A unimaginable journey

Today I joined forty lay and clergy Methodists from seventeen Annual Conferences on a journey I had never imagined possible. We have come to England to study, reflect, remember, and experience anew the Wesleyan movement. Today we stand over 250 years removed from the reality of John and Charles Wesley, but the fruit of their labors continue to warm the hearts of Methodists around the world, including my own.

This afternoon our diverse group of pilgrims gathered for the first time at Sarum College in Salisbury. We visited Salisbury Methodist Church, a congregation with historical connections to the founding days of Methodism. Susanna Wesley lived in Salisbury, which provided occasion for her son John to visit and begin preaching in the city. John later would sign the deed for what is now Salisbury Methodist Church. Another interesting connection, in 1770 Francis Asbury, the father of American Methodism, was appointed as the superintendent minister of the Salisbury circuit—today comprising 12 churches. In 1771, while still pastoring in Salisbury, Francis Asbury attended the Methodist Conference in Bristol and answered John Wesley’s call for missionaries to America.

As a life-long Methodist, who heard the stories of John, Charles, Samuel, and Suzana from the pulpit, in Sunday School, and at bed time, the Wesleys have been more than figures from a distant past. They are both faith companions and models of Christian discipleship. Their life and work continue to influence my life and ministry. I am immensely grateful to my congregation, Belmont United Methodist Church, for the opportunity to be a part of this amazing journey. I am thankful to serve with colleagues who support, inspire, and challenge me.

Um carta aberta a meus amigos cristãos e a Igreja de Cristo

Para os amigos Cristãos que estão presenciando a crise política:

A historia do Cristianismo em seus melhores momento posiciona a igreja em divergência com os poderes do mundo. Visto que os interesses do Estado e da igreja mesmo quando similares se diferenciam, pois um é feito por auto-sobrevivência e o outro por amor ao Evangelho. Jesus em sua oração sacerdotal pelos discípulos (e por todos nós) em João 17:6-26 nos lembra, que seus seguidores não pertencem a esse mundo, então conflito entre os valores do mundo e valores do reino são inevitáveis (v. 14, Dei-lhes a tua palavra, e o mundo os odiou, pois eles não são do mundo, como eu também não sou.).

De forma alguma isso significa que a igreja não tem papel politico, muito pelo contrario, a igreja deve ser envolvida na vida política, pois o evangelho nos chama a cuidar do individuo como um ser completo. Mas o papel da igreja não é defender politico ou usar o poder do Estado para legislar moralidade. O papel da igreja é de pregar o evangelho para facilitar a transformação do indivíduo. Através dessa transformação, de pouco a pouco a nação é transformada. Não ha atalho para esse processo.

A historia do mundo nos lembra que a conversão de Constantino deu grande poder e prestigio a Igreja, mas essa mesma historia também nos mostra o poder do pecado na vida do ser humano. Os que lutaram para ter poder quando o adquiriram o usaram para o bem próprio. Durante a era das Inquisições na Espanha, apesar de todas as boas intenções da Rainha Isabela, milhões foram torturados, perseguidos, e forçados a se converter. O Evangelho de Cristo nos chama a amar ao próximo, seja ele quem for, e pregar o evangelho a toda criatura.

Francisco de Assis disse “Não adianta andar em qualquer lugar para pregar a não ser que a nossa caminhada é a nossa pregação.” No meio da onda de corrupção que claramente se tem visto—mas isso não é só de hoje, isso acontece desde que Brasil é Brasil— não podemos no esquecer que o pecado é uma força que ataca a todos nós. E por isso devemos combatê-lo. Em meio há políticos expostos por corrupção, bem como há corruptos que confessam o nome de Cristo como Senhor.

O papel moral da igreja não é de defender ou apoiar politico. Apoiar politico em nome da igreja é um erro que sempre é pago com a reputação dessa preciosa instituição. Se verdadeiramente acreditamos que Cristo fundou a Igreja, e ela é o corpo de Cristo no mundo e para o mundo, não podemos baratear a honra dessa instituição por favores políticos.

O melhor envolvimento político da Igreja é de lançar uma plataforma baseada na verdade do Evangelho através do testemunho, das palavras, e do amor de Cristo, e trabalhar com seja quem for (crente ou não) para que possamos realizar a vontade de Deus na terra, como no céu. Sempre lembrando que os nossos valores como Cristãos e os valores do mundo são diferentes.

Os deixo com as sabias palavras de João Wesley, teólogo e fundador do movimento Metodista:

Reuni-me com aqueles de nossa sociedade que votariam na eleição que se seguiu, e aconselhei-os, (1) A votar, não por dinheiro ou recompensa, na pessoa que julgou mais digno; (2) A não falar mal da pessoa contra quem votou; E, (3) A cuidar que seus espíritos não fiquem armados contra aqueles que votaram no outro lado.

– John Wesley, Thursday, October 6, 1774

Em Cristo,

Jefferson M. Furtado,
filho do Brasil, morando no exterior.

Reflection: Who can be saved?

Jesus replied, “What is impossible for humans is possible for God.”Luke 18:27
Luke 18:18-30
18 A certain ruler asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?” 19 Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. 20 You know the commandments: Don’t commit adultery. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Honor your father and mother.” 21 Then the ruler said, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said, “There’s one more thing. Sell everything you own and distribute the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” 23 When he heard these words, the man became sad because he was extremely rich. 24 When Jesus saw this, he said, “It’s very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom! 25 It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.” 26 Those who heard this said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible for humans is possible for God.” 28 Peter said, “Look, we left everything we own and followed you.” 29 Jesus said to them, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, husband, wife, brothers, sisters, parents, or children because of God’s kingdom 30 will receive many times more in this age and eternal life in the coming age.” CEB

Luke 18:18-30 tells us the very familiar story of a “rich young ruler” who asks Jesus “what must I do to obtain eternal life?” (v. 18 CEB). We may be tempted to see this passage exclusively as way of addressing the dangers of wealth or material possession. However, that would fall short of truly hearing the words of Jesus and understanding the profundity of his statement in v. 27. Here Jesus is speaking of that which money cannot buy. He is is referring to the precious gift that can only be received by grace through faith; the pearl of great and value and the treasure hidden in a field that drives one to gladly sell all possessions to purchase it. Jesus is speaking of salvation.

The rich ruler counted on his own righteousness to receive eternal life. One could imagine the ruler’s pride when Jesus lists the commandments and he can proudly answer “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.” (v. 21) But as Jesus pointed out, still he lacked—“There’s one more thing.” Each of us must examine our hearts for that which we still lack. While money may not be that which we hold most precious, each of us must search our hearts with the clear understanding that through God we have the power to overcome our limitations. Jesus declares that we can move beyond the bounds of our limits and claim that which only God can give us, eternal life.

Reflection: Help always near!

God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble. Psalm 46:1

Great comfort can be found in understanding that God, our help, is ALWAYS near in times of need. Too often when troubles come we become blinded by fear, stress, or even momentary panic. We forget that God is near and that we can find safety in Him. The Psalmist tells us that “when the world falls apart, when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea, when its waters roar and rage, when the mountains shake because of its surging waves,” (vv. 2-4 CEB) we can rest knowing God is not far.

Those who place their trust in God will rejoice in the blessed assurance that God’s presence displaces all fear. This confidence should transforms our attitude when faced with adverse situations. We no longer need to encounter problems as those who have no hope, but we move forward knowing that “God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble.”

We are not alone, God is with us!

 

Living In The Fast Lane

20140227_171556People often ask me “How do you manage full-time work, family, school, and everything else you do?” Most often my answer is a simple “I don’t know.” But, this week I was graced with time to reflect on this and other questions. As I sat outside the operating room, where wife was being prepped to deliverer our third daughter, time stood still for a moment and I realized I had been living in the fast lane.

While the fast lane may allow me to arrive at my given destination faster, it also prevents me from observing and appreciating the scenery. Psalm 90:12 states “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” (NRSV) As a child I often heard this verse repeated in church. Today I understand the lesson contained that short verse, time is a gift from God; each moment of life brings with itself an opportunity to attain wisdom.

The fast lane cannot be a constant state of life, we must slowdown and enjoy each moment for our days are numbered.

Before the Last Amen: A vision for congregational renewal

United Methodism is dead! Scream persistent headlines about the demise of the denomination. We have seen countless reports and charts that show membership decline and ascending expenses. We have heard choirs of voices that say we must change, realign, innovate or else we will perish. We have pondered on logical and radical ideas proposed to curb this dire and seemingly imminent problem. While the conversation on this topic is necessary for the future of our denomination, long-term national plans are of little comfort to congregations whose present reality is bleak. Attempts to make changes to the worship style, music, and preaching, that has inspired the lives of very faithful individuals, in some cases for over 40 years, may not result in greater congregational vitality, but will likely accelerate the decline and closure. It is important to keep in mind that many of those congregations face great difficulties adapting to the cultural and social changes that have happened outside their doors. Should we accept the loss that comes from decline and closure? No! We should frame our renewal conversation in a way that validates the decades of work and contributions aging and soon to close congregations have made to the denomination, their respective communities and kingdom of God.

I propose we consider a model for church renewal that seeks to establish a new and independent Fellowship within an existing church. While the Church-Within-a-Church model is not new, is an opportunity to maximize the resources of congregations that have faced decades of declining membership and attendance, minimize the cost of a new church start, and eliminate the loss of a viable United Methodist ministry area.

This new Fellowship would focus on becoming a missional outreach and discipleship post. A community that is intentional about its primary mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. A community that preaches the transformative Gospel of Jesus Christ as a way of living and not as a set of rules.[1] A community that practices hospitality in a holistic way, welcoming all that seek a place to call home and those who need a temporary place of rest in their faith journey.[2] A community that seeks to bring spiritual, mental, physical, and relational healing and wholeness to the world.[3] A community that is intentional in creating space and opportunities for spiritual growth through theological reflection and by offering opportunities where questions, doubts and fears can be addressed.[4]

The work of this community must begin with the acknowledgement that evangelism is not a singular event but a continual, multifaceted, expression of our love for God and neighbor.[5] This love moves us beyond ourselves and challenges us to take to heart Jesus’ commandment in Matthew 28:19-20a (NRSV), “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” If we are to be faithful to this commandment, I believe, we must understand that there is an inextricable connection between discipleship and relationships. We live in culture where an increasing number of individuals are seeking spirituality, but sadly distancing themselves from the church.[6] If we are to reach out to those whom we call lost (de-churched, unchurched, etc.), we must first engage them and seek to understand who they are on a personal level. We must also recognize that God’s prevenient grace is already working in the lives of those whom we seek to engage. Therefore, our role is to be co-laborers with Christ and walk together with our brothers and sisters in this journey of life, helping them to experience the transformative love of God through a relationship with Christ and others. While this task is a job of every Christian, many of us have not been exposed to a culture of hospitality, which enables us to move beyond our inhibitions, fears, concerns and traditions to display authentic love for our neighbors regardless of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, social status or political affiliation. If we are to succeed, we must seek or we must have a first hand experience of the great love of Christ that moves us beyond our fears of the other.

The journey of discipleship that we envision for this Fellowship is one based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:37-39 (NRSV), “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.’” Bill Hull brilliantly explains the journey of discipleship by stating “Discipleship isn’t a program or an event; it’s a way of life. It’s not for a limited time, but for our whole life. Discipleship isn’t for beginners alone; it’s for all believers for every day of their life. Discipleship isn’t just one of the things the church does; it is what the church does.”[7] Therefore, this journey of discipleship must be grounded by a set of core values that will allow for this community to grow in healthy and sustainable ways. Bishop Robert Schnase’s Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations offers a solid foundation for this work to begin.

  • Radical Hospitality: We welcoming all people in love so that they may have new life through the transforming power of the love of Jesus Christ.[8]
  • Passionate Worship:  We gather to experience the transforming presence of God through the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ. We seek to have manifested in our community spiritual, mental, physical, and relational healing and wholeness.[9]
  • Intentional Faith Development: We gather beyond our weekly worship to study the Bible, to engage in theological reflection, to support each other in prayer, and to develop friendship bonds through ongoing conversation.[10]
  • Risk-Taking Mission & Service: We seek opportunities to attend the needs of our community and to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the world.[11]
  • Extravagant Generosity: We give unselfishly and joyously. We give, even sacrificially, from our love for God and our love for our neighbor.[12]

Understanding that no plan is perfect and no single solution can solve the woes of our denominational system, I believe this vision offers hope to local congregations that were once vibrant, but today face closure. Before the last amen is sung and the doors are closed forever we must continue to move forward with strategies that open ways to a more fruitful future.


Bibliography

Bass, Diana Butler. Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith, Reprint ed. New York: HarperOne, 2007.

McLaren, Brian D. Finding Our Way Again: the Return of the Ancient Practices (ancient Practices Series). Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010.

Jones, Scott J. The Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor: a Theology of Witness and Discipleship. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003.

Sweet, Leonard. Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival. Colorado Springs, Colorado: WaterBrook Press, 2012.

Hull, Bill. The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ. Colorado Springs, Colorado: NavPress, 2006.

Powe, F. Douglas, and Jr. New Wine, New Wineskins: How African American Congregations Can Reach New Generations. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2012.

Schnase, Robert. Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007.


[1] Brian D. McLaren, Finding Our Way Again: the Return of the Ancient Practices (ancient Practices Series) (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 3-6.

[2] Scott J. Jones, The Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor: a Theology of Witness and Discipleship, Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 2003, 61-63.

[3] Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith, Reprint ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2007), 103-114.

[4] Ibid., 185-199.

[5] Jones, The Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor: a Theology of Witness and Discipleship, 114-18.

[6] “‘Nones’ On the Rise – Religion and the Unaffiliated,” Pew Research: Religion & Public Life Project, November 6, 2013, accessed November 6, 2013, http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise-religion/.

[7] Bill Hull, The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006), 24.

[8] Robert Schnase, “Radical Hospitality,” Five Practices, http://fivepractices.org/radical-hospitality/ (accessed December 14, 2012).

[9] Schnase, “Passionate Worship,” Five Practices, http://fivepractices.org/passionate-worship/ (accessed December 14, 2012).

[10] Schnase, “Intentional Faith Development,” Five Practices, http://fivepractices.org/intentional-faith-development/ (accessed December 14, 2012).

[11] Schnase, “Risk-Taking Mission & Service,” Five Practices, http://fivepractices.org/risk-taking-mission-service/ (accessed December 14, 2012).

[12] Schnase, “Extravagant Generosity,” Five Practices, http://fivepractices.org/extravagant-generosity/ (accessed December 14, 2012).

live better, help often and wonder more.

“So many people come to church with a genuine desire to hear what we have to say, yet they are always going back home with the uncomfortable feeling that we are making it too difficult for them to come to Jesus.”
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

A classmate of mine called my attention to an interesting phenomenon happening across the US and the globe. Congregations are springing up to help individuals “live better, help often, wonder more”. The Associated Press published an article about this phenomenon titled “Atheist ‘mega-churches’ take root across US, world.” That is right, Atheist congregations. Intrigued by the concept I went to the website and after reading about their beliefs and strategies I had to ask myself, what can the Christian church learn from this? Here we have a self-professed godless organization that is seeking to inspire, assist, and connect individuals. They aim to create a community of like minded individuals that offer support so each can live their lives to the fullest. Their Sunday gatherings are a “100% celebration of life… a house of love and compassion, where, no matter what your situation, you are welcomed, accepted and loved.”

Some may see this as a challenge to the church, but I see this as an opportunity to reflect on who we are as Christians and what it is we offer to those who seek something more to life. We must begin to reflect about the mission of the church, not from an institutional perspective, but from a personal one. After all institutions cannot affect change, that is something only individuals can do. Theologian Tim Keller once wrote: “While the mission of the institutional church is to preach the Word and produce disciples, the church must disciple Christians in such a way that they live justly and integrate their faith with their work. So the church doesn’t directly change culture, but it disciples and supports people who do.”

How are we offering hope to this hurting world?

So many people come to church with a genuine desire to hear what we have to say, yet they are always going back home with the uncomfortable feeling that we are making it too difficult for them to come to Jesus.Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Fica Jesus mais um pouquinho…

Portuguese English
Fica Jesus mais um pouquinho
Não vá sem eu antes lhe falar
Como Tu és maravilhoso
Sua presença alegrou esse lugar.
Stay a little longer Jesus
Do not go before I tell you
How You are wonderful
Your presence has cheered this place.