Our Wesleyan Heritage
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker
Recently, I visited my mother and took her to Sunday school and worship in the small congregation in Mississippi where I grew up.
Several years ago I feared this congregation might be discontinued because of its decline, but I was amazed at the new vitality I observed during my visit.
Because of caring and strong pastoral and lay leadership, the congregation had revived. The facilities were impressive and inviting. The spirit was excellent. The focus of the congregation was on making disciples and growing in grace.
What impressed me the most was the presence of young adults and their children, and these young adults are the children of parents in my generation who were never involved in the life of the church.
How could it be that the congregation was being renewed by the enthusiastic participation of young adults who, as far as I know, were not reared in the church? Of course, the answer is that the Spirit of God is always speaking and in every generation is able to raise up a new people of God.
One of the most important theological convictions of those of us who are Christians in the Wesleyan tradition is “prevenient grace,” meaning the grace of God that “goes before” and guides us to repentance and personal faith in Jesus Christ. The doctrine of prevenient grace gives us our confidence in the task of evangelization. We assume that the grace of God is working in lives of persons even before they are aware of it. We are therefore motivated to establish relationships with persons outside the church and invite them to a new life as disciples of Jesus Christ in his church.
Dear Friends and Members,
The peace and power of God be with you and your families. We have received loving correspondences from our northern friends and members, with concerns about damages from hurricane Irma. The church and parsonage did sustain some damage, although it was not as bad as many others. We have damage to the bell tower roof and consequently our sound room was drenched. I dried out our sound equipment and removed it from the area. It did start back up after the drying was complete, praise the Lord! Nevertheless, we are not able to reinstall it in the sound room because we cannot get a contractor to repair it, they are all so busy. The sound room continues to get water damage despite the temporary fixes we tried to make.
The parsonage has some siding missing and the church sign was severely damaged also. We do have contractors scheduled to look at and repair the problems as soon as possible. There are schools and other properties damaged that need attention immediately. The church service center of Avon Park lost its roof completely and they are using the parsonage garage for storage and to conduct business for the needy in the community.
Consequently, there will be costs involved in rebuilding the sound room and to repair the roof and sign and siding. If you feel inclined to do so, you are welcome to send a donation to the church to help with these expenses. All donations should say attention to hurricane Irma repairs.
I will seek your prayers for a speedy rebuilding of the church properties.
May God Richly Bless You All!
Rev. Rick Stackhouse
"And Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you."
Grace, divine pardon and forgiveness; the power of God working within to renew our nature. Also, free, unconditional love that enlivens the one who is loved to become and do what God desires.
One of the important things that set us apart as United Methodists from other denominations is our understanding of God’s grace. Although there is only one grace, we see it working in three distinctive ways. Here we’ll look at one of those ways: sanctifying or perfecting grace.
Justifying grace causes a relational change between us and God. We are brought to realize and trust (have faith) that we are restored to relationship with God. Whereas justifying grace brings about a change in relationship status with God, sanctifying grace brings about change in us. Justifying grace aligns us with God, but sanctifying grace works to keep us aligned with God. Where justifying grace is a beginning of a relationship with God, sanctifying grace is the process of living that relationship out. Justifying grace says, “God loves us just as we are;” sanctifying grace says, “God loves us too much to let us stay the same.”
Just as a one-sided marriage fails, a one-sided relationship with God fails. We must actively participate in our relationship with God for it to thrive, and sanctifying grace gives us the ability to do that. We show our love for God by our actions performed by the empowerment of God’s grace accepted in trust (aka faith). As we grow in our relationship with God, we grow in love, becoming more like Jesus, which means we also grow in love of neighbors and enemies!
John Wesley would sometimes call this “perfecting grace,” but he did not mean that one becomes perfect. Rather, his understanding was that we become so full of God’s love that our intentions are pure in our love of God and humanity (neighbor or enemy).
Here are some Bible passages that help us understand God’s sanctifying grace.
The italics help emphasize the concept of sanctifying grace:
•Philippians 2: 12-13 “Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (NRSV)
•Philippians 3:12-13 “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” (NRSV)
•Matthew 7:24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” (NRSV)
•Colossians 3:10 [You] have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. (NRSV)
•John 14:12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. (NRSV)
THE APOSTLES’ CREED, TRADITIONAL VERSION
(As printed at 881 of the United Methodist Hymnal)
I believe in God the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
4 Clues for Inviting Others to Church Effectively
Lewis Center Director Doug Powe says many people just don’t like inviting other people to church, in part because faith is so personal and in part because they fear rejection. He provides four clues for inviting in a way that is genuine, specific, honest, and expectant.
Many of us have been in conversations about inviting new people to our congregation and somebody always says, “Everybody I know already goes to church,” which takes them off the hook for inviting new people. Statistically speaking, the range of weekly church attendance is highest for the Silent Generation (51%) and lowest for older millennial (27%). Based on these statistics from the Pew Research Center, even for someone belonging to the Silent Generation, it’s likely that only half the people they know attend church.
Inviting others to anything is a scary proposition. The goal is an invitation that leaves space for others to say yes and that doesn’t paint an overly negative or rosy picture.
The challenge is we really do not like inviting individuals to church. The fear of rejection is one of the main reasons. Understandably most of us do not enjoy rejection at any level. Yet, if we are serious about sharing God’s transforming love, then inviting others to a place where that can happen is important.
Clues for Inviting Others
1. The invitation should be about a genuine connection and not staged. It is best to invite individuals to an event that has bearing on their life or appeals to their interests. It comes across as a genuine connection and not something staged that comes out of left field. I might say, for instance, “I have an extra ticket to hear that new group you like on Friday at 7. I would love for you to come with me.” The connection is authentic because they have an interest in the group. If we translate this to inviting someone to church, then we share with them how the new sermon series on addictions may be helpful as they deal with a child in rehabilitation. The point is the invitation comes across as thoughtful and something that connects with the other person.
2. Be specific. Often, when we do invite, our invitations are very general. If I say to someone, “come to dinner at my house on Sunday,” it leaves out important information, like the time of dinner and where I live. A better dinner invitation is “come over at 5 p.m. on Sunday and my address is 123 Main Street, which I will text you so you can Google directions.” The same principle applies to church. Simply saying, “Why don’t you come to my church on Sunday,” is not as specific as “I would love for you to come to Main Street Congregation at 10 a.m. Our address is 123 Main Street, and I will meet you in the parking lot.” Be specific!
3. Be honest about what we know and do not know. Another reason many of us do not invite is that we are afraid someone may ask us questions to which we do not know the answer, such as, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” It is okay if we do not have all the answers. In many cases others are relieved that we do not know everything. This communicates to others that you are not trying to sell them a bill of goods. We all have been in situations where a salesperson was willing to tell us anything to get us to buy the product. To exaggerate the point, imagine a salesperson saying you need this vacuum cleaner (that works well on shag carpet) when they know you only have hardwood floors in the house. This would leave a bad taste in your mouth. Honesty goes a long way and individuals respect those who are upfront with them.
4. It is important to invite with expectant hope. Do not invite with a defeatist attitude. There are times when we so underplay the invitation it comes across as if we really do not want the other person to come. For instance, a friend saying, “My family reunion is on Saturday. It probably won’t be fun, but you might want to come if you have absolutely nothing else to do.” This is not a compelling invite! But it’s equally important not to go to the opposite extreme and be overly effusive. The goal is an invitation that leaves space for others to say yes without painting an overly negative or rosy picture.
Inviting others to anything is a scary proposition. This is especially true for church because of the personal nature of faith. I believe it is helpful to make a genuine connection, be specific, be honest and avoid shading the picture too bleakly or too rosily. Ultimately, we are inviting others to experience a transforming relationship with God.
May God Richly Bless You All!
Rev. Rick Stackhouse
Do all the good you can!
Open hearts, Open doors, and open minds