Archive for December, 2008

North Georgia Bishop Mike Watson is urging United Methodists to read through the entire Bible in 2009.

Every Christian should read the entire Bible. If you have never done so, now is the time to begin — and here is a plan to help you. This guide (PDF) is designed to keep your place as you read through the Bible.

By keeping this guide with your Bible and checking off each day’s reading as you complete it, you will be able to follow a schedule that will enable you to read all the way through the Bible in one year. You can do it by reading approximately 15 minutes a day.

God continues to speak through the Bible. Daily Bible reading offers strength, direction and empowerment to live within God’s will. I hope you will join in this opportunity for spiritual growth.

Bishop Watson also recommends the daily devotional book, A Wesleyan Spiritual Reader, edited by Bishop Reuben P. Job (Abingdon, 1998).

wesleyan-spiritual-readerNot only is it a wonderful devotional resource, but also it provides contemporary Christians with an opportunity to reflect upon the wisdom and insight of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement.

In a 1782 letter to John Trembath, Wesley wrote:

O begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercise. You may acquire the taste for which you have not: What is tedious at first will afterwards be pleasant.

Whether you like it or no, read and pray daily. It is for your life: there is no other way….

Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow.

I believe John Wesley’s insight can assist us as we examine the condition of our souls and put our faith into practice in today’s world.

Join with me in a daily time of devotion. Do it for your soul — and to strengthen your ministry in God’s world.

You can preview A Wesleyan Spiritual Reader here, courtesy of Amazon. (If you want to get the book right away, you can buy it as a downloadable Adobe eBook from Cokesbury — readable with the free Acrobat Reader.)

Bishop Job, editor of A Wesleyan Spiritual Reader, is also the author of Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living. Abingdon has released a 2009 Daily Planner based on that book (a PDF sample is here). The planner may further help you maintain spiritual disciplines in the new year.

renew-my-heartAnother option for Wesleyan-themed daily devotions is Renew My Heart: Daily Wisdom from the Writings of John Wesley (Barbour, 2002).

This low-priced paperback, out of print but easily available, features excepts (with wording updated slightly for modern readers) from Mr. Wesley’s sermons and his Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament.

A good tool for keeping track of your consistency in maintaining a daily devotional time is this single-page Quiet Times Calendar (PDF).

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An Advent sermon from Bishop Mike Watson
Bishop Mike Watson: ‘God alone is worthy’
Bishop Mike Watson on ‘prevenient grace’
Bishop Mike Watson on ‘justifying grace’
Bishop Mike Watson’s Installation sermon
Bishop Mike Watson: ‘The Methodist Christian Way’

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North Georgia Bishop Mike Watson preached on “Getting Ready for Someone Special” in a recent sermon at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta.

His text was Mark 1:1-8:

The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in Isaiah the prophet:

I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way —
a voice of one calling in the desert,
“Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”

And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

The bishop urged his hearers to “make preparation” to receive the grace of God into their lives.

Bishop Mike Watson

Bishop Mike Watson

Advent is preparing to receive the greatest gift the world has ever been given.

Advent is preparing our hearts and our minds and our lives to receive….

Christ is coming! Hallelujah! We are Christians — expecting great things, expecting God to come into our lives and fill our souls.

[We should be] making preparation in the desert, in the deserted places, in the difficulties — making preparation, no matter what, to receive the Prince of Peace, the Savior of our souls, the hope of the world, the Son of God.

Prepare to receive Him — and He will not disappoint you!

Streaming audio of a portion of Bishop Watson’s sermon is below (10 min.), or you can download an mp3 (2.4MB).

Related posts
Bishop Mike Watson: ‘God alone is worthy’
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In a commencement address today at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., seminary president Albert Mohler quoted at length from an influential 1971 book by Fred Craddock (then at Phillips University, later a professor of preaching at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology).

That book, As One Without Authority, launched something of a revolution in preaching. Craddock proposed that preaching was on trial in the contemporary church, and that it was fast becoming an anachronism….

Why did Craddock see such disaster for the pulpit?

Dr. Albert Mohler

Dr. Albert Mohler

Among other contributing factors, Craddock cited “the loss of certainty and the increase in tentativeness on the part of the preacher.”

As he explained:

Rarely, if ever, in the history of the church have so many firm periods slumped into commas and so many triumphant exclamation marks curled into question marks. Those who speak with strong conviction on a topic are suspected of the heresy of premature finality.

Permanent temples are to be abandoned as houses of idolatry; the true people of God are in tents again….

The result:

As a rule, younger ministers are keenly aware of the factors discussed above, and their preaching reflects it. Their predecessors ascended the pulpit to speak of the eternal certainties, truths etched forever in the granite of absolute reality, matters framed for proclamation, not for discussion.

But where have all the absolutes gone?

as_one_without_authorityThe old thunderbolts rust in the attic while the minster tries to lead his people through the morass of relativities and proximate possibilities, and the difficulties involved in finding and articulating a faith are not the congregation’s alone; they are the minister’s as well.

How can he preach with a changing mind? How can he, facing new situations by the hour, speak the approximate word? He wants to speak and yet he needs more time for more certainty before speaking. His is often the misery of one who is always pregnant but never ready to give birth.

Craddock’s eloquent way of describing this looming disaster in the pulpit still impresses. Periods turned to commas and exclamation points curled into question marks; thunderbolts left in the attic as the preacher suffers as one pregnant but never able to give birth….

The title of Craddock’s book says it all — As One Without Authority. The biblical reference is all too clear. In Matthew 7:28-29 we read: “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”…

Jesus refused to act like an argumentative theologian or a speculative moralist. He rejected rabbinical reasoning and moral casuistry. He warns of hell and commands that we love our enemies. He warns us not to trust our bank accounts or retirement plans but to lay up treasures in heaven….

He tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and promises that all these things will be added to us. We are instructed to judge a tree by its fruit, even as we shall be judged. We are to build our house upon a rock and not upon the sand, for the house on the rock stands while the house no the sand falls, “and great was the fall of it.”…

Then we hear from the crowd: “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”…

Matthew tells us that the crowds were astonished at his teaching — astonished. They had never seen or heard anything like this…. Once they have heard Jesus, they will never again listen to one without authority — nor should they….

The “without-authority” diagnosis made by Fred Craddock nearly 40 years ago still describes “far too many pulpits today,” Dr. Mohler noted. Unfortunately, the prescription Dr. Craddock offered (and which has been adopted by many mainline preachers) has proved insufficient to the task.

His prescription was inductive preaching — preaching that leaves the big questions unanswered; that lets the congregation come to its own conclusion. This is not the method of Jesus. Jesus uses induction in his teaching, but he never leaves the big questions unanswered, nor can we. He speaks as God. We speak as His preachers.

The preacher’s authority is a delegated authority, but a real authority. We are assigned the task of feeding the flock of God, of teaching the church, of preaching the Word….

We are rightly to divide the Word of truth, and to teach the infinite riches of the Word of God. There are no certainties without the authority of the Scripture.

bible-handsWe have nothing but commas and question marks to offer if we lose confidence in the inerrant and infallible Word of God. There are no thunderbolts where the Word of God is subverted, mistrusted, or ignored.

The crowds were astonished when they heard Jesus, “for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” Congregations are starving for the astonishment of hearing the preacher teach and preach on the authority of the Word of God.

If there is a crisis in preaching, it is a crisis of confidence in the Word. If there is a road to recovery, it will be mapped by a return to biblical preaching.

Our hope and prayer is that you will go forth from here to fulfill a ministry of astonishment. To preach and teach and minister so that commas as turned back to periods, and question marks into exclamation points. Congregations long to have the thunderbolts brought down from the attic and loosed in their midst. They are starving for a word from God.

Go and astonish a church. Go and astonish the nations. Go and astonish sinners and saints alike. Go and astonish your generation. Go and astonish those who no longer even believe that they can be astonished….

If you go out and preach as one who has authority, you will be constantly amazed by what God does through the preaching of his Word. You will see those who hear you astonished — and no one will be more astonished than yourself.

You can listen below to streaming audio of Dr. Mohler’s address, “As One Having Authority” (20 min.) — or download an mp3 (4.5MB).

Although a Southern Baptist, Albert Mohler served two Methodist churches while pursuing his seminary education.

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From a column by North Georgia Bishop B. Michael Watson in the Dec. 5 issue of the Wesleyan Christian Advocate:

I pray that this year, as Christian disciples, we will experience joyful and renewing opportunities… to sing praise for the graceful birth of our Lord Jesus Christ and to receive the graceful renewal offered… through the blessings of a fresh new year.

bethlehem_star2If we allow dismal financial reports or any other troubling temporal news to dominate our thoughts, we will miss out on much of what God wants to give us.

However, if our faith in God dominates our thinking and motivates our acting, we will be richly blessed — as have been people of faith in every situation in human history. Our United States currency even reminds us that our trust is in God.

Nothing else is worthy of our ultimate trust. God alone is worthy….

[O]ur first granddaughter… was born on Sunday, Nov. 9. [Her] birth reminded us of the miracle of life itself. When we heard her first cries of life,… held her in our arms, and thanked God for her healthy birth and our daughter’s successful delivery, we were transported far beyond the temporary troubles of the day to the majesty of God’s eternal goodness.

May you be so transported during these holidays.

Related posts
Bishop Mike Watson on ‘prevenient grace’
Bishop Mike Watson on ‘justifying grace’
Bishop Mike Watson’s Installation sermon
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The United Methodist News Service has published a well-researched article, authored by UMNS reporter Kathy Gilbert, on the continuing legal battle over the Methodist Building Endowment Fund.

Unfortunately, the UMNS did not post the full text of the document which is at the center of the case: a 1965 Declaration of Trust that established boundaries on the use of funds donated decades ago to construct the Methodist Building in Washington, D.C. and to endow the work of the now-defunct Methodist Board of Temperance, Prohibition, and Public Morals.

The United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C.

The United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C.

The full text of the eight-page Declaration of Trust is linked below, as is another source document in the case.

At issue is whether the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) — a successor board to the Board of Temperance — is free to use earnings from the restricted endowment for causes other than alcohol- and drug-abuse ministry.

Some Methodist conservatives have complained that GBCS has been using money earned by the endowment to lobby for causes far removed from the intent of the endowment, such abortion rights, government-run health care, and an expanded welfare state.

Records of GBCS spending show that temperance-related spending now accounts for a relatively small percentage of Board’s expenditures. In 2006, the bulk of the Board’s $2.3 million program budget was spent on areas such as “Economic and Environmental Justice,” “Education and Leadership Formation,” and maintaining an office at the United Nations.

The 1965 Declaration of Trust (here in PDF—8 pages), which transferred the Methodist Building and significant stock holdings to what would eventually become the General Board of Church and Society, stipulated that income from the trust would be devoted “in perpetuity” to addressing the “areas of temperance and alcohol problems.”

From the Declaration of Trust:

The [Methodist Church] Division [of Alcohol Problems] owns securities and cash given to it over the years through donations, contributions, and bequests to support the work in the area of temperance and alcohol problems…. [These assets,] including real, personal, and mixed property, have been impressed with a trust-in-fact for them to be used and applied for the purposes for which they were given — for work in the areas of temperance and alcohol problems. The assets have been so utilized to the present time.

It is the purpose of this Declaration of Trust to formalize the existing situation and provide a method for the continued management, investment, reinvestment, and application of the principal and accumulated income for the purposes for which the funds were originally given, that is to say, work in the areas of temperance and alcohol problems….

It is the further purpose of this Declaration of Trust to implement the action of the 1960 General Conference of the Methodist Church…. [T]he General Conference… ordered the following wording to be placed in that section of the 1960 Discipline of The Methodist Church which describes the Board of Christian Social Concerns and its Divisions…:

Funds vested in any of the predecessor boards shall be conserved for…the specific purposes for which such funds have been given.

Kathy Gilbert’s report for the UM News Service highlighted recent developments in the Trust dispute:

The case went to trial Oct. 6 and Judge Rhonda Reid Winston heard final arguments on Oct. 22. Attorneys are working on final summary statements, which are due to the judge Jan. 8. After the judge reviews those statements, she will issue a decision.

The judge [has already] ruled that the creators of the 1965 Declaration of Trust probably meant to confine the funds to alcohol and temperance concerns, but she was uncertain whether the language in the document accurately reflected their original intentions.

“The Court is convinced that there is genuine issue about whether the [1965] Declaration, as drafted, inaccurately and mistakenly reflects the intentions of the settlors,” Winston said.

In closing arguments, Jeffrey A. Liesemer, an attorney for the Board of Church and Society contended that the Declaration of Trust was based on the mistaken belief that individuals who had given money to the board during the 1920s and 30s had wanted their donations to be confined to temperance and alcohol-related work.

“There is no evidence of any gift restrictions on pledge cards, in minutes of meetings, on bonds — nothing reveals any gift restrictions,” he said, according the UMNS report.

The case is before the D.C. Superior Court

The case is before the D.C. Superior Court

Further, Liesemer argued that an October 1965 compromise agreement among three Methodist boards that were being merged into one “supplants” the legal Declaration of Trust agreement drawn up just seven months earlier.

According to the UMNS account, Liesemer said the compromise made it clear that, “the money could be used for all programs and couldn’t be squirreled away for temperance and alcohol problems.” The October 1965 compromise gives a legal basis for “reformation” of the Trust, he argued.

Interestingly, the compromise agreement, which now appears to be central to the Board of Church and Society’s case, is not mentioned in the Board’s original complaint filing to the Court (here in PDF—15 pages). GBCS made the filing, instigating the current case, in an attempt to gain a final resolution to the Trust dispute (details here, 2nd item).

Without referencing the October 1965 compromise, the Board’s complaint — submitted in February 2007 — asked the D.C. Superior Court to allow a “reformation” of the Trust “which will make it clear that the trustees of the Board will not in the future be limited in the use of income of the Endowment Fund to problems of alcohol abuse only.”

Among those testifying before the Court was Roger Burgess, a former executive with the Division of Alcohol Problems and General Welfare of the Board of Christian Social Concerns (a successor to the Board of Temperance and a predecessor to the Board of Church and Society).

Another view of the UM Building

Another view of the UM Building

Mr. Burgess, who served from 1953-1965, told the Court he believes donors who gave to support construction of the Methodist Building and the subsequent work of the Board of Temperance, Prohibition, and Public Morals did intend for their contributions to be used solely for temperance and alcohol-related work, according to the UMNS account.

Evidence presented in the case included letter written by Mr. Burgess just weeks before the Declaration of Trust was signed.

In the January 1965 letter, Mr. Burgess noted that “a reading of the minutes and a study of the old Boards of Temperance and of Temperance, Prohibition and Public Morals indicates very clearly that the money given in previous years was given in trust for work in the field of alcohol problems. To expand the use of the trust now would be to break faith with those who gave the money.”

After leaving the Board of Alcohol Problems in the mid-1960s, Mr. Burgess became vice president of the United Methodist Publishing House. He later served as general secretary of the United Methodist General Commission on Communications.

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Reporter Rodney Manley at The (Macon) Telegraph, Georgia’s third-largest circulation newspaper, has written a nice profile of Bishop James King. Bishop King was appointed earlier this year to be the episcopal leader of the South Georgia Conference.

The full article is no longer online, but here is an excerpt:

King is the South Georgia Conference’s first black bishop…. [But] he doesn’t give the “first black” thing “any attention at all.” He has, as they say, been there, done that. He was the first black pastor at one Tennessee church and later the first black bishop in Kentucky. “I don’t look through that lens,” he said. “I look through a Christlike lens.”. . .

King described his parents as “very devout Christians who nurtured me in every way.” His mother was a public school teacher who played piano and organ and was president of the Methodist women’s group in the church. “I remember her singing lullabies to me and teaching me to bend my knees in prayer. But not only that, I saw them do that.”. . .

Bishop King, right, with Macon pastor Marcus Tripp

Bishop King with Macon pastor Marcus Tripp

King was baptized as a baby, but at age 14, he went before the church during a revival and was saved.

He also declared for the first time publicly that he had been called to the ministry, which he said raised an eyebrow of his school principal. “A typical boy, I was into everything. He said I was just saying that,” King said.

King attended Clark College where he “fell in love with psychology,” due in part to a childhood curiosity. “I understood the rationale of loving people and caring for people, but I didn’t understand how to modify behavior. I grew up with people who would go to revival and church, but noticed their behavior did not change.”

He now believes that faith is “like a virus to an adult,” especially those who were not raised in Christian homes. “It comes into the body as something unknown, and the body reacts to it as if it were an enemy. It’s very difficult to embrace something that you’ve never known, even though you crave it. It’s not only introducing faith, it’s nurturing that faith in adults. You have to really walk it and help people experience something they’re never known before.”. . .

[As for children and youth, Bishop King thinks] the church. . . needs to do a better job of teaching children and young people to “articulate their faith.”

“They’re going to make decisions about careers, about marriage, about their children. We’ve got to make sure our children are not just coming to Sunday school and hiding Easter eggs, which is wonderful, and playing the games, which is also wonderful. They’ve got to be taught the value of the faith. If we do not do that, we leave them without the armor that they need to live the full Christian life.”

In August, King was elected president of the General Commission on United Methodist Men, a national post. He told the commission it should focus on nurturing boys. “We’ve got to stop expecting fruit from men if we’ve not nurtured the root in boys,” he said.

Before being elected to the episcopacy in 2000, James King served three years as a district superintendent and briefly as the senior pastor of the 5000-member Brentwood UMC in Brentwood, Tenn. Other biographical information is here.

Bishop King recently launched a blog at BishopKing.com.

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