Welcome

This blog is meant to be an encouragement to you as you journey through your day. If you have a question about the life of faith, please feel free to email me. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I welcome the conversation.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Thinking Theologically

It has been several years since the following was published in one of our denominational magazines. I thought it might be helpful to think on it again.

In Nazarene polity, tradition, and current practice, the local church pastor has many roles. One of the most important is “theologian-in-residence.” The pastor is called to frame the conversation of his or her parish, to clearly communicate how the community of faith thinks about God, the world, the Church, and persons, making sure the congregation’s lived-out practice fits with our theology.

This task not only involves what is said in sermons, but also in such details of congregational life as the choice of VBS curriculum, compassionate ministry, age-group programming, evangelism, and participation with other congregations. Our lived-out theology provides guidance in how we treat one another, how we deal with conflict and broken relationships, and how we lead others to Christ.

This pastoral task requires intensive training, and is the reason education for ordination includes significant coursework in biblical studies and theology. Our Wesleyan perspective calls us to a unique place in today’s faith conversations—we are neither fundamentalist nor liberal, and the tension inherent in this via media requires pastors who know and can clearly communicate what we believe as Nazarenes.

One of the most important ways the pastor serves as theologian-in-residence is through purposeful conversations. In my church, my friends have heard me say certain phrases so many times, that they repeat them as measures of whether a ministry or program fits with our theology.

“We believe God is working in everyone’s life, all the time.”

“We are here to make evident the kingdom of God in our community.”

“Creating an environment where God’s love can be experienced.”

“Showing people they belong before we can teach them what to believe or how to behave.”

“Holiness is demonstrated through loving relationships.”

“God does not waste a consecrated life.”

“We demonstrate Kingdom priorities in the way we treat people.”

“How we live Monday through Saturday is just as important as how we worship on Sunday.”

None of these are earth shattering in their creativity. They are just simple statements that help our congregation think and reflect theologically as we do life together as a community of faith.

Sometimes there is a temptation to do things simply because other churches are doing them, or because we have always done them, or because they elicit an emotional response, or because they seem to work.

While none of those reasons are necessarily wrong, they should not be the primary rationale for beginning or continuing a ministry. We should not organize our youth group solely to draw the most kids to our events, nor should we plan programs just to fill up a calendar. Our goal is Christlikeness, and busier people are not necessarily holier people (another one of our favorite phrases).

The pastor’s role as theologian is essential as the congregation reflects on the reasons why we do what we do and works together in creating an environment where what we believe and how we live as a community of faith are in harmony.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Epistle of James #16 - "This doesn't apply to me"

In the beginning of chapter 5, James returns to a topic he introduced in chapter 1 – the temptations and dangers of wealth. In 5:1-6, he offers a practical commentary on the many teachings of his brother Jesus on the topic:

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.

“According to John Wesley, wealth is dangerous because it can corrupt and lead to sin. Whatever our level of income, desiring more than is necessary is morally destructive. Riches lure us from sharing with those in need and toward exploiting and isolating the poor for selfish financial gain. The dangers of wealth also harm the rich by leading into a false sense of moral superiority, a distorted understanding of divine favor, and to the destruction and negligence of those in need. These traits are in absolute opposition to God’s character and God’s expectations of God’s people.” – Wesley Study Bible

A question comes immediately come to mind: How much is necessary – how much is “enough?” In a culture that exalts excess, that teaches consumerism as a form of patriotism, and makes coveting a positive attitude, how can we learn the difference between what we really need and what we want?

One of the challenges of this passage is that we are called to live in it, not just analyze it. If we think “I’m not rich, therefore this doesn’t apply to me,” we will set it aside and never learn what it has to say to us.  Instead, let’s live in it for awhile. Ask yourself this question – “What if this does apply to me? How can I live differently because of the truth found here?”

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Epistle of James #15 - "Godly Sorrow"

Greetings!

For the contemporary reader, the fourth chapter of James strikes us as odd, especially verses 8-9: "Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom." 

What is that all about? Aren't we supposed to be happy, full of joy and praise?

The answer is in verse 10: "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up."

One of the growth areas of the deeper spiritual life is the realization that we have caused pain to God and others. Early on we focus on what others have done to us - and we take on the role of the victim. Then we celebrate the freedom we experience in Christ. But there comes a time when the reality of our sin, and the toll it has taken, must be faced. It is a stark reality. Yes, we have sinned, and what we have done should cause us great sorrow. Godly sorrow. The only answer is to humble ourselves before the Lord.


Grace and peace,
Mike

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Epistle of James #14 - More About Words, and Relationships

Greetings!

As we read James' letter, what becomes clear is that James sees the answer to persecution and life's difficulties in the way we treat each other. Our relationship with God, and our relationship with one another, are the best guard against being defeated by the stuggles of life.

This means that we really need each other - and how we treat one another really matters. At the end of chapter 4, (which we will be considering this Sunday), James continues his theme of humility. When we are tempted to believe that we should be in charge, that we are competent to run our own affairs, and that we know best - it is then that we are tempted to move God off the throne of our lives. Instead, pray, seek the discernment and wisdom of others, and read God's word.

One of the amazing things concerning this truth, is that when we make sure God is in control of our lives, we find ourselves in better relationships with God's people. Yes, there will still be disagreements, but we will treat one another appropriately when we are not so concerned with proving that we are the most competent, the smartest, or the one who should be in charge. After all - that position is already occupied.

Grace and peace,
Mike

Friday, August 4, 2017

Epistle of James #13 - Sowing Peace

Greetings!

"Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness"  - James 3:18

I love the commentary on this verse from the Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible:

"Godly teachers and mature believers seek a harvest of righteousness from what they say and do. The image here of "sowing peace" suggests that righteousness becomes visible in persons who work for peace and live by peaceful rules. This line recalls Jesus' Beatitude" Blessed are the peacemakers" (Matthew 5:9). Self-promoting leaders work against righteousness, lacking as they do what verse 13 mentions as   a "good life" and the "gentleness born of wisdom from above." Just as true faith shows itself in good works, true wisdom shows itself in unselfish, godly conduct."

Grace and peace,
Mike

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Epistle of James #12 - More about Wisdom

Greetings!

"The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." James 3:17

As we talked yesterday in our groups, following worship, several shared that they knew folks who had exactly the kind of wisdom described in this verse. They also knew folks who, while clearly Christians, seem to have exactly the opposite kind of life. 

They are not pure, they are not peace-loving, they are not considerate, they are not submissive, they are not full of mercy and good fruit, nor are they impartial and sincere. 

We are called to love these folks, just as much as we are called to love those who bless us with their God-given wisdom. We are called to pray for them, and even, when possible, take opportunity to ease their pain. 

However, and this is what James wants to make clear, we are not called to follow them, or listen to their divisive rancor. We must carefully choose what voices we listen to. Seek the voice of God, and the voice of those who are also listening to that same voice. How do we know? That is when we return to James 3:17.

Grace and peace,
Mike

Friday, July 28, 2017

Epistle of James #11 - The Big Picture

The big picture presented by the Epistle of James is that our faith is evidenced by the way we live. We most often think of this in terms of our individual Christian lives, but, as we know, the Christian life is best understood as "life together." So, what does this life of faith expressed through action look like.

One helpful perspective is that of the 3Ts: Table, Towel, and Talk.

Table - We gather together for the Lord's Supper. We gather together in fellowship. Everyone comes, and everyone comes as equals. As it has been often said, "the ground is level at the foot of the cross." The same can be said for our gatherings at the Table. We come and fellowship. This is where it is best demonstrated, "See how they love one another."

Towel - We serve. We serve one another. We look after one another. And while our focus is looking after the needs of the other - and not primarily focusing on our own needs - when necessary we gratefully receive the help and service of others to meet our needs. (This is hard for me.) And what we learn about service inside the fellowship, we take into the world. When John Wesley said "The world is my parish," he was referring to our shared responsibility to bless and care for people everywhere. So, we pick up our towel and serve.

Talk - Jay McGehean did a great job last Sunday helping us think about how the Spirit can help us "tame the tongue." Our responsibility is to bless and not curse, to say words that lift up God and others, and not bring them down. Sometimes, this means explicitly talking about Jesus and faith. Most times it simply means using our words in ways that are kind, helpful, and encouraging. 

Grace and peace