Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hannah's Fast

The youth at Rehoboth participated in the 30 Hour Famine to raise money for hunger. As far as I know, it was the first time my daughter Hannah, who is 13 years old, had ever fasted. She described her experience in saying that at first she had a lot of energy. Once that wore off, Hannah says everything began to remind her of food. She even described hallucinating, imagining that everywhere she looked there was food, even though no food was around. We had a great talk about what it must feel like to involuntarily fast and how so many people around the world are hungry with no chance to eat.

I'm really proud of Hannah. She takes her faith very seriously and even challenges her father (that would be The Pastor) to take his faith more seriously. Hannah's witness at school and the ridicule she has received from her peers about how 'religious' she is reminds me that Jesus never said being a follower would be easy. Hannah's willingness to be faithful to God is a gift to me and an inspiration to us all.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Joy of Discipline

dis·ci·pline [dis-uh-plin] activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training. (from American Heritage Dictionary)

Wednesday February 21 begins the season of Lent, the 40 days (not counting Sundays) prior to Easter. Lent has traditionally been a time of fasting, prayer, and self denial, designed to help us remember and reflect upon Christ’s journey to the cross. One of the words that come to mind as I think about Lent is the word discipline, specifically spiritual discipline. To be a great athlete, or a great musician, or a great anything one must discipline the body and the mind. To be a follower of Christ, we must use spiritual disciplines to train ourselves.

Lent is best known as a time when people give something up. In the past years I have given up sweets, sodas, television, surfing the Internet and eating meat during Lent, just to name a few. While the discipline of doing without these things reminded me of Jesus’ sacrifice, it also seemed to leave a void. Jesus once told a story about an evil spirit leaving a person for a while only to return to find its former home ‘swept clean and in order.’ The spirit then brings an additional seven spirits so that the person is worse off than before! (Luke 11:24-26 NLT) The point of the story is that we can sweep our lives clean by letting go of habits, attitudes, and actions that do not help us get closer to God, but if we don’t replace those habits, attitudes and actions with disciplines that grow us in God's love we may find ourselves worse off than before.

That is where spiritual disciplines come in. Adding times of prayer, Bible reading, journaling, fasting, meditation, and acts of service to others can fill the void left when we give up the things that don’t help us grow spiritually. Regular practice of the spiritual disciplines can help us grow closer to Christ and to better love others. While it might seem daunting to try to begin each one of the spiritual disciplines this Lent, maybe we should just try to add one to our list. Perhaps a time of prayer to begin or end each day would be a good place to start. Or reading a passage or chapter of scripture each day and writing a few lines to God in a journal. Or each day doing something for someone who cannot repay you in any way might help remind you how much God’s grace blesses your own life. Maybe we might even try (gasp!) fasting from food one day a week. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, prescribed a fast each week from noon on Thursday to noon on Friday. My own experience with fasting has shown it to be a rich practice that reminds me ‘man does not live on bread alone'.

My hope and prayer for all is that the disciplines practiced during Lent, whatever they might be, would not come to a screeching halt on Easter morning but instead become lifetime practices as we seek to be followers of Jesus. May our joy on Easter be full because we dared to discipline ourselves to walk with Christ during the Lenten season.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

What's Up, Doc?

Today I spent a great deal of my time reading a book written in 1958 by a Dutch man named Hendrik Kraemer titled A Theology of the Laity. You are right if you are thinking to yourself that this is not a book someone would pick up and read for pleasure! I began last week to work on a Doctor of Ministry degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky. And yes, I have been asking myself why I chose to do this when I had to stay up late one night reading and writing...with all the other things a busy pastor has to do. Ultimately the learning I will gain is important and will be very helpful in my ministry.

My current class is titled "Theology of the Laity" and its concern is how best to rethink the theology of the laity and thus mobilize the laity (the loose definition of laity is everyone in the church that is not ordained). Reading I Corinthians 12 where Paul talks about how everyone has a necessary place to serve in the body of Christ, somehow has not translated into most church folks realizing they have a valid ministry God has called them to in and out of the church. Our consumeristic society which trains us how to receive but not how to give, some faulty theological thinking throughout the ages as well as clergy who have propagated an us/them mentality are likely a few of the culprits.

The effect of a faulty theology of the laity can be seen when laypeople feel the nudge of the Spirit calling them to ministry and they feel somehow unfulfilled unless they become ordained. (For the record, the priesthood of all believers concept that was championed by Luther during the Reformation unfortunately has not resulted in laity being accepted as ministers in the true sense of the word.) The clergy/laity split causes lay ministry to be seen as lacking somehow, which is unfortunate--if the clergy could somehow set the laity free to do ministry where they are in the world, more of Christ's ministry gets done and ministry gets multiplied in places clergy will never go.

I am trying to rethink my own ideas and learning about the laity and would like to know what you think. How do we unleash the ministry of the laity in the church? How do we get people to live out their God given vocation without them having to become ordained? How can ordained ministers (like me) best help to facilitate more laity involvement in ministry?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Blasphemy Challenge

The Blasphemy Challenge?

Yesterday Philip Eubanks, who is on staff with me at Rehoboth UMC, shared with me something that I found extremely disconcerting. On the 'You Tube' website, a group called the 'rational responders' has posted a video encouraging people to take the blasphemy challenge. Quoting Matthew 12:21, where Jesus says that 'blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven', the video encourages people to film themselves denying the Holy Spirit. After watching a few of the submitted 'blasphemy' tapes, I had to stop because of the revulsion I felt.
While the scholars debate over the exact meaning of this passage from Matthew, I am quite sure that a simple denial of the Holy Spirit is not the unforgivable sin.
I debated on whether or not to include the video, but decided that you might want to see this for yourself. May God help us all!