When Jesus prays

When Jesus talks, every word matters. When his subject is prayer, every word chosen becomes a text book for showing us how to talk to God. Listen with fresh ears to the words of Jesus when he taught us to pray:

OUR

Prayer is plural. It isn’t simply me talking inside my head all day (that’s called thinking). It isn’t even just me talking to God. It is me entering into a supernatural world where supernatural beings participate in divine conversation. When I pray/ talk to God, I assume that on occasion if not often there are angels within hearing distance. Scripture teaches me to believe this. I also assume that on occasion if not often there are demons listening in. Because Jesus experienced these beings and even interacted with them, I must assume they are in the mix even if I’m not aware of it.

Prayer is plural. Which is to say that when we pray, we are praying to the God of the whole world and the God of the Church. We are praying as members of the Body of Christ. We are not an “I;” we are a “we.” After all, we are related to one another because we are related to Him. As I mature in my faith, my prayers ought more and more to include the great company of those for whom God’s heart breaks.

FATHER

We are members of a family, the head of which is our Father. When we pray, we are praying to a person. God is not some nebulous, positive force or concept. He is a person who desires a relationship with us as his children. If he weren’t a person, there could be no relationship.

Because he is our creator and was not himself created, we call him Father. Some struggle to embrace that name for God. “My dad was good for nothing,” they might say, “so calling God my father messes with my ability to relate to him.” Though I can understand the connection, I would counter that you’re missing the gift here. Even if your earthly father was a mess of a person you don’t have to miss out on the opportunity to have the kind of father you always wanted. Here in your Father God, there is redemption! He offers himself to you in just that capacity, to redeem the years the locusts have eaten. He invites us to belong. He promises us his love. He invites us home and home in him is safe.

HEAVEN

Our God is a person, and he lives in a place. Heaven is the Father’s home base and the object of our highest cravings. When we pray, we touch heaven. That gift ought to humble us.

Mark Buchanan says we are born with two impulses and it is the tension between these two impulses that creates our restlessness. One impulse is to go beyond. It is that little voice that looks on life and says, “Is this all there is?” The other impulse is to go home. It is that craving for what is comfortable, for what we know. Buchanan says heaven “is the one place where both impulses – to go beyond, to go home – are … totally satisfied.”

HALLOWED

Darrell Johnson says we should translate this first line of Jesus’ prayer, “Our Father, holy-fy your name!” This is what we are asking of God. We are asking him to empower us as partners in the work of making him famous.

The Greek word for “hallowed” is a command. We are asking God to reveal himself as he is and in that request we are also declaring our intent to enter into partnership. We want to participate in the work of glorifying His name. How is it that we can pray this proclamation as nothing more than a dry recitation, when it is meant as a contract with the Holiest Being in the universe? To pray this word is to take seriously an invitation to spend our lives proclaiming the truth of who he is.

YOUR NAME

The second of the ten commandments calls on God’s people to honor his name. That command transfers over into the New Testament when Paul proclaims (Philippians 2:9-11), “Therefore God exalted (Jesus) to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

This is the real work of prayer. It is to bring the very power of Jesus — the King of the Universe, God in the flesh, even the power of his name — to bear on our most desperate situations so that through this personal, intentional relationship he is glorified.  We confess our sins. We seek healing. We get our lives in sync with the Father so our lives proclaim his glory.

If you don’t know Jesus in an intimate and powerful way, I implore you to begin using the name of Jesus in your conversations with God. When you call on his name he comes, and he comes in power.

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Carriers of the Gospel or Keepers of the Myth?

Lazarus has just died.

This is a blow to everyone in Jesus’ circle. This is someone they all loved. A friend of Jesus. As his sisters, Mary and Martha are stricken, not just by the loss but by Jesus’ response. Jesus loves these people, but when they send word that Lazarus is sick Jesus doesn’t go running. In fact, he waits two days before heading over to Judea to check in. By the time he gets there, Lazarus is as dead as a doorknob (as they say) and Martha is mad as a hornet (as they also say). “If you had come sooner, my brother wouldn’t be dead today,” she says … and the clear tone of her comment is that they deserve something more than this treatment. Jesus understands, but what he really wants to know is this: Does she believe in his divinity, whether or not he acts as she’d prefer?

Do you believe, Martha, when it is inconvenient?

In Martha’s bold proclamation of the truth, we hear the very power of the gospel:  “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

And then Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. It is stunning, an affirmation that this indeed is the very power of God in their midst. But not everyone is moved. A group of religious leaders who get wind of this news are completely put off by a resurrection miracle. This has profound implications for their temple. If this man continues to display such signs and wonders, the crowds may shift their allegiance. What then? The priests could lose their temple, not to mention their jobs, their way of life and the culture of honor to which they’ve grown accustomed.

Their solution? Kill the man. Kill Lazarus, too. Don’t just destroy the miracle-maker; destroy the miracle.

At this point, the story begins to sound familiar. It is not hard to draw a line from the religious leaders of Jesus’ day to the religious spirit of ours. In an upcoming book by James Heidinger (soon to be published by Seedbed), I’ve been learning about the roots of the slow, steady decline of the United Methodist Church. The current crisis, Heidinger says, has been in the making for decades and isn’t the sole property of the UMC. The downfall of mainline American protestantism began early in the 20th century when its theologians began to question the supernatural nature of Jesus. Do we really have to believe in the virgin birth in order to accept the divinity of Jesus? Once we crossed that line, it was a brief slide down to questioning the resurrection and from there, it seemed only natural to doubt the validity of the miracles themselves.

When we began to question the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection and the miracle-making power of Jesus, we lost — literally — the power of the gospel. Sap all the supernatural out of Jesus, and what have we got? A good man and a few moral platitudes, but nothing worth our worship.

I once heard someone say that too many ministers are less “carriers of the gospel” and more “keepers of the myth.” How painful to think there are men and women who accept a paycheck as carriers of the gospel but who do not themselves believe deep-down in the whole gospel of Jesus Christ — the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection, the miracles, the deliverance from evil. How many who call themselves Christian today would struggle to honor and celebrate the raising of a Lazarus in their midst? How many pastors preach the stories for their morals only, having long since lost any sense of the power of the gospel?

Brothers and sisters, I suspect that history is repeating itself. We have become so concerned for the temple that we’ve lost our wonder in the supernatural power of Jesus Christ. What if the crowds shift their allegiance? We could lose our pensions and property, not to mention the culture to which we’ve grown accustomed. For fear of losing relevance, we’ve traded the gospel for a powerless message.

How did we get here, to this place where we disdain the power of God? And how do we get out of this hole?

Perhaps Martha’s lesson is a word for our day. Even when it is inconvenient or uncomfortable, our only hope is in the proclamation of the whole gospel. “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” For United Methodists, such a proclamation would not be a new thing but a much-needed refocus on our doctrinal foundation.

We believe in Jesus …

The Son, who is the Word of the Father, the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, took man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin; so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one person, never to be divided; whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man, who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.

We believe in the resurrection of Jesus …

Christ did truly rise again from the dead, and took again his body, with all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature, wherewith he ascended into heaven, and there sits until he return to judge all men at the last day.

We believe in the Holy Spirit …

The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.

We believe in the power of God to create fresh and real miracles in our day …

… to bring good news to the poor;
… to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God … (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Let it begin with us, Lord Jesus. Let it begin here. Preachers, I challenge you to be a carrier of the Gospel today. Unashamedly preach the power of Jesus Christ. People, I challenge you to believe in and embrace the supernatural power of God in your worship and work, and I challenge you to refuse as your pastor anyone who is merely a keeper of the myth. The gospel of Jesus Christ deserves much more.

Yes, Lord … I believe you are the Christ, the one and only Son of God, who is coming into the world in all your power and glory!

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The art of self-deception (or, how to ruin a relationship)

As a pastor, I’ve become interested in the dynamics of conflict. I notice that many of us don’t know how to think maturely through to the other side of difficult conversations. Because I often help folks think through the conflicts in their life, I have become intensely interested in what creates these divisions among us. Leadership and Self-deception, a book by Arbinger Institute, has helped me analyze what happens.

In any difference of opinion there are two options: focus on the other person and on making progress (results); or focus on self. None of us consciously chooses to focus on self though that’s the more common choice. Self is the choice of those whose sense of identity is weakened and easily threatened. Because our identity is weakened, we naturally act to defend it by building a case around ourselves for our behavior/ opinion/ “side.” Our choice to focus on self rather than other creates our defensiveness.

Simply put, if you want to ruin a relationship, make it all about you.

The moment we begin defending ourselves, it is as if we erect a fence around our identity. Now inside that fence, we begin to collect ammunition — excuses, arguments, defenses, and judgments. We even begin to collect our own army, inviting others into our box to help defend our position.

conflict3Once armed, we begin to fire on the one with whom we are in conflict, leaving them to decide how to respond. Like us, they also have a choice. they can choose to focus on others and on results or they can focus on self. A decision to focus on the other person and their perspective, even when being attacked, obviously requires a strong sense of identity. To stand in our identity while someone is attacking it requires a recognition that no other person can steal our identity from us.

In the absence of that kind of strength, the other person will focus on self-defense, which means building a fence and retreating inside of it. Now both of us are inside a box. Both of us are gathering ammo; both of us are recruiting an army.

Very unhealthy. And very common.

Does this pattern sound familiar?

What is the remedy? Learn to focus in every conversation and conflict on others and on results. While Leadership and Self-deception teaches these concepts from a secular, business-world perspective, these principles are exactly what Jesus taught. Wasn’t it Jesus who first said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and who taught us to be servant to all? And wasn’t it Jesus who said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God (results) and everything else will be added to you”?

When we focus on others (seeing them as people to be respected, heard, valued) and on results (“seek first the Kingdom of God”), that gets us outside ourselves and the habits that turn us inward. If both of us decide to focus on results and on genuinely hearing each other rather than on being understood, the chances of resolution are greatly enhanced.

Of course, all this depends on several factors, the most important of which is trust. If I can’t trust you to tell the truth and if you can’t trust me to hold your best interests above my own, we won’t get far. Truth-telling is as essential for true community as being other-focused.

Knowing how conflict happens and how our self-focus feeds it can help us change the way we relate. Ultimately, that feeds the health of our families, work environments and communities.

_________

Leadership and Self-deception, produced by the Arbinger Institute, creatively teaches the anatomy of conflict. This is the second book released by this group on the subject (the first is The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict).

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A Conversation with Millennials about Sex and Culture

I was inspired by a recent blog about why millennials have dropped out of church, and was equally inspired by the conversation generated on a friend’s Facebook page after he re-posted this blog. The blog listed twelve “theses,” in the spirit of the ninety-five Luther nailed to the church door. The ninth thesis was this: “People in their 20s and 30s are making the biggest decisions of their entire lives: career, education, relationships, marriage, sex, finances, children, purpose, chemicals, body image. We need someone consistently speaking truth into every single one of those areas.”

Amen and yes. Even if I don’t know all the language for this, I absolutely agree. We need people speaking truth into the most sensitive areas of life. A comment thread on Facebook produced these comments: “(This) hits home with me,” one young adult writes, “especially about sex, relationships, marriage, and a few ‘taboo’ things I feel like some churches don’t talk enough about that destroy people and families.” His friend replies, “Yes it does. I just wish we could talk about things like that … like it’s important ya know. We all have those pressures of life that get to us. Just wish we could understand that we as young adults (and church families) deal with this on a daily basis.”

That this generation is starving for more transparent conversation is great news. I would so much rather influence a generation around their sex/relationships/marriage choices than sit and toss stones at the culture. Because here’s a fact: We are not who the culture says we are. The culture tells us that “church” is moral but that our bodies are biological, and that the disconnect between the two is final and irreconcilable. But that is simply not true. God’s sexual ethics are not primarily moral; they are theological (meaning that they originate from spiritual realities). And human sexuality is not primarily biological. We are so much more than our biology. We are theologies … which means that quite to the contrary of being a disconnect, there is a marvelously harmonious “connect” between design and desire.

A careful reading of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians puts all this on the same playing field. In 1 Corinthians 6:16, Paul does something kind of brilliant. He uses a pretty extreme example — sleeping with a prostitute — to connect us back to the creation story and what happens when we get physical with each other. Quoting Genesis 2 (“The two shall become one flesh.”), he focuses on the Greek word for “joined.” This is the word we use when we talk about the union of men and women in marriage (becoming one flesh) but in the Hebrew, this word isn’t like using a paperclip to keep two pieces of paper together. This word is more like the word for what happens with crazy glue. This is being stuck together in a way that doesn’t disconnect without someone getting torn or damaged in the process.

This is more than physical union; this is about the joining of intangibles because we are not just biologies; we are theologies. Our substance is something deep and spiritual. We are designed for a kind of living that encompasses all of us — mind, body and spirit — which is why so much of our teaching on our created design is dead wrong. It is because so much cultural teaching tends to reduce human sexuality to either morality or biology (then pitting them against each other), when we are clearly more than that.

Neither morality nor biology gets at the heart of our sexual giftedness. Morality plays off fear and shame. Its message is, “It is bad. Don’t do it.” Out of our own fears, we tend to use morality to scare our kids away from treasuring their own bodies. No wonder the enemy of your soul and mine spoke that word “shame” into the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3). No wonder the enemy enticed the first humans to fear their own nakedness or to believe that if they were going to get their needs met they’d have to take them into their own hands.

We’ve been fed a lie.

Likewise, to reduce our sexuality to biology is to sap it of all its intangible rewards. Biology focuses on physical and emotional feelings and attractions. The message is, “If it feels good, do it.” This is the message of moral relativity. For teens, the second-tier message is, “Protect yourself,” and that just further separates body from soul. For those who deal with sexual dysfunction, biology forces us into mind-control rather than encouraging us to explore the spiritual and emotional roots of our wounds.

Theology, by contrast, offers us the most holistic view of our bodies and the most chance for living fully into our created design. The point of our sexuality is first of all to be fruitful, but it is a fruitfulness rooted in covenantal relationship that bears the intangible fruit of biblical joy, the freedom of acceptance, and spiritual rest. To see our sexuality theologically — not just morally or biologically — is to free ourselves for true intimacy. It is to couch our most intimate relationships in trust and to reject the lie of shame.

In his great affirmation of our created design, Paul declared, “Glorify God in your body.” I can think of no better word of advice for a young adult navigating this culture.

Glorify God in your body. This is not just so much theological fluff. It is the best possible strategy for cultivating a rich and fulfilling future.

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How to live like Jesus is alive

I suspect sometimes that I live more out of a sense of obligation than awe — more aware that I’ve signed onto a system than that I am a servant of a holy God who has actually sapped the power out of death and sin. I need to be reminded that systems are not living, breathing things, but Jesus is. If I’m going to recommit to that truth today, how can I live like Jesus is alive?

1. Let the dead things die. Toss the old habits that are not working for you any more. Toss the old, dead rituals. Let’s be honest: some of us are still waiting for 1953 to roll around again so we can get back to a more comfortable kind of religion. Folks, Jesus is doing a new thing! Toss the things you keep wanting to come back that are never going to come back, both in your spiritual life and in the rest of your life. Let the things that have no life for you die.

2. Learn to feast. Psalm 23 is a song of death and resurrection. It paints this picture of walking through a valley of shadows, on the verge of death, with a focus on the feast at the far side. On the next rise, just past the valley, there is a table set by God himself.  “You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.”

This psalm is about how to walk through trouble with a feast mentality, rather than a spirit of scarcity.

I remember reading this line one evening years ago while I was sitting in the chapel of the church I was serving at the time. We offered Wednesday night communion and I was the pastor for that service. I’d sit in the chapel and as folks came I served them. In between people, I usually read the scriptures.

My husband Steve usually came to that service on Wednesdays, and I remember one week in particular when he showed up. It had been a hard week for him. He was teaching, and it seemed like he was struggling more than usual with classroom discipline. Like that semester he had every demon in Morgan County taking history from him. It was a rough season.

As he walked up to the altar, I was reading this very line from Psalm 23 about God preparing a table for us in the presence of our enemies. I looked up from that line to see my husband kneeling at the altar, his hands out to receive the elements, all his enemies weighing heavily on him — the students, the work, the tests to be graded. And I thought to myself, “Here it is! Being lived out right in front of me … God is inviting Steve to a feast!”

In the face of so many enemies, Steve was invited by the Lord of the Universe to come to the table, to get his cup refilled, to receive God’s goodness and mercy, and to remember that even with so many demons hanging on, God was with him. God was on his side. God is on his side  and yours … and mine.

If the message of Christmas is that God is with us, then the message of Easter is that God is for us.

This is what it means to get a feast mentality. It is to set your face toward that table, believing in the goodness of the One who set it for you, while you’re still in the valley. It is to believe the story is true even when life is hard.

3. Get a resurrection mindset. That is a mindset that is fearless in the face of change. It is a mindset that believes that God has a big, honkin’ plan for your life, something much bigger than you’re thinking, and something you won’t discover as long as you’re tweaking the small stuff.

Jesus is worthy. The cross is glorious. The good news is worth believing. The Kingdom to come is an absolute assurance and the resurrection is proof.

Learn to live as if this is so.

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The courage to shift care

I had the pleasure some time back of being with about 1300 college students for two sessions on healing. Their morning chapel service was a requirement so I didn’t expect folks to respond in any great number. I was thinking we’d prime the pump in the morning, but that those who showed up for the evening service would be the ones who really entered into the opportunity for healing.

I was wrong.shifting-care2

Something like a hundred people responded in the morning session. Another fifty or sixty were seen in pairs all around the room, praying for each other. The incredible thing about it for me was that all those college students came forward, fell to their knees and then began ministering to each other.

They weren’t looking for an adult or a professional to do their praying for them. They didn’t ask me, the chaplain or any other adult to do what they could do for themselves. They just needed space and an invitation to care for each other.

It was beautiful. And biblical.

Carey Nieuwhof talks about having courage to shift care. It is the principle of Exodus 18, where Jethro confronts Moses about trying to do everything himself. He says (my loose interpretation), “You’re going to kill yourself by leading this way. You need to appoint others to care for the people, so that your strength is reserved for leadership-level decisions.”

When the church professionalizes spiritual care to the point that we make “regular” people feel powerless to care for one another, we have absolutely failed to be the church. Calling it “pastoral care” reveals the core of the problem. Pastoral care is what pastors do; “people care” is what communities do.

Nieuwhof says, “Even Jesus adopted the model of group care, moving his large group of hundreds of  disciples into groups of seventy, twelve, three, and then one. Group-based care isn’t just practical, it’s biblical.”

And it is most definitely Methodist. This was the foundation of Wesley’s structure. Wesley’s model of discipleship was rooted in a system of groups; in fact he didn’t let you come to worship if you weren’t in a group.*

Groups are what it means to be Methodist because sanctification is what it means to be Methodist.

The gift of it for the faith community is that it spreads out the responsibility of spiritual friendship. This is our vision at Mosaic. It is for relationships to be 360-degree relationships. Not just person to pastor or person to group leader, but person to person to person to person, building a web of friendships that build a strong community.

In our tribe, that’s how it is done. Any other formula only leads to burn-out and a poor imitation of what church is meant to be.

* See this article, especially the quote by Kevin Watson. http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/hows-your-spiritual-life-the-class-meeting-for-today

See also Watson’s exceptional book: The Class Meeting.

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Do it afraid.

I want to ask you to put your hand at the back of your head, where your head meets your neck. That place is the fear center of your brain. When you’re faced with a threat, all your thinking moves back to that place. This part of your brain knows nothing but survival. Some of us visit this place every once in a while. Some of us have taken up residence there; we’ve purchased a condo and moved in.

What are the fears that send you back to this place?

Now, put the heel of your hand to your forehead. The front part of our brains is where rational thinking happens, and it is also where our identity center is. This is where our life purpose is worked out. They say this is also where personal faith is developed.

It happens far from our fear center.

Joyce Meyer tells the story of Elisabeth Elliot, whose husband was killed along with four other missionaries in Ecuador in the nineteen fifties. After that tragedy, Elisabeth’s life was completely controlled by fear. She wanted to continue her husband’s work but was paralyzed by fear. Then a friend told her something that set her free. She said, “Why don’t you do it afraid?” It sounded simplistic … but on that advice, Elisabeth went on to evangelize the Indian tribes of Ecuador, including the very people who had killed her husband.

Being stuck in fear – worried about possible outcomes and afraid to step out – keeps us far from the place where faith develops. So why not do it afraid? Even if our mouth is dry and our knees are shaking, when we step out in faith, we are deciding that our lives will not be ruled by our fears.

In the world of missions and ministry, “doing it afraid” is probably more common than not. I’m guessing every pastor and cross-cultural worker has a story of stepping out when they had no idea if the ground would meet that next step. Those who step out deserve our respect. They are at the front of Kingdom advancement.

This is exactly how the Kingdom comes: not when we do it perfectly, but when we do it faithfully.

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Building Lives, Breaking Cycles

Today, our Mosaic community commits to a new season of ministry together. We want to gift our larger community with a Christ-centered resource that offers healing and wholeness to hurting people, so we are developing a relational, transformational system for discipling people in crisis situations. Our heart is for those who need a community — a family, a supportive partner — so they can be built up in every way into Christ who is our head and so they can break the cycles that keep them stuck (the same cycles that kept many of us stuck).

Our vision for The Mosaic Center is a vision for moving people beyond mercy to discipleship.

Once a month, we already offer something called Third Saturday (a ministry taught to us by the people of Grace Church in Cape Coral, Florida). Now we are listening to the folks who come to Third Saturday to understand exactly what their next step needs to be. How do we move them from invitation to transformation? We are building a viable plan for offering the kinds of programs that break cycles and lead to sanctification.

Think of Third Saturday as the front door and The Mosaic Center as the living room. Third Saturday welcomes people in, and The Mosaic Center will offer classes, programs and mentoring that move people forward with Christ at the center.

Building people, breaking cycles.

I’ve never been more proud of our faith community. Already, our folks have proven their desire to do something significant and already they’ve shown their willingness to invest not just funds but time and skills. We plan to do this in the spirit of Exodus 35:

“All who are skilled among you are to come and make everything the Lord has commanded.”

It will take all of us to make this vision a reality. Our folks are up for it. Our goal is to have a working center by the middle of 2018. If you want a business plan for this, here it is: We want to use tangibles to produce intangibles. We want to use a building to build lives and break cycles. We want to use food and classes and computers to open the doors of people’s hearts.

This is the pattern Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 9, but he didn’t make it up. The principle is built into God’s design. We find it repeated over and over in the Bible. Go back to Exodus and the building of the first tabernacle out in the desert. God used the gifts of the people to build a building and then he used the building to guide the people through the desert. In other words, the very first building designed by God was used to guide people through a desert and toward his promises. To explain the character of Christ’s new world order, Jesus used bread and wine. To heal a man, he used dirt and spit.

God has a habit of using tangibles to produce intangibles. 

This is what Paul taught the Corinthians. “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” (2 Cor. 9:12). And this is the end goal of our Harvest. We want to use practical acts of help and care — GED classes and job training and budgeting and life skills — to produce a harvest of worshippers. We want to do practical things that lead people into the presence and power of God, where they can discover he is everything he says he is.

Slowly but surely, we are working our way toward the vision of John, who saw what it will look like when all our acts of love and care culminate in worship at the throne of God:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

This is what we’re after. We’re after a harvest of souls. We recognize that this kind of harvest takes time. It takes sacrifice; it takes patience. It takes investment. Great moves of God tend to happen because of great moves of heart.

But we’re up for it because we are hungry to see the power of God and the Kingdom on earth, as it is in Heaven.

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Five Things You Should Know About the WCA

Since August of last year, some 1,200 clergy and laypersons have become invested in a renewal organization within the United Methodist Church called the Wesleyan Covenant Association. The WCA garnered some notice because of the timing of its unveiling, though actually it has been in the works for several years. The inaugural event in Chicago last October galvanized two thousand people around the prospect of “the next Methodism” and that idea has captured our collective imagination.

The obvious fact is that the UMC is in crisis but we all know that for imaginative people, a crisis is an opportunity in disguise. What opportunity does this crisis provide our faith tradition? What kind of renewal could rise from the ashes? If the UMC is heading for a significant change anyway (and it is), what would we want to emerge on the other side?

Those are the kinds of questions being asked in gatherings and conversations around the country. With such energy, we have the opportunity to shape the next Methodism. This is the very hope fueling the formation of the WCA. If you are new to the table, what five things might help you get into the conversation?

Our first love is Jesus. Every person at the WCA table is there because they believe the Church is the hope of the world. However, as faithful as we want to be to the United Methodist expression of that Church, I don’t know of a person centrally involved in the WCA who is clinging to institutional salvation. We all care a lot about the UMC — enough to invest in this work — but the glue that holds us together is Jesus. Our confidence is in Christ. Our covenant within the United Methodist Church is founded on its Articles of Religion, which profess an orthodox understanding of this gospel. Those foundational articles are grounded in Christ as the exclusive savior of the world. Those who remain connected must insist on a relationship built on integrity and true accountability around the confession of Jesus as the center of our gospel and foundation of our faith (Articles II and III). Likewise, we trust the authority of Scripture, which “contains all things necessary for salvation” (Articles V and VI).

Our goal is to breed confidence for the future. Last year’s General Conference set in motion a process designed to give the UMC a way forward. We want to trust both that process and God’s timing. We urge churches, clergy and laypersons to let the system do its work. Hang in there. Stay focused in this “already and not yet” season on the good work of your local church. We can be honest about what we suspect. There will likely come a day in the UMC when we all have to make a mature and hard choice, peacefully admitting that we are better off heading our separate ways. But timing is everything. Let’s let the system do its work so we can say on the other side of this that we stayed the course as faithfully and as transparently as we knew how. Meanwhile, the WCA exists as a good landing place, an advocate, and a supportive partner that is allowing hope to have its power. We are leaning into what can be.

We love people.  Every person at the WCA table is there because we believe the Church is the hope of the world and every one of us has a heart for the eleven million people who call themselves United Methodist (not to mention the seven billion who call themselves human). God so loved the world and we are motivated by that love. We are in this because we genuinely care about connecting people with the heart of Jesus and we believe solid, orthodox Wesleyan theology is the best conduit for making that connection. That’s what made us Methodists in the first place; that passion hasn’t changed.

We believe that for the gospel to be true, it must be global. Methodists are incarnational and global in our approach to evangelism. We seek partnership with those within the Wesleyan tradition around the globe, not just as people on the receiving end of mission activities but as fully invested members of this expression of faith. The WCA has had remarkable support from leaders in other countries, and we have invited representatives from each Central Conference to join our Council. We reject any revision of our structure that separates our connection geographically because we believe in the global nature of the gospel and the Great Commission.

We are here for the long haul. The existence of the WCA does not hinge on one vote at one General Conference. Folks, our issues are far deeper, our institutional divisions far wider, our concerns far more grave than the substance of one vote. Our intention is to build a bridge from what we have to what can be. That kind of vision will take years to live out but we are committed for the long haul. The WCA is here to stay.

When new things get started, getting off the ground can be a little bumpy. Since our first gathering of the WCA last October, it has been like drinking water from a fire hose. To build a thing that stands the test of time takes a tremendous amount of effort — developing systems, making budgets, writing (and re-writing) by-laws, making hiring decisions, talking theology, creating communication systems. And prayer … a lot of prayer. This is not a short-term fix.

As we’ve said often in these early conversations, let’s not waste a crisis. The UMC is in need of renewal. No one on any side of the equation should be in this to “win” on one issue so we can all go back to business as usual. Let’s shoot for something more noble, more grand — to see the Kingdom of God manifest within the Body of Christ on earth for the sake of the redemption of the world.

When that happens, we can all go home to the unhindered presence of Christ. And oh, what a glory that will be.

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The Jesus Prayer and the Cure for Arrogance

Malcolm Gladwell has written a book called Blink, about the thousand decisions we make every day in the smallest slices of time — choices we make in split-seconds during a conversation — that determine how we respond to life at the subconscious level.Gladwell interviewed one psychologist who has made a study of watching couples in conversation.

This guy has become so adept at watching their non-verbal communication that he can tell with incredible accuracy how likely they are to divorce after just a few minutes of watching them talk. His point is that how we react to other people in the briefest moments (even non-verbally) says a lot about what’s beneath the surface.This psychologist has boiled hundreds of facial expressions down to four major categories. He calls them the Four Horsemen: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism and contempt. And he says the real killer among those four is contempt.

“You’d think criticism would be the worst, because it maligns character,” he says. “But contempt is worse, because it puts one person above another. It’s when we look down on another person that we do the most damage.” And it is so damaging, the psychologist says, that it affects our immune system.Contempt is a killer. No wonder the enemy of our souls has made a career out of getting us to go there. He wants us to make pecking orders. To make ourselves better than others. The enemy has made quite a career out of doing nothing more than keeping your heart hard toward another human being. And it is brilliant, really. He can make it slice both ways, so we feel chronically inadequate while we’re tearing others down so they never feel good enough, either.

That’s the tactic of the enemy of our souls.

The remedy, according to Jesus, is to keep our eyes on our own work. He told a story about it to emphasize the point (Mt. 18:9-14). When a religious leader and a tax collector happened to be praying at the same time in the temple one day, the contrast was stark. The religious leader spent his time feeling good about his position somewhere above the other guy. The tax collector spent his words confessing his own sins.

Out of the tax collector’s example has come one of the most repeated prayers in the world: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Orthodox believers have fleshed it out in New Testament terms: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It is often called “the prayer of the heart.”

This is the prayer of holiness and a cure for both contempt and arrogance. I spent most of my seminary years praying this prayer daily and found that after a thousand repetitions I still didn’t come to the end of it. I found in it both a profound confession of faith and a pathway to humility. I found my humanity and God’s holiness in this prayer. Thomas Merton recommended praying it daily, meditating on each phrase separately so as to plumb its depths.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

If you are in need of a fresh discipline for a new year, try praying the Jesus Prayer daily. Let it do its work of sanctification in your spirit as you connect with saints through the ages who have prayed these words earnestly. Let it bring your home to yourself, to your own work, to your own need for the One whose mercy is worth the cry of your heart.

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