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Stained glass shadows westernskycommunicationscomThe Revd Walter Bright’s site is well worth a visit for words of conviction and inspiration.

A few weeks ago I referred to his helpful post on various types of prayer.

His post ‘Joy is strength: How can I increase it?’ is another thought provoking entry.

Over the past 35 years, the notion of personal ‘happiness’ seems to have overridden our former and greater priorities.

I remember in the late 1970s when young people used to ask each other, ‘Are you happy?’ Hmm.

It’s difficult to be happy when you’re at university or just starting out in the world. So many things interrupt or delay that temporal — and fleeting — feeling. It seemed a silly question to ask at the time. It still is.

Mr Wright puts things in perspective for us with regard to happiness — and joy. We often confuse the two. Excerpts from his post follow; please visit his site to read it in full.

He uses Nehemiah 8:10 as his text:

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

He introduces the biblical context of the word:

Webster’s Dictionary defines joy as “a feelings of great happiness” but there is something much richer and deeper from God’s word about the word. This is because joy is more of an “elevated and spiritual kind.”

and elaborates further (emphases in the original):

Joy is God’s will 

But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. John 17:13. It is his will for us to serve with joy, have joy in difficult times and grow in joy. 

Joy comes bursting out of salvation

Psalm 126:1-3: “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth were filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.” Joy is a gift from God through salvation.

This part particularly resonated with me:

Joy is not happiness 

2 Corinthians 7:14.

“I have confidence in you; I take great pride on your behalf. I am filled with encouragement; I am overflowing with joy in the midst of all our suffering.”

The word happy comes from the same word as happen. When things are going great, we are happy. Joy, however, no matter what’s happening – you still have it.

If the joy of The Lord is my strength, then the more joy I have the more strength I get.

If you want to find out how to increase your joy and become stronger spiritually, follow Wright’s inspiring — and surprising — advice.

Church and state averypoliticalwomancomIn the 1950s and early 1960s, the Venerable Fulton J Sheen not only had his own television shows on American network television and radio but was also a guest on secular shows, one of them being What’s My Line?

No doubt one or two nationally renowned Protestant ministers also appeared on secular programmes. Although alive at the time, I was too young to know.

Today, that happens rarely. The last secular programme which had clergy on from time to time was CNN’s The Larry King Show. Although I am not King’s biggest fan, it is to his credit that he invited the Revd John MacArthur several times as well as priests and rabbis.

It’s unclear whether the strident tone of the Moral Majority’s clergy in the 1970s put an end to inviting men of the cloth on secular shows, but, surely, they do not represent the vast majority of ordained men and women.

Perhaps it is time for producers of secular television and radio programmes to reconsider their moratorium on clergy.

One happy exception to this is France’s RMC radio. The morning current affairs show Les Grandes Gueules (The Big Mouths) has a priest from Poitiers — the Revd Patrice Gourrier — on frequently. He is pastor of Saint-Porchaire Church, which dates from the 11th century.

Père Gourrier adopts an appropriate stance of taking his faith seriously but wearing it lightly. He mixes well with everyone and has a quick wit. On Thursday, April 3, his fellow panellists included an atheist and a conservative homosexual jurist.

The atheist declared herself within seconds after being introduced. Gourrier made a witty riposte and the two conversed during breaks in the show.

Homosexuality also came up in the discussion, specifically around France’s Christian Democratic Party. The jurist, formerly an active party member himself until he came out, said that considering homosexuality as a sin was an archaic stance. Gourrier gently countered that the New Testament tells us that it is an ‘abomination’ and still a sin.

However, he warned against people defining themselves by family values alone. He added that it had become an ‘obsession’ for some French conservative politicians which, he reckoned, would produce ‘interesting psychoanalysis’. As a practicing clinical psychologist, he should know.

Gourrier is intellectually curious and well informed on the issues of the day; he reminds me of priests and Protestant ministers I have known over the years. The world must have millions of clergy around the world just like them. Why don’t the mainstream media invite them on to news shows? Not all would wish to accept, but even a few more would reveal to viewers and listeners that balanced Christianity can be in the world — intelligently — but not of it.

Since Gourrier began his regular appearances on Les Grandes Gueules, he occasionally meets RMC listeners who are travelling through or taking their holidays in or near Poitiers.

For him, attending church is essential. Last year, he deplored the family values marches in Paris which were held on a Sunday: ‘I fear my pews will empty on the protest days. They would do better coming to Mass.’

On April 3, he deplored attacks on women as part of a worrying trend objectifying people instead of viewing them as human beings. He also said that he was appalled by an increase in racial harrassment, which he also sees in Poitiers: ‘What these people don’t realise is that those attacked are not only French but are also doctors and lawyers’.

Gourrier said that it is entirely ‘normal’ for us to gravitate towards those who are most like us: ‘We can tolerate minor differences which add interest but nothing too far out of the norm’. That said, he added, over the past five years, the economic crisis has exacerbated racially-motivated verbal and physical assaults: ‘Sadly, hard times bring out the worst elements of human nature’.

One of the show’s hosts, Olivier Truchot, noted that every racial grouping in France had its part to play, not just French Europeans. The conservative jurist added that another part of the problem was the onslaught of ‘diversity’ messages ‘every day, morning to night — people are fed up’. Another panellist wryly told him, ‘A bit like your homosexual lobby. So there are gays. We don’t need to be told anymore. Please — keep it to yourselves’.

Still, in France, as anywhere else in the West, RMC’s callers lamented that they couldn’t correct certain colleagues without being called a racist by everyone else.

But I digress.

Gourrier’s measured, intelligent discourse, 15 books and his Twitter account are persuading lapsed Catholics to return to the Church.

An article in La Nouvelle Republique tells us that his parishoners avail themselves of printed copies of all his Sunday sermons, which contain flashcodes leading to a video version on Dailymotion.

Gourrier told the paper that a life in the Church and in Poitiers saved him. When he began working, it was as an editor and a publishing house director. He lived comfortably in Paris’s 15th arrondissement. All the same, he felt that he lacked something. He reflected on his childhood when he would go off alone to read the New Testament during lunch at school. He entered seminary at the age of 23 but left, possibly fearing where that life would lead him. In the 1990s, he returned and was ordained at the age of 40 in 2000.

He will be leaving Poitiers this year for health reasons (severe GI-tract problems) and because the diocese is reorganising the parishes. However, he will continue in some capacity with the Church, saying that ‘we need more mission work for priests’.

Meanwhile, Catholics in Poitiers can attend his Sunday Masses — ‘beautiful, traditional’ ones — because, as he explains, ‘people need a well-established ritual’.

Returning to Archbishop Fulton J Sheen, Benedict XVI declared him Venerable in July 2012. In a fascinating article excerpted below, National Catholic Register tells us how mainstream media aided his ministry. Emphases mine:

A consummate communicator, Archbishop Sheen hosted the evening radio program The Catholic Hour for 20 years, and his Emmy award-winning Life Is Worth Living (1951-1957) and The Fulton Sheen Program (1961-1968) became some of the most-watched television shows airing at the time. He authored numerous books and is often referred to as one of the first televangelists.

He harnessed the new media of his day — radio and television — and used those tools to lead others to Christ,” said Msgr. Deptula. “We can look to him to see how to bring the eternal news of Jesus Christ to our modern world.”

As important as his works, Bishop Jenky also noted Archbishop Sheen’s life of holiness.

One of his greatest gifts was his example of prayer, preaching and teaching — especially his prayer before the Eucharist,” said Bishop Jenky. “His life of prayer began as a seminarian. As an associate pastor of a parish in Peoria, he had a huge impact on bringing that parish back to life. He said that miracle came from the time he spent on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament.”

He constantly preached that, even for the most hardworking priest, the most important time would be the time he spends in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament,” said Bishop Jenky. “I can’t speak of anyone who spoke more eloquently about this, and he lived it every day of his life.”

We need more Fulton J Sheens in today’s media — balanced Catholic and Protestant clergy. May God bring them forward. And may secular programme commissioners and producers see the need for inviting them on air.

One of my favourite Episcopal priests, the Revd Matt Kennedy of Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, NY, had another excellent post on Stand Firm.

Kennedy’s ‘The Perfect Agony’ explores the dichotomy between experiencing happiness in the Lord and the fear as well as the sorrow which accompany significant events in our lives. He uses as his text Mark 14:32-42.

Christians read and hear much about the potential pitfalls of experiencing negative emotions. As Kennedy says (emphases mine):

… this is a hard text for many American evangelical Christians who have been taught that God became incarnate to give us happy lives and therefore any lack of joy, peace, and/or happiness is the result of some kind of faith deficiency. But Jesus, the sinless lamb, experienced emotional turmoil on a level unknown to any other human being. And he wasn’t doing anything wrong.

Citing a real life example — one which is typical in every congregation — Kennedy describes how the more a cancer sufferer he knew (in another church) heard happy verses parroted from the New Testament, the worse she felt.

He explains:

The problem is ours. We read scripture emotively. Paul says: “rejoice.” We think: feel happy. James says: “Count it all joy”. We think: feel joyful. John says “love casts out fear” we think: If feel love I won’t feel fear. Jesus says: don’t worry. We think: I mustn’t feel worry.

No. God doesn’t say to the mourner, the frightened, the anxious: Don’t feel emotion. He says: Don’t let sorrow, fear, worry, rule you as if they were your gods. You have One God, And I’m greater than your emotions. Let me bear them with you. Come to me. (Matthew 11:28)

Therefore, it is perfectly normal to fear and to grieve. It is normal to experience the panoply of negative feelings, such as loneliness and the blues. However, as with so many other things, it depends on how we treat these feelings. Will we be enslaved to them or will we use those experiences as an opportunity to pray to the living God for help and guidance?

What Kennedy says has implications regarding how we minister to our fellow Christians, including those facing death. Instead of sounding glib by prooftexting, we might well advise prayers for emotional strength during difficult, seemingly impossible times.

One wonders whether reading the New Testament emotionally is a 20th and 21st century trend. I do not recall my parents or grandparents understanding it as such. My grandparents’ generation born in the 1890s would have been used to infant mortality. For my parents’ age cohorts, living to 75 and beyond was an achievement. The deaths which, today, we would consider premature were an occasion for family and friends to pray fervently (a popular word at the time) whilst feeling sorrowful.

Strangely, few of them lost their faith. Churches were full.

These days, instead of looking for wisdom in the New Testament, many of us disregard it. Again, as Kennedy says, it’s all in the way we read it. If we mistakenly read it as an emotional self-help manual — ‘if I really loved, I wouldn’t feel afraid’ — we’re bound to be disappointed, even angry.

Perhaps it is time for us to focus more on God in times of need, when we need to overcome a devastating situation. May we ask Him for help, for grace, for comfort. He will provide.

28But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.  (Luke 12:28-31)

John F MacArthurIn yesterday’s post on Luke 9:43-45, I cited one of John MacArthur’s sermons, ‘The Amazing Person of Christ’.

In it, he explains how he reads and studies the Bible (emphases mine below):

The more you know about Christ, the more likely you are to reflect Him.

And that really is the Christian life. As I look back at my life and all the years of study and tens of thousands of hours of going through the Scripture, whether I’m writing books or preparing sermons, or writing notes in a study Bible, or whatever, all of my efforts to understand the Scripture do not end with the understanding of the Scripture. My goal has never been to know the facts of the Bible. It isn’t that I want to know Bible history, or that I want to know what’s in books and verses. That’s not the end, that’s only the means to an end. I want to know Him. Paul said, “That I may know Him.” It is the joy of my life to find God in the living Christ on the pages of Scripture. The more I study the Bible, the more glorious Christ is to me. The more I understand the Scripture, the more majestic and magnificent and awesome Jesus Christ is and my worship and my service to Him is a direct reflection of that awe. A limited view of Jesus Christ produces a limited capacity to worship and limited motivation to serve. The great objective of Scripture is to know Christ so that you can love Him more, so that you can be swept away as the hymn writer put it, in wonder, love and praise. It’s not about knowing the Bible, it never should be. Knowledge puffs up. It’s about knowing Christ. Not some mystical knowledge, not some knowledge induced. Your lack of understanding about Christ cripples your worship and no amount of music and no amount of sort of spiritual mood-inducing is going to produce true worship which rises out of an overwhelming wonder concerning Christ.

So whenever we gather together, it is Christ who is the goal and the end of everything we learn. Everything I know about the sinfulness of man makes me love Christ more because He brought an end to all my sin. Everything I know about the glory of God makes me love Christ more because I see God fully revealed in human terms that I can comprehend in Christ …  He’s the theme of all of Scripture.

This is why it is almost painful to read or listen to so many notional Christians who subscribe to erroneous beliefs: Arminianism, universalism, mysticism, Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM), gnosticism, theonomy or liberation theology.

Nothing in the New Testament points to any of those.

Yet, the stubborn say, ‘I’ve read it already’ or ‘That verse doesn’t agree with my personal belief’. I read a long thread last week about the HRM on another blog; one HRM advocate said (paraphrased), ‘Well, as I don’t really know the details of the New Testament, I cannot say’.

Goodness me.

Read Holy Scripture and discover the truth it reveals. If you’ve actually read it, reread it. It contains a wealth of knowledge which helps us understand Christ all the better. And in understanding Christ, He draws us closer to Him and we better reflect His example in our own lives.

As MacArthur says, isn’t that the purpose of the Christian life?

Excellent starting places in the New Testament are the Gospels of John and Mark as well as the Epistles Hebrews and Romans. And why not try the Grant Horner Bible Reading System? It’s easy to follow and takes but one half-hour a day.

Last week, the story about the Methodist minister in Telford, the Revd Patricia ‘PJ’ Jackson and her refusal to wear a red poppy for the upcoming Remembrance Day service she will lead made news here in England.

I found out about it thanks to fellow contributor Quiet_Man at Orphans of Liberty. He cited the Telegraph‘s article, which said that the ‘Rev PJ’ — as she likes to be known — believes it is her ‘democratic right’ not to wear a red poppy to commemmorate the soldiers who have died for our freedom.

The Telegraph reported:

She refused to give a reason for her decision but a spokesperson at the Telford circuit said it was because Rev Jackson is in favour of peace.

A church spokesman said: “Reverend Jackson is happy to wear a white poppy but doesn’t want to wear a red one because she feels it advocates war which is something she does not believe in.

Jackson is originally from the United States. My American readers can feel free to correct me in the comments on this one, but, as far as I know from my friends living there, veterans have not collected donations to the American Legion or VFW for 25 years or more. I remember donating and receiving a poppy every year. Sometimes they were light blue instead of red; a veteran told me that colour represented the Pacific Theater.

Therefore, it is unclear whether Jackson would have ever known about the tradition of the poppy and Armistice Day, or as we call it in Britain, Remembrance Day.

I wrote more about the story at Orphans of Liberty. It’s a long post with several points, so what follow are just a few.

One related to the wording on Jackson’s church website:

Although a website does not seem to exist for Hadley Methodist Church, there is one for the nearby Leegomery Methodist Church, the minister for which is one Revd P J Jackson.

It is standard for pastors to fashion their websites to focus primarily on Christianity. Best practice in this area includes a statement of faith and mention of denominational affiliation.

This is what the Leegomery Methodist Church proclaims on its About page (emphases in the original).

The Mission of the Church is to be a “Hug for the Community” through Worship, Prayer, and being loving and caring.

Leegomery Methodist Church was built in 1878, with the Sunday School/Community Room being added in 1953.   The Community Room was refurbished in 2010 and work was completed on the refurbishment of the Church in 2012.   All facilities, which include fully fitted kitchen and toilets, comply with the Disability Act, Health & Safety, Fire Regulations and are Eco Friendly.

The Friends committee organise an Annual Community Family Fun Day, Bingo Evenings, Social Activities, Concerts, Religious Festivals and much more throughout the year. See Forthcoming Events for full details.

All Leaders of our Children and Young People’s Groups are CRB checked and the Church has a Safeguarding Policy for Children, Young People and Vulnerable Adults.

Morning Worship is held every Sunday at 11am for which everyone is welcome.

A fun Sunday School for children & young people from 0 upwards also meets each week at 11am.  This is nothing like day school, those attending take part in games, crafts, listen to stories and have lots of fun.

Being a ‘Hug for the Community’ is not a doctrinal, or a particularly Christian, statement.

Even worse, we don’t even find out what time the Sunday church service is until we’ve got past a mention of the toilets, Bingo Evenings and CRB checks.

I wondered whether Jackson had arrived recently in England and didn’t really understand the place the poppy has in British hearts:

It just seems odd that anyone who has been here for a time, especially a clergyperson, would be so obstinate in wearing a white poppy — or none at all — if (s)he were about to lead a Remembrance Day service.

Any visitor or newcomer to these shores cannot miss the red poppies that men and women wear at this time of year, including nearly everyone appearing on television news broadcasts. It’s abundantly clear that Remembrance Day is — quite rightly — an important day to the British.

Of course, we cannot forget the spiritual state of seminaries these days:

They outdo The Guardian in their adoption of ‘peace and justice’ as well as identity politics. For them, Scripture is but a footnote and none of it is history but rather liberation allegory. I know someone relatively conservative who went through the system over 20 years ago, when female seminarians began holding church services with prayers addressed to ‘God, our Mother’. Even now, having served in churches for a few decades, she gets more radical by the year. It sounds as if Ms Jackson might have experienced something similar.

I concluded by saying I hoped the minister would change her mind after talking the issue over with local members of the Royal British Legion, councillors and congregants.

Jackson’s local paper in Telford, the Shrophsire Star, spoke to local people planning on participating in the Remembrance Day service:

David Moore, president of the Hadley and Leegomery Royal British Legion, said: “From the military members who attend the service, and there are a lot, we were very shocked.

“If someone decides they don’t want to wear a poppy, that is down to the individual, but if they are officiating a remembrance service, just for an hour, an hour and a half, it’s not going to cut anyone’s throat to wear one.”

Quite right.

UKFred, who kindly commented on the aforementioned post, is an Englishman and a Methodist. He also wrote about the Telford poppy controversy and had this to say about war:

… I can understand that the Rev PJ Jackson does not want to glorify war. Neither do I. It brings to a sudden end too many lives for questionable reasons, as in the Iraq ‘adventure’ for the glory of Tony Blair and George Bush.

We need to think about who causes wars. It is not the rank and file soldiers, sailors and airmen. It is the politicians. The rank and file servicemen are the ones who pay the price, in terms of lives and limbs, lost sight and lost mental faculties. Wearing a red poppy is a means of remembering and honouring those were killed and injured allowing politicians to make their quests for glory and a place in the history books. Serving one’s country in the armed services is an honourable profession and a dangerous one …

We all accept that we need clean water and a separation of the foul water in sewage from the water we drink, but not all of us will work to maintain the sewers and get our hands dirty. Sometimes we need a similar separation of the clean and the foul in world politics, and it is the military, the ordinary servicemen, who get their hands dirty to keep these two apart …

I’ll end with Quiet_Man’s observations on Orphans of Liberty:

… I do believe the idiot woman is misinformed as to the red poppy’s significance as it does not commemorate war, does not glorify war nor does it advocate militarism. It reminds us of sacrifice and those who fell as well as those who served. There is precious little glory in war as any conversation with soldiers, sailors or airmen will tell you. Nor does the horror of seeing your friends killed or maimed give them anything other than grief.

As for the white poppy, well it was used by the Women’s Cooperative back in 1933 as a symbol to end all wars, six years later the UK was fighting for its life agains the Nazis, there was the horror of the concentration camps and the systematic murder of foreign nationals on their own soil by the Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD. The white poppy to me symbolises the peace at any price mindset of the hard of thinking aka the left who are happy to disarm civilisation, though no one else. These were the same people who wanted to ban the bomb (only for the UK) spied upon their own citizens and raved about the socialist paradises across the iron curtain and who still bitterly regret the people there throwing off the yoke of the communists.

The white poppy to me does not symbolise peace, but surrender, this is my view and one which I hold to …

I hope that, for those who are unfamiliar with it, this explains the meaning of the red poppy, discourages people from wearing a white one and calls all of us to pray this Monday, November 11, for the families of those who died whilst in service to their country, and us.

Let us also remember those who have returned from war injured, maimed and, possibly, forgotten. Too many are sleeping rough with no home and no job, through no fault of their own.

United Methodist Church logoThe theologically conservative Episcopalian-Anglican site, Stand Firm, recently featured a post about the 31 Methodist pastors who plan to jointly officiate at a same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania this month.

Stand Firm’s discussion centres on the fact that same-sex marriage is not allowed as per the United Methodist Church’s discipline statements.

The clergymen are showing their solidarity with their colleague, the Revd Frank Schaefer who — six years after the fact — faces Methodist Church discipline for marrying his son to another man.

That delay, to me, has just as much to do with Schaeffer’s story than with their disregard of Church rules.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports (emphases mine):

At the time, Schaefer told his supervisors about the ceremony but not his congregation. Then and for nearly six years after, he said, officials took no disciplinary action.

But in April – 26 days before the church’s six-year statute of limitations was set to expire – a member of his congregation filed a complaint with the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church.

A spokeswoman from the conference last week declined to answer questions about why charges were filed now.

In a statement, Bishop Peggy Johnson, one of three Methodist bishops in Pennsylvania, said complaints are confidential.

This 11th hour action seems to have propelled the renegade pastors into action. If Schaefer were not going on trial on November 18, 2013, would this have happened? One wonders.

The 31 clergy are now ready to press for change in the United Methodist Church. The Church has global disciplinary statements, which is no doubt why same-sex marriage is disallowed whereas the Episcopal Church (TEC), the ELCA (Evangelical Lutherans) and PCUSA (mainstream Presbyterians) perform such ceremonies.

The renegade Methodist clergymen maintain that Schaefer’s marrying his son to another man was an

an act of love, not a prosecutable offense.

Schaefer said that his son Tim had experienced a deep conflict about his sexual orientation for many years:

Schaefer said that as a teen, Tim prayed to be cured of his homosexuality and considered suicide when that didn’t happen.

Even before going to seminary, Schaefer thought the church’s doctrine would “be in trouble” if it was proved that homosexuality is genetic.

His son, he said, offered him that assurance.

“To me that was the ultimate proof at that moment. For heaven’s sakes, he didn’t choose this,” Schaefer said at his office last week, his eyes raised to the ceiling and palms reached out, “He didn’t want this.”

Though he knew the possible consequences, Schaefer said he didn’t hesitate when Tim, now 29, asked him to officiate.

At the afternoon ceremony at a restaurant overlooking a marina near Boston, Schaefer settled on pronouncing the couple married “in a holy union ratified by God.”

“Those whom God has joined together,” he said, “let no one put asunder.”

When Schaefer goes on trial at the Spring City, Pennsylvania, retreat centre in a few weeks’ time, the 31 clergy plan to attend.

As for Schaefer, currently pastor of the Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon County:

[he] doesn’t plan to deny performing the ceremony. Instead, he will present a team of religious experts he hopes will prove that his decision upheld other church doctrines – namely that pastors should minister to at-risk teens who have contemplated suicide due to confusion over their sexuality.

Schaefer said Tim was one those kids. His son’s story will be central to his defense.

The paper adds:

Critics say Schaefer could have avoided a trial several ways, first by denying his son’s request.

“Good parenting 101 is realizing that not everything that your child asks you to give him or her is necessarily always the best thing for them,” said John Lomperis, a director at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative think-tank.

Church officials also offered to forgo a trial if Schaefer agreed never to officiate at another same-sex wedding.

Schaefer says he couldn’t do that.

Three of his four children are gay.

That’s incredible — three of his four children are oriented to their own sex. How does that happen?

At Stand Firm, reader ABQ Methodist had these insights on Methodist church discipline and the denomination’s move leftward:

Those in the United Methodist Church who favor heterodox positions on sexual ethics are becoming desperate.  It became very apparent last General Conference that the United Methodist Church has no interest in changing the Discipline statements related to homosexuality—at least not in the direction that they want changes made.  Although it is little reported, the United Methodist General Conference has resisted such changes by increasingly large majorities since the issue was first raised in the 1970s

From what I have read of the history of Methodism, we began departing from John Wesley’s original vision in about the 1850s in the U.SBy the 1960s when the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church, the leadership of the denomination was liberal and many of them wanted to move further from Wesleyanism to to become more modern, focusing on “social gospel” and transformation of the world rather than disciple makingThis has increased the rate of decline of the United Methodist church in the U.S. This whole process is detailed, from a secular sociological perspective in The Churching of America .  The polity on sexual morality almost certainly will not change in the way that they want it to …  The “facts on the ground” strategy … will be more difficult to accomplish in the United Methodist Church than it was in TEC.  The United Methodist church has an ecclesiastical court system to enforce the requirements in The Discipline.  Although the members of the Judicial Council, our Supreme Court, may be liberal and disagree with the specific provisions of the Discipline, they know that if they let the “facts on the ground” strategy succeed, they become as useless as a fifth wheel.  So they will enforce positions that they personally disagree with in order to maintain their power and authority.  Therefore, the liberals are either going to have to live with the current polity, waste precious time and effort that a domestically declining denomination doesn’t have in protests, or leave the denomination.  As in most denominations, the churches that are more faithful to scripture tend to be the fastest growing (though not the most well known).  Therefore, God may be using this issue to bring His church back to greater scriptural faithfulness.  I am in a wait and see and pray mode.

I’ll look at the United Methodist Church’s decline in more detail tomorrow.

luther-roseTo be fair, Pastor Spencer’s post at Intrepid Lutherans is actually called ‘Don’ts and Dos for the Orthodox Lutheran Pastor’, but it is broad enough to be applicable to laymen, especially Christian bloggers.

In fact, all one has to do is swap out ‘Lutheran’ (and similar references) for one’s own denomination and situation.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

> Don’t assume any other Pastor is orthodox just because you roomed with him in prep or college, or he’s married to your sister, or related in any way.

    Do always “test the spirits” with regard to all other Pastors, near and far.

> Don’t expect your members to be 100% orthodox Lutherans.

    Do expect and demand that your fellow ministers be 100% orthodox Lutherans.

Don’t judge your ministry by numbers – any numbers.

    Do evaluate your ministry according to your faithfulness to the Lutheran Confessions and historic Christianity.

> Don’t try to save the church – leave that to God.

    Do inform your congregation, and your fellow Pastors, as to the dangers and problems you see.

Don’t ever stop studying, learning, and growing in your faith and knowledge of the Bible and Book of Concord.

    Do keep up with what’s going on among other Lutherans and other Christians.

I like that Pastor Spencer wrote this post whilst on summer holiday ‘on the beach near San Diego’.

The Revd Walter Bright recently wrote an instructive post for seminarians, drawing on his own experiences.

From my experience, the following also holds true for theology majors, as a number of them leave Christianity.

Excerpts from ‘With the Word and the Spirit together, you grow up’ follow, emphasis in the original:

Just before I went to seminary for a four and a half of preparation for ministry, the Lord impressed on my heart a verse from Luke chapter 4. I started meditating upon it, but didn’t get it until the end of my first semester.

I went to church at least five different times during the week. I lived on campus, so I attended our school chapel time, midweek bible study, Friday night prayer meetings, than both Sunday morning and Sunday evening services. I had wonderful, Spirit filled professors,  great prayer meetings and church services, but my personal prayer time, bible reading and meditation and my personal evangelism gradually came to a standstill. My passion, my fire was going out little by little. I thought to myself, I’m in the right place, why am I neglecting these vital spiritual disciplines?

Now, I am a big fan of theological education, I disagree with those who think you don’t need it. Unfortunately, many young people enter seminary full of zeal and fire but graduate dusty, dry, or sometimes spiritually dead.  This is one of the reasons Christian kids lose their faith and drop out of the church when to go off to college. Knowledge and learning is great, but every scholar, student, minister and leader would have to seek that balance of having both knowledge and Spirit combined so that they can grow up and not dry up or blow up.

Knowledge mixed with a little dose of prayerlessness does something to you. It puffs you up! Sooner or later you begin to feel like knowledge is all you need. Imagine doing a three or four-year ministry preparation where your prayer life does not exist, your bible reading and meditation is lifeless, and your personal evangelism is dead.

Please read the rest of Pastor Bright’s post for his excellent suggestions on standing firm in the faith whilst at seminary. They concern Luke 4:1. Here are the first few — he offers many more:

  • stay humble
  • stay disciplined
  • stay hungry
  • stay holy
  • stay prayerful
  • stay grounded
  • stay being yourself

stained glass teaching-scriptures-720641 genxrisingcomTrinity Sunday 2013 falls on May 26.

Last year, I featured excerpts of a Trinity Sunday sermon from the Revd Matt Kennedy, Rector of the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, New York. Mr Kennedy explained various heresies and what makes them so.

I located another sermon of his for today’s post. I do not recall if it is specifically for Trinity Sunday, however, Kennedy makes excellent points on the application of the Holy Trinity in our lives.

At some point in a good number of us — myself included — have come to such an abstraction about the three-in-one Godhead that, if left unchecked, it can be a divine mystery which we neglect.

The Holy Trinity can be difficult to understand and explain; it is a mystery of faith. Yet, we must do our best to understand and apply what we can of this mystery to our daily lives. This is a good way to explain it to children and adolescents; it involves an egg. This post from 2010 explains more about Trinity Sunday and its place in the Church year.

Now on to Kennedy’s sermon which ties us in with the three Persons of the Trinity, the Church and  the Bible. He has more at the link, but this is the excerpt — the practical application in our lives — which caught my eye (emphases mine):

The individual Christian,
the Church
cannot separate the Holy Spirit from the Holy Scriptures.
The scriptures are the words of Christ,
the Son,
and it is the task of the Holy Spirit to glorify the Son
by taking his words
and making them known
not undercutting them.
The Holy Spirit is never, therefore,
never going to contradict the Holy Scriptures.

On the contrary,
if you want to hear the voice of God,
if you want, in your ordinary day to day life,
to feel the presence of God,
to know him,
to be guided by him,
to find out if he loves you and how much,
to figure out what to do with yourself,
how to relate to the people around you,
if that is what you want,
then there is one place to go
and that is the Bible.
And that is because for the believer,
the Holy Spirit’s task is not reveal to new revelations
or new truths to astound our friends,
but to illumine,
to help you understand what has already been so carefully
and perfectly revealed.
He does that supernaturally
through your personal study,
through teachers,
through preachers,
applying those words to your life and to the life of the church.

j0289346Two great posts appeared recently examining why young people leave the Church.

Meg of If this one thing happens asked ‘Does Christianity Really Need a “Re-branding”?’ She doesn’t think it does. Here’s why — excerpts follow; Meg has more (emphases mine):

Over the past few decades we have seen a growing number of non-denominational churches that are heavy on music and the show and light on liturgy and ritual.  We keep seeing the Church trying to be “cool” and trying to meet young people “on their level.”  As a young person, I don’t think it’s working.  That faux-hawk you’re sporting Pastor?  The watered down sermon about a “famous” person who believes in Jesus?  Using out-dated memes in your power point presentation? …

This is something I think many churches need to remind themselves of. When witnessing some of these “cool guy church” antics I’ve found myself feeling patronized, and seen others leave the church for something more “traditional”.  I’m reminded of the parable of the lost sheep, where Jesus asks his followers if one out of their hundred sheep went missing ,wouldn’t they leave all their other sheep to run after the one?  It’s a strong message, and maybe one that many churches are taking to heart in their search for their lost sheep.  My advice?  Leave it to God.  He will find his lost sheep and bring them home.  Don’t push away your 99 sheep and leave them out in the cold, because you may find they will be lost as well.

Another young adult, Marc of Marc5Solas, gave his thoughts in ‘The Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church’. Here are a few of the reasons — read more at his site:

This isn’t a negative “beat up on the church” post. I love the church, and I want to see American evangelicalism return to the gospel of repentance and faith in christ for the forgiveness of sins; not just as something on our “what we believe” page on our website, but as the core of what we preach from our pulpits to our children, our youth, and our adults …

10. The Church is “Relevant”:

You didn’t misread that, I didn’t say irrelevant, I said RELEVANT. We’ve taken a historic, 2,000 year old faith, dressed it in plaid and skinny jeans and tried to sell it as “cool” to our kids. It’s not cool. It’s not modern. What we’re packaging is a cheap knockoff of the world we’re called to evangelize.

As the quote says, “When the ship is in the ocean, everything’s fine. When the ocean gets into the ship, you’re in trouble.”

I’m not ranting about “worldliness” as some pietistic bogeyman, I’m talking about the fact that we yawn at a 5-minute biblical text, but almost trip over ourselves fawning over a minor celebrity or athlete who makes any vague reference to being a Christian …

8. They get smart:

It’s not that our students “got smarter” when they left home, rather someone actually treated them as intelligent. Rather than dumbing down the message, the agnostics and atheists treat our youth as intelligent and challenge their intellect with “deep thoughts” of question and doubt. Many of these “doubts” have been answered, in great depth, over the centuries of our faith. However …

7. You sent them out unarmed:

Let’s just be honest, most of our churches are sending youth into the world embarrassingly ignorant of our faith. How could we not? We’ve jettisoned catechesis, sold them on “deeds not creeds” and encouraged them to start the quest to find “God’s plan for their life”. Yes, I know your church has a “What we believe” page, but is that actually being taught and reinforced from the pulpit? I’ve met evangelical church leaders (“Pastors”) who didn’t know the difference between justification and sanctification. I’ve met megachurch board members who didn’t understand the atonement. When we chose leaders based upon their ability to draw and lead rather than to accurately teach the faith? Well, we don’t teach the faith. Surprised?

This is what I was driving at in my closing comments yesterday on Simeon. Catechise your children as soon as you can; start gently with simple concepts and prayers between the ages 3 and 4. Build from there. Make sure they know what they believe and why they believe it.

Meg and Mark make excellent points which all pastors and church volunteers would find of interest.

Could it be that our young people are crying out, ‘Gimme that old-time religion’?

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