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Word of the Week, Grace edition

This week’s word in our Word of The Week series will help us understand how United Methodists talk about grace.  Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me – yes, that grace!  Wonderful grace, that warms the heart and turns lives around.

The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology says that the word “grace” in the New Testament is”charis” in Greek, and means God’s undeserved election of God’s people.  Grace is also understood to be what scripture means when it talks about new birth in Christ (John 1:13, 3:3), becoming members of Christ’s body (2 Corinthians 12:27) and abiding in Christ (John 15:5).  (pages 244-245 in WDCT)

Grace is an amazing gift from God that no one can earn and no one deserves.  It is a rich concept and there are many ways to describe grace.  John Wesley used three key words to talk about God’s grace.  The Word of The Week is Wesley’s first word for grace: Prevenient.

Prevenient comes from the Latin, to come before or to precede – or anticipatory – or even better, expectant.  God is expectantly reaching out to humanity.  God’s love reaches out with expectation of our response.  The joy of prevenient grace is that we don’t have to do anything to cause God to notice us or reach out to us.  We are not left to our own devices in life.  God created humanity in love, and God’s grace reaches out to us before we are even aware of God’s love.

The confirmation classes at Faith UMC use the image of a house to understand the Wesleyan way of thinking about grace.  If God’s love is a house, then prevenient grace is the love of God that gets you up onto the porch.  Prevenient grace is the front porch of God’s house – you haven’t knocked on the door yet, you haven’t asked to come inside or asked for anything yet, you’re just stepping foot onto the porch.  The kind of porch that just looks so inviting – picture it in your mind.  You don’t know what’s inside the house yet, but you think you might want to know more, so you start to pay attention.

God’s prevenient grace is invitational.  God’s prevenient grace comes before we even know we need grace or want grace.

Ephesians 2 says this about grace:  As  for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world….  All of us also lived [in the way of the world] at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts….  But because of God’s great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast.  (selections from Ephesians 2:1-9)

What is your experience of prevenient grace?  How did God come to you before you were even aware you needed God?  Or, how did God invite you up onto the porch of God’s great house of love and mercy?

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New Year, New Word

Happy 20141!  Yes, I know we’re almost two weeks into the new year, but we like to start things off properly around here.

We are starting a new series to kick off the new year – Word of The Week. For this series we will use the resources of Faith UMC’s clergy and their seminary educations.  Pastors make it out of seminary having done a lot of reading.  Faith UMC has three pastors, which means there is a wealth of information for the church to access.

Two books that will help the Word of The Week series are the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church and the Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology.  Let’s start with the last word in that sentence to kick off the Word of The Week series, shall we?

Theology.  Just saying it out loud is enough to make some folks run for the exits.  Some say “I don’t do theology” or “I can’t do theology”.  Other say that theology is what the pastors are paid to do, so they don’t have to, they just want to hear a good sermon and that’s enough.  So what is this intimidating word?  What does theology mean?

The word “theo” is Greek for God, and “logy” means to study or to discuss.  Simply put, if you study God or talk about God, you are engaged in “theology”.  It’s not at all as intimidating as it sounds.  To “do theology” means that people of faith are thinking about what God is calling them to do in their context and then putting actions to their beliefs.  To “reflect theologically” means that a group of Christians has done something (a mission project or a worship service) and then talked about it, what it means to them, what they learned about God/Christ/Holy Spirit and themselves in the process.

For example, Faith UMC youth participate in mission projects and camps during the summer.  At the end of each work day or after a camp worship service, our youth gather and reflect on the day – what they learned, how they saw Christ through the actions of others, how their hearts are affected by the Spirit.  This is theological reflection.

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church says that theology’s theme is the Being and Nature of God and all God’s creation.  Theology, then, is learning or discussing with others about God, creation, and humanity.  Theology is important to the church, and isn’t something that only pastors with a seminary education can do.  Theology is something all believers do when then think about or study about God/Christ/Holy Spirit.

Discussion questions:  What do you think about this definition of “theology”?  How can you “do theology” or “reflect theologically” in your daily life?

Also leave a comment if you have suggestions for our Word of The Week series – what words do you want to know more about?

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Rio Grande Valley

This past July our junior high youth group went for a week to Weslaco in the Rio Grande Valley.  There they met with youth from La Santisima Trinidad UMC and Weslaco First UMC for fellowship.  During the day they worked at two projects, the Rio Grande Food Bank http://www.foodbankrgv.com/ and building Personal Energy Transportation vehicles.  You can read more about PET here: http://www.umc.org/site/c.gjJTJbMUIuE/b.1985743/k.60A5/Volunteers_build_ATV_of_wheelchairs.htm

Recently Bishop Huie went with a group of district superintendents and provisional elders (pastors who have been commissioned, graduated seminary, but not yet ordained) to the Rio Grande Valley for four days of mission work.  Their work was out in the colonias, doing house repairs.  This work was more in depth and more intense than our junior high students could do, but is help that is deeply appreciated by colonia residents.  http://www.txcumc.org/news/detail/3598

The Texas-Mexico border is noted for having a high rate of poverty and unemployment.  In the colonias, living conditions are difficult, and basic services such as water and sewer are often lacking.  Unemployment in the Valley is high, but in the colonias can be as high as 20% or more.  You can read more about colonias here: http://www.sos.state.tx.us/border/colonias/faqs.shtml

Faith UMC hopes to build on the relationships begun by our junior high youth with La Santisima Trinidad UMC and Weslaco First UMC.  We plan to have more mission trips to the Rio Grande Valley.  Rev. Brian went on a mission trip prior to his ordination, just like the provisional elders who worked alongside the Bishop.  Would you be willing to go for a few days to the Rio Grande Valley and work with United Methodists there?  Have you ever been to the Rio Grande Valley before?  What questions do you have about this beautiful part of Texas?

 

 

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Charge!

Sunday November 10th at 6:30pm Faith UMC will have its annual “Charge Conference” meeting.  If you are a life long United Methodist, chances are you have heard this term before, and probably know what it means… or at least know that it’s an annual church meeting.  Our Faith UMC family has lots of people who are new to the United Methodist Church, so this week’s blog is about United Methodist structure.

I know, not terribly exciting, is it?

The structure of our denomination and this particular annual meeting are important, because they are part of how we function as the Body of Christ.  When we accept Christ as our savior, we become part of the Body of Christ, which in the global sense is all the Christians in the world, regardless of denomination.  This is what we mean when we say “Church” with a capital C, or say “the Church universal”.  Joining Faith UMC means that you are part of our congregation and also part of the denomination.  Our structures are meant to connect congregations so that all United Methodists can share with one another – information about mission needs, good ideas about worship or education, and so on.  Most importantly, we connect so that collectively our efforts in mission can be magnified.  Together we can make more of an impact than individually.

For example, in 1904, a group of women from First Methodist in Houston came together to take care of women and children of immigrant railroad workers just north of downtown.  The families of these workers struggled to have enough to eat, and some of the families were in deep poverty after their husbands and fathers lost their lives in the harsh working conditions.  Just one church began the outreach, but soon other Methodist women joined in the efforts.

This area, immediately north of downtown Houston, still has a high concentration of families who live near or below the poverty line.  The ministry established by a small group of women at First Methodist continues to this day, now supported by Methodists from all around the Houston area.  http://www.wesleyhousehouston.org/  Faith’s United Methodist Women visited Wesley House this week, and donated books and $100 toward their ministries.  Diana, the director of Wesley House asked us to collect toiletries for their elder program participants.  Watch for a collection box in the hall near the cry room.

As United Methodists, we have an annual meeting to do something less interesting than a visit to the Wesley House, but still very important.  At a Charge Conference meeting, leaders of the church will vote for leaders for the coming year.  The Lay Leadership Development and Selection committee has been hard at work, praying and asking people to serve on committees such as Finance, Mission, Trustees, and Children and Youth Ministries.  Our District Superintendent will be at the meeting to hear reports from ministry areas, to hear about our programs and our outreach to our community.

It sounds dull, but it is important that we recognize meetings like this can set the tone to empower people for ministry.  There was a charge conference meeting at First Methodist Houston in 1904, and I’m sure the women who reached out in ministry with the poor near their homes did so because their church gave them a strong foundation.  We are able to reach out because we are strengthened as disciples through worship, through classes and Bible studies, through fellowship with others.  We are able to reach out because church members come to an annual meeting and set the course of the local church.

Will you come to the Charge Conference meeting?  Help set the course, so that people are empowered to reach out in mission.

Read more about the structure of the United Methodist Church here:

http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.1720697/k.734E/Structure__Organization_Organization.htm#.Un0R2uJ2jUQ

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Prayer in Daily Life

For the last few weeks in worship, we have been asked to pray about our income and how much God is asking us to give as an offering.  As the leadership of Faith UMC has prayed and discussed this period of time in our church life, we have held our focus on the importance of prayer.  Prayer in planning, prayer before and after meetings, prayers individually – but more importantly than the prayers of the leadership, was the request that every member of Faith UMC pray themselves.  Not just in worship but all throughout the week, praying about our relationship with God, with the resources we have been given, and our response to God’s work in the world through our congregation and denomination.

At a recent gathering of moms of young children, there was discussion about how hard it is just to find a few moments of quiet to be still with God.  It can be difficult in our harried, traffic jammed, rushed get-the-homework-done-and-get-to-practice-on-time (and don’t forget dinner!) suburban world to make time for prayer.  So how do you pray?

Here is a brief interview with Phyllis Tickle about Christian prayer in our busy lives:  https://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week331/belief.html

She says that her regular prayer is not petitionary – it doesn’t ask for anything.  Are you familiar with that kind of prayer?  Is it hard or easy?

Later she says that regular prayer is like growing a spiritual muscle.  Do you think you need the discipline of regular prayer like Phyllis Tickle?  Is that kind of “spiritual muscle” meant for all Christians?  She also says that this kind of prayer is usually practiced by monks and nuns, but is being practiced more and more by regular people.  Do you think you could practice this kind of regular prayer throughout your day?

Tickle’s prayer books are available on Amazon, and you can have a look inside the book without buying it here:  http://www.amazon.com/Divine-Hours-Two-Prayers-Wintertime/dp/038550540X/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1383146382&sr=1-3&keywords=phyllis+tickle

Perhaps your prayer time is in the car during your commute, or while you are driving your children or while folding clothes after everyone is asleep – whenever you pray, I know the Spirit is with you and that God hears your prayers.

 

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Second Helpings

Typically this blog gets one post per week, but this week, you get a second helping!  🙂

What if we thought of church as a culinary school?  If you’re thinking “whaaaa?” then take a few minutes and read this blog:

http://thegospelside.com/2013/09/30/the-church-isnt-a-restaurant-its-culinary-school/

The author makes the argument that we often use church in the same way we use restaurants.  I was taken aback by this argument, but at the same time, felt convicted by the truth about myself I saw in his words.  Do you agree or disagree with the author?

If church is to be a place where we are given skills and tools to experiment and then to go out and feed others, does Faith UMC fit that description for you? 

How can you help make Faith UMC a culinary school instead of a restaurant?  What is your role in the school of Faith?

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Baptism and the Body of Christ

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit…. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”  1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 26-27

This past Sunday we had the privilege of baptizing a baby at the 9:30am worship service.  At Faith UMC we are blessed that so many babies and children have been baptized recently.  United Methodists understand that in baptism we are adopted into the family of God.  As this article says, we “put on Christ” in baptism: http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.1697379/

Another way of talking about baptism is to say that we become part of the body of Christ, as the scripture above describes.  Baptism is about personal salvation but more than that, in baptism we are called to live as part of the body of Christ.  We are baptized into one body – Americans or Mexicans, Zimbabweans or Egyptians, Indians or Koreans.  1 Corinthians 12 reminds us that in baptism, we must pay attention to the whole body of Christ, because if one part of the body is honored, we all rejoice, and if one part of the body suffers, we all suffer together.

On Sunday September 22, as a worship service was concluding in Peshawar, Pakistan, a bomb went off, killing 80 worshipers.  Established in 1883, All Saints Church is one of the oldest Christian churches in Pakistan.  Christians make up between 2 – 4% of the population in Pakistan. 

Sometimes in the U.S. it is hard to remember that gathering to worship might be risky.  We have such freedom that gathering to worship can fall down our priority list.  But for one of our Faith UMC families, gathering to worship and remembering that in baptism we are called to be the body of Christ has taken on particular importance.  One of our Faith UMC families has family members who live in Peshawar and several who were killed in the attack on All Saints Church.  Now their family suffers grief and loss, and we suffer with them.

As much as we rejoice when one of our Faith UMC families has a baby, or suffer when someone has a family member who dies, we must remember that as the body of Christ we are part of a global body.  Rejoicing and suffering with Christians in other parts of the world is part of our responsibility when we take the vows of baptism.

How does being part of the body of Christ inform your prayers?

Thinking about the global nature of the church, how do you learn about Christians in other parts of the world?

Have you ever worshiped outside the U.S. – and if so, did it change how you think about being a Christian or how we worship?

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