The More Things Change

My Christian witness in the face of a global pandemic.

Rewind to March 1. It was the first Sunday in Lent, on the heels of Ash Wednesday. We celebrated Holy Communion and had a potluck meal after worship. It was a great day, but I had no idea the challenges that our community and our world would soon face. This has been a Lent like none other. In fact Valerie and her friend both agreed that this has been the Lent-iest Lent they have ever Lent-ed!

You’ve heard the cliche, “The more things change…” It’s true but ironic that everything has changed and yet, nothing has really changed. My identity, my desperate need for grace, my love for friends and family and the like are still the same. And, yes, sisters and brothers, God’s love has not changed. So what do we do now? Ignore the obvious tragedy and anxiety that surrounds us? No! If we are Christ followers, we reach up to our Heavenly Father and reach out to each other.

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This is a very Wesleyan response. John Wesley regularly had people coming to him in fear, anxious about their sins and failures. So in late 1739, on Thursday evenings Wesley started gathering with people, “having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation.1” That’s still what we need today in the face of a turbulent world and a pandemic that has disrupted our lives and routines.

The reformer Wesley encouraged these Christ-followers to follow three simple rules, what came to be known at The General Rules of the United Methodist Church. They can give us some direction in these strange days.

Coronavirus_StayHome_doctors1. Do no harm – Stay home. Yes, I know that many of you disagree with me, but this is one of those times when serving my own needs might inadvertently cause someone else harm. I don’t have to roll out the statistics and wealth of evidence about how a virus is spread. It’s simple. Stay home. Starve the Novel Coronavirus. Stay healthy and keep yourself and your neighbor out of the hospital. When we recognize the brave effort of our overwhelmed medical professionals, they are going to work for us, so we can stay home for them.

2. Do good – Find ways to encourage others. I love seeing the innovative ways many of you have demonstrated kindness and compassion! We have sent thank you cards, done the Facebook Friday phone a friend challenge, delivered Kids Activity Kids, assisted with our Drive Thru Prayer and daily reached out to friends and loved ones. You are not alone, but make sure that everyone else knows that too! And we can do a lot of good just by praying. Fast and pray. Man, have I prayed a lot this past month. Apparently I needed the practice. Haha!

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Hospital workers at Cartersville Medical Center, Cartersville, Georgia lift their voices to sing “Way Maker.”

3. Stay in love with God – What’s the opposite of fear? According to 1 John 4:18 it’s perfect love.  When we fully rely on God’s love and grace, we cannot be ruled by fear, anxiety, or hatred. This is a time to stay in love with God, but also to demonstrate who is Lord of your life. To quote the popular song by Sinach that many have heard on the viral video showing hospital staff lined the roof of Cartersville Medical Center in Cartersville, GA, God is a “Way maker, miracle worker, promise keeper, light in the darkness.” You and I can complain, be ruled by fear, held hostage by anxiety or we can stay in love with God and be a light of hope. We could all use a little more hope!

As we finish Lent and wonder what April is going to be like, I hope these three simple rules will remain as a guide for our lives after COVID-19 diagnoses have left the news. We serve a Psalm 46 God, “Our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” We get to model that for the world and our community. So stay home. Stay healthy. Stay encouraged, but most of all, do no harm, do good and stay in love with God.SignJRGBlack300

The Numbers Game

MegaChurchAuditoriumOne of the greatest challenges for today’s churches is to monitor and evaluate the spiritual health of our congregants. This is especially difficult for churches with an weekly attendance over 150.

See! I did it already! I started talking about numbers. Accurate numbers can tell part of the story of what is happening in a congregation, but Spiritual health isn’t really about numbers.

Now don’t get me wrong, the numbers in my checking account say a lot about my priorities. The number of times when I missed church or a  chapel service during seminary says something. The number of hours I have spent sharing God’s love with others or reading His word should indicate… something, right?

In my previous ministry role, I was a part of the organization’s primary leadership team. As the department leaders sat around a big table and attempted to evaluate where we were needing to improve and where we saw success, the debate always came back around to measuring spiritual growth. “It can’t be done. It depends on the individual. That’s really private information and I don’t think we should be asking that…” It’s an honest, real dilemma.

However I don’t agree that spiritual growth and discipleship can’t be measured. John Wesley looked at discipleship (being a disciple who will make more disciples) by asking “How does your soul prosper?” Today, we might say, “How is your spiritual life?” Those are words to be spoken in love.

Me and J-Dub (John Wesley) hanging out on the Asbury Theo. Sem. campus.
Me and J-Dub (John Wesley) hanging out on the Asbury Theo. Sem. campus.

In Philippians 3 Paul talks about pressing on toward the goal, “I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me” (Phil. 3:12, NLT). John Wesley would call this perfection “holy love.” While we pursue God’s plan for our lives and await our entire sanctification (when we stand face to face with our Creator), we should see less and less sin and more and more love filling our heart and motivating our actions. That’s the true measure of our spiritual health.

So what is your spiritual goal? Sure, it’s great to try to be at worship for 26 consecutive weeks, or to read through 17 books of the Bible. But remember that the goal is “holy love.” Let’s work together to give everything we have to pursue Christ and the love that first loved us. As you do keep looking above and loving beyond.SignJRGBlack300