Monday, January 27, 2014

Praying Over a Stethoscope

I'm kinda new to the pastoring game, but I had a fun moment yesterday after worship - I said a prayer over a stethoscope.

A stethoscope.

A congregant just received her RN (I hope I'm saying that correctly) in October, and she's specifically felt called to be a minister of health to the aged in the Arlington area.  She asked me a couple of weeks ago if she brought her stethoscope up to worship whether I would say a prayer over it for her.  I was surprised by the request, but told her that it would be my pleasure.

She brought it to me yesterday, and we knelt at the altar and said a prayer for her ministry as a new nurse, for all of the people that the stethoscope would touch, and for the strength she would need in her new calling.

It was a great moment.  Some days this job is incredibly hard, but little things like this break through and show me what heaven can be like right here.

Just curious ... What's the strangest thing a person has ever asked you to pray over?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Method: Our Wesleyan Way - "The Difference Between Walking by Sight and Walking by Faith"

This week's message was the second in our sermon series Method: Our Wesleyan Way.  We're attempting to wade through the hot topics of our beliefs as United Methodist, turning to John Wesley and his sermons as inspiration in addition to the scriptures of the lectionary.

Last week was baptism, this week was faith.  We have a lot to learn from a few disciples that could just drop everything and follow, but I don't think we're called to that kind of blind faith anymore.  Faith is believing without seeing, but at the same time, can we not see Christ in one another?

I also briefly refer to a modern-day Saint of the church as we remember the life and message of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

January 19, 2014 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown

As we head into our third week of our series on Wesleyan Christian beliefs, this week we tackle John Wesley's thoughts on heaven, the Kingdom of God, and how to get there.  It's a tough subject to tackle, but in his sermon "The Way to the Kingdom" he's pretty clear that the Kingdom of Heaven is something that is meant to be enjoyed here and now.  It is meant to be pursued in the immediate, that we can experience heaven on earth.

How?  By pursuing the love of God, which is also all around us, running amok in our daily lives whether we like it or not.

Wheresoever therefore, the gospel of Christ is preached, this his "kingdom is nigh at hand."  It is not far from every one of you.  Ye may this hour enter thereinto, if so be ye hearken to his voice, "Repent ye, and believe the gospel. (John Wesley, The Way to the Kingdom)

For me, it kind of strikes me that God has actually been in pursuit of us all along, that God has already done all of the hard work of reconciliation, and that all we must do is say "Yes" to the Kingdom's entrance into our hearts.

I've been spending time this week with the text of Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown, by Charles Wesley, a stirring and emotional text that describes Charles' own faith journey, mirroring the struggle of Jacob with God at Peniel.

Stanza one (UMH 386):

Come, O thou Traveler unknown who still I hold, but cannot see!My company before is gone, and I am left alone with thee.With thee all night I mean to stay, and wrestle til the break of day;With thee all night I mean to stay, and wrestle till the break of day

And stanza four:

'Tis love!  'Tis love! Thou diedst for me, I hear thy whisper in  my heart.The morning breaks, the shadows flee, pure, Universal Love thou art.To me, to all, thy mercies move; thy nature and thy name is Love.To me, to all, thy mercies move; thy nature and thy name is Love.

It's one of the few hymns that we have in the hymnal by Charles that actually includes the full text, UMH 387, it was originally published in 1742 under the title "Wrestling Jacob".  Charles was John's younger brother, but John outlived him, his partner in ministry and friend, by three years.  After the full text in the hymnal, there is a short piece of history given in our hymnal:

John Wesley ended his obituary tribute to his brother Charles at the Methodist Conference in 1788.  "His least praise was his talent for poetry: although Dr. [Isaac] Watts did not scruple to say that 'that single poem, Wrestling Jacob, was worth all the verses he himself had written." A little over two weeks after his brother's death, John Wesley tried t teach the hymn at Bolton, but broke down when he came to the lines "my company before is gone and I am left alone with thee."

I've gone on a little bit longer than I intended on this piece already, but that little story gets me every time I read it.  Love pursues us right now.  That's the narrative the church needs to be preaching, without putting stumbling blocks in front of it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Method: Our Wesleyan Way - "The Marks of the New Birth"

This week we launched our latest sermon series Method: Our Wesleyan way here at FUMC Arlington.  Since we began the series with Baptism of the Lord Sunday, we focused on the basics of our baptismal theology in the Wesleyan tradition.

Things turned into a little bit of a lecture this week, as I've been fielding a lot of questions on baptism, especially infant baptism lately.  Here's how things turned out for week 1:

January 12, 2014 - Celebation from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Monday, January 13, 2014

An Awkwardly Good Baptism Remembrance

Yesterday we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord in all of our worship services.  Although my main assignment on Sunday mornings is to preach at our contemporary service, I also float around to our other (traditional) worship services as a liturgist and occasional preacher.

Our second traditional style worship service serves communion every week, it's a different layout than most traditional services to accommodate the sacrament and it was something we had planned around for our liturgy of baptism remembrance.  Yes, I realize that our Book of Worship liturgies highly suggest that you serve Holy Communion following the remembrance, but ... well ... logistics.

So, we stuck faithfully to the service of baptism remembrance in the UMBOW, nothing fancy.  Our pastor went through the liturgy and poured the water.  I then walked the basin up the center aisle, stopping every few paces, calling on the people to remember their baptisms and be thankful.  Pretty standard stuff!  I then walked the basin back up and place it on the altar table to proceed with communion.  

That's when and awkward miracle happened.

I had the center station and we were going through the line at a good clip.  No nonsense whatsoever.

But then, a woman who I'd never met before stepped forward in line.  I'd already broken off a piece of bread for her when she looked at me and said, "Can I go up and touch the water?  I just want to touch the water."

I glanced back up the stairs to the basin and then back at her and said, "Go right ahead."

She quickly, boldly, walked up the steps and touched the water, and walked back down to get back in line for communion.

The choir member serving with me looked slightly mortified while this was going on and asked me what she was doing.  I just looked at her and shrugged, "She just wanted to touch the water."

Sometimes the Spirit calls on us to drop the formalities for a second.  I would never say that our traditional services are too traditional or rigid, but they are 'high church' to be sure - and done very, very well.  But sometimes, we just need to let people touch the water.  I was proud to be this woman's pastor yesterday, even though this easily could have crept into worship blooper territory.  It was a bold move to walk up those steps and touch that water in remembrance.

Things like that can happen when a person is in the Spirit.  I'm thankful to have been a part of that simple, awkward, moment.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Hope is on the Way Conclusion: What Gift Did God Bring?

Sunday marked the close of our epic journey from Advent to Epiphany.  It was a blessed time from Sunday to Sunday, my first sermon series to compose from scratch.  We concluded with the poetic and musical creation/birth narrative from John 1.

The questions we asked: What gift did God bring us with the birth of Christ?

And ...

What do we do with that gift?

January 5, 2014 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Monday, January 6, 2014

John Wesley on Baptism

This week we'll be kicking off our eight week, lectionary based sermon series on United Methodist beliefs, Method: Our Wesleyan Way.

Searching through John Wesley's A Treatise on Baptism, it seems prudent when talking about baptism from a Wesleyan perspective, to listen to the man himself.

Just a few quotes from the document that strike me!
"What it is. It is the initiatory sacrament, which enters us into covenant with God. It was instituted by Christ, who alone has power to institute a proper sacrament, a sign, seal, pledge, and means of grace, perpetually obligatory on all Christians. We know not, indeed, the exact time of its institution; but we know it was long before our Lord’s ascension. And it was instituted in the room of circumcision. For, as that was a sign and seal of God’s covenant, so is this. 
The matter of this sacrament is water; which, as it has a natural power of cleansing, is the more fit for this symbolical use. Baptism is performed by washing, dipping, or sprinkling the person, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, who is hereby devoted to the ever-blessed Trinity. I say, by washing, dipping, or sprinkling; because it is not determined in Scripture in which of these ways it shall be done, neither by any express precept, nor by any such example as clearly proves it; nor by the force or meaning of the word baptize. 
And as there is no clear proof of dipping in Scripture, so there is very probable proof of the contrary. It is highly probable, the Apostles themselves baptized great numbers, not by dipping, but by washing, sprinkling, or pouring water. This clearly represented the cleansing from sin, which is figured by baptism. And the quantity of water used was not material; no more than the quantity of bread and wine in the Lord’s supper. 
What are the benefits we receive by baptism, is the next point to be considered. And the first of these is, the washing away the guilt of original sin, by the application of the merits  of Christ’s death ...  By baptism we enter into covenant with God; into that everlasting covenant, which he hath commanded for ever ... By baptism we are admitted into the Church, and consequently made members of Christ, its Head ...  By baptism, we who were “by nature children of wrath” are made the children of God.
Towards the middle-end of the document, Mr. Wesley goes on a bit of a tear against those who would oppose infant baptism, after an eloquent justification of infant baptism.  He answers a few 'questions', and this response, as it also goes to the rights of women:
It is objected, Thirdly, “There is no command for it in Scripture. Now, God was angry with his own people, because they did that which, he said, ‘I commanded them not.’ (Jer. vii. 31.) One plain text would end all the dispute.”  
I answer, (1.) We have reason to fear it would not. It is as positively commanded in a very plain text of Scripture, that we should “teach and admonish one another with psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to the Lord with grace in our hearts,” (Eph. v. 19,) as it is to honour our father and mother: But does this put an end to all dispute? Do not these very persons absolutely refuse to do it, notwithstanding a plain text, an express command?  
I answer, (2.) They themselves practise what there is neither express command nor clear example for in Scripture. They have no express command for baptizing women. They say, indeed, “Women are implied in ‘all nations.’” They are; and so are infants too: But the command is not express for either And for admitting women to the Lord’s supper, they have neither express command nor clear example. Yet they do it continually, without either one or the other. And they are justified therein by the plain reason of the thing. This also justifies us in baptizing infants, though without express command or clear example. 

John Wesley is an awful fun read, and I'm so excited to dig a little deeper over the next few weeks into the foundations of our faith movement.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

An Online Bible Study Road Map

One of the things that we're blessed with at FUMCA is a diverse young adult program, with a lot to offer each generation of young adults.  From college students, to post college, to young careers and families, to business owners, we run the gamut of life change from the early 20s to mid-30s and beyond.  We have several small groups, but we figured it would be nice to get everybody together in one place for a study for the season of Advent.  But how do you gather people from different walks of life, with varying levels of real-life business, in one space without creating a burden?

Our answer was venturing in the online study realm.  It's not a new thing, but I noticed that not a whole lot of people are trying it in the UMC, so I thought I'd drop out a road map for what we did - because it worked.

I can't take credit for the whole thing.  Before committing to leading anything, I first reached out to a friend of mine and fellow candidate for ministry, Kyle Roberson, Online Community Developer of White's Chapel UMC in Southlake, TX.  Gotta give credit where credit is due!  Kyle has tried and researched multiple formats, so it was great to pick his brain on where to go.

In weighing options, I decided the best way to go was - free.  So, here's the who, what, when, where, why, and how of our online study.

The Why

Our church frequently facilitates seasonal, short-term studies.  They can be quite fruitful, as they can pull people from across generations and get people together that wouldn't normally study together.  But we needed something that wasn't typical, and wasn't at the church.

The Who

Young adults from 18-35, with all of the various generational changes therein.  We ended up with two college students, one graduate student, four families (all with young kids), one man without his spouse, and my wife and I.  All plugged into various small groups.

The When

We needed a time that was good for young families with kids and college students that might have a more adventurous night life.  So we landed on Monday nights during the season of Advent from 8:30 to 9:15 PM.  Short and sweet.

The What

We studied the Bible.  The focus was on the study being free and low-maintenance for participants.  It was built out of our Advent sermon series, with discussion questions generated from the message of the week.  The overall focus was on how God was calling us to turn away from the life the world calls us to into the hope we have in a repentant life in Christ.  We kept it pretty simple and focused on discussion, with three separate 'topics' each session.

Overall, the format started with gathering, prayer, reading of the scripture, discussion, and closing thoughts with motivation for the week.  We always ended with something to be thinking about or doing, some kind of response.

The How ...

We chose the Google+ Hangouts on Air as our meeting place.  It's free, and it has natural limitations that are quite helpful.  For one, it's limited to 10 computers participating in the chat itself, which is perfect for discussion.  Me, plus nine others seemed to go really well.  We had more than 10 participants on some night (several married couples), but it didn't seem to get too bogged down and people were able to participate in the discussion as they felt called to.  More people than that, however, and not everybody gets to join the discussion, which is the whole point.  Hangouts can also be recorded, which is also nice.  The Hangouts post to your Youtube account through Google (has to be set up in advance!), and they can be made private to only be shared within the group.  One thing to be careful of with the chats, is that if you don't take off the "Public" option, anybody can view the chats even if they can't participate.  We set this up to be a covenant small group, so we never wanted things to be viewed publicly.  Which brings us to the next major item for the format ...

I set up a private blog through Google Blogger as a place to post discussion questions in advance as well as the chat videos.  Blogger is very user friendly as a basic blogging platform.  You can set it up as an invite only space that can only be viewed by discussion participants.  This makes it a sacred space for discussion and sharing.  I found it to be an excellent place to post ideas, and our participants used it to prepare for discussion at their leisure.  I usually had up discussion questions the Thursday before the Monday night study, but they had the plan for the study itself (scripture and topics) before the study formally started.

Google has all the right pieces to make an online study work, but it all works best if participants have a Google account.  Again - it's FREE!

The Results

This study was a success any way you slice and dice it.  One of the things my friend Kyle counciled me on was having clear parameters for the study.  Date, time, beginning and end.  This was set up as a short term study, and people really dug that; it enabled us to dig into the themes of the season really well.  I'm seminary educated, sure, but any lay person can do what I've done to set this up and go with the proper preparation.

All in all, we had the full nine people/families participate.  I think there was only one date out of four when all were present, but many went to the videos (I posted them to the blog the day after) to get up to speed on where we were if they missed.

There were some technological hiccups along the way.  The first night we tried to use my laptop for the study, and it didn't have the processing speed to handle it.  So we had to quickly switch to my wife's Mac to start things off.  And I'll admit, even with practice, it took me a few sessions to get used to starting the chats off, for which my more fluent in Google+ wife was a saving grace.  Some had wifi issues, others had computer issues as I did.  I highly recommend doing a practice chat in advance, or having your people make sure that they have installed all of the necessary plugins for Google+ (if that's what you use) before the first chat.  I tried to be sure to put the invite out at least 5 minutes before starting to give people time to get in and settled.  You also have to have solid wifi and strong bandwidth to use this platform, but part of the benefit of sticking with the Young Adult niche was not having to do a lot of hand holding with the technology.

We concluded our run with a potluck at my house as a little family.  That was worth it in and of itself.  A lot of relationships were built that probably wouldn't have otherwise, and that's church to me.  But even if we couldn't gather in person, we proved through our time together that two or three or fifteen could gather in a space on the internet and the Lord was there.  Thanks be to God for being able to experience the Word of God and the Spirit of God in new and fun ways.

Have you ever led or participated in a study online?  How do you do it and how did it go for you?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Christmas Eve Message - Hope Has Arrived!

A short reflection after hearing Luke's Christmas Story.

What would life be like for you if you ditched fear as the angels tell us to?

December 24, 2013 - 4:00 Sermon from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.