Sunday, February 28, 2010

Small Groups

Small Group ministry has been around the United Methodist Church for a long, long time. What is surprising is that we do not do more of it. John Wesley, the father of Methodism, got us started down that road back in the 1800's with his emphasis on the Society group as the primary gathering place for those called Methodists. Wesley was a reformer wanting only to see renewal come to the Church of England so he mandated that good Methodists go to a small accountability group during the week and to the Church of England services on Sunday. God had other plans for the people called Methodists.
Whenever we take even a casual look at our Methodist heritage, we see this strong focus on small group ministry. It is not surprising that we have moved away from it since such meetings require face-to-face communication and personal accountability. Nowadays we do too much of our communication through email and internet social groups which speaks of our preference for the impersonal over the personal.
Currently, I am involved with two small group ministries. Disciple Bible Study provides the forum for one and a recent Bruce Wilkinson book, You Were Born for This" has become the focus for the other. One group numbers about fifteen and the other about ten. After each one of these gatherings, I am so renewed by the fresh and honest faith being expressed by those who sit around the room with me. While I am perceived as the leader, it is I who is being so richly blessed in my spiritual life. It is always amazing the way God uses each of us to love, care for, and minister to others.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A "Luke 15" Moment

I found it a few weeks ago. It had been lost a long time. When I found it, I realized it has been gone for almost a year. I had missed it. I had looked for it. Turned the room upside down a few times, but all my effort resulted in nothing. What I had lost and have now found was a spiritual journal. I started keeping it in December of '99. Instead of writing in a book, I elected to use a black floppy disk. When I started the practice of journaling, it quickly became a part of my early morning devotional time.
I must confess that there is not an entry for every day. I have never been that kind of journal keeper. In fact, in the beginning I made the decision that it would be ok not to enter something every day. I wanted desire to be my motivation and not guilt. It has been a good spiritual discipline for me. It is good to look back at some of the struggles and see how it all worked out. It is good to be able to read and remember some of the prayers and conversations with God. I have enjoyed recording some of the spiritual insights which have come through the scripture as well as through some of the various writings used over the years.
Somehow, it was lost. Disappeared. Things have a way of disappearing around my office. Not being as organized as I ought to be means that sometimes things of value get swallowed up by the clutter. Something like that must have happened to my journal laden black floppy disk. Several times I had gone through a stack of disks, but never was the right one found. Until the other day. All of a sudden, as if uncovered by the finger of God, it was clearly in view. I popped it into the hard drive to make sure it was indeed my journal and then I sat back and had my "Luke 15" moment.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Gray Thumb

My thumb was gray last night at the end of the Ash Wednesday service. I ran water over it, applied some soap, and rubbed it dry with a rough paper towel. The gray was still there. I suppose preachers who do Ash Wednesday services run the risk of leaving with a gray thumb. Actually, I wish it was just the thumb. Ash Wednesday worship is a powerful moment of worship for the people of God, but it is also an unsettling moment. Most everyone who came last night knew that before the work of worship was done, ashes were going to be placed on their forehead, and they would hear it said, "Remember, you are going to die." The words of the ritual may have been, "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return," but the message remains the same.
As the one who imposes the ashes and says the words, I find it to be an unsettling moment. After saying the words of the ritual a hundred times or more, the meaning of those words about our mortality really settles down in a deep place in the soul. I can never get away from the realization that the people before me are those I care about and, here I am, looking them in the eyes, telling them they are going to die. It is just unsettling. Some who stand before me bear the marks of aging, but some also are carried to the ashes by parents. These, too, are marked and hear the same words. Yes, them, too. They, too, are a part of that crowd bearing mortality.
Last night another group showed up as well. I found myself remembering and seeing some from previous Ash Wednesday moments who were no longer here among us, but in the heavenly place. Their coming in my memory made it one of those "Yes,...but" moments. Yes, it is true that we shall all die. But, it is also true that death does not have the last word for we shall live as surely as Christ now lives and reigns among us and in the heavenly place. As I left the service with a gray thumb and an unsettled spirit, it was good to hear that word resonating in the inner places of my heart.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Small Places

When I went to Talbotton as the Methodist preacher in 1976, it was a small place. Still is. The last census reported a few over 1,000 folks. However, small does not mean insignificant. Per acre it may be the most historical place in Georgia. The current Macy chain has its roots in the Straus family who started their first retail business in Talbotton back in the 19th century. The first session of the Georgia Supreme Court was held there in 1846. Before the depression took its toll, there were two colleges. Even the Methodist Church is a part of the historical parade. It was built in 1857 and is one of the earliest brick churches in Georgia. The parsonage was built in 1890 and is on the National Historical Registry. Legend has it that the town fathers deciding against the railroad coming through changed what might have been. Who knows?
However, one of the most influential men Talbotton produced was a man named Clarence Jordan. Back in the 1940's before anyone was thinking about racial injustice and the need for radical change, Clarence Jordan was living it out in a bold experiment in an inter-racial communal farming community known as Koinonia Farm near Americus, Georgia. While seldom mentioned his impact cannot be forgotten. His vision inspired many, including Millard Fuller whose name will always be attached to Habitat for Humanity.
While I never met Clarence Jordan, my stop in Talbotton introduced me to his story. It is a Kingdom of God story. It is the mustard seed story all over. From the smallest of places, the Kingdom of God becomes visible in mighty ways for those who have eyes to see.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Unexpected Things

Sometimes as I am inviting people to share something of their walk with God, I ask the question, "What has been the highwater mark of your walk with God today? Where have you in this day been made most aware of His presence?" I thought about the question Sunday as I left worship. I thought about it because I knew the answer. Most folks would have thought that my response might center around the wonderful anthem. It was indeed a good one! Or, others might have thought that I would point toward the preaching. For me it was one of those preaching moments when God seemed to truly be at work in both the preacher and those who were listening. Some Sundays preaching is characterized as a struggle, but last Sunday was one of those special Sundays of blessing when the sermon seemed to flow from beginning to end.
But, still I have not spoken of that moment which I would count as the highwater mark of my experience with God during those hours. It actually came after the benediction as I stood in the hallway with a couple. They were telling me of their need to move and something of the struggle in their lives which had precipitated the decision. We were together for no more than five minutes. We were together long enough to share our hearts, shed a few tears, and offer a prayer toward heaven. As I prayed the last words of the prayer, I knew that my day of ministry was really all about that one single moment of prayer in the hallway with a couple broken by the circumstances of life. What was important was not leading worship, preaching, or teaching a Sunday School group. What was important about last Sunday was the prayer in the hallway after the benediction had been sounded.
God does bring us to the unexpected moments. As I was doing all the preparation for ministry on Sunday, it never really occurred to me that the most important moment would be the one for which I could least prepare. Such is often how God works with us. It makes all the more important the daily work of prayer for from those moments we are made ready for the unexpected things God has for us.