“A Holy Mystery Indeed…”

Question for the Day:  “What does Holy Communion mean to you?”

 

Friends,

We are finishing our look at the teachings of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.  In the last few days, we have examined “the means of grace,” those activities which open us up to God’s presence in our daily lives.  We have looked at prayer and Bible study, and now we turn to the 3rd of the primary means:  Holy Communion.

By far, this is the discipline that is the hardest for me to grasp.  The mystical quality of it makes it less concrete than the others, and therefore, it is hard for me to put into words.  All I can say, is that when someone looks into my eyes and says, “The body of Christ has been broken for you…” then I am drawn, inexplicably, even deeper into my relationship with my Savior.  It is in this moment, that I feel His presence most strongly, and my heart opens up, overflowing with gratitude and repentance.  It is always a sacred moment for me, and I am incredibly grateful that, as Methodists, we make it a consistent practice in worship.

I know many in our congregation have grown up in other denominations.  I would love to hear how this sacrament was explained and observed in your tradition.

For a more detailed explanation of our beliefs on Holy Communion, I thought I would share the following passage, adopted by the United Methodist Church General Board of Discipleship in 2000:

“The Methodist movement in eighteenth-century England was an evangelical movement that included a revival of emphasis on the sacraments. The Wesleys recognized the power of God available in the Lord’s Supper and urged their followers to draw on that power by frequent participation. The grace available in and through the sacrament was active in conviction, repentance and conversion, forgiveness, and sanctification. John Wesley described the Lord’s Supper as “the grand channel whereby the grace of his Spirit was conveyed to the souls of all the children of God” (“Sermon on the Mount—Discourse Six,” III.11). During the years in which Methodism was beginning and growing, Wesley himself communed an average of four to five times a week. His sermon “The Duty of Constant Communion” emphasizes the role of the sacrament in the lives of Christians in ways that are keenly meaningful today. The Wesley brothers wrote and published a collection of 166 Hymns on the Lord’s Supper, which was used for meditation as well as for singing. The Wesleys understood and taught the multifaceted nature of the Lord’s Supper. They wrote about love, grace, sacrifice, forgiveness, the presence of Christ, mystery, healing, nourishment, holiness, and pledge of heaven. They knew that Holy Communion is a powerful means through which divine grace is given to God’s people. Our sacramental understandings and practices today are grounded in this heritage. ” – This Holy Mystery:  A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion

 

Friends,

Thank you for taking this journey with me, in learning about some of Wesley’s more prominent teachings.  It has truly been eye-opening for me, and I hope a blessing for you.  If you would have an interest in learning more about the Methodist history and doctrine, please let me know.  I would love to offer a Wednesday night class on this subject, if we have enough interest.

Peace,

lana@libertycrossingsumc.org

 

Gracious Lord,

You are the Lamb that died for my sins; the One atoning sacrifice.  Thank You for giving us this sacrament of Holy Communion.  It helps me remember what You have done for me.  It helps me to understand how much You love me.  And it helps me to realize what true grace really looks like.

Approaching Your table brings so much grace and power into my life, my King.  Help me to never take it for granted.  Help me to treat it with the respect it deserves.  And help me to be transformed by the experience, each and every time.

With an adoring heart I pray,

Amen

“Don’t be a martyr, get the tabs…”

“The rain and snow come down from the heavens
and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
producing seed for the farmer
and bread for the hungry.
11 It is the same with my word.
I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
and it will prosper everywhere I send it” – Isaiah 55:10-11

Question for the day:  How consistent are we in our Bible study?

Friends,

We are examining this week John Wesley’s “Means of Grace.”  We are looking at those activities that open a door for God to connect with us.  A very distinct part of being a Methodist is adhering to these disciplines on a consistent basis so that we may be transformed by them.  As avenues to experiencing God’s sanctifying grace, these are a few of the primary activities that Wesley found to be requirements of the true seeker’s life.

We have looked at prayer for the past couple of days, and now we turn to “searching the scriptures.”  I love the way he phrases it, “searching the scriptures.”  He doesn’t say, “reading the Bible,” or “occasionally opening the Book.”

“Searching the scriptures,” conveys to me a sense of intentionality and personal responsibility.  It says to me that I must be intentional about my approach to the Bible.  I must make it my own responsibility to read and to seek God’s message for me in these ancient pages. It says that I must not take other people’s words for what it says.  It promises that there is treasure to be found, but I must put forth some effort to capture it.

The most common challenge in reading the Bible that I hear from most people is, “It is hard to understand.”  I agree 100%, as a person that didn’t read the Bible until I was an adult.  But I have a few suggestions that might make it easier:

1.  Find a version that reads easily for you.  Many people still have the King James Version that they were given in the 3rd grade.  Nothing against King James, but I can’t make any sense of it.  If that is you, try this instead.  Go to the Bible store (LifeWay, Family Christian.)  Do not go to the Bible section.  It is overwhelming.  Go to the counter and tell the person you are looking for your first Bible and you need some help.  They will take you to the Bible section and help you through the 1000 or so books on the shelf.  These are the versions I recommend you look at:  New International Version (NIV), New Living Translation (NLT – my favorite), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV – and the official version of the UMC) and the Common English Bible (CEB).

Before you go, pick out your favorite scripture.  If you don’t have one, that is ok.  You might try:  Psalm 23, Psalm 91 (my favorite) or John 10.  When you are looking at these Bibles in the store, turn to your chosen scripture and see how it reads.  Which one sounds most natural to you?  This is a good indicator of  how easy it will be for you to read it otherwise.

After you pick your version, there are a couple of other choices:  a.  leather or hard-bound – I choose hard bound because it is easier to make notes in, but the choice is yours.  b.  tabs – YES.  If at all possible, get the tabs.  It makes it so much easier to find the books.  Don’t be a martyr.  Admit (like the rest of us) that you don’t know where the book of Obadiah is and accept the help.

2.  Develop a plan.  If you have never read the Bible much, don’t make the mistake of starting at the beginning.  Take my word for it.  You might make it through Genesis and Exodus, but the next 3 books are extremely difficult (for everyone) and you will probably abandon your efforts pretty quickly.  Instead, try starting with the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) the first four books of the New Testament.  The Book of John is my favorite, but any of them is a great starting place.

Then read a few lines each day.  Don’t try to read it all at once.  Read a few lines, ask yourself, “What does that mean to me?” and stop.  Doing it this way gives you an entire day to think about (meditate) on it, and truly let it sink in to your heart.  If you have questions, ask Pastor Wade:  wade@libertycrossingsumc.org.  He is always happy to get those kinds of emails and is glad to help.

3.  Always pray before you read.  Make it your practice to ask God for understanding before you pick up the Book.  “Lord, help me to understand what You are saying…” is a great way to begin.  Remember, this is His Book.  A love letter to you.  Ask Him to open your eyes to the truth He has for you.

3.  Don’t go it alone.  It is really hard to absorb all the Bible has to offer when reading it alone.  The best way I have found to truly understand it, is to read it myself, listen to what it says to others, then reconcile what I think God is saying to me personally.  If you truly want to grow in your knowledge, join a small group.  And pick one that focuses on the Bible.  We have several offerings this summer that can help anyone do that:

1.  Nativity Group – Reading the Book of Philippians, Leader: Julia Griffith

2.  Celebrations Group – Reading the Old Testament Prophets, Leader:  Virginia Hawsey

3.  Discovery Group – Reading the Book of Acts, Leader:  Chip Landen

For a listing of all our small group studies this summer, please click on the link below:

http://storage.cloversites.com/libertycrossingsunitedmethodistchurch/documents/Summer%202013%20Newsletter%20.pdf

If you need help of any kind, finding a group, finding a Bible, or just getting started, please contact me:

Lana Johnson, Director of Spiritual Formation,  lana@libertycrossingsumc.org

 

Gracious Lord,

You have revealed Yourself to us in this magnificent way that we can understand:  Your Word.  Help us to see it as the gift it is.  Give each one of us a hunger and thirst for You, that only Your Word can fill.  Give us a desire to know You better, and the discipline to seek You in the pages of this treasure.  Create in our church a community of believers that seek You together, helping each other along the way.  And may Your Word produce the fruit it was meant to in our lives.

In Jesus’ name we pray,

Amen

“God doesn’t care if you get it right”

“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.  So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” – Hebrews 4:15-16

 

Question for the day:  What are our challenges with prayer?

 

I have had some off-line responses to yesterday’s post on prayer that I would like to address.  This is so important, probably one of the most important elements of our relationship with God.  So let’s make sure we are giving it our most concentrated effort.

There is no “right way” to pray.  Many have expressed a fear that they “won’t do it right.”  Therefore, they are hesitant to try.  Folks, hear this:  Just by virtue of your trying, does it become right in God’s eyes.  He is so overjoyed that you are making an effort to connect with Him.  He honors every minute that we spend with Him.  So don’t be afraid to try.  And don’t try to be something you are not.  Just speak normally, as you would with a friend.  Or just be quiet and listen.

I know that is not how we normally hear prayer.  For many of us, we are intimidated by the way we hear others (pastors and clergy) pray.  Don’t worry about that.  God doesn’t expect that from us.  Remember, He already knows everything about us.  He doesn’t expect something that is outside our personality or character.  He expects us to be authentic and ourselves.  He desires that we be honest and open to what He has to say.  So just be yourself.  One of the best prayers I have ever heard was from a friend many years ago: “Hey God.  I don’t know what I am doing here so… what’s next?”  – FABULOUS!

I am on vacation with my family this week.  And I am really enjoying this time with my children.  It doesn’t matter what they want to talk about, I am just happy to be with them and hear what they have to say.  Some things they want to share are silly, and some are serious.  Some are filled with wonder, and some are surprising.  But I am so happy that they want to share things with me, that it doesn’t matter what they say.  I would never feel that their thoughts were not worth my time.

And so it is with God.  So give it a try and experience the most profound gift that any of us can ever receive, time with our Creator.

Peace

 

Gracious Father,

You are a loving parent, so happy to hear what we have to say.  Your door is always open, and Your ear inclined to us.  Thank You for listening and caring about what we have to say.  Although it is hard for us to comprehend, we believe that if something is important to us, then it is important to You.  What an amazing gift!

Give us today, Lord, the ability to approach You without fear.  Let the Holy Spirit lead us into prayer lives that open us up to conversations with You.  Open our hearts, that we might be in full communion with You, and live in Your peace.

In the name of the Lamb we pray,

Amen

“How do you best experience the presence of God?”

“And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.” – 1 John 5:14-15

 

Question for the day:  “How do you best experience the presence of God?”

Do you believe that God is everywhere, all-knowing, omnipotent?  Then what do you do  to realize God’s presence with you?  These are the “means of” (the way to get to, the directions, the opportunities for) grace. They can be anything that draws us closer to the realization that God and all of his grace is right there with us.

This week we will be studying the heart of the Methodist beliefs: those “methods” or practices that bring us closer to God.  There are several teachings from Wesley on this subject, however,  we will begin with the 3 primary means of grace that he adhered to:  Prayer, Searching Scripture, and Holy Communion.

Prayer

We all connect with God in different ways.  But there is little doubt in my mind that in order to have any relationship with God, one must have a consistent prayer life.  How else can we hear what He has to say? Or, how else can we feel His presence, if not setting aside a time to be with Him?

Prayer is a hard thing for most of us.  I admit, for the most part, the church has not done a good job of teaching us how to pray.  They tell us we should pray, but they never quite tell us how.  For me, this was an especially hard practice to learn because I never saw it in my home.  And if the only example we ever see is the pastor praying from the pulpit on Sunday mornings, then I feel like I have failed before I even begin.  I could never be that … eloquent.

But these are a few tips I have learned, and I hope it encourages everyone to give prayer a try.

1.  Write it down.  If you don’t feel comfortable “talking with God,” then write Him a note.  This is how I started.  I had a little notepad, and I would write Him a quick note: ” Dear God, I need help today with…”  “Dear God, thank you for…” etc.  This is a perfectly acceptable way to get started.  I have a friend that walks around with an index card in his wallet with his prayers written on it.  And an added benefit, when you see God respond – go back and write it down underneath the prayer.  That is an awesome way to begin the realization that He is actually listening.

2.  Maybe you don’t know what to say.  Here is a great exercise.  It is called the “Daily Examen,” a prayer method created by St. Ignatius, the leader of the Jesuit order.  In this exercise, you do it at night, and review everything that happened during the day.  You take the time to review and think about your activities, your encounters, your emotions – and you look for God in the midst of them.  For me, my day goes by in such a blur, that I can get alot out of “reviewing” at the end of the day.  Many times, I find that I missed God in the moment.  This is a great way to reflect on our gratitude for the things He has done and the blessings He has given.

If you want to learn more about the “how” of the Daily Examen, click on the link below.  It gives you step-by-step instructions:

http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen/how-can-i-pray/

3.  You don’t have to say anything.  Most of us think praying is talking.  Actually, most of us talk too much when we pray.  The key to satisfying prayer, for me, is learning to listen.  But it is really hard to sit and just listen isn’t it?  These are some of the things that I do to keep myself from dominating what should be a two-way conversation with God:

a.  Take a walk – Get outside your normal environment and breathe.  Feel His presence.

b.  Sit outside, enjoying nature – Close your eyes and listen to what is going on around you.  Listen for God in the stillness.

c.  Draw a picture – Many times, if I just start drawing with nothing in mind, He gives me a picture that speaks volumes.

d.  Listen to music – Pick out your favorite hymn or praise song.  Focus on the words.  Make them the prayer of your heart and let God speak to you through them.

There are all kinds of ways to pray.  God created us all differently and therefore, we can expect to communicate with Him differently from others.  If you are having a challenging time in getting started, please come see me.  It would be my joy to help anyone figure out their own, personal means of talking with God.  That is a very great blessing to me.

 

Dear God,

You are a most gracious God.  For You listen when I speak.  Who am I, that You, great God of the universe, are mindful of me?  I am Your beloved child, made in Your image.  I believe that You desire a relationship with me, and I want that as well.  Help me to learn to communicate with You better.  Help me to hear Your voice and feel Your presence.  Help me to grow in my understanding of Your ways.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 

“The real journey begins…”

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.  For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” – Ephesians 2:8-10

Question for the day: “What does it mean to have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ?”

We are looking at John Wesley’s view on the 3 stages of grace in a person’s life.  Last time, we looked at prevenient grace, or God’s activities in our lives before we know Him.  Today we will examine the other 2 stages: Justifying grace and Sanctifying grace.

Justifying grace is that grace afforded to us once we make the decision to accept the gift of salvation.  We are justified in the eyes of God, not because of anything we have done, but because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf.  Once we acknowledge our need for salvation, God graciously gives it.  That is why Jesus died.  So that all who ask may be saved for life eternal.

But this is not the end of our journey.  This is the core reason I love being a Methodist.  You see, our eternal salvation is not our only objective.  There is also this concept of Sanctifying grace that Methodists hold very strongly to.  This is the idea that, once we are “saved” then the real journey begins.

This real journey is walking daily with God.  This real journey is allowing the Holy Spirit to continue God’s work in us, helping us to become more and more like Christ everyday.  It is this idea of Sanctifying grace that gives me hope.  I have a hope that God can help me to be a better person each day that I engage with Him on this journey.  And for me, that is why this journey of faith means so much.

I want to be a better person.  I want to be more loving, more giving, and more forgiving.  And I know that I cannot do by myself.  I want to be a better wife, mother, friend and daughter – and only God’s sanctifying grace will get me there.  You see, if I were focused on “being saved” alone, then I would miss out on the amazing gifts that God has for me in the here and now.  He has promised to be with me and to never leave me.  He has promised me guidance and discernment for life’s decisions.  He has promised me rest when I am weary and a burden that is very light.

I admit, I have a difficult time wrapping my head around eternity.  I have some vague idea of what I think heaven will be.  But to be honest, that distant promise isn’t enough to keep me engaged the way I need to be on a daily basis.  Life gets in the way.  The things going on today take all my attention.  But as a United Methodist, I believe God is here with me, in these daily challenges and trials.  Because of Sanctifying grace, I believe that the Holy Spirit is willing to lead me through my issues, and bring me out on the backside looking more like the Christian I claim to be.

This promise holds so much power for our daily lives.  It is something that I can commit my life to wholeheartedly, because it takes me where I want to be.  But it is not always an easy road.  Allowing God to have His way with me is a constant struggle.  That is why I am thankful for the teachings of John Wesley.  He not only teaches me about what is possible, he also taught me how to take hold of it.  He shows me the way to take the “possible,” and make it a reality.

Next week will be our last few days of studying the teachings of Wesley.  We will be looking at the “Means of Grace” one of Wesley’s most famous sermons that teaches us how to live into His sanctifying grace.  What “methods” or activities can we participate in to avail ourselves to this grace and thus, be transformed as children of God.

Lord God Almighty,

You are my Creator, my Sustainer, my Rock, and my Salvation.  You are the center of my being.  Lord, you offer me a life lived in deep communion with You.  You offer me a life filled with grace, mercy, purpose and abundance.  Help me to place my own desires aside and to embrace the journey that You have for me.  It is so much better than anything that I could dream up.  I trust Your plans for me.  Help me to know what they are, and to chase after them with all my heart.

In the name of my Savior, Jesus, I pray,

Amen 

“Before I knew Him, He knew me…”

“…the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning His will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against Him.” – John Wesley on the essence of prevenient grace.

 

Question for the day:  Do we believe that God is at work in the lives of unbelievers?

One of the core distinctions of our Methodist beliefs comes from the concept of a three-fold grace.  As many of you know, I did not have the benefit of a church environment as a child.  So as I struggled as an adult with what I could believe in faith matters, this concept appealed to me in a very profound way.  It is a large part of why I chose to become a Methodist, because I did not see this emphasis in many other protestant denominations.  So I feel it is important that we talk about it.

As Methodists, we believe God’s grace is manifest in our lives in 3 distinct stages: prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying.

Prevenient grace is the concept that God is working in our lives to call us to Himself before we are even aware of it.  We believe that before we even know about God, He is creating circumstances around us that will enable us to know Him.  This is one of the reasons we affirm infant baptism, as an acknowledgement that God is at work in the lives of children before they can make those affirmations for themselves.

The thing about prevenient grace is that it is always there, even if we choose to ignore it.  How awesome is that?  That we can repeatedly reject God, and yet the mystery is that He will continue to try and reach us. If that does not convince us of our value to Him, then nothing else will.  His love for us knows no end and doesn’t even make any sense by our standards.

I believe in prevenient grace because I can look back on my life (pre-faith) and see His hands at work, even though I did not recognize it at the time.  So to expound on a previous entry, my personal experience tells me that this is so.  How about some of you.  Can anyone else share a story or an event that speaks to this concept of God being at work in our lives before we came to know Him?  I love hearing those…

Gracious Father,

Praise be to Your holy name.  For You are a God with a plan.  You had a planned relationship with me before I was even born.  You have cared for me all my life.  You watched over me, even when I did not know You.  Thank You, my Lord, for never leaving me.  Thank You for pursuing me until You had my attention.  Thank You for continuing to speak until I heard You.  You are a patient and merciful God.  Because of these things, I will always know that I am a child of Grace.

In the name of the Lamb I pray,

Amen

“May I never live to be useless…”

“God grant that I may never live to be useless.”  – John Wesley

 

Question of the Day:  “Are we allowing ourselves to be used by God to our full potential?”

John Wesley was a man that could never have been called useless.  In his 50 years of ministry, he traveled over 250,000 miles on horseback, preaching an average of 3 sermons each day, while writing countless books, serving the poor, and doing all manner of things that would help people like us draw closer to God.  He was never useless and yet, he struggled with this issue.

I struggle with it as well.  I am perfectly capable, today, of doing pretty much anything I want.  However, my real struggle is my motivation and my heart.  I am continually working to keep my mind and my “usefulness” aligned with God’s will, and not merely focused on my own plans.

I can expend much time and energy on those things that are important to me. But what about those things that are important to God? I often find myself being torn between doing what I want and what I feel God is calling me to do.  It is my hope to one day be recognized as one of God’s faithful.  I very much desire to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  But I have a long way to go with my motivations and my self – discipline before I get there.

What about the rest of you, my friends?  Is there anyone else out there struggling to truly live for the kingdom on a daily basis?

 

Gracious Lord,

Thank You for Your unending grace toward me.  You are indeed a merciful God.  Forgive me in those times when my agenda gets my first attention, and You are shoved to the side.  Help me, Lord, to approach each day as a living sacrifice.  As long as You leave me on this earth, may I be of the mindset to bring You glory in everything I do.  Help me to align my desires with Yours.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen