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.”

Works of Mercy: Compassion & Justice

A rule of life helps congregations live out their mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I recommend congregations adopt the General Rule of Discipleship as their rule of life:
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.
This post is part two in a series in which I “unpack” the General Rule of Discipleship.

          Christians witness to Jesus Christ in the world by following his teachings. Jesus tells his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 & 15:14). The General Rule of Discipleship serves as a compass heading to guide Christians in their obedience to Jesus’ teachings.

Jesus summarized his teachings in his two great commandments:

He said to him, “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’ (Matthew 22:37-40).

We are able to respond to God because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). God’s love is revealed to us in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. We see what love looks like in Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, forgiving, and proclaiming the reign of God that is breaking out in the world, and is coming. He teaches his disciples how to love by inviting them to do what he did. Love as practiced by Jesus is much more than passionate affection for a lover or friend. Jesus’ way of love is more about virtue than passion. By this I mean love governs your thinking and behavior toward God and his justice, mercy, and truth.

Works of Mercy: Acts of Compassion & Justice

 

If you love God with all your heart, soul, and mind then you must love who and what God loves. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). And “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14). Jesus calls and equips his followers to live as people who love. Their love for God is revealed in the ways they love who God loves: people who are poor, hungry, sick, prisoners, homeless, strangers, outcasts, lonely, and hopeless. Followers of Jesus even love their enemies and people who persecute and defame them (Matthew 5:43-48). They can live this way because they know and experience God’s love in the love they give to one another who are sisters and brothers in Christ.

Charles Wesley expresses the relationship between loving God and loving who God loves in one of his hymns:

Touched by the lodestone of thy love,
Let all our hearts agree,
And ever toward each other move,
And ever move toward thee.

A “Lodestone” is a magnet. Wesley is saying that God’s love draws us to him like a magnet attracts pieces of metal. As we move closer to God we must necessarily move closer to our neighbors. The only way to get close to God is to be in relationships of justice, mercy, and truth with our neighbors. God teaches us how to love by giving us people who love us and teach us to obey Jesus’ commands to “lover your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) and “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34b-35).

“Works of mercy” are practices Jesus gave Christians to do as they follow his teachings. They are both personal and social. Acts of compassion are personal works of mercy. They are what you do with a person who needs help. When you meet someone who is hungry, give her something to eat. When someone’s loved one dies, you go and comfort him. When someone is a stranger in the congregation or your home you extend hospitality. These are examples of acts of compassion Jesus practiced and taught his disciples to imitate. They are simple kindness that shares God’s love through you.

Acts of justice are social works of mercy. They are performed by you and others united with the church and other institutions working for the common good. Jesus tells us to feed the hungry. He also expects us to ask why people are hungry and then to organize and act to address the causes of our neighbor’s hunger. Christians are commanded by Christ to care for the vulnerable, voiceless, and outcast by alleviating their suffering and to be the voices asking why. Followers of Jesus are charged with getting at the causes of our neighbor’s suffering. Write letters to elected representatives, call them on the telephone, sign petitions, march, protest, be a well-informed voter, and volunteer to serve on a social justice campaign (Bread for the World, Amnesty International, One, Red, GBCS, etc.).

John Wesley believed we meet Christ himself when you go to serve with, and get to know people who are suffering. When you get outside your comfort zone to spend time with Christ he opens your heart to grace. If you regularly serve with Christ, then he forms new, “holy,” habits in your heart: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

When you habitually obey Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself by practicing acts of compassion and justice his grace works in you; helping you to love like him and become more and more like Jesus. When people meet you through acts of compassion and justice they get a glimpse Jesus.

Jerusalem-Cross

Witness to Jesus Christ

In my previous post I argued that United Methodist congregations need to adopt a rule of life that shapes how they form mission-shaped disciples. I recommend the General Rule of Discipleship

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.

This simple rule is rooted in the General Rules of The United Methodist Church, it presents a Christ-centered balanced discipleship, and it is easily learned and memorized by members of the congregation.

In the next series of posts I will “unpack” the General Rule of Discipleship. The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Disciples Making Disciples: A Guide for Covenant Discipleship Groups and Class Leaders, to be published by Discipleship Resources in July:

A witness has personal knowledge and experience of a person, place, thing, or event and is prepared to give evidence. Christians are witnesses to Jesus Christ because they know him, experience his love, and testify to what he is up to in their lives, in the church, and in the world.

Witnesses are sometimes welcomed. Their testimony is received as good news that brings joy and liberation. They are celebrated and honored as truth-tellers. Other times witnesses are received with indifference. Their testimony is ignored. People pay it little or no attention. They are seen as curiosities or light entertainment, but not taken seriously. At times witnessing to Jesus Christ and his gospel of God’s coming reign is not welcome. It is questioned and rejected. At times it will bring violence and persecution upon the witness.

Jesus’ knew his disciples would face fear and opposition. That is why he appeared to them saying, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He then breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:21-22). In this encounter with the risen Christ the disciples are commissioned to go into the world as witnesses to him and his good news for the world. He equips them with his peace, which is his presence alongside them. He also gives them the power of the Holy Spirit to inspire and guide them along the way.

John Wesley knew very well the blessings and challenges of living as a witness to Jesus Christ in the world. On April 2, 1739, the day he first preached outdoors he recorded in his journal

At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to about three thousand people. The Scripture on which I spoke was this (is it possible anyone should be ignorant that it is fulfilled in every true minister of Christ?): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).

His preaching was received as good news by some while many listened with indifferent curiosity. On the other hand, it was not uncommon for his audience to throw stones and garbage at Wesley, and other Methodist preachers, while witnessing to Christ and salvation by grace through faith.

Witnessing to Jesus Christ in the world requires baptism by water and the Spirit. It is possible only when you are part of the community centered in the life and mission of Jesus, equipped and empowered by his Holy Spirit. To live as his witnesses in the world requires us to participate in a congregation devoted to doing all in its power to increase our faith, confirm our hope in Christ, and to perfect us in love.

Witnesses to Jesus Christ in the world are formed, equipped, and supported best in small groups with other witnesses. The early Methodist class and band meetings are excellent examples of such groups. Blockages to grace are removed when Christians meet weekly to watch over one another in love, to pray for one another, to sing hymns of praise to our Lord, to give an account of what they have done to witness to Jesus Christ in the world. Christians learn how to stop resisting Christ’s grace when they meet weekly in his name for mutual accountability and support for living as his witnesses in the world. As trust grows among them, their faith in Christ increases. They grow closer to Christ as they grow closer to one another.