Tuesday, March 30, 2021


Holy Week Breakdown 


 

Seven days forever changed the world. These seven days have been the topic of a million publications, countless debates, and thousands of films. These seven days have inspired the greatest painters, the most skilled architects, and the most gifted musicians. To try and calculate the cultural impact of these seven days is impossible. But harder still would be an attempt to account for the lives of men and women who have been transformed by them. And yet these seven days as they played out in Jerusalem were of little significance to anyone but a few people involved. Let’s summarize:

 

1. On Sunday the first of the seven days, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to the shouts of Hosanna, fulfilling an old prophecy in Zechariah 9:9.

 

2. On Monday he walked into the Jerusalem Temple overturning tables where money exchange occurred, Roman drachmas were being exchanged for Jewish shekels. Roman coins were not allowed. The image of Caesar was a violation of the second commandment. But the Temple authorities were using the Commandment as means to cheat the people and making the Temple a place of profit rather than a place of prayer.

 

3. On Tuesday Jesus taught in parables, warned the people against the Pharisees, and predicted the destruction of the Temple.

 

4. On Wednesday, the fourth day, we know nothing. The Gospel writers are silent. Perhaps it was a day of rest for him and his weary and worried disciples.

 

5. On Thursday, in an upper room, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples. But he gave it a new meaning. No longer would his followers remember the Exodus from Egypt in the breaking of bread. They would remember his broken body and shed blood. Later that evening in the Garden of Gethsemane he agonized in prayer at what lay ahead for him.

 

6. On Friday, the fifth day, following betrayal, arrest, imprisonment, desertion, false trials, denial, condemnation, beatings and sentencing, Jesus carried his own cross to “The Place of the Skull,” where he was crucified with two other prisoners.

 

7. On Saturday, Jesus lay dead in a tomb bought by a rich man named Joseph.

 

8. On Sunday, his Passion was over, the stone had been rolled away. Jesus was alive. He appeared to Mary, to Peter, to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and to the 11 disciples gathered in a locked room. His resurrection was established as a fact.

 

Back then these seven days were called Passover, as it is still called today by the Jews. Christians around the world know these seven days as Holy Week, the Passion of the Christ.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

 

Theology Question #9: How has the practice of ministry affected your experience and understanding of suffering and evil in the world?

                                                                                                                                             Written 2017

 

    The practice of ministry both within my own family and through the local Church has provided me with many opportunities to wrestle with suffering and evil in the world. For more than two centuries Christianity of its intellectual tradition have considered the problem of evil, and have themselves confronted the reality of suffering and death.

     Regardless of where I've served in ministry I can’t think of any Bible study or counseling session where the issue didn’t arise and I was looked at to provide a Biblical answer that would suffice. The majority of these people, including myself grew up with an understanding of God that was very much influenced by classical theism and the predominant fundamentalist preachers of our communities. Within this tradition God is seen as all-powerful and completely in control of everything that happens in our lives. Consequently, nothing happens good or bad, that isn’t part of God’s plan. An acquaintance of mine, a Southern Baptist/Calvinist preacher drunk on divine sovereignty attributed the hurricane Matthew that struck Haiti in 2016 to God’s wrath against sinners. He also claimed these divine acts of God against humanity reveal attributes of God that without we might not otherwise know. 
    My understanding of evil and suffering has since been positively influenced by attending seminary, practicing ministry, working with a mentor, associating with other residents in ministry and continues to develop within this positive light allowing me to have peace amid suffering and evil. I can now offer my parishioners other thoughts and theologies for consideration. 

    My most recent encounter with the problem of evil and suffering came as the result of a suicide bombing that claimed the lives of innocent young people at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England on May 22nd. I knew this would be a topic of discussion at our Bible study so I planned accordingly. I had copies prepared of The Articles of Religion of the United Methodist Church, a sermon from John Wesley ‘Satan’s Devices’ #42[1], a letter from Reverend Sloane Coffin[2] to help understand, ‘God is dead set against unnatural deaths’ and highlight inappropriate responses to suffering and evil. Along with these printed resources I had my own notes from books that I had been reading recently. 

    As we began our lesson for the night I opened in prayer during which I included those affected by the recent events in England. Following the prayer, Luanne, an 81-year-old lady claimed, “God allows evil in the world and this just isn’t right!” Of course the group felt this view needed help. I allowed others to give their opinions, they made comments such as, “Bad times help us appreciate the good, and they make us realize we need God.” “The bad things that happen teach us what it means to have hope.” “The evil in the world give us an opportunity for ministry.”  

    As I deemed the moment appropriate I interjected a few thoughts. I began by saying; “I don’t fully understand innocent suffering nor do I need to make an apology for God, but I do know that evil is God’s enemy.” I explained evil as anything contrary to God’s character.[3] I noted the two categories of moral evil and natural evil. Moral evil is a result of free persons making wrong moral choices. This could be understood as sin, and includes examples such as lying, stealing, adultery, murder etc. and it extends to include the suffering resulting as a consequence of sin. Natural evil would include suffering caused by contact with the laws of nature or the unintentional acts of man. There is no one to blame. Examples would include catastrophic events, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, famine, fire, cancer, etc. There are of course challenges to this argument, as well as answers to the challenges. 

    Linda who is in her early 80’s commented, “We all have free will, but I just can’t understand people’s choices.” I agreed with Linda then added, “in this world we have freedom of choice, you and I are free to do good, and also free to do evil. If I am free to love then I am free to hate. If all are free to praise God, then all are free to curse God. The very nature of our God given freedom makes evil possible.” Any alleged “freedom” not to choose evil rather than good is not truly freedom for a moral creature.[4] I pointed to Article VII of The Articles of Religion of the United Methodist Church which states, “Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.”[5]

    Don Thorsen claims, “To be sure, Calvin formulated his theology in determinist-oriented ways that greatly affirm God’s freedom, but not the freedom of people, sometimes called ‘monergism’ (Grk. “one”+ “work”).”[6] Meaning, one divine power is at work, which created all, that exists and governs all that occurs, therefore nothing happens outside of God’s superintendence. Wesley disagreed. He saw the need for a more dynamic understanding seeing Scripture, Church tradition, critical thinking, and experience that confirm people’s responsibility in decision-making. This dynamic relationship people have with God is described as, synergism (“together” + “work”), meaning divine power is at work with power that God gives to people. Wesley affirms human freedom, not to the exclusion of divine sovereignty and sees the ultimate calling to live in relationship to God characterized by a life of love amid all of life.      

    Tyron Inbody articulates this idea well: “While God does not will everything that happens, because creatures decide what to do with God’s aim for every event, God has a will in every occurrence. God wills the best possibility for every moment given the real possibilities within the context of what has happened and what can happen.”[7] It helps to know God has an aim so John Wesley wrote, “The devices whereby the subtle god of this world labours to destroy the children of God—or at least to torment whom he cannot destroy, to perplex and hinder them in running the race which is set before them—are numberless as the stars of heaven or the sand upon the sea-shore.”[8]  

    I assured the group that God is love and has a plan to defeat evil without destroying freedom. I had the group read together the parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matt. 13:38) and then I referred to David Hart’s thoughts concerning the present cosmic order. “At the heart of the Gospel, of course, is an ineradicable triumphalism, a conviction that the will of God cannot ultimately be defeated and that the victory over evil and death has already been won…But it is a victory, we are assured, that is yet to come. For now we live amid a strife of darkness and light, falsehood and truth, death and life. This world remains a field where the wheat and tares have been sown side by side, and so they must grow till the harvest comes.”[9] So all creation waits alongside God’s glory and grace that has appeared before, within, and beyond history, always present, and yet also now deferred. 

    I feel it’s important to bear witness to the ultimate victory of God, but also to what God is doing now in the midst of history, in pain and suffering to engage evil. For we have hope that in our distress God hears, God heals and God cares. David Hart affirms, “God hears the cries of the suffering. Yes, God comes with healing in God’s wings. God comes in fact, as a warrior. The suffering and pain of these children is the enemy of God. From our perspective in the middle of history, we do not know everything about where this evil came from, but we know that it is God’s mortal enemy, and God comes to do combat, comes in the power of the cross, comes in the power of love.”[10]

    I affirm for my group that God’s power is at work in the world, even in what doesn’t look like power to us. God comes in God’s way—made known to us in Christ, a warrior in loving weakness.  God comes as love to destroy the work and power of evil. I offer this as a word of healing, for God’s love enters every area of our life—past, present, and future, to bring healing. I closed by challenging the group (as people of faith, as children of God) to join the divine work with our actions, to be present in this world (of pain and innocent suffering) as ministers of God’s love.

    I have had several opportunities over the last few years of ministry to address suffering and evil as I have journeyed with my congregations through (war, plane bombings, terrorist attacks on innocent people—Paris, Orlando, London, terminal illnesses, a pandemic, accidents, and natural disasters). When the questions arise I try to be pastoral and provide a safe atmosphere for discussion. We all long for easy answers to the hard questions we have. It’s nice to have clearly defined doctrine and beliefs in our minds but these must be met with an experience of our heart and lives.



[1] Wesley, John. “The Wesley Center Online: Sermon 42-satan’s Devices” The Sermons of John Wesley: Sermon 42- ‘Satan’s Devices.’ http://www.wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of -john-wesley-1872 editionAccessed 04/26/2017.

[2] Coffin, William. S. ‘Alex’s Death 28 Years Ago Today.’ (01/11/2011). Accessed 02/09/2017. (Sermon delivered by Rev. Sloane Coffin to his congregation at Riverside Church in New York City ten days after his son, Alex, was killed in a car accident.) http://www.williamsloanecoffin.org.

[3] Okello, Joseph. class lecture, Asbury Theological Seminary, Module 05 Lesson 01A The Problem of Evil, Dec. 7th 2012.

[4] Geisler L. Norman. If God Why Evil. Summary of Ch. 4. (Minneapolis, Bethany House Pub. 2011).

[5] www.umc.org. “What-we-believe.” The Articles of Religion of the United Methodist Church. Accessed 05/24/2017 http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe

[6] Thorsen, Don. Calvin vs. Wesley: Bringing Belief in Line With Practice. (Nashville, Abingdon Press. 2013). Pp. 40-43.

[7] Inbody, Tyron. The Faith of the Christian Church: An Introduction to Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 2005). P. 157.

[8] Wesley, John. “The Wesley Center Online: Sermon 42-satan’s Devices” The Sermons of John Wesley: Sermon 42- ‘Satan’s Devices.’ Par. 1. http://www.wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of -john-wesley-1872 editionAccessed 04/26/2017.

[9] Hart, David Bentley. The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami? (Grand Rapids, Eerdman’s, 2005) P. 66-67.

[10] Long, Thomas, G. ‘What Shall We Say: Evil, Suffering, and The Crisis of Faith’ (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2011) P. 147.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Practice of Ministry

What changes has the practice of ministry had on your interpretation of (a) the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and (b) the work of the Holy Spirit? 

      “Jesus Christ is Lord,” Κύριος Ἰησοῦς, (Kurios Iesous), represents the earliest and most basic form of Christian confession. Twenty-first century Christians must not ignore the compelling truth it represents. The authority of the confession dominated the apostolic church and stood as foundational in the Christian life. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). This confession is one of the best ways to convey the meaning of Jesus’ authority over the believer and the church, and the expectation of his final victory.[1]

     The confession of Jesus’ Lordship and the genuine surrender by faith places the Christian at the disposal of the exalted Savior and the sovereign of the universe for Jesus’ continued mission through the church. Millard Erickson writes, “Accepting Jesus as Lord means making him the authority by which we conduct our lives.”[2] Working out the implications of Jesus’ Lordship requires a lifetime process known as sanctification.[3] The recognition of Jesus’ Lordship moves one to repentance and requires relinquishing one’s rebellion toward God. Then, the individual has the responsibility of sharing and demonstrating the Gospel core with others. 

     “Jesus Christ is Lord” has been the central motif of my Christian journey. During my practice of ministry this truth has only served to reinforce the need to replace myself as Lord and sustainer of my own life and family. Jesus can easily become someone’s Savior and never their Lord. Thomas Oden claims that, “to understand Christ as Lord is to confess that he was appointed by the Father to have us under his power, to administer the kingdom of God in heaven and earth.”[4] I am committed to this kingdom work under Jesus’ Lordship and authority. 

     I had the privilege of serving two churches as a Provisional Elder (process of becoming a full-elder). In whatever context I find myself, Jesus is Lord. The churches I have served belong to Christ. Everyone I meet is a creation of God, called by inspired grace, and loved unconditionally under Jesus’ Lordship, thus deserving my witness to the Gospel message. During my first year of ministry at my current appointment I have conducted fifteen funerals. Never before has the truth of “Jesus is Lord” been so important as I have shared with grieving family members and friends the Gospel core. 

    One family in particular will forever stand as an exemplary example of what it means to be Christian and know Jesus as Lord. This family had lost their loved one but there was something different about how this family handled the event. As I ministered to the family in the days prior to the funeral and following, they laughed, worshipped, and lived together in such a way as to testify to the fact that ‘Jesus is Lord.’ The wife of the deceased, and family members all claim to trust Christ as Savior. These claims became evident to others and me from the stories they told and the way they conducted themselves in the midst of loss. I trust that this is why we truly worshipped the Lord and celebrated in the face of death.    

 

(b) The Holy Spirit 

     As I make my personal confession of “Jesus is Lord,” I am proclaiming a personal relationship with the triune God, for Jesus says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), and the apostle Paul writes, “…no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).  That same Spirit testifies to my Spirit that I am a child of God. It is the proclamation of a timeless truth. The person of the living Triune God reigns now and forever, and desires a saving relationship with all. 

     Richard Hays states, “The one certain criterion of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration is that He empowers the simple confession, ‘Jesus is Lord.’”[5] That confession is foundational to the sacrament of baptism as we confess Jesus Christ. The Christian’s response to Jesus’ Lordship recognizes God’s constant calling out to humanity both on a personal and communal level. When the individual truly realizes and confesses the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit baptizes the individual into the life affirming Christian community of which Jesus is head. After the individual surrenders to the Lordship of Jesus in his/her daily life, the Holy Spirit empowers the person to overcome sin, which separates people from God, themselves, and others.[6] As a result of the Holy Spirit’s work, the individual and the Church are enabled to live and worship in Christian unity and empowered to witness in the world. 

     Everything we can know and understand about God results from the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The Christian church as a community of believers exists by the activity of the Spirit, “as an instrument of God’s mission and ministry.”[7] The same Spirit, moving over the face of the waters at creation, spoke to the prophets creating a covenant community of expectant believers. The fulfillment of their expectation, the Son, was given the Spirit without limit. “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness…” (Luke 4:1). After the resurrection of Jesus, the expectant community becomes the new covenant community empowered, cleansed, united, and sent out to the whole world by the Holy Spirit. 

     The same Holy Spirit who enables individual believers to confess, “Jesus is Lord,” baptizes them into the church body and builds a community of faith. The Holy Sprit is actively drawing people to God to convince them of their sin and the forgiveness made available through the death, resurrection, and victory of Christ over death (John 16:8-11). Through this process of God’s divine grace the faith community is being constantly drawn into God’s presence and power. When one accepts Christ as their savior it is the Holy Spirit who serves as the agent of new birth. The Holy Spirit then nurtures the believer in this new life reminding them of God’s love and claim on their life (Romans 5:5, 8:14-16), and gives the required gifts for ministry to all members of the body of Christ (2 Corinthians 12). 

     I feel that the practice of ministry has helped me to move forward into my relationship with God through the Spirit. While serving the church I have also witnessed the Holy Spirit’s activity especially as it pertains to the process of discipleship. I’ve witnessed people cooperate with the grace of God and grow in their relationship with God as Disciples of Christ and desire to love and serve God and one another.     

     Believers are called to live holy lives under the Lordship of Christ. The loving and nurturing God continues the sanctifying work of extending grace to the believer thus making it possible to live a holy life. The process of sanctification transforms the believer and fills them with God’s love. The outworking of the Holy Spirit as evidenced in the life of a Christian bears fruit (Galatians 5:22) as a testimony and a witness to the power and grace of God. 

     I always enjoy leading the congregation through the season of Pentecost. This is an exciting time as we are focused for an entire season on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. However, I am always careful to teach that the Holy Spirit can’t be relegated to one season in the Church year and that God as the Holy Spirit is active in all seasons of the Church year and to be celebrated and submitted to in all of our life experiences.        

     I believe in the power and the work of the Holy Spirit in my life and ministry. As I prepare sermons weekly I pray for the Spirit’s inspiration. It occurred to me quickly in my first appointment that Sunday comes around every week and I must be prepared. The practice of ministry is a true gift but it comes with heavy responsibilities and many demands from people. I have been very busy at times and seen my sermon preparation become less than what I would desire or usually require.  It’s during these weeks that my prayer life has been desperately directly toward the inspiration, guidance, and power of the Holy Spirit. 

    I have felt at times as if I had failed to deliver the message of the text during my sermon when low and behold the Spirit would move in someone’s life in a profound way. There have been several occasions where after a service someone would comment about how something I said made an impact on their lives when I know for sure that I never said those words. Over and over again I have witnessed the Holy Spirit work and usually most powerfully when I humble myself and move out of the way. These moments bring me to my knees and make me grateful for the fact that I am called to be a Pastor in the United Methodist Church. I have learned that I don’t serve in my own strength and power. I am equipped and being transformed just as all are in God’s church and we stand as a testament to person and work of the Triune God, for this we can be assured and united in Christian love. 

   



[1] Hamblin, Robert and Stephens, William. The Doctrine of Lordship (Nashville: Convention Press, 1990) P. 59.

[2] Erickson, Millard. “Lordship Theology: The Current Controversy,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 33 (Spring 1991) PP. 5-15.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Thomas Oden commenting on John Calvin, Catechesis Of the church of Geneva, LCC XXII, P. 96, cf. Baxter, PW XVII pp. 381-412) Oden, Thomas. Systematic Theology: Vol. Two: The Word of Life (Peabody; Hendrickson, 2008). 

[5] Hays, Richard B. Interpretation: First Corinthians (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1997). P. 208.

[6] Tuttle, Robert. Someone Out There Needs Me: A Practical Guide to Relational Evangelism (Zondervan, 1983), P. 25.

[7] Inbody, Tyron. The Faith of the Christian Church: An Introduction to Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 2005). P. 247. 

Sacraments in the Wesleyan Tradition: Baptism and Holy Communion

    Below is a piece I had to write concerning Baptism and Holy Communion for the Board of Ordained Ministry in the UM Church. Since we recently experienced Baptism of the Lord Sunday and I was invited to share with a Sunday School class on the topic, this could be a good addition. 


How has the practice of ministry affected your experience and understanding of the meaning and significance of the sacraments?


 

     The practice of ministry has had a profound affect on my experience and understanding of the sacraments. As Wesley asserted, “By ‘means of Grace’ I understand outward signs, words, or actions ordained by God, and appointed for this end-to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men the preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace.[1] A sacrament is a means of grace, and unique. I have witnessed many Christians experience God’s presence and grace in a real and meaningful manner when they partake in the sacraments. I have intentionally fostered a greater appreciation for the sacraments through teaching and providing meaningful experiences that celebrate the sacraments with a deep appreciation without poor abbreviation, rushing, or trivialization.    

     Kristine, was a new member of our Church (Ocala) and had an Anabaptist background. Prior to joining our church Kristine participated in my new member’s class. As we were discussing the sacraments Kristine asked about infant baptism. I began explaining that baptism begins with God, not us. “The grace of God works in a person’s life prior to their awareness moving them into a loving relationship.”[2] In the United Methodist Church we believe that we all stand constantly in need of divine grace. Grace is God’s free and unmerited favor, the expression of divine love for us. 

     Baptism, the rite of Christian initiation, is the action of washing or plunging in water (Acts 2:41). I then refer to what people of her tradition would understand as, “believer’s baptism.” For adults, baptism is a symbol of God’s justifying, or convicting grace. Baptism conveys several important meanings, including symbolizing the Holy Spirit’s washing away of sin (Titus 3:5), the death of sinful nature and the resurrection of a new Christ-like nature (Romans 6:3), and being joined to the Family of God.[3] Baptism is not something humans do alone, such as repent or have faith. Rather, it is something God does by bestowing grace upon a person’s life. 

     God’s grace begins in the individual’s life before his/her acceptance of God, preparing him/her to accept Jesus Christ as Savior. Because of this, God’s prevenient grace is proclaimed and celebrated in the baptism of babies. This is not the child’s confession of faith. This is a covenant sign of God’s work on our behalf making our response possible. “When infants are baptized, it is right and necessary that when they come to maturity, they make their own confession of faith. But they do so with the clear witness that it is not their confession alone that saves them, but the work of God already done for them long before they ever believed.”[4]

     Baptism makes the possibility of confession greater. “The baptism of a person, whether as an infant or an adult, is a sign of God’s saving grace. That grace—experienced by us as initiating, enabling, and empowering—is the same for all persons.”[5] Our Church has a great process for discipleship. When persons who were baptized as infants are ready to profess their faith, they participate in the service we call Confirmation. 

     I explain to Kristine and the others, that confirmation prepares children to profess the name, ‘Christian’ for themselves. The sacrament of baptism is not a private matter between the person and God. Baptism should always take place in the presence of God’s family, the church where we into into covenant to “nurture this child in Christ’s holy Church, that by your teaching and example they may be guided to accept God’s grace for themselves, to profess their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life.”[6] I explain to the group that this is why we should never have trouble finding Sunday school teachers and youth leaders. While Holy Communion is repeated many times, baptism is only done once; it is God’s act of grace, marking the individual as a Christian disciple.[7]

     The practice of ministry has given me several opportunities to share these teachings. First, it was with two Southern Baptist youth Pastors in Madison, FL. Then, to a young adult in my Church who was baptized as an infant requesting to be re-baptized because her boyfriend who was a member of the Church of Christ was pressuring her to have an adult believer’s baptism experience and be fully immersed. After the teaching we later held a baptism of remembrance service in the Withlacoochee River.    

     Jesus initiated Holy Communion with the disciples in the Upper Room, (Matthew 26:17-30), and promised to be with them. The whole Trinity is present in Holy Communion lavishing the benefits of Jesus Christ’s passion on those who partake. Eucharist, as it’s also known, from the Greek word meaning thanksgiving, reminds Christians that the sacrament is thanksgiving to God for the gifts of creation and salvation.[8]

     The practice of ministry has led me to celebrate Holy Communion with the church in creative ways to experience afresh the presence of the risen Lord and receive grace for our lives as disciples. We have celebrated Holy Communion at parks, in nursing homes, outdoors underneath the stars, coffee shops, and in homes. 

     During my appointment at Lee UMC (Madison) I was invited by the owner of ‘Southern Living for seniors’ an assisted living facility in Madison to come once every three months and serve the residents, “The Lord’s Supper.” I interpreted this as a great honor and began with much gratitude. Jenny jokingly said, “Just don’t do all that Methodist stuff and everything will be ok.” Although this comment offended me, I know the owner personally and I know she has a Southern Baptist background. However, I would have never imagined this being cause for concern. 

     I quickly learned that ‘A Service of Word and Table’ wasn’t completely foreign to the residents but was completely foreign to the staff that assisted. I attempted to personally serve the group of eight to ten residents by way of intinction using one loaf of bread and a chalice but this was met with resistance not for sanitary reasons but because Mary a staff person and Missionary Baptist wasn’t comfortable. Mary insisted on only using little plastic cups and hard prepackaged wafers. In keeping the peace and maintaining unity I let her provide the elements. However, I did use a loaf each service during the liturgy to bless and break.         

     On a certain occasion while serving the residents I broke the bread and repeated the words that Jesus said, “Take eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Something came over me this day so I added, “and know that we not only remember Christ’s sacrifice for us long ago but we also experience what God is presently doing in a powerful, yet mysterious way, and anticipate God’s future work of salvation.”  After the service Mary felt as though we needed talk outside. 

     Mary explained that The Lord’s Supper was to remember Jesus’ sacrifice and added we didn’t need to take the Lord’s Supper every month, especially if we are saved. I explained that ‘The Lord’s Supper’ is a sacrament that I hold in high regard. It’s an outward sign of an inward grace that conveys God’s grace to us in a powerful way that unites, nourishes, and sustains us as we constantly strive to be Christ’s instruments of transformation in the world. I need Christ’s love, forgiveness and healing. I don’t’ know about you but I need that, I want that as often as I can get it. Mary and I thanked one another for listening.

     This experience taught me the importance of healthy dialogue, and maintaining an attitude of respect and openness to learning. I served these people for over a year and kept my focus on the ministry that I felt called to while remaining anchored in my faith tradition yet maintain unity and peace.    

     I am now an ordained elder (Pastor) in the United Methodist Church. A special role for the elder is the responsibility for administration of the sacraments.[9] The United Methodist Church teaches that baptism is to be performed by an ordained minister in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Water, by sprinkling, immersion, or pouring, is essential (John 3:5, Acts 8:36).[10]

      In the United Methodist Church, persons who are ordained as elders may consecrate the Holy Communion elements, protecting Holy Communion from misuse. However, laypersons may offer Holy Communion and I remain intentional to include others. Pastors should be educated and trained in the history, traditions, theology, and spirituality of the sacraments and ways to best convey their full benefits. With humility and respect I am committed to this significant responsibility.



[1] Heitzenrater, R. and Outler, A. John Wesley’s Sermons: The Means of grace (1746) (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991) P. 160 

[2] Gayle, Carlton, Felton. This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion, (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1997), P. 15.

[3] Grenz, Stanley, Theology for the Community of God, PP. 339-344.

[4] Staples, Rob L. Outward Sign And Inward Grace, P. 182. 

[5] Gayle, Carlton, Felton. By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism, (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1997), PP. 27, 28.

[6] The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville, The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989.) P. 40 

[7] Anderson, Sara, We Believe (Anderson: Bristol, 1996), P. 45-52. 

[8] Gayle, Carlton, Felton. By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism, (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1997), P. 17

[9] http://www.gbhem.org/site//The_Ministry_of_the_Elder.htm

[10] Anderson, Sara, We Believe, (Anderson: Bristol, 1996), PP. 45-52.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving

Dearly beloved,                                                                     A picture containing text

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Happy Thanksgiving!

 

"For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with

thanksgiving," (I Timothy 4:4).

 

What a great holiday! I love Thanksgiving, not just for the special family gatherings, the "fine dining" and the televised football games, but for the fact that it gives honor to God in a unique way. No other holiday focuses attention on being thankful and recognizing the blessings one has received. Christians and Non-Christians alike fulfill scripture on that day, for Colossians 3:15 specifically tells us to be thankful.

 

Thanksgiving honors God, and God also honors the giving of thanks. In Luke 17 we read the account of the ten lepers who approached Jesus for healing. Like many people, nine of the lepers received from the Lord but failed to take time to thank Him. However, Jesus commended the one who returned to thank Him for his healing. This year I encourage you to take the time to consider the blessings you have received. No matter what your circumstances, you have much for which to be thankful.

 

Let me also take this opportunity to tell you that one of the things for which I am

thankful this year is YOU. You are a vital part of the Body of Christ, a testimony of

the power of God. I am thankful that the Lord has placed you within our congregation. This year may your Thanksgiving holiday be a joyful time.

 

In Gratitude,

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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

We Can Still Celebrate

 

    Two major seasons are before us. Thanksgiving and Christmas (to include Advent). I should add the third: COVID-19 (sorry). Life continues on even in the midst of a pandemic. We are called to the abundant life, so let’s celebrate.

    This isn’t our first epidemic, hopefully it’s our last. Catastrophes have always touched our lives. “Death has come up into our windows, it has entered our palaces, to cut off the children from the streets and the young men from the squares.” (Jeremiah 9:20). Much is at work to thwart the good that God has for us. I want to encourage the people of God to lean into Jesus and celebrate our relationship to God through Him. Consequently, life will be led to celebration. Many of us have been celebrating the ability to gather again weekly and worship together. Something we may have taken for granted.

    This year will be different indeed. The goal is the same but this year will be hard for many to celebrate. One Hundred and sixteen families from our community will be grieving the lost of loved ones due to COVID (usafacts.org/Clay County, Florida Coronavirus Cases and Deaths). What should our relationship to these people be? Should we celebrate amid such loss and pain?  

    I still wish you a Happy Thanksgiving! We will celebrate Thanksgiving, and seek to instill “an attitude of gratitude” within ourselves and our families. Merry Christmas! It can still be merry. We will celebrate Christmas; we must give praise and thanksgiving for the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. We must sing with joy in thanksgiving for the new thing God is doing through Jesus Christ. Yet still, this year’s celebration will be different. “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137:4). We do live in a strange, foreign land, although the houses, the landscape, and the people are familiar. We who look for God’s coming already feel like strangers in a foreign land. 

   There’s something we resonate with in the apostle Paul’s words: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have” (Philippians 1:29-30). God’s people know what it is to lament and struggle. Daily we observe a culture unaware of God’s life-giving promises, and we experience the reality of “principalities and powers” that defy God’s rule of life. But out of the gloom and fear, we still hear Isaiah’s invitation: “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Isaiah 2:5). Let us rejoice in the words of Charles Wesley, Rejoice, the Lord is King UMH 715:   

Rejoice, the Lord is King!

Your Lord and King adore;

Rejoice, give thanks, and sing,

And triumph evermore;

Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;

                                                        Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

In His Love

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

To Interrupt or Disrupt? That is The Question

    Anyone accepting the new ‘normal’ yet, well, at least normal for now (we pray)? What’s really going on? Given our current COVID context many are finding it to be annoying, confusing, isolating, boring, tense, anxiety-inducing, and depressing. Worse of all many people have died and or fighting to live as we read this. (A doctor in New York recently committed suicide).
    This is a pandemic, yes. With this pandemic comes not only a sickness that can kill you and many people on the planet, but it basically shuts down your life in another way. It has been two hard months of isolating, and social distancing. I’ve heard many people mention that they miss seeing each other, fellowshipping and worshipping together. I miss it too. But I am taking notes, I’m trying to learn and grow both personally and as a leader in the Church. I hope that you haven’t wasted this experience either. 
    I was stuck on a few words last week as I was listening, processing, and praying: Interruption and disruption. Is COVID-19 an interruption? Is this a disruption? I found these definitions: interrupt :(v) stop the continuous progress of (an activity or process). Disrupt: (v) interrupt (an event, activity, or process) by causing a disturbance or problem (Google). So how do you see our given context? Have our lives been interrupted or disrupted? Well both/and. We can see that by definition these verbs are doing something. Considering our ministries--the progress has taken a hit (thankfully not a devastating blow). Considering our mission—not so much. We have had to learn patience and long-suffering but we are still the body of Christ with the same neighbors, family members, and the same great community. Our mission is still to make disciples. 
   The Wesley Covenant Association had this in their recent newsletter:  “This is a time of great disruption that will force us to re-imagine who we are, what we will be about, and how we will minister to the people in our communities. As hard as it is to do in the midst of a tragedy, we need to: (1) carefully consider our churches in light of our mission contexts; (2) pray, and then (3) discern how God wants us to change so we are faithful witnesses in radically altered environments. As Christians, we have always believed times of suffering and hardship are often essential to seeing new visions, but we must be alert and open to them.”
    So church, above, is a good example of what to do and where to go from here? Personally, engage the Spiritual disciplines: Bible study, silence, solitude, fasting, connecting with other believers, and prayer (not exhausted), start with your own prayer life, establish a rhythm now. Notice how well we are still connected. You’re reading this now. We are recording four, sometimes five different groups a week for our worship experience. Our children and youth are still connecting and our Food bridge ministry hasn’t stopped providing for our community. We had two Holy Communion opportunities via the internet (not a big fan). We have married two couples and buried a brother and a sister in Christ. We go on… as we each follow the above instructions for this disruption let us not give up. Consider who we are and our given missional context, pray and discern how God is leading you, us. 
    Do we have a problem? Have our lives been disrupted? In ways, yes. Good news, This season will end; it may create a new normal. Stay alert and open to the Spirit of God and His leading. 
IN HIS UNFAILING LOVE,  Pastor Brian Sanderson