all my acts and words or do I exaggerate?
  3. Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told to me in confidence? Can I be trusted?
  4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?
  5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying or self-justifying?
  6. Did the Bible live in me today?
  7. Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?
  8. Am I enjoying prayer?
  9. When did I last speak to someone else of my faith?
  10. Do I pray about money I spend?
  11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
  12. Do I disobey God in anything?
  13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
  15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
  16. How do I spend my spare time?
  17. Am I proud?
  18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the publicans?
  19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward, or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
  20. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
  21. Is Christ real to me?

Nearly three centuries later, it’s still a pretty good list of questions for self-examination!

Meeting Bishop & Mrs. Park

willisesandparks

One of the highlights of the Bishop’s Retreat, which ended yesterday in Lancaster, PA, was the kids getting to meet Bishop Jeremiah Park, and his wife, Lisa, who are both from Korea.

We took a photo with the Parks after the closing communion service. Unfortunately, we had to crop the right side of the picture due to flash glare. We took another shot to correct the glare, but Sarah, who was tired by this point, refused to face forward. For one of the shots, Bishop Park attempted to sit in the chair, but Ethan took it from him. Only a five-year-old would kick the bishop out of his chair!

When we met the bishop and his wife a few months ago, we showed them photos of Ethan and Sarah. We also thanked them for their involvement in our journey.

Before Bishop Jeremiah Park became our bishop last September, he was the bishop of the New York Annual Conference. When we went to Korea to get Ethan in 2008, our bishop, Bishop Jane Allen Middleton, referred us to Bishop Park. Bishop Park put us in contact with a friend of his, the pastor of Holy Flames Methodist Church, near Seoul, Korea (we mentioned Bishop Park in our first cross-cultural experience post five years ago).

Our contact with the Holy Flames Methodist Church, and particularly, the small group we attended our first evening with Ethan, was an experience we’ll always treasure (see Our Amazing Korean Church Family)!

We are grateful to God for our connectional church!

Returning From Retreat With Hope

On Monday evening at the Bishop’s Retreat, Randy led a time of prayer and reflection, looking at 1 Kings 19.1-9a. He asked “What are you running from?” and “What are you running to?”

On Tuesday evening, I concluded our look at Elijah with 1 Kings 19.9b-15a, which begins with Elijah in a cave where he has spent the night.

The Lord’s word came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”

10 Elijah replied, “I’ve been very passionate for the Lord God of heavenly forces because the Israelites have abandoned your covenant. They have torn down your altars, and they have murdered your prophets with the sword. I’m the only one left, and now they want to take my life too!”

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the Lord. The Lord is passing by.” A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the Lord. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his coat. He went out and stood at the cave’s entrance. A voice came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”

14 He said, “I’ve been very passionate for the Lord God of heavenly forces because the Israelites have abandoned your covenant. They have torn down your altars, and they have murdered your prophets with the sword. I’m the only one left, and now they want to take my life too.”

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back … (Common English Bible)

Two times, God asks Elijah, “Why are you here?”

Both times, Elijah answers by telling God what he is running from.

Finally, God simply says, “Go back …”

We are at a retreat. The military definition of retreat is to withdraw. I knew this part of the definition. This retreat is a time to withdraw—from the things you are running from.

But I never realized that the military definition goes on to say that one withdraws to find a more favorable position.

We, too, have come to retreat so that we can “go back” having gained a more favorable position, having gained sure footing, having regained perspective, vision, and renewed hope.

We concluded the evening in small groups, reflecting on, discussing, and praying for one another, around the question, “How has God prepared you to ‘go back’?”

What has God given you to “go back” to your ministry?

Thank You, Adam Hamilton!

Today, Rev. Adam Hamilton, pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, delivered the sermon at the Inaugural prayer Service at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. President Barack Obama, and other national leaders, gathered in this traditional service that dates back to George Washington.

You can read the transcript of Adam Hamilton’s sermon on his blog.

Because we are at our conference’s Bishop’s Retreat in Lancaster, PA, we didn’t get to watch the service live this morning. But our conference recorded the sermon so we could watch it later. I read the transcript during our afternoon free time (before our family nap and time in the children’s pool) and couldn’t wait to experince Adam’s delivery of it with our conference clergy family. At the beginning of this evening’s session, we watched the sermon. When it was over, we applauded!

Adam’s sermon was extremely well done. The message was challenging to the leaders of our nation, and to us all. I believe Adam represented Christ—and The United Methodist Church—well.

Thank you, Adam Hamilton. And thanks be to God!

Finding Hope in God

Last night, at the end of the first session of our Bishop’s Retreat, I led our clergy family in a time of prayer and reflection. Here’s the gist of what I said.

Leadership and ministry often involves a lot of running. Unfortunately, too much running makes it hard to have a healthy soul!

And, a having a healthy soul is crucial.

I’m reading Replenish by Lance Witt. Witt argues …

We have neglected the fact that a pastor’s greatest leadership tool is a healthy soul.

The prophet Elijah once ran. He needed a rebirth of hope! Listen to what transpires after Elijah’s victory over the prophets of Baal …

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, how he had killed all Baal’s prophets with the sword. 2 Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah with this message: “May the gods do whatever they want to me if by this time tomorrow I haven’t made your life like the life of one of them.” 3 Elijah was terrified. He got up and ran for his life. He arrived at Beer-sheba in Judah and left his assistant there. 4 He himself went farther on into the desert a day’s journey. He finally sat down under a solitary broom bush. He longed for his own death: “It’s more than enough, Lord! Take my life because I’m no better than my ancestors.” 5 He lay down and slept under the solitary broom bush. Then suddenly a messenger tapped him and said to him, “Get up! Eat something!” 6 Elijah opened his eyes and saw flatbread baked on glowing coals and a jar of water right by his head. He ate and drank, and then went back to sleep. 7 The Lord’s messenger returned a second time and tapped him. “Get up!” the messenger said. “Eat something, because you have a difficult road ahead of you.” 8 Elijah got up, ate and drank, and went refreshed by that food for forty days and nights until he arrived at Horeb, God’s mountain. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night. (1 Kings 19.1-9a, Common English Bible)

Elijah ran. There were things he ran from (trouble, fear, desperation). In a sense, there were also things he ran toward (prayer, solitude, replenishment).

Take a moment to reflect on what you may be running from. Then, look for things you might run toward, in order to regain hope and strength.

I love these words spoken by Jesus …

Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11.28, Common English Bible)

And also these words from the Psalms …

Oh, I must find rest in God only, because my hope comes from him! (Psalm 62.5, Common English Bible)

Amen.