Monday, October 29, 2012

watching against tempters

Wesley's list of the Means of Grace includes this discipline-- "Do you steadily watch against the world, the devil, yourselves, your besetting sin?"  (Doctrinal Sermon 13 says a little more about this discipline, however not much more.)

While working on a sermon about Watching as a means of grace, I consulted Kathleen Norris' book, Acedia, which mentions the temptations that the desert fathers stayed vigilant against.  The desert monks' list of eight bad thoughts was whittled down to seven deadly sins by Western church leaders.  In contrast, Wesley typically warned against only the three temptations mentioned in 1 John 2:16.

Researching my Watching sermon inspired me to create a smartphone app in order to introduce my parishioners to the list of eight bad thoughts through a game format.  A tempter blinks across the screen, one for each bad thought, and the player must tap it to clear it from the screen.

How are you using smartphone technology in your local church?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bridging as a Means of Grace

John and Charles Wesley were adamant about the spiritual benefit of engaging in works of mercy that kept the Methodists in touch with the poor.  A person-to-person interaction that allowed people to get to know one another, one that broke down social barriers, that was the ideal form of a Methodist work of mercy.  The opposite, works that did nothing to reverse class isolation, would be the antithesis of this model.

For several years now I've been pondering the findings of Richard Florida, which suggest that wealth is concentrated in several global cities.  These are the places where economic opportunity exists now; those living elsewhere are being left behind.

His latest map of wealth disparity diagrams salary ranges in the US for several professions that he lumps together into what he calls the Creative Class--
Given these conditions, a work of mercy would be one that put folks from the darker areas on the map in touch with those from the lighter areas.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Going on to Compassion

My church is using The Story this year. The theme of my sermon for Chapter Two was the United Methodist understanding of Christian Perfection. I wanted to emphasize the attainability of a compassionate mindset and give the congregation a prayer practice that they could use while waiting for God's grace to spark this love in them.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Pastoral Leadership as a Means of Grace

I am mulling over Wesley's list of the Prudential Means of Grace found in the 'Large' Minutes, especially the Means of Grace for Preachers and Assistants--
  1. Preacher Means: meet with society, leaders, bands, visit the sick and well, instructing in homes, relative duties
  2. Assistant Means: regulate the societies, bands, and books. hold watch-nights, love feasts, and quarterly examinations. Send Wesley account of preachers’ defects 
The means of grace are supposed to be channels through which we experience God's grace.  In most cases our reaction to grace will either be one of conviction, faith, or love.  Seen from this perspective, I can affirm that as a pastor I frequently feel convinced of my limitations.

This paragraph from doctrinal Sermon 24 helps me define pastoral experiences as a means of grace that convinces--
"There is no disposition, for instance, which is more essential to Christianity than meekness. Now although this, as it implies resignation to God, or patience in pain and sickness, may subsist in a desert, in a hermit's cell, in total solitude; yet as it implies (which it no less necessarily does) mildness, gentleness, and long-suffering, it cannot possibly have a being, it has no place under heaven, without an intercourse with other men. So that to attempt turning this into a solitary virtue is to destroy it from the face of the earth."
Preaching the Gospel and leading others to live out the Gospel within a local church continually provides opportunities to cry out to God for assistance in practicing mildness, gentleness, and patience.  The phrase "herding cats" often comes to mind when I reflect on my ministry.

What a privilege to be able to wait for an experience of grace within this prudential mean.  It builds faith muscles like no other means that I've practiced.  It re-enforces my use of the Instituted Means of Grace.  And it spurs my hunger and thirst for righteousness.

I'll blog later on the pastoral role as a means of grace that justifies and sanctifies.  In the meantime, feel free to add your own testimonials.