Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bono on the US Govt. Bailout of Wall Street

"It's extraordinary to me that the United States can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can't find $25 billion dollars to saved 25,000 children who die every day from preventable diseases."

- Bono, rock star and anti-poverty activist.--Posted by Dana Goldstein(Source: The American Prospect blog)

Jesus said, "Then they will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw yo hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' The he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you , just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matthew 25:44-46, NRSV).

Drive-in Worship?

A recent UMNS story tells about a church in Marietta, Georgia that has been offering a “Drive-in worship” service at 8:00 am on Sunday mornings. You can read the story here: Drive-in worshipers opt for bucket seats over pews

I commend Rev. Markle for his desire to reach new people for Jesus Christ. I commend his creativity. What he is doing is not unlike the early Methodist practice of field preaching. They were compelled to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to people who otherwise never cross the threshold of a church door. I believe the Rev. Markle is driven by the same desire to offer the gospel of Jesus Christ to people who, for what ever reasons, will not attend a traditional service of worship. I trust, also, that Rev. Markle is preaching Christ in all his offices: Prophet, Priest, and King. I trust, also, that his congregation, like the early Methodist societies, has an intentional process of Christian initiation that awaits those people who respond to the gospel and surrender their lives to Christ and his kingdom.

My problem with this article is that what is happening in the parking lot of New Hope United Methodist Church is being called “worship.” A more accurate description is “evangelical assembly.” Worship, by definition, is the work of the people of God. It is the self-offering of a congregation, a people united in the love of God incarnate in Jesus Christ, through prayer, Scripture, proclamation, sacrament, and service. For worship to be worship the people must be able to reach out and touch and embrace one another.

The drive-in “worship” described in the article is not worship because it is necessarily passive and the people are separated from one another by tons of steel. The inherent isolation of the people in the cars prevents the gatherings from ever being sacramental. The isolation caused by the automobiles prevents the gathering from every being a true assembly. It will always be a collection of isolated individuals. Worship, by its very nature, is communal, relational, and tactile. An assembly of individuals separated from one another by steel and glass cannot truly be Christian worship.

I commend the people of New Hope UMC and Rev. Markle for their creativity in reclaiming the Methodist practice of field preaching. I pray that it will bring them much growth and vitality. But, let’s not call what is happening in the parking lot on Sunday morning worship.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

John Coltrane's Birthday Today

John Coltrane was born on September 23, 1926 in Hamlet, NC. He is one of the great musicians of the 20th century. I was introduced to his music in seminary by Josiah Young, Professor of Systematic Theology at Wesley Theological Seminary. I find Coltrane's music to powerful and deeply spiritual. He helps me to think and to write. 

I often mention Coltrane as an example of a man touched by God with a powerful gift; the gift of making music. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is just like becoming and being a muscian. God gives us a gift (the capacity to love) and provides the means to develop the gift. But God leaves it up to us as to how we develop the gift, or not. The means to develop our gift, the basic practices, are the means of grace (works of piety and works of mercy). Just like a musician must practice every day, disciples must practice their craft every day. The practice brings perfection.

If you want to learn more about John Coltrane and listen to some of his music:

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"Mainline or Methodist?"

Book Review:
Mainline or Methodist?: Rediscovering Our Evangelistic Mission by Scott Kisker

Scott Kisker has given The United Methodist Church a much needed wake-up call. He reminds us in the first couple of pages of his insightful book that the denomination is 40 years old. I have heard it said by some that it seems that the church is going through something of a “mid-life” crisis not unlike those feelings of fear of inevitable death and wondering what life is all about experienced by men and women sometime after they reach that age. Kisker’s book comes a just the right time.

Dr. Kisker (Associate Professor of the History of Christianity and former James C. Logan Associate Professor of Evangelism at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC) looks at The United Methodist Church with the eyes of a historian and the heart of an evangelist. He brings his deep knowledge of church history, theology, and the Wesleyan tradition to the task of examining the condition of the church that has shaped his own life. Dr. Kisker makes the case that much of the UMC’s current malaise has its roots in its alignment as one of the “Mainline” denominations.

The chief problem with “Mainline” churches is that they “bless the values of the larger society, and see very little difference between cultivating good citizens and cultivating Christians.” Their striving to be “respectable” and to play a role in the dominant culture “establishment” has resulted in adjusting the gospel of Jesus Christ to make it fit into cultural norms rather than challenging those norms. Kisker writes, “When we became “mainline,” we stopped being Methodist in all but name.” Meaning that, in the name of “respectability,” we jettisoned the practices, structures, and theology that formed the heart and soul of Wesleyan Methodism.

In a well written 128 pages Dr. Kisker describes what has been lost and gives practical ideas for restoring a United Methodist:
  • Vision
The distinctive goal of Wesleyan Methodism is holiness of heart and life. In mission of early Methodism was “To reform the nation, especially the church; and to spread Scriptural holiness across the land.”
  • Message
The historic Methodist message was salvation by grace through faith. We need to take sin, grace, and salvation seriously once again.
  • Method
+ Proclaim Christ in all his offices: Prophet, Priest, and King
+ Open-air preaching for the 21st century
+ Small groups for formation and growth in discipleship
+ A Rule of Life that leads the people toward holiness of heart and life (The General Rules)
  • Conversation
Practice true “holy conferencing” in the Wesleyan Spirit. Conferencing must be practiced at all levels of the church, beginning in the home.

Mainline or Methodist: Rediscovering Our Evangelistic Mission is a sobering and hope-filled call to action for the people of The United Methodist Church. Scott Kisker gives some helpful and practical recommendations for a way forward. It’s clear that he believes that God will keep God’s promises. But the church must cooperate and participate with God’s mission for the world.