PRAYER with Exclamation Points

I love to pray.  Prayer is that wonderful convergence of urgency, love, raw emotion, transparency and faith wrapped in bundled communication with God.  I know that prayer is communication.  But, too much of it is tepid.  I know.  I have prayed that way.  I have heard others pray that way.

There are far too many commas and semi-colons and simple periods in prayer when I come to think of it and when I listen to others praying.  I don’t think it was meant to be that way.  David’s Psalms are not so dispassionate.  That is not what I see when I read the prayers of those in the Bible- Jehoshaphat, Daniel, most of the minor prophets, Jeremiah and of course Ezekiel.  With these, there is much more energy and emotion in their prayers than is commonly heard today.  There prayers are filled exclamations and questions, if not literally at least figuratively.  Most certainly, there are simple sentences involved.  But, many of those would seem to read better if they were in full caps or in some staccato single word sentences.  Some of the prayers may not be brief.  But, what they may lack in brevity, they make up in unrelenting passion and intensity (cf. Ezra 9; Daniel 9; Psalm 27 etc.).

Very few public prayers in the Old and New Testaments seem as disinterested and benign as many that I hear today in public settings.  If our communication is as urgent as it should be, then our voice and fervor should match the urgency.  The woman who grabbed at Jesus’ garment and the thankfully healed Samaritan who threw himself at Jesus’ feet and blind Bartimaeus who shouted at the top of his lungs to gain Jesus’ attention, were among the many who saw any subsequent communication with Jesus as simply a bonus to their clamor for his touch.  When we are so eager to seek the touch of God, it generally bleeds through in our words.

We generally offer more reference to traditional postures of prayer (kneeling, prostrate, lifting our eyes and hands, etc.) in our songs than in our real prayer expressions.  It is time we pray more on our literal knees and with more exclamation points and passion and less visible disinterest.  The world needs God.  God seeks true worshippers who worship in Sprit and truth.  I don’t think either the truth or the Spirit ever come across as blasé.  Neither should the voice of true worshippers.  I, for one, am willing to suffer the indignity of David, dancing before the ark, to express the unquenchable joy of Jesus Christ.  It is not that the world needs to see it.  We simply need to express it and let the world see the results of answered prayer.  John Wesley said that when people are lit on fire by the Holy Spirit, people come from miles to watch them burn.  Perhaps that is what we need in these days of protocol and calm- an attractive fire.



Branded by Love

 
 
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The world has never been more consumer-oriented or brand-driven than it is today. If I started naming brands, chances are a stream of advertising jingles would instantly come to mind from potato chips to fabric softener and homeowners’ insurance. As we shop, we look for recognizable logos on appliances, pictures on coffee containers and insignias on automobiles.

Brand is the quality we expect when we open a can, scissor into a bubble pack, drink another hot cupful, or press down the accelerator. I believe, if God had a brand for us, it would be love. John 13:35 says that love is how the world knows we are Jesus’ disciples.

Love is an inside job. The Apostle Paul once lived a life branded by legalism. He may have had a good-looking brand on the outside, but like an Oreo without filling, he lacked the good stuff — that vital, defining, internal substance God desires. We know his story. Paul met Jesus on the Damascus road. Paul, a man who zealously carried out righteousness as a system of laws and requirements, later explained that even extreme outward acts of righteousness mean nothing without love (1 Corinthians 13).

Deeper than any tattoo, Paul’s entire being was stamped with Christ’s brand of salvific love. I imagine Paul, the gifted author, tried various approaches to explain this love and, finally, in joyful desperation, scribbled across his parchment that God’s love “surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19). How do you describe a love that turns your worldview inside out?

Paul couldn’t keep it to himself. He prayed we would have the ability to grasp “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” and would be “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18–19). In Philippians 1:9–11, Paul prayed our love “will overflow more and more” and that we “keep on growing in knowledge and understanding” so we “understand what really matters” and “live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return,” that we will be “filled with the fruit” of our “salvation — the righteous character produced in our life by Jesus Christ” (NLT). Why was love so important to Paul? He understood the importance of consistent quality on the inside.

Precious metal gets stamped with a hallmark indicating its purity. Our love for God deepens. It is proved genuine as we interact with others. As we grow in the refining processes of grace and mercy, our responses show God is making us holy. More and more, we show “love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7).

The way those outside the church know God’s love is how we act when we get challenged in ways unlike before. Paul indicates love takes us where character is tried, and we choose “the most excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). In these places of decision, God’s brand deepens.

For me, one of those places is interacting with people from unorthodox religions — some of whom I have formerly viewed as “enemies.” I have felt inadequate. I now understand why Jesus said to pray for our “enemies” (Matthew 5:44). Prayer personally invests our hearts. It’s how God helps us shed our prejudices to see our “enemies” are people Christ longs to love through us.

If, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend” (fmchr.ch/mkingjr), then prayer is a force that enables it. Prayer invites Jesus’ into our need for heart change. As we pray, Jesus’ brand moves deeper and deeper into our lives, hallmarking us indelibly. As we like Paul, “press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of” us (Philippians 3:12), we have faith that God is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). And more and more, when the watching world opens up our lives to see what’s inside, they will see the brand of Christ’s love, the trademark of God’s workmanship in us (Ephesians 2:10).

Tammy Bovee is a Spring Arbor University graduate, a songwriter and a freelance author for newspapers and magazines. She’s currently working on a book sharing priceless lessons God has taught her and her husband, Greenville College graduate Jeff Bovee, through their marriage.

DISCUSS IT

1. What role does the cross of Christ serve in branding our lives with love (Luke 9:23)?

2. How do we communicate Christ’s brand to those around us?

3. Who are our “enemies” and how can we commit to pray for them and follow where Jesus leads?



Jet-Plane Prayer

 
 
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Several years ago, I boarded a 737 headed for Ethiopia. It was my first time on an overseas mission trip. I had been invited to join a handful of leaders who were at the top of their fields: a vice president of a major software company, the president of a record label and publishing company, a denominational leader, a megachurch pastor, and a couple of nonprofit leaders.

As the wheels left the tarmac, I came to a startling realization: I didn’t want to go.

It wasn’t a fear of flying, and it wasn’t necessarily that I had something more pressing to attend to. In a moment of clarity, I realized that I didn’t quite understand or affirm the reason we were going.

Why were we going to Africa?

We were planting trees. For Jesus.

The invitation had come from my friend Steve Fitch, founder of the Eden Projects. I wasn’t invited because I had anything to add to the conversation. I was invited because Steve had something he wanted me to see. Eden had multiple reforestation sites in Ethiopia in areas stripped by generations of people using the trees to sell in the market, cook with, and heat their homes. Some regions had become so barren that the wildlife had left and the soil had lost its fertility. Worse, with the lack of underbrush and a healthy root system, the runoff from the escarpment and hillsides had created massive erosion gorges that were not only destroying the land and the lake below, but were creating environmental refugees. These people had nothing but their land and no place to go to if it was taken away from them. Deforestation was destroying communities.

Among other things, Eden focuses first on hiring people from the community to plant seedlings, nurture their growth, and then transplant them on erosion sites. The goal is job creation, environmental care, and community development.

So here was my problem: I was pretty conservative about everything. I grew up believing that anything to do with social action was most likely a departure from the gospel. While I didn’t fully understand the historical social gospel that my elder generation seemed to fear, I knew it was off base.

Not only that, my faith had pretty much been consumed by serving saved people, blessing blessed people, and feeling sorry for lost people. I never considered creation care, social enterprise, or community development that important or relevant to me. While it seemed like good and necessary humanitarian work for others, it didn’t seem applicable to my faith journey as a church leader and seemed too shortsighted to hold any true eternal significance for others.

I was on that plane because a friend had asked me to go. I agreed because God had recently taken me on my own journey that forever changed how I “do” church. My wife, Jen, and I had spent the past few years learning to serve, engaging issues of poverty, homelessness, and helplessness. It may have seemed as though this trip would be in my lane. I thought I had broken through to see things through a new lens; certainly I was more open-minded than before. Yet it still seemed like a stretch to make a connection between planting trees and the gospel.

My issue wasn’t whether or not this was good and necessary work. It was that I couldn’t quite tell from the trip agenda when we were going to share the good news. It was all good, but how were we going to tell people about Jesus?

Signs of my angst were obvious. Just a week before the trip, a friend had asked why I was going. I didn’t say we were planting trees. I told him we were doing some community development work with local pastors. That was true, kind of, but not very specific. I just couldn’t bring myself to say we were planting trees. I couldn’t find the words.

Honestly, I was a little nervous I was taking it too far. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was on a slippery slope that would land me somewhere in a commune where I’d sell all my possessions and fully depart from my conservative theological roots.

So I prayed.

“God, I’m sorry. I’m trying, but I just don’t get it. I don’t want to be on this plane. I feel like I’m wasting time and money. If this is important to you, will you please overcome my ignorance, doubt, and blindness? Will you connect the dots and show me what I’m missing? Amen.”

That was it. A short, honest prayer.

The moment I opened my eyes, someone tapped me on my right shoulder. I turned to see a well-dressed, thirtysomething Ethiopian man with an inquiring look on his face.

“Why are you going to Ethiopia?” he said with a heavy accent.

My mind rushed. Do I tell him community development? Do I tell him the pastor stuff? Do I tell him . . .

“We’re planting trees,” I blurted out.

Not sure why I said that. It was like a confession. Then I just stared at him, bracing for his response. What is he thinking? What am I thinking? Who do I think I am? I don’t even know what I’m doing . . . Who am I to come to another country and think I’m going to make a difference? His country. I’m not even sure I should be doing this.

Silence.

Then an elderly Ethiopian woman leaned over to the man and spoke to him in Amharic. He responded back in Amharic. And she began to wail.

I don’t mean cry a little. I mean wail. She stood up, waving her hands in the air, continuing to speak Amharic loudly. Everyone in that section of the plane could hear her.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“My mother asked me why you were going to Ethiopia.”

“What did you tell her?”

“I told her you were going to plant trees.”

I knew it. I totally knew it. I hadn’t even touched the ground yet, and I’d offended this woman. She was probably praying for my soul, that I would stop being so distracted by the things of this world and focus more on a true gospel.

“What is she saying?”

“My mother is saying that for thirty-eight years she has been praying that God would forgive them for stripping their land and to please send someone to plant trees.”
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I turned to try and communicate with the woman somehow, to let her know that it wasn’t really me doing the work . . . I might plant a few . . . but it was this organization. But before I could say a word, she slapped her hand on my head, closed her eyes, and began to pray for me. Standing in the middle of the airplane. As loud as possible between her wailing . . . she prayed for me.

Unreal.

In a moment I had gained a new appreciation for what it meant to offer hope through engaging need. My heart broke for her. And I was incredibly humbled. Embarrassed a little. Many people had come before me to help with this need. Reforestation in Africa was obviously not starting with me. To this point I had done nothing outside of some financial support to the organization through our church. But it made no difference to this woman. No way around it. Anyone planting trees in Ethiopia was good news to her.

And I saw it even more clearly on the ground. I saw trees planted, jobs created, schools funded, and churches started. Hundreds of people were coming to faith, and entire communities were renewed with hope by the work of the gospel.

My gospel was too small.

Taken from “A Mile Wide” by Brandon Hatmaker. Copyright © 2016 by Brandon Hatmaker. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. www.thomasnelson.com.

Brandon Hatmaker is the founding pastor of Austin New Church and the author of the new Nelson Books release “A Mile Wide: Trading a Shallow Religion for a Deeper Faith” (amilewidebook.com) from which this article is an excerpt.



Jumpman, Orange Thread, Fruit and Free Methodists

 
 
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I’m fascinated by history. It’s my preferred subject. I often think about what history will look like when I’m no longer writing it. One of my favorite things about the Free Methodist denomination is that we made history change in the direction of freedom. We are actually known for being a group of people who lead change. Earlier this year, we dedicated an issue of this magazine to highlight our distinctive freedoms.

Free Methodists are highly motivated people who stand for freedom and liberty to lead and follow according to a lifestyle that calls each person to live like Jesus Christ. We have a responsibility to lead our society and culture. We lead by granting freedom to all people to worship together. We lead by treating women and men as equals and encourage the use of their individual gifts, wherever they are. We treat the poor and disenfranchised with dignity and humanity. We reflect the love of Christ to all people. We empower laity and clergy with equal authority in our churches. We have the freedom to worship God in various ways and encourage the diversity that comes with our various contexts.

What does this mean as a form of our “brand”? The freedoms allow and encourage us to be different in this world. Defining our brand is like a journey of self-discovery. At times, it can be difficult, uncomfortable and time-consuming. To define our brand, we are required to answer several questions: What is our vision? What are the benefits? What do people already know about our brand? What do we want others to associate with our brand?

This is a brand world. You’re carrying a brand whether you know it or not. The distinctive swoosh on the side of your shoe tells everyone you endorse Nike’s brand. The coffee travel mug you’re carrying reveals you’re for Starbucks. You demonstrate your brand loyalty with the shirt featuring a distinctive UA on the sleeve, the blue jeans with the prominent Levi’s rivets, the watch with the icon on the face, and the pen with a symbol crafted into the end.

Jordans and Jeans

When I was younger, I begged for my parents to buy me brand-name clothes. We couldn’t really afford them, but I was “blessed” every once in a while. The first time I ever remember wanting something with a special brand was in the fourth grade. Something amazing, in my estimation, was available on the market. I needed to be part of the elite group that proudly walked the sidewalks and ruled the courts. I wanted Air Jordan basketball shoes — black leather with red, reflective patches and, most importantly, the Jumpman symbol. I grew up in a suburb west of Chicago at the time when Michael Jordan was king, champion and movie star (“Space Jam”). People showed respect — bowed nearly — to anyone wearing Air Jordans.

I begged, pleaded, worked, negotiated, promised and did whatever it took to get the iconic brand strapped to my feet. When I finally got the shoes, I walked with my head in the horizontal position — I wouldn’t dare get a scuff! I protected those shoes like it was my calling in life.

I eventually grew out of the Air Jordan phenomenon and grew into Levi’s blue jeans. You know the ones that have the orange stitching and stamped rivets. The story of denim is a unique one. This simple, ubiquitous fabric is worn by cowboys and models — simultaneously a symbol of the counterculture and the raw material of a major industry. Denim, dating back to 17th century France, is the basis for billion-dollar brands. Icons wear denim with cotton T-shirts, and powerful business leaders wear denim with suit coats and cuff links.

I’m currently into the “skinny jeans” hype. These jeans have a snug fit through the legs and end in a small leg opening. The stretch denim, sometimes containing 2 to 4 percent spandex, allows the jeans to have a slim fit. In high school, before skinny jeans were available for men, I bought jeans from the clothing store’s section for teen girls. I admit it was a strange practice to purchase jeans made for the opposite gender, but, in my mind, the image this “brand” gave me was worth looking ridiculous, buying girl pants and telling the checkout lady they were for my sister when I got funny looks.

Regardless of age, position or vocation, we need to understand the importance of branding. Branding goes hand-in-hand with belonging. The Free Methodist Church in Southern California is known for saying, “It’s good to belong.”

Sneetches and Humans

When I was a child, one of my favorite authors was Dr. Seuss. His “The Sneetches” story describes creatures who desire so badly to be “branded” or “belong” that they make foolish mistakes. You can read the full story at fmchr.ch/dssneetch but here’s a partial paraphrase:

There were two types of Sneetches, star-belly Sneetches whose bellies had stars and plain-belly Sneetches whose bellies didn’t. The stars were not very visible or big, but star-belly Sneetches bragged, “We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches,” and they had nothing to do with the plain-belly Sneetches. The star-bellies would walk right past the plain-bellies without even acknowledging them. The plain-belly children could not even get into a game of ball. Then one day, while the plain-belly Sneetches were moping around, a stranger — a salesman named Sylvester McMonkey McBean — showed up and said, “My friends … I’ve heard of your troubles. I’ve heard you’re unhappy, but I can fix that.” The plain-bellies were intrigued. “My prices are low, and I work at great speed,” said McBean, who put together a very peculiar machine. “You want stars like a star-belly Sneetch? My friends, you can have them for three dollars each!”

Humans, like Sneetches, can be influenced. There are two ways to influence behavior: manipulate it or inspire it. The good news is that everyone has a chance to stand out, learn, improve, build up their skills and belong to a brand worthy of observation.

The brand we represent is one that people desire to be a part of. We stand for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40, 45). We fight for people to have equal value without limiting leadership to one gender. We have a posture of honor for those who multiply and become fruitful in their ministry. We reflect the love of Christ to all people.

Our need to belong is a constant that exists across all people in all cultures. It is a feeling we get when those around us share our values and beliefs. When we have a feeling of belonging, we connect and feel safe. As humans, we crave such a feeling, and we seek it out.

Instant bonds are part of what makes us human. We travel across the country and see someone wearing a T-shirt with our home state brand, and we feel an instant connection. We are likely to speak with strangers if we recognize the accent from our home region.

I traveled across the globe a couple of years ago with my pastor, Shane Bengry, looking to build partnerships with Free Methodists in West Africa. After a week, Shane flew home, and I traveled to East Africa. Near the end of my trip, I had one day to recover before my trek home. Sitting in a hotel restaurant, I felt alone in a different part of the world with no one around me like me. Shortly after my food arrived, I heard a voice in the distance that sounded familiar. The voice itself was not one that I knew, but I heard an American accent. I went over and struck up a conversation with fellow Americans. I immediately felt connected to them. We could speak the same language and understand the same slang. As a stranger in a strange city, for a few moments, I felt like I belonged. As a result of our connection, I trusted those strangers in the restaurant more than any other people around us.

Macs and Moses

Our deep desire to feel like we belong is so powerful that we will do irrational things, go through great lengths and often spend a lot of money to get that feeling. We want to be around people and organizations that are like us and share our beliefs. Our natural sense to belong also make us good at spotting things that don’t belong.

I love Apple’s “Get a Mac” series of commercials that ran from 2006 to 2009. The series is a perfect representation of brand belonging. We have a young, relaxed, good-looking, jeans-wearing “Mac user” with a sense of humor. The “PC user” is older, stuffy, boring and easily irritated. The campaign appealed to people from all walks of life, but it suggested that you will fit in with a Mac if you behave like a Mac.

We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe. They inspire us by making us feel safe, special and not alone — like we belong. The most brand-loyal companies continuously put effort into placing identifiers into the hands of their people. Apple gives you a sticker of its brand with every product for you to place the sticker in a visible location and create an entry for others to feel common ground and belonging.

But we do not always see ourselves reflected in society’s brands, and followers of those brands may not accept us. Someone in history who was “outside of the brand” is Moses. If you recall, Moses was born in an era of oppression. According to the book of Exodus, the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live” (1:16). But the midwives were disobedient to the king. So he gave the order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live” (1:22).

Moses was born, and his mother was able to conceal him for several months. They made a basket, and she placed him in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. Moses’ sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. Pharaoh’s daughter went to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants walked along the riverbank. She saw the basket, opened it, saw the baby and said, “This is one of the Hebrew babies.” His sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” “Yes, go,” she answered.

The girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” Moses’ mother took him and nursed him. When he grew older, his mother took him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became like Pharaoh’s daughter’s son (2:1–10).

Think about the challenges Moses lived through as a person who carried a different brand. As a boy, he may have seemed too Egyptian for the Hebrews and too Hebrew for the Egyptians. As an adult, Moses ran away to a land far away and married the daughter of a priest in another land (2:11–3:1). Once again, Moses was in a strange place with no one like him.

What’s Your Brand?

Perhaps, like Moses, you may feel disconnected from the brands around you. To find your brand, start by identifying the qualities or characteristics that make you distinctive. Ask yourself: What do I do that adds remarkable, measurable, distinguished and distinctive value? Find a place in your community to contribute your gifts and abilities.

For those of us who identify with the Free Methodist brand, I ask the questions again: What is our vision? What are our benefits? What do people already know or think about our brand? What do you want others to associate with our brand?

At our core, we are committed to love. We are called to live holy lives. We are expected to engage in a needs-filled world. We are empowered to serve without restrictions. All of our structures encourage our priorities. We believe the Great Commission requires the transformation of individuals and societies by God’s power and love for His glory. The result is wholeness – whole people bringing the whole gospel of freedom to the whole world. In the church, this wholeness is displayed thought healthy, biblical communities of holy people that multiply steadily. Our brand is anchored in a life transformed. Our brand image is to shadow the Imago Dei, which asserts that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God.

Jay Cordova is an ordained elder who serves as the director of communications for the Free Methodist Church – USA. He previously worked as a startup business entrepreneur and coached small businesses in a Michigan incubator.



Airline Food

 
 
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I’ve always thought that putting the word “Free” next to “Methodist” was strange. I mean, isn’t there a touch of the oxymoron in saying “Free Methodist”? How can you be essentially methodical and yet modify yourself with an adjective that is essentially not methodical? It has always reminded me of other strange word pairs like “Led Zeppelin,” “civil war” and “airline food.”

But (you’re ahead of me here, aren’t you?) the word “Methodist” doesn’t really mean “methodical.” It goes way beyond that. It goes beyond methodical to “intense,” “intentional” and “ferociously single-minded.” The mental image (another oxymoron) I have is of 5-foot-3-inch John Wesley (the first Methodist) bravely riding into English towns on his horse knowing there was a drunken mob waiting to beat him to a pulp. That’s the heart of a Methodist: braving a beating to tell the mob’s members that Jesus loves them.

I also think of Wesley in 1771, standing in the Bristol New Room, calling for missionaries to go to America; being heard by young Francis Asbury who left England never to return, nurturing Methodism across the American colonies.

Asbury was a bishop but didn’t have an office. He didn’t have a staff. He didn’t even have a home. He just had that same fierce desire, the Methodist heart, to tell folks that Jesus loves them like crazy.

Free Methodists have that kind of Methodist heart, not dull hearts that rely on a methodical ritualism. And then, just to make it clear who we are, we preface it with “Free.” Our hearts are on fire, and we’re Free!

But wait a second. Is that really it? Is the freedom really about us? Is that what the “Free” means; that we are free? Like we’re free in the Spirit to worship how we wish? Or is it that we’re Methodists who believe the Good News is free for all and freely shared? Or is that we’ve been freed from the strands of sin and habits that shackled us to the perpetual cycle of sin and forgiveness? Or is it that this movement is freed from politics and ecclesial heavy-handedness? Or is that slavery doesn’t belong among us in any of its forms; that every person should be free?

Yes, that’s it. It’s all of those. That word “Free” means “free from,” “free to,” “free for,” “free of,” “free within” and “free without.”

Does a movement like that sound too good to be true? Sure it does. We all know we’re not always that great. But this is what we aspire to be … Free Methodists. The fact that we’re sometimes less than we aspire to be doesn’t mean we’re going to quit aspiring! And the fact that we’ve immortalized our aspiration in our name helps us keep on track.

Like a lot of teenagers, my parents would sometimes admonish me before I left the house, “Remember you’re a Roller.” The subtext was “live up to your bloodlines.” Remember you’re a Free Methodist!

Free Methodists have a peculiar name, and it’s fitting, because we’re different. We’re not like the church down the block or the preacher on the TV. Oh, yes, we share the core beliefs of all Christ-followers, and we celebrate the other streams of Christianity. But without demeaning any other tradition, we really like the peculiar kind of people we are … a people free, freed and freeing; a people ferociously, single-mindedly passionate about the deep and wide work of the grace of God in our lives and available for everyone, everywhere.

Bishop David Roller served for 17 years as a Free Methodist missionary in Mexico and then for 10 years as Latin America area director for Free Methodist World Missions. He was first elected a bishop in 2007.



Tangles and Tantrums

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My daughter hates to comb her hair. A simple question every morning — “Did you brush your hair?” — elicits such response that you might think I asked her to jump off a bridge, poke her eye out with a fork, or enter a swarm of angry bees.

Some days (they are seldom, I pick my battles), when it is important that Brianna look a little better than just barely presentable (she is beautiful but some circumstances require not looking like you have just hopped out of bed, pretty as you may be first thing in the morning), I do her hair for her. Much to her chagrin, I do the necessary things to mold her hair into something attractive rather than its daily look that leaves a person wondering if she rolled through a field of burrs. I wet it down, spray it with detangler and gently move the brush through small areas until all tangles are removed and it rests smoothly and silkily on her head. Occasionally (maybe once a year), I will blow it dry and curl it or straighten it to remove any more imperfections or inconsistencies.

On these occasions when I do my daughter’s hair, I can guarantee one of two reactions and oftentimes both. One, she will move. As she jerks this way and that (and sometimes screams and cries too), or walks away from me, the process is more painful as the tugging of the brush becomes more, or the hot straightener touches her skin by accident. Not only is it more painful, it takes at least twice as long. If she would just stand still, the deed would be done in no time at all. Two, she tries to do it on her own. She is convinced she can get those tangles out as well as I can or without as much pulling. She angrily grabs the brush and goes at it with so much gusto that, like every other morning, she does not get all the way through. She is not doing anything wrong (apart from her attitude) by brushing her hair. She just cannot get it like I can. I have more experience and better perspective. After she is done, I have to take the brush and do it all over. Again, time would have been saved if she would have just trusted me to do the work I do well.

Does this sound familiar? It does to me. It sounds an awful lot like how I respond as the Lord tries to mold me.

I move. Gentle, compassionate and full of grace, Jesus comes to turn my mess into something attractive. He wants to redeem my wounds and make me a beautiful representation of Himself. While He is gently trying to do His work, I fight. Sometimes I might even scream and cry. I argue. I say “but” a lot and hold onto the lies that have become such a part of me. Instead of staying close, I move away. The process of becoming like Jesus hurts more and takes longer.

I take over. I think, “All right, let’s get this done. I can make myself who God wants me to be!” I pour myself into Bible study. I follow rules. I serve. The trouble is that even in all the good things I am doing, I do not see myself from Jesus’ perfect perspective. I do not have the experience that Jesus has at cleaning up hearts and making people holy. I can do some good things, but I am going to miss some spots and Jesus ultimately is going to have to come in and do it over.

I don’t want to be the little girl fighting the brush or trying to do it myself when I cannot do it well. I want to be surrendered to the One who can take my tangles and turn them into a testimony, who can take my snarls and sanctify me, who can change the reflection in the mirror from a mess into a message of love and grace as I look more and more like Him.

In the middle of a hair-inspired meltdown, I often tell Brianna that it would not be so bad if we did this every day, if she took more care or let me take more care regularly. The tangles would not build up over time, but just be those formed by a night of sleep. In the same way, letting Jesus take the proverbial brush in our lives is not just a onetime deal. There is a first-time (big-time) salvation where He does quite a job with us, forgiving our sins and making us new by His shed blood, but we must also be available for regular maintenance. We need to give Him the brush daily. Sometimes without warning we fall into old habits, moving away and fighting or trying to do it all on our own. In those times, do not give up hope. Do not succumb to the feelings of failure. Do not assume the tangles are back to stay. Give back the brush. He is faithful, and His mercies are new.

Kristyn Woodworth is a conference ministerial candidate in the Southern Michigan Conference.

DISCUSS IT

  1. Can you relate to the author’s perspective?
  2. How can you see yourself from Jesus’ perspective?


Take the “Truth in Relationships” Quiz

By Jim Burns

Why is it that some marriages die while others thrive? I’m convinced that the reason is really quite simple.

Relationships die along what I call the “path of protection,” while thriving relationships flourish along the “path of growth.”

Now, any relationship might seem fine on the outside. But introduce a little conflict to the mix, and you’ll find out in a hurry which “path” your marriage is on!

When confronted with a problem, the dying relationship is only interested in one thing–protection against pain. Both parties involved avoid personal responsibility for their feelings, behavior, and the consequences they bring.

This avoidance leaves both parties with only three alternatives–compliance (giving up out of fear of conflict or disapproval); control (an attempt to change the other party by instilling guilt or fear); or indifference (resistance or total withdrawal). Thus, the relationship is damaged.

Not so with the thriving relationship. When presented with a conflict, both parties choose the path of growth, intent to learn more about what the other is going through. As a result, each assumes personal responsibility for their own feelings, behavior, and consequences.

In learning about each other, both parties also learn valuable lessons about themselves, leading to a season of exploration and understanding–ultimately resulting in a deeper intimacy in the relationship–a greater sense of well-being and love, more fun, and joy, and also a greater capacity to bear each other’s pain.

Now, what about your marriage? How open and honest is it? Well, let me suggest you take the “Truth in Relationships” quiz and find out.

When confronted with a problem in your relationship, ask yourself the following questions:

1. What’s the “story behind the story” of what just happened?

2. Are we being honest with ourselves and with each other about what’s really going on here?

3. Are we willing to seek counsel and get the help we need to rectify this situation?

4. Can we honestly admit to ourselves and each other the kind of relationship we really have here–either thriving or dying?
 
 
WLFMC is currently hosting a Connection Group study about marriages. Join us Sunday evenings at 6 in the Parlor. 


What Will the Church Do Wen the Freaks and Weirdos Show Up?

by Karl Vaters

Our churches are filled with normal people.

Normal to us, that is. Normal like you and me.

The church is also filled with freaks and weirdos. Some churches are filled with freaks and weirdos sporting tattoos and piercings. Others are filled with freaks and weirdos in suits and ties. Or overalls and work boots. The list goes on.

One church’s freak is another church’s normal.

Welcoming the Stranger

The Bible tells us frequently to welcome the stranger among us.

Most churches say we welcome everyone. But what would happen if the freaks and weirdos who aren’t our freaks and weirdos started to show up?

What would happen if the freaks and weirdos who aren’tour freaks and weirdos started to show up?

That question came up during a recent chat with another pastor. The pastor’s response was “sadly, we’ll probably compromise on their sin in order to welcome them in.”

My reaction to this pastor’s statement was so automatic and visceral that I surpised myself.


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73% Sounds Like a Lot

by Rick Nier

 

Hey Parents. I’m going to be a little blunt today. This post may sound self-serving, but there’s a truth you need to hear.

I was reading Barna research today. You can see the article here.

They have done their homework and found that 73% of us Americans identify as Chistians. Woo Hoo, let’s celebrate! That means 3 out of every 4 people in American are professing to follow the commands of Jesus. Never mind that most of us can turn on the evening news or look at our newspaper and readily see that 3 out of 4 people are certainly not following the commands of Jesus.

73%. That’s a lot. Even if that many people were simply trying to be like Christ, we would have a pretty good thing going on.

Oh….wait a minute….

Barna doesn’t stop with asking people what they profess to believe. They ask them how they are practicing their professed beliefs. So Barna defines a ‘practicing Christian’ as someone who identifies as a Christian and attends a church service at least once a month.

Once a month?!? The rant you are about to read is not against Barna. They have to set the standard somewhere, but can we all agree that if people who say they love Jesus are only able to drag themselves to a community meeting of Jesus-followers once every four weeks, then we are clearly not expecting much? And certainly not enough??

We, as Christian adults, are expecting children to grow up and live out the principles taught in the Bible. How are they supposed to do that when they have only been to church once a month?

By the way, when Barna factors in the once-a-month attendance, the number of practicing Christians in America drops to 31%. Does that sound a bit more like the America you know?

So parents, I don’t mean to sound harsh, but kids can’t drive themselves to church. They don’t dictate the family calendar. But they can rise up to match our expectations. My children haven’t complained about going to church in years. They know it’s expected. And if you’re muttering to yourself that pastor’s kids would obviously have no choice, let me tell you that my good habits were instilled in me by my parents, neither of whom were pastors. (By the way, thanks Mom and Dad!)

We can’t expect to train up a child in the way they should go by exposing them to training once a month.

I’m not sure I want to even know how low the percentage would get if we knew how many professing Christians were attending every week? So parents, what can you do?

1. Make church attendance, as a family, a priority. 

Lionel Richie told us this would be easy like Sunday morning. Anyone who has a kid knows that Lionel Richie wasn’t talking about wrangling kids in the car to go to church. But make it a habit. You get them to school, sports, dance and a few meals every day. Just make this a priority.


2. Schedule something during the week for the kids.
 

Most likely there is a church in your area with some sort of kid’s club. Get them there! They’ll have fun with other kids and receive training they’ll need later in life to defend their faith.

3. Talk about it at least twice a week during a meal.

I know, this means making sure you have meals together. That’s another good habit. But take time to read a verse or two and discuss how it applies to your family.

Some of these things may be small things, but they will add up to big things in your family’s life. And it’s a pretty good percentage chance that it will all be for the better.

 
This post originally appeared at Rick’s blog, in response to the Barna post from Wednesday. 


The State of the Church – 2016

The Christian church has been a cornerstone of American life for centuries, but much has changed in the last 30 years. Americans are attending church less, and more people are experiencing and practicing their faith outside of its four walls. Millennials in particular are coming of age at a time of great skepticism and cynicism toward institutions—particularly the church. Add to this the broader secularizing trend in American culture, and a growing antagonism toward faith claims, and these are uncertain times for the U.S. church. Based on a large pool of data collected over the course of this year, Barna conducted an analysis on the state of the church, looking closely at affiliation, attendance and practice to determine the overall health of Christ’s Body in America.

Most Americans Identify as Christian
Debates continue to rage over whether the United States is a “Christian” nation. Some believe the Constitution gives special treatment or preference to Christianity, but others make their claims based on sheer numbers—and they have a point: Most people in this country identify as Christian. Almost three-quarters of Americans (73%) say they are a Christian, while only one-fifth (20%) claim no faith at all (that includes atheists and agnostics). A fraction (6%) identify with faiths like Islam, Buddhism, Judaism or Hinduism, and 1 percent are unsure. Not only do most Americans identify as Christian, but a similar percentage (73%) also agree that religious faith is very important in their life (52% strongly agree + 21% somewhat agree).

barna_sotc_charts_v4


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