Every day I pray for our United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Oregon. I am praying that God will use our delegates and the decisions we make to witness to God’s amazing love for our world and its people. I am praying for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in The United Methodist Church to give us the energy and will to use our differences as a catalyst for creative ministry and outreach. And I am praying that we will recognize and claim the hope of our faith, which empowers us to bring in the kingdom for all of God’s children.
Don’t count out the Holy Spirit because we help those who seek food but are given bullets. A week ago my pastor friend Max Maregmen in the Philippines sent me this email. “Last week, while we were having our Annual Conference session here in Cebu City, thousands of hungry farmers marched into our school and church vicinity in Kidapawan City Mindanao (we have same Bishop). They were asking for food from the government because of the El Nino phenomenon, which is resulting in water and food shortages. They were dispersed with guns after three days of negotiations, leaving three farmers dead and hundreds landed in prisons (aged and pregnant women and children were included). It is sad news, but it happened. Our Bishop Ciriaco Francisco was also charged with harboring illegal protesters.
“As we did our feeding program last Saturday (every Saturday since August), I can’t help but shed tears, remembering those hungry people seeking food but given bullets (many of them arrested and jailed) when I prayed for the food and children we are feeding…”
As angels here in Michigan provide assistance for Pastor Max to continue feeding those who need food but are often given only bullets, and as angels the world over help each other so that all people can live whole and healthy lives, I still despair at times. Why is it that we give other people bullets instead of the physical and spiritual food that sustains their bodies and spirits? Why do we criticize instead of coach? Why do we reject instead of encourage? Why do we focus more on what separates than what unites? Lord, have mercy. Yet I refuse to count out the Holy Spirit.
Don’t count out the Holy Spirit because lives are changed every day through the ministries of The United Methodist Church. I hear these testimonies all the time from United Methodists, especially new members.
- The Holy Spirit set our church on fire this morning as eighty middle and high school students led worship through Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass. The future of the church is in great hands!
- Our friends from your church invited us here, and we love it!
- From a teenager: God is calling me to a deeper church experience. I love it all!
- We are starting a family and want our children to learn about the love of Jesus.
- Through the church we have so many ways to serve our community and the world.
- Every time I come here, five or six people that I don’t even know welcome me. I feel as if I belong here.
- Worship both inspires and challenges us to wrestle with how to live in this world as a disciple of Christ.
- My soul is flourishing here, and Jesus is real to me for the very first time.
- I love being in a church where we don’t all think the same, yet we can love and serve together.
Don’t count out the Holy Spirit because The United Methodist Church is a vessel of grace for our world.
In a recent article about new churches, The United Methodist Church scored high marks. The 2015 LifeWay report indicated that United Methodist new church starts were more successful in three of five benchmarks than other Protestant denominations: average worship attendance, new decisions for Christ and reaching previously unchurched people.
According to Bob Crossman, New Church Strategist for Path 1, a division of Discipleship Ministries, “I believe the survey shows us verifiable proof that the efforts of our annual conferences to improve our church planting process is yielding positive results. It also shows that we need to be not only encouraging our existing churches to become stronger and more viable, but we need to be continuing to start new churches and new places that reach new people.”
We become vessels of grace when we are willing to try bold, innovative and relevant ministries to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. A friend recently sent me this Thomas Jefferson quote from panel four of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C. “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” Is your church keeping pace with the times?
Don’t count out the Holy Spirit because our delegates to General Conference have amazing hopes and dreams for The United Methodist Church. They also have the spiritual maturity and will to make whatever changes are necessary in order to spread scriptural holiness across the land and be nimble and responsive to human need. In a recent conference call with a group of General Conference delegates, I heard these hopes for General Conference.
- I hope that we will treat each other with respect.
- I hope that we will come with open hands and a spirit of letting go so that we discover God’s will together.
- I hope that we become a movement again, not an organization.
- I hope that others will see in us a model for how to love that they want reflected in their own lives.
- I hope that we will celebrate our differences instead of simply acknowledge them.
- I hope that we have an experience of personal and social holiness that will leave us changed.
- I hope that we can stay mission-focused and that the Holy Spirit will give us a vision of the future.
In 34 years of ministry, Pastor Max has planted five new churches, all of which are still in existence. First UMC, Cebu City, was dying when Pastor Max arrived in June 2015 (15 adults average attendance), but today an average of 58 adults attend, some of whom are parents of children who are offered food, not bullets.
Pastor Max ended his email to me with these words of challenge and witness. “My message yesterday was from the gospel lectionary. Feeding my lambs and sheep. What a test of our faith! Making disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the world is not an easy task.”
I’m not counting out the Holy Spirit. And neither is Max. How about you?
P.S. I am a candidate for the episcopacy in the North Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church. If you would like to check out my episcopal website, click here, www.lauriehaller.org/candidate or click on the word “candidate” at the top of this blog.