Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Discipline of Love

The Discipline of Love: A Quiet Pentecost and a Manger

Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love divine
Love was born at Christmas; star and angels gave the sign.
– Christina G. Rossetti, 1885

In the year 2015, we are living through massive geo-political, racial, religious, economic, and ecological disruptions. Not surprisingly, cynicism is deeply rooted within us. Religious intolerance has reached new levels. Trust in police and governmental structures has eroded. Sometimes I think our time is one of those in which not one, but many of the accumulated wounds of the centuries are being lanced – racially, religiously, economically, ecologically. Many people fiercely cling to their personal “way,” and hold out in fear to changes that are being thrust upon our globe.

In such a time, what shall we do, but risk all to pray again for a “rebirth of wonder,” * to hope again for the Prince of Peace to be born among us and take root in every heart?

In collecting the stories for A Quiet Pentecost, I was reminded of the story in John 20. After the crucifixion, the disciples are holed up in fear “behind locked doors.” Even so, Jesus comes among them with the message: Peace be with you! Fear cannot contain God’s peace! At Christmas, we celebrate that Jesus comes in a manger in the humility of a baby with the same message, inviting us into the Presence of Divine love, hope, and peace.

Our invitation this Christmas season is to await the renewal of “Love all lovely, Love divine” again in our own troubled hearts and within our world. There are many legitimate fears in our society. The declaration of Christmas, as well as of Resurrection, is that God is more powerful than our fears, that in the midst of our fears our invitation is to hear that quiet voice of assurance, the voice that love is an invitation and a discipline. It is the invitation to make peace within our own hearts, and then daily to discern where the discipline of love is calling us.  The invitation is to live in God’s realm of love and justice and seek to be partakers of the Divine nature in our inner attitudes and in our exterior actions. Love is sometimes joy; it is often very difficult work, challenging us to keep growing, to keep confronting our fears and our limitations. Divine love invites us to daily keep the discipline to which Jesus calls us, to “abide in my love” (John 15:10).

We offer a great challenge to one another when we bless each other this Christmas season with the words:

“The Peace of Christ be with you!”

* Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “I am waiting.”

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Developing Worship Centers

Nancy Dibelius describes how to establish a focal point for worship that is rich in symbolism in A Quiet Pentecost. She explains how to develop a particular theme and then bring it to life in a symbolic way. This process can be used for specific events or retreats, as well as for developing the worship theme. The process works in a conference room or a sanctuary:

The first step in designing worship is to explore and understand a theme; find a way to incorporate the theme into your own rhythm of life and prayer. Before you can invite others into a space where the experience becomes real, it must first be real for you and your journey. If you are developing a retreat or special event, have a clear theme. If you are developing a worship center for corporate worship, work with the pastor and worship team to understand the theme for worship. If there are key ideas for the sermon or prayers or hymns already developed, work with these, as well. As you think on these themes or the scriptures for worship, choose one or two focal ideas that uniquely embody the theme for you and let these become part of your daily rhythm of prayer and reflection. Once you have lived with the theme for a while, lift up your experiences in prayer.
Once you have chosen a scripture, read through it several times; in your imagination, what do you see, what do you hear, what do you smell, what is there to touch? Make a list of these things and then go back to the scripture, hymns, and prayers, looking for additional sights and sounds and add them to your list. Has some clear visual emerged? Consider the space in which you will be worshiping. How do you transform that space so that it is inviting and becomes holy space for others? After you have a sense for the way in which you wish to transform the room, think about how to accomplish it. See the image in your mind. Consider everyday materials that could be used to turn the vision into reality. Start your own collection of what I refer to as “holy hardware”—fabric, candles, candle-holders, crosses, pitchers, bowls, stones, worship-related objects, etc. If you are doing this for the first time, try it out. Find a place similar in size to the space you will be using and actually lay out the room as you have imagined it. Walk around in it and rehearse what will happen there. When you are satisfied, draw a sketch or take a photograph, make a list of the materials you have used, and be sure you can reproduce it easily.

            Now that you have a visual for the room, consider details. If you are using an altar, how will you design a worship center for the altar? How will you coordinate the altar with the larger visual for the room? Consider colors, texture, objects that will represent key symbols, sounds, smells, and things to touch. Don’t overdo; sometimes less is more. If you end up with too many symbols, congregants will not focus on the key symbol; they will be distracted. Be sure that you understand why you are using a specific symbol.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Start a Quiet Pentecost in your Congregation in 2015

The ministry of spiritual formation is becoming the leaven in the Bread of Jesus Christ—gradually forming and shaping the culture and ethos of our congregation. We are raising up spiritual leaders and empowering them in their calling. The ministry provides the container for a committed core group to delve deeper into spiritual practice. We are enabling members to reach out into the world and become agents of God’s redemptive, saving grace. (p. 105, A Quiet Pentecost)

These powerful words come from Cherri Johnson at First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They reflect the depth of commitment, community, and spiritual awakening that occurs when people live the Christ-like life of prayer and surrender. As individuals steep themselves in spiritual disciplines, particularly daily prayer, they receive assurance of the Spirit’s invitation to the devoted life of love. Cherri Johnson shares how she developed a focused ministry in spiritual formation over a period of 10 years and the way individuals who have been taught the ways of prayer and small group spiritual formation have created a climate of profound love and service within this congregation.
Cindy Serio describes what can happen when we pray regularly.

One morning as I was meditating on Luke 4:18, these words shimmered off the page straight into my heart: “proclaim release to the captives.” Suddenly I knew God was sending me to the women at a local prison. After a long conversation with the chaplain, he asked me why I was there and I was honest: “I don’t know. I only know that God wants me to be here. He smiled a knowing smile and said, “Follow me.” (p. 60)

Cindy Serio’s story of the impact of her listening ministry with incarcerated women shows how one loving person can make a difference in the lives of many individuals.
As individuals within congregations learn to pray together, congregations can be enlivened by a new sense of mission and purpose. Brenda Buckwell tells the powerful story of a fragile urban congregation that found new life as their leadership team learned to pray the scripture together over several months.
I was astonished. The leadership team of the small urban congregation had just signed their death certificate. In response to the question “What is your greatest desire in ministry?” a tenterhearted gentleman in his early seventies, with head held high, stated, “To keep the doors of the church open until the oldest generation dies.” The team was not surprised by the man’s response. . . . In my astonishment, I paused a moment and then leveled the playing field of mission and ministry for this congregation. With a deep breath and the infilling of the Spirit, I replied: “You can certainly do that if you would like. I can speak to the bishop about sending someone here to your declining ministry to do just that, close the congregation. I am just not that pastor. If you would like to venture forth with me, we can discover God’s desire and mission for this congregation together.” Now it was the team’s turn to be surprised. That very night the leadership team had their first experience of lectio divina, and the journey to amazing new life began at First United Methodist Church in Zanesville, Ohio. (pp. 49-50)

After six months prayerfully discerning mission together, the team unanimously decided to open The LifeWell Free Store in unused areas of their downtown church building. An ecumenical board was created. The community embraced this store where “no money changed hands” and the congregation now thrives.
            As we begin the New Year, invite the Holy Spirit into your heart and into your congregation anew. The book, A Quiet Pentecost: Inviting the Spirit into Congregational Life, relates the experience of more than 40 people who are teaching spiritual practices to individuals and to their church councils and other decision-making bodies. The model for our awakening is taken from John 20 in which Jesus comes among the discouraged disciples after his crucifixion, astonishes them with His presence proclaiming: “Peace be with you.” As He breathes the Holy Spirit upon them, He commissions them for their ministry in the name of the Resurrected One.

            Jesus invites us in the same way today. A Quiet Pentecost is designed to encourage you as well as guide you in deepening your spiritual formation ministry. Video resources are now available to use along with the book’s study guide on this blog. Look around the new tabs at the top of the page. Use these with your planning group along with the study guide.

Let 2015 be the year to receive new life in the Holy Spirit, as we learn to listen for Jesus’ guidance.
Post and photo from: Upper Room Book Blog: Click on the link for easy access to ordering A Quiet Pentecost from Upper Room Books.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Remembering Bishop Rueben Job

From One Degree of Glory to Another

A Tribute to the Life and Death of Bishop Rueben P. Job,
Feb. 7, 1928 – Jan. 3, 2015

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (NRSV)

The countenance of Bishop Rueben P. Job shows us the meaning of this extraordinary vision for Christian life, expressed by St. Paul. As tributes pour in for our beloved Bishop Job, words such as humble, faithful, prayerful, visionary, spiritual mentor are used to describe him, as one “living and praying in the Spirit of Christ.”

As pastor, Bishop, World Editor of the Upper Room, author of more than 20 books, mentor and spiritual director to many, Bishop Job exemplified the spiritual life to which he constantly called us. In Bishop Job’s manner of living and dying, we glimpse the possibility of the transformed life described by St. Paul. You and I are invited to look face to face into the glory of God and to allow ourselves to be transformed from one degree of glory into another as did Bishop Job.

Raised on a prairie farm in North Dakota, he graduated in 1957 from Evangelical Theological Seminary, one of two seminaries joining to create Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Bringing the Evangelical United Brethren legacy into The United Methodist Church, Bishop Job became known for his call for the renewal of spiritual life within the church. He contributed to this renewal with his constant stream of publications including A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, co-written with Norm Shawchuck, followed by A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People, A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God. His book, Three Simple Rules, brought the themes of the historic Wesleyan Societies into contemporary life.

Like so many others, I also knew Bishop Job in a more personal way. He graciously became a discernment partner for us in our family decision in 1993 to move from Northern California to Northern Indiana to work with the renewal of Oakwood Spiritual Life Center. I well remember personal visits and phone conversations in which his wisdom helped confirm our decision.  From this move a few years later came my work at Garrett-Evangelical as Professor of Spiritual Formation.

As we thought on the possibility of creating an endowed professorship in spiritual formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, we could not imagine a better way to honor the seminary’s alumnus, Rueben Job, and to assure the continuation of his work in spiritual formation than to ask his permission to seek the endowment in his name. He honored us by allowing us to honor him in this way.

Peace and blessings, Rueben, in this transition for which you so well prepared yourself. In your own writings on dying and your peaceful passing, you show us how the “mortal body puts on immortality” (I Corinthians 15:53). You surely are being transformed from the degree of glory you shared with us in earthly life to a yet brighter degree of glory in the eternal life.

Prayers for Beverly and your family.

Find many more tributes to the life and witness of Bishop Job at The Upper Room website.

Dwight Judy, Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Formation, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, author of A Quiet Pentecost: Inviting the Spirit into Congregational Life