A Disciple’s Journal 2017

A Disciple’s Journal 2017: A Guide for Daily Prayer, Bible Reading and Discipleship is now a-disciples-journal-2017available. It is a devotional resource designed for individual and small group use.

A Disciple’s Journal contains a daily lectionary developed by the Consultation on Common Texts. The daily Scripture lessons are based on the Revised Common Lectionary. Two lessons, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament, are provided for Monday through Saturday. All four Scriptures are included for each Sunday.

In addition to the daily lectionary, we provide space to record your acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion. Under the daily lectionary for each week of the year you will see the Jerusalem cross at the center of four quadrants, one each for acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion.

On the facing page you will find excerpts from the works of John and Charles Wesley. All of the John Wesley excerpts for 2017 are from A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. The Charles Wesley hymn stanzas are selected to align with the Sunday Scriptures.

A Disciple’s Journal 2017 provides resources for morning and night prayer. Prayers for every day of the week come from the Book of Common Prayer, which was the prayer book of John and Charles Wesley and the early Methodist movement. You will also find prayers composed by members of the Consultation on Common Texts for each week based on the Scripture lessons read in Sunday worship.

To help broaden your prayers A Disciple’s Journal 2017 contains “A Cycle of Intercession.” It guides you to pray for various people, leaders, the Church, and the world throughout the year.

 

Covenant Discipleship Groups

A Disciple’s Journal 2017 is an excellent resource for Covenant Discipleship groups. Most groups have a covenant clause that commits members to daily prayer and Bible reading. The Daily Lectionary gives you Scriptures from the Old Testament and the New Testament for each day. It also supplies two Psalms for each week. Read one Thursday through Sunday and the other Monday through Wednesday. The Journal helps you to maintain balance and diversity in your daily Bible reading.

The General Rule of Discipleship appears each week below the daily lectionary and just above the Jerusalem cross. Record your acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion in the quadrants. This will help you to remember what you’ve done, and not done, during the weekly meeting.

You will also find space to record prayer concerns, questions, reflections, and insights for the week.

 

Small Group Curriculum

A Disciple’s Journal 2017 is an excellent small group curriculum resource. Here are some examples of how the Journal may be used to help form disciples of Jesus Christ in small groups:

  • Advent, Lenten, and Easter study groups read the Scripture lessons for each day of the season and discuss the various themes, ideas, and images that emerge when they meet. Pray the prayer for each week along with the recommendations in the Cycle of Intercession.
  • Groups may read and discuss the excerpts from A Plain Account of Christian Perfection for each week.

 

  • Read, reflect, and discuss the hymns of Charles. His poetry is a rich resource for study, theological reflection, and prayer.

 

  • Adopt the General Rule of Discipleship as your group’s rule of life. Use the Journal to record how you have witnessed to Jesus Christ in the world and followed his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The General Rule provides the agenda when the group meets. Begin with a prayer, read one of the Scripture lessons for the day, ask “What is God saying to us in this lesson today?” The leader then asks each person in turn, beginning with himself or herself, “How is it with your soul?” The General Rule of Discipleship guides each person as they respond to the question. The group prays for each person after they’ve shared their response. The meeting concludes with singing a hymn, sharing prayer concerns, and praying the prayer for the week from A Disciple’s Journal. Quarterly identify a specific area of the General Rule each person, or the group, wants to focus and grow; review the group’s prayer concerns and goals.

             Copies of A Disciple’s Journal 2017 may be ordered online here. It comes in three editions: print, EPub, and Kindle. A nice feature of the EPub and Kindle editions is they include the full text of A Disciple’s Journal 2017 and the full text of all of the Scripture lessons. All the Scripture lesson citations are hyperlinked, enabling you to quickly jump between the Journal and the Scripture lessons.

I have used A Disciple’s Journal for my daily Bible reading and prayer for several years. It keeps my life and work grounded in Scripture and centered in Christ and his mission. I pray it will be a blessing to you and your small group. I’ll close with the following passage from Hebrews:

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:23-25).

Black Lives Matter!

My heart is breaking for the growing number of black men and women killed by police: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and others whose names do not make into national news. I’m also troubled by what seems to me to be growing racial animosity expressed by fellow Americans who look like me: middle aged white men. In particular, I’m bothered by the pejorative response to the Black Lives Matter movement. This movement is one of the responses to the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012. I’ve always seen it as a constructive, sometimes boisterous, movement of black women and men to remind fellow Americans that their lives are just as valuable, meaningful, and full of potential as their other citizens. Unfortunately, many Americans are not aware of the nation’s long history of enslavement and oppression of black people. And, in spite of the advances of the Civil Rights movement of the 50s, 60s, & 70s, and the election of the first black President, racism continues to be a serious problem they must confront daily. As a white, middle-aged, man who is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, the Black Lives Matter movement has caused me to examine my own racism.

To help with this process I re-read one of the books that had a big impact on me during my M.Div. studies at Wesley Theological Seminary. Two books by Dr. James Cone helped me understand the gospel of Jesus Christ, my own racism, and the experience of my black sisters and brothers. I recently re-read his Black Theology & Black Power. The other book that proved to be very formational for me was Black Theology of Liberation. Reading Cone led me to the works of John Wesley. Both of whom are, of course, Methodists.

I am convinced that John Wesley would be a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. He would have been very pleased with the recent Racism Gathering hosted by the Division on Ministry with Young people in Dallas. A group of young black and white leaders from across The United Methodist Church met to develop resources aimed at helping the church address a problem endemic to nation’s culture.

How do I know Mr. Wesley would support the Black Lives Matter movement? Reading his powerful treatise, “Thoughts Upon Slavery” published in 1774 Wesley explicitly says and argues that black lives matter as much as white lives. He argues there is absolutely no justification for the practice of slavery or the slave trade. Throughout the essay Wesley makes clear that African women and men are equal to people of European descent and deserving of dignity, respect, and justice. He knocks down every “justification” for slavery. At one point he writes:

The inhabitants of Africa, where they have equal motives and equal means of improvement, are not inferior to the inhabitants of Europe; to some of them they are greatly superior. … Certainly the African is in no respect inferior to the European.

Thoughts Upon Slavery” is Wesley’s unqualified condemnation of slavery and racism. He convincingly argues there can be no justification for the enslavement, oppression, and denigration of African people. All are created in God’s image. All are loved by God. All are saved by the blood of Jesus. All are welcome to live as citizens of God’s kingdom.

After reading “Thoughts Upon Slavery” I am convinced John Wesley would be an active supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. As a white man and leader he would condemn and work to organize people to resist the racism that is endemic in North American culture, churches, and institutions. To those who say “All lives matter!” he would say: “Certainly all lives matter. But in the United States, which for over three hundred years has enslaved, oppressed, beaten, and killed black bodies, you need to be reminded over and over and over again that black lives matter.

North American Christians, and United Methodists in particular, need to learn to read and interpret Scripture from the perspective of oppressed people. We need to remember that the God of Jesus Christ is the God of Moses who set his people free from slavery in Egypt. Wesley believed and preached that God loves all people and offers salvation for all. And the same God favors the oppressed, the poor, the refugees, widows, and orphans. The North American United Methodist church is a majority (over 95%) white denomination. This means Scripture and the gospel are interpreted from a perspective of privilege. “Whiteness” and privilege are the norm. White United Methodists are not reminded of the color of their skin every day. We don’t have to have “the talk” with our children about how to behave when confronted by a police officer. We don’t have to daily confront racism. This is why Mr. Wesley would insist that the majority of United Methodists need to be regularly reminded, Black Lives Matter.

More than being reminded, United Methodists who are striving toward holiness of heart and life need to join with Jesus Christ in the struggle against the evil of racism. Local congregations promise to equip members to keep the Baptismal Covenant by “accept[ing] the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” A simple and powerful way to keep this baptismal vow and to grow in holiness of heart and life is to “confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which he has opened to people of ALL ages, nations, and races.” When we obey and follow Jesus in the world we reject the evil of racism in all its forms and join him in the work of resisting it in the church, in your home, neighborhood, town, and nation.

Three New Covenant Discipleship Resources To Be Released SOON!

My colleagues and friends, Melanie C. Gordon, Chris Wilterdink, and I have written some new resources for Covenant Discipleship. Discipleship Resources will publish them soon, maybe in September!

We are very proud of these books. They will be valuable resources for helping United Methodist congregations with their mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world:

Joe Iovino at UMCOM recently did a podcast with the three of us. Check it out:

 

Acts of Justice

2016 is a general election and General Conference year. Acts of justice are very much on my mind. Jesus Christ calls his followers to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:25-37) and to be ambassadors of reconciliation and justice (2 Cor. 5:16-20). Followers of Jesus are people who witness to and work for forgiveness, reconciliation, and the common good. Justice means that all people have access to life and the means to fully participate in community life. It is at the center of what Jesus means when he proclaimed the “kingdom of God” (e.g., Mark 1:15).

What does this mean for Jesus’ followers today?

A disciple’s primary loyalty is to Jesus and the kingdom of God. It means we must not be captured by any political party or ideology. Jesus’ disciples are guided more by the sermon on the Mount and the kingdom of God than by the platforms and candidates of the Republican, Democrat, or any political party. Christians are called and baptized into Christ and citizenship in God’s kingdom.

The second vow of the Baptismal Covenant helps us understand the nature of acts of justice as being central to discipleship:

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

It’s important for us to remember God sets us free from the power sin and for a life of self-giving love. God gives us freedom to live fully as citizens of his kingdom. We are set free to become fully human, like Jesus, as sisters and brothers in God’s household. Christ sends us into the world to be agents of his power, which is self-giving love. This love is lived and experienced as justice. God’s love equips us to resist the powers and principalities that are revealed as evil, injustice, and oppression.

One practical act of justice is to be an informed voter. God sends us to participate as responsible citizens in the world he loves. Followers of Jesus evaluate candidates to see how well their positions align with justice-love exemplified in Jesus and the reign of God.

As we prepare to decide who will get our vote we ask the following questions:

  • Will the candidates’ administration be good news to the poor, voiceless, and vulnerable people of the nation and the world?
  •  Do the candidates’ policy proposals care for creation?
  • Will the candidate assure the nation is a responsible agent of reconciliation, peace and justice in the world?

Because we live in the world, Christians need to be regularly reminded their primary allegiance is to Christ and his kingdom. The Baptismal Covenant and Covenant Discipleship groups help to keep us centered in Christ and his mission.

What are you and your Covenant Discipleship group doing to “accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves”?

3 New Covenant Discipleship Books

2016 marks the thirtieth anniversary of Covenant Discipleship! The General Board of Discipleship launched Covenant Discipleship in 1986. The ministry was developed, led, and coordinated by Dr. David Lowes Watson, assisted by Marigene Chamberlain.

To mark this 30th year of the contemporary “method” of Methodism, aimed at re-traditioning the office of class leader and the class meeting, Discipleship Resources is publishing three new Covenant Discipleship resources. The authors are Steven W. Manskar, Chris Wilterdink, and Melanie C. Gordon with Susan Groseclose and Gayle Quay.

Covenant Discipleship is an intergenerational ministry that equips congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Have you ever wondered “How do we make disciples of Jesus Christ?” Covenant Discipleship is the contemporary method of disciple-making.

Growing Everyday DisciplesGrowing Everyday Disciples: Covenant Discipleship with Children by Melanie C. Gordon, Susan Groseclose and Gayle Quay, is written for adults who work with elementary school age children, parents, and pastors. It will guide congregational leaders in organizing Covenant Discipleship with children. The groups form children in discipleship by doing what Jesus taught his disciples to do: loving God with all their heart, soul, and mind through prayer, Scripture reading, worship, and sacrament; and loving who God loves through acts of compassion and acts of justice.

 Everyday Disciples: Covenant Discipleship with Youth by Chris Wilterdink is for adults who work with youth and young adults, parents, and pastors. It is a resource that will help congregations Everyday Disciplesform youth who are in middle school and high school grow in discipleship by meeting regularly to share what they have done, and not done, in light of the covenant they have written. The covenant is shaped by the General Rule of Discipleship: To witness to Jesus Christ, and to follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Covenant Discipleship helps ministry with youth go deeper than conventional youth ministry typically goes.

 Disciples Making Disciples: Guide for Covenant Discipleship Groups and Class Leaders by Steven W. Manskar is a new Disciples Making Disciplesresource for pastors, congregational leaders, and Covenant Discipleship group members and class leaders. The book contains practical information for how to introduce Covenant Discipleship to a congregation, how to organize groups, how to write a covenant, how to lead a weekly meeting, and how to support and multiply the groups. It is also a guide for class leaders. They are members of covenant discipleship groups who are commissioned by the congregation (see pages 602-604 in The Book of Worship) to work as partners with the pastor in the work of discipleing the congregation. Each class leader is assigned a “class” of 12-20 congregation members who they will coach in living and practicing the Christian life shaped by the General Rule of Discipleship.

All three books will be published in July in print, Kindle and ePub editions. They are available now for pre-order. Click here.

A Prayer for Orlando

Like you, I am deeply troubled by the terrible violence and loss of life that took place at the “Pulse” nightclub in Orlando, Florida on July 12th. The prayer composed by a contributor to the Consultation on Common Texts for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost that appears in A Disciple’s Journal-2016 appropriately addresses our pain:

God our refuge and hope, when race, status, or gender divide us, when despondency and despair haunt and afflict us, when community lies shattered: comfort and convict us with the stillness of your presence, that we may confess all you have done, through Christ to whom we belong and in whom we are one. Amen.

I’m also reminded of the following quote from Bishop Desmond Tutu:

Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through him who loves us.

Tutu brings to mind the follow passage from 1 John which was very important to the preaching and mission led by John and Charles Wesley:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also (1 John 4:18-21, NRSV).

Wesley teaches us that Christ calls his followers to regard all people as “brothers and sisters.” Christ commands his followers to love who God loves. He reminds us that God loves all people. His followers are commanded to love not only fellow Christians, but also people we regard as enemies and persecutors. We are to love and pray for them.

The love Christ freely gives and calls his followers to practice has little to do with warm feelings of affection. Jesus describes the character of love in Luke 9:23

If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves and
take up their cross daily and
follow me.

We are capable of this love only when we follow Christ. Following him requires obedience to his teachings. He summarized his teachings in his response to a lawyer’s question, “Which is the greatest commandment?”

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

We can love because he first loved us. We become capable of his way of love when we obey his command: Love God and love who God loves. Jesus teaches and gives the grace we need to love in this way. We learn how to love God and grow in that love when we practice the what Wesley called “works of piety:” the public worship of God, the ministry of the Word, the Lord’s Supper, private and family prayer, searching the Scriptures, and fasting or abstinence. We love who God loves when we practice what Wesley called “works of mercy:” doing no harm and avoiding evil, and by doing good by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, visiting prisoners, caring for the sick, living as salt and light for everyone you meet. These works of piety and mercy are necessary to open our hearts to grace that forms and equips us to become fully the people God created us to be.

John Wesley believed Methodists are “a people who profess to pursue holiness of heart and life; inward and outward conformity in all things to the revealed will of God; who place religion in an uniform resemblance of the great object of it; in a steady imitation of Him they worship, in all his imitable perfections; more particularly, in justice, mercy, and truth, or universal love filling the heart, and governing the life.”

The people called United Methodist today can be agents to faith, hope and love in the aftermath of tragedy and unspeakable violence that occurred in Orlando, Florida on June 12th. When politicians, culture, and media respond by stoking fear and hatred, we are called to be witnesses to Jesus Christ and his love, mercy, and justice. For Christ’s sake we need to be people who proclaim to the world:

Love is more powerful than hate.
God is love.
Therefore, love, not hate or violence, is the most powerful force in the universe.

May we who claim the name “Christian” in the Wesleyan tradition be agents of love and justice amidst fear and hatred. I pray that we all “have the mind that was in Christ Jesus and walk just as he walked.”

Works of Piety

…and to follow his teachings through … acts of worship and devotion …Jerusalem-Cross

This is the third article on the General Rule of Discipleship that shapes the covenant that serves as the agenda for a Covenant Discipleship group’s weekly meeting:

To witness to Jesus Christ in the world, and to follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

In this article I will look at how Christians love God with all their heart, soul, and mind (see Matthew 22:37-39) through practicing what John Wesley called “works of piety.” In the General Rule of Discipleship this practices are referred to as acts of worship and devotion.

Acts of devotion are the personal works of piety. They are practices performed alone with God. John Wesley recommended at least three acts of devotion (see “The United Methodist Rule of Life”):

  • Personal and family prayer
  • Searching the Scriptures
  • Fasting or abstinence

In the film “Shadowlands” Anthony Hopkins played C.S. Lewis. He gave one of the best definitions and rationales for prayer: “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time—waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God—it changes me.”

Wesley wrote, “God does nothing but in answer to prayer. . . . On every occasion of uneasiness we should retire to prayer, that we may give place to the grace and light of God, and then form our resolutions, without being in any pain about what success they may have.”

Prayer and searching the Scriptures are daily practices that often accompany one another. Reading and meditating on the Scriptures often leads into time in prayer. Lectio Divina is an ancient practice in which reading Scripture leads the Christian into prayer. Reading and meditating upon devotional classics or a resource like “The Upper Room” helps to center the day in Christ.

Fasting is another ancient means of grace. Wesley practiced fasting at least one day a week for most of his life. He believed it to be a very important practice because Jesus fasted and taught his disciples to do the same (Matthew 6:16-18). Fasting leads to prayer and self-giving. It is a simple way Christians can imitate Jesus who “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7) and become one with humankind as a humble servant. Charles Wesley describes Jesus’ self-emptying love in the third stanza of his great hymn, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain,”

He left his Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite his grace;
Emptied himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race;
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free;
For, O my God, it found out me.

When you fast you empty yourself and become more aware of your dependence upon God’s good gifts of food and drink that sustain your life. Fasting also places you in solidarity with the people of the earth for whom fasting is not a choice. Christ suffers for them every day. Wesley encouraged Methodists to give alms to the poor when they fast.

Acts of devotion keep the heart open to grace that keeps you centered in Christ and what he is up to in your life. When the heart is open to grace it becomes more and more open to the world that God loves, which means that acts of devotion help equip you for acts of compassion and justice.

Acts of worship are the social and public works of piety. They are what Christians do together when they gather in Christ’s name. Through praise, confession, Scripture, proclamation, prayer, giving, confession, thanksgiving, sacrament, and blessing the Christian community builds one another up in love and offers itself in service to God and the world that God loves. In worship the church lifts the world and itself to God in prayer. Christians come to worship to experience God’s presence and power, to be forgiven, eat and drink Christ’s body and blood, and sent into the world to serve as Christ’s witnesses.

John Wesley lists three acts of worship in the third General Rule:

  • The public worship of God
  • The ministry of the Word, whether read or expounded
  • The Lord’s Supper

Methodists need to participate in worship on Sunday morning in their congregation and other times throughout the week. Wesley wanted the Methodist people to be “salt and light” for the Church. This meant being faithful in the worship of God through praise, prayer, word, sacrament, and service.

The “ministry of the Word” is listening to the Word of God as it is read aloud. It is also listening to preaching and interpretation of Scripture by preachers and teachers.

In addition to being an evangelical renewal movement for the Church, the Methodist movement was also a Eucharistic renewal movement. Charles Wesley wrote and published a collection of 166 hymns on the Lord’s Supper. The Wesley brothers believed the sacrament is an essential practice and means of converting and sanctifying grace. The Methodists were encouraged to participate in the sacrament as often as possible, at least once a week.

God is relational. He initiates and consecrates his relationship with you and me in the sacrament of baptism. The acts of worship and devotion are God’s gifts to us. They are basic practices that enable us to participate in our relationship with Christ. They open our hearts to the grace we need to join Christ’s mission in the world through acts of compassion and justice. Your Covenant Discipleship group helps you make sure you show up daily to keep your appointment with Christ. He is always there. Are you?

Next month we’ll explore the final phrase of the General Rule of Discipleship: “under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”