Wesley Trip Pictures Uploaded

Check the sidebar for some photos that I took during the Wesley Study Tour this summer in England.

New Sermon Series Begins This Week

Wesleystatue This Sunday I’ll be kicking off a new sermon series titled, "The Method in Methodism." The theology and practice of the Methodists were instrumental in shaping 18th century England and Methodist preachers were among the first to bring the Gospel to the American frontier, including here in Park City. The message of God’s grace extended to all, the practice of spiritual disciplines, singing their theology, and the crafting of vital communities of faith were all aspects of the movement that drew people into a relationship with God through Christ.

In this series, I will be spending a lot of time focusing on the message and practice of the Methodists, with my basic premise being that our own faith and practice can be revitalized by studying and embracing the best parts of this movement. Many of the people who attend our church are unfamiliar with its heritage, but beyond the history is a way of understanding Christian faith that, I believe, provides a life-giving alternative to the polarization that permeates postmodern religion. As we move through these six weeks together, my prayer is that we’ll experience our own brand of revival!

I hope that you’ll plan to join us in person over the next six weeks or listen in online to the sermon audio or read the sermons posted here in the blog. I’ll also be leading a class on Tuesday nights at 7:00PM using Steve Harper’s book The Way to Heaven: The Gospel According to John Wesley as a springboard for getting deeper into the discussion.

Having spent a couple of weeks in England this summer studying early Methodism I can tell you that my own faith and resolve has been strengthened. This is an important time in the life of our church, both here and in the larger Methodist family, and I’m convinced that one of the most effective ways we can move forward and recapture the passion and spirit of "scriptural Christianity" is by looking back at our roots.

As always, your comments and questions throughout the series are very welcome!

Loose Items from a Tight-Leaf Notebook

Things observed:

1. So, spinach now has E. Coli in it. I tried to tell my mom that spinach was bad when I was a kid, but some parents never listen. Of course, I said the same thing about beans, squash, and cucumbers, so…

2. The pope got into trouble making statements about radical Islam and, in a historic move, has had to apologize. Here’s another sign of the global culture–anybody, anywhere, can tick anyone off anytime. We live in a world where the extremists get the most press–be it in religion, politics, or any other public sphere. Offer a critique and you’ll be branded an enemy, and this goes to all sides of any ideological conflict. Our world takes itself too seriously and religion has become more about being powerful than being human. Whatever happened to grace?

3. A parishioner gave me an article cut from the Wall Street Journal back in February that talked about the state of Army basic training. In an effort to make the transition easier for people to join a recruit-starved military, trainees are no longer subject to profanity-laced tirades from drill sergeants, are given 8 hours of sleep a night, are allowed more "personal time" and can even have seconds on dessert. The goal, according to the article, was to allow the recruits more time to train on their jobs and basic combat skills.

Okay, as one who went through basic training in 1982, I have to admit that this sounds like a military gone soft. The real value of basic training, for me at least, was the realization that when I was pushed to the limits in terms of physical and emotional stress, I learned that there was always a little bit more that I could take. Just when I was on the verge of quitting, I found out that I could take just a bit more…until I found that any limits I had were largely self-imposed. I left feeling more confident and realized that quitting was never an option.

There are few consequences for quitting in our culture. People quit school, quit church, quit commitments at the drop of a hat when things get uncomfortable. They self-impose limits and, when they meet them, that’s the end of it. It’s a shame to see that that attitude has, in effect, come into the military–which is one place where you really can’t quit or the consequences for everyone around you are serious. Rather than simply lower stress, you have to learn to deal with it.

If we never push our limits, we’ll never grow. It’s true in the Army and it’s true in the church as well. I’m sure there’s a larger sermon in all that somewhere…

4. Today is "Talk Like a Pirate Day." Bet ye didn’t know that, ye scurvy dog! It was started by a couple of guys who were goofing off on a racquetball court one day (go figure) and then became a national phenomenon when Dave Barry picked it up in his column. Now if I could just find a plank…

A Special Privilege

My family and I just returned from a weekend in Ouray, Colorado, where I officiated at a wedding for a young woman who was in our youth group in Colorado Springs. It’s an amazing experience to be involved in people’s lives in this way. I watched her grow up from a giggly freshman to a mature senior and now a wonderful young woman who is marrying a great guy. They both love Christ, are involved in growing in their faith, have strong Christian families, and a great support network of friends and relatives. If you were to paint the perfect scenario you’d like to see for a marriage, this comes pretty close.

So many times I do weddings where the couple is focused on everything but the marriage. It was so nice to be part of a special weekend where the focus was on Jesus and the love that two people have for each other.

We also had a great time together as a family on the long drive. The key? Books on tape!

New Coke and the Church

This morning’s Salt Lake Tribune had a front page story about a recent survey concerning religion in America, which says that we are a more religious nation than previously thought. But as far as where people are practicing their religion, particularly in the realm of Christendom, the survey basically said nothing that we haven’t known for the last three or four decades: Mainline Protestant churches are declining while independent evangelical churches are growing.

I’m not sure why the mainliners (of which I am one by denominational affiliation) don’t get this. The answer for the disparity is quite simple: it has to do with New Coke.

Work with me here…

Back in 1985, the Coca Cola Company decided to unveil a "new and improved" formula for Coke. It was supposed to be sweeter, better tasting, more palatable to the masses. They dubbed it "New Coke" and it was designed and heralded as a replacement for the old, outdated, pedestrian formula of the early 20th century.

Well, as many of you will remember, it bombed…almost put the company under. In less than two months, people had rejected this new attempt at sweetness–designed to please them, mind you–ad were clamoring for the old formula.  Classic Coke was reintroduced and has stayed the same ever since. The Coca Cola web site has an honest self-appraisal of the whole fiasco, if you’re interested.

So many of my mainline clergy peers like to call themselves "progressive" Christians and openly opt for whatever new theology has just come down the pike. Why bother with the old stories of atonement, resurrection, the cross and all that? Why have these debates about Jesus’ divinity, what constitutes sin, that whole doctrine thing? Believe whatever you want, they seem to want to say, because it’ll be sweeter for the masses. This is "new" stuff, new theology for progressive people.

Well, it’s New Coke all over again. People have left this mainline progressive liberalism to go back to what they consider to be classic Christianity, where belief matters, Jesus is Lord and not a first century Dr. Phil, and an empty tomb is still the bedrock of faith. Christianity grew and thrived in the midst of an empire out to kill it because its people largely stayed on a classic message of hope and grace. If the recent survey is any indication, they’re finding it (or at least a semblance of it) by switching brands altogether.

Now understand this…I’m not saying that the churches receiving mainline refugees are all biblically sound either. There’s a lot of stuff in some forms of evangelicalism that is a New Coke of a different kind (like faith is a self help movement, that belief is more important than action, and God wants you to be rich, that sort of thing).

What I’m saying is that unless the United Methodist Church and its mainline counterparts figure out that they need to recapture the classic formula and stop peddling the New Coke of "progressive" Christianity, they may find themselves out of business within a generation or two. Maybe that’s not a bad thing and it certainly would fit historically with the patterns of the past.

I do think, however, that there can be hope if more of our clergy and churches reflect on, preach, and call people to a classic faith where head and heart come together and "practical divinity" and "scriptural Christianity" are once again the focus. We can do that locally in our churches while at the same time telling our denominational executives that we like the classic stuff much better, thank you very much.

The United Methodist Church has just come out with an opportunity for clergy and laity to fill out an online "state of the church" survey. The link is here and I hope you’ll take a few minutes to participate. Even if you disagree with my assessments (and they are, admittedly, pretty biased), your input is helpful, even if only for the reflection it sparks in you. I’ll pass along the survey results when they finally get it all put together.

Think I’ll go crack open a Coke…classic, that is…