Friday, January 27, 2012

Hands on Faith


As  I mentioned in my last post, the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, provided us a methodical way of training in our Christian faith.  He called this way, the holiness of heart.  To achieve this John Wesley prescribed works of piety and works of mercy.  My last post dealt with works of piety, but what are works of mercy?

Simply put, "works of mercy" are doing good acts.  We read in James 2:26 - For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.  Or as I was told recently, "Faith is the root and works are the fruit". 

For me, the foundational passage, for instructing us on works of mercy, is found in Matthew 25:31-45.
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.  Then the king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'  And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'  Then he will say to those at his left hand, "You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'  Then they also will answer, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?'  Then 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.'

What we believe is important, but what we do with those beliefs are just as important.  John Wesley taught that people must be Christians in both word and deed.  The works that we do express our love of God. He believed that Christians must grow in God's grace, which first prepares us for belief, then accepts us when we respond to God in faith, and sustains us as we do good works and participate in God's mission. John Wesley not only preached about works of mercy, he "practiced" what he preached.

This one of the main reasons I am a Christian who practices in a United Methodist Church.  John Wesley lived and taught that Christians could not have authentic personal holiness without social holiness.  I believe the same.  We must discover and live out the faith of our hearts with the works of our hands.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Running the Race

In my last post I revealed that I am training for the Marine Corp Marathon.  As I reflect on this, I am reminded of Paul's letter to the Hebrew Church, when he says:  Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2) 

For me to run my race, I have to practice and train.  I don't start training for a marathon by running the entire 26.2 miles,  I start small and work my way up towards my goal.  The same is true for our Christian faith.  We want to grow in faith, but often we feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the Christian faith, when in reality we really should start small.

As  I mentioned in my last post, the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, provided us a methodical way of training in our Christian faith.  He called this way, the holiness of heart.  To achieve this John Wesley prescribed works of piety and works of mercy.

What are works of piety?  The chief of these means are prayer, whether in individual or corporate;  searching the Scriptures; (which implies reading, hearing, and meditating on them) and receiving the Lord's Supper, eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of Him.  John Wesley also emphasized the importance of fasting and participating in Christian community.

John Wesley considered prayer an essential part of Christian living, calling it, in many of his writings, the most important means of grace. Christians were to pray constantly, without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). He wrote in A Plain Account of Christian Perfection:  Whether we think of; or speak to, God, whether we act or suffer for him, all is prayer, when we have no other object than his love, and the desire of pleasing him.

All that a Christian does, even in eating and sleeping, is prayer, when it is done in simplicity, according to the order of God, without either adding to or diminishing from it by his own choice.

How have you experienced prayer in your own life? Do you agree with Wesley that it is the most important means of grace, more important than the Bible?

We are also called to read God's holy word.  John Wesley read the Bible every day, usually early in the day or late in the evening. John Wesley also believed in fasting.  The spiritual reasons for fasting have been pretty much lost on today's society, particularly in Protestantism. Many United Methodists are surprised to learn that John Wesley fasted two days a week, Wednesdays and Fridays, in his younger days

Together these are the works of Piety.  Which practice will you explore, just to get started.  My next post will explore the Works of Mercy, which complete the Holiness of Heart.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Running man....sort of

Two years ago my wife suggested, rather strongly, that I needed to begin some sort of exercise program.  I've never been a big fan of exercise.  I've tried several different methods; the exercise bike and treadmill have made wonderful clothes hangers and the gym membership was great, but I discovered that I actually had to go to make it work, who knew.

This time I would try something different, I would try boot camp.  I don't know what I was thinking when I signed up for a twice a week class at 5:00am.  But I have stuck with it.  I can say that I am in better physical shape, but I am still being pushed to the limit of exhaustion, but that is a good thing.  I have also discovered that 2 days per week was not enough exercise.

I give you this back story in order to talk about my new endeavor.  Sometime in late September/early October I received a call from my eldest brother (I have 3 older brothers).  He and brother number two have become RUNNING FANATICS.  They have run in the Chicago Marathon, the Boston Marathon, the Niagara Falls Marathon, plus a 50 k and numerous 5 and 10 k races.  They take their running very seriously.  He called to ask if I would be interested in running in the 2012 Marine Corp Marathon.  Did I mention that I have not been a runner.  He asked because he was a Marine and wants all four of us to run together.  I spent a considerable amount of time praying about this (also trying to convince myself that this was not a crazy idea).  To end the suspense, I said yes.  So I am going to run in the 2012 Marine Corp Marathon.

Wow...it is good to get that off my chest.  I really haven't told a lot of people about this endeavor.  I started training at the end of October 2011, by using a program called "Ease into a 5K".  Since I have never been a runner, I thought this was a good place to start.  I trained for 10 weeks and ran my first 5K on January 1, 2012.  My goal was to start, run (not walk) the entire course, and actually finish.  I am pleased to say that I achieved my goal and I did in my personal best time of 32:54.  Now I have moved on to train for a 10k, then I will train for a 1/2 marathon and then for the whole 26.2 miles.

So what does any of this have to do with our faith journey?  For me, the only way to become a runner was to just start running and to start small.  The only way to grow as a Christian, is to train and to do those practices that help you grow stronger in faith.  The journey of faith is not a sprint, it is a marathon.  And if you are going to run, then you have to train. 

This is what I like about the Methodist Movement, started by John Wesley, because he provided us with an exercise regiment to help strengthen our faith.  This will be the topic of my next entry, but for now, take that first step; say a prayer, read a scripture passage; worship regularly.  Let me know what has worked for you.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why bother reading this?

This is the question with which I have been wrestling.  Why would anyone bother reading whatever it is that I have to write?  Why would anyone care what I have to say?  It has been these questions that have kept me from blogging.  If I didn't think anyone would bother reading, why should I bother writing.  And then it hit me, whether or not anyone reads, I do think I have something to say; about being a Christ follower; about being a pastor; about being a husband and a father.

So if you are out there.  I invite you to join me on this journey; a journey where I hope both our faith and our lives will intersect.