Is someone building an ark?

They say every preacher has one sermon. Dan Dick has one blog post, but it is a good and needful one. Here’s the latest iteration.

In this he laments the low expectations culture of the United Methodist Church as a whole.

We want a definition of discipleship that costs absolutely nothing.  People often comment that they think I make discipleship too hard, that I expect too much of people, that I am unrealistic in my expectations.  I always wonder where people got the idea that discipleship was supposed to be easy and convenient.  Can people be Christian “believers” and not read the Bible and not pray, and not attend church regularly, and not give or serve as an expression of their faith, and not fast, and not share their faith?  Obviously, a lot of people think so.  But be a disciple?  Discipleship has some built-in defining characteristics that are much more demanding than occasionally showing up.  People who haven’t shared in public worship for two years should not be called disciples.  Those too busy to pray, who have no time to meet with other Christians for accountability and spiritual practice, who neglect a sacrificial commitment of time or money should not be called disciples.  Those who do meet to debate carpet colors, criticize the pastoral leadership, snipe over music styles, and decide who isn’t welcome are not disciples.  Those who only pay attention to the parts they like and that make them feel comfortable and lovable are not disciples.  Come on!  Why would anyone want to be a disciple if the key qualification is breathing?

On his blog, I asked — and will repeat here — whether we are institutionally capable of surviving the fall out that would happen if United Methodists got serious about discipleship. Here is what I predict would happen: First, there would be a tremendous amount of conflict and shedding of “members.” Then, the remnant would go forth and be much more like the church as the New Testament describes it. But make not mistake, it would be a much smaller church. It would probably be more active and vital, but it would be smaller.

There would be fewer buildings, fewer full-time jobs for clergy, and even less cultural relevance than we have now — at least for a time.

If we want a church of disciples — I think it says this somewhere in our mission statement — then shouldn’t we being doing the kind of institutional prep work that getting that kind of church is going to require? The image that comes into my head is Noah. If we know a flood is coming, shouldn’t we be building an ark?

Maybe someone is. I can’t hear the hammering from where I stand, though.

Do we choose happiness?

Dan Dick writes about the way our happiness is our decision.

Among those who self-report contentment, happiness and satisfaction — as well as those identified as happy or content by others — an overwhelming percentage (between 80-90%) report making a conscious decision to be happy, positive, and joyful.  The source of contentment for the truly content is internal, not external — they do not expect the world to bend over backwards to make them happy; true happiness comes from within.

Dick argues in his post that our happiness is a choice. It is up to us. It is something we decide.

Perhaps it is because I’ve been reading John Wesley’s sermons on the Sermon on the Mount, but I found myself wondering how these claims impacted our reading of the beattitudes:

“Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

“Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad.

“Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.

“Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full.

“Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy.

“Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God.

“Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children.

“Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

“Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me. Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you. (MT 5: 3-12, CEB)

Dick seems to me to be arguing that the order of Jesus’ words are inverted. He argues that if I choose to be happy, if I make a decision to be happy, then I will have peace and joy. I’m not sure Dick would extend this to saying that choosing to be happy makes me humble and merciful, and hungry for righteousness.

But there do seem to be some important theological issues at stake here. Is happiness a choice I make that bears fruit in holy dispositions? Or does cultivating the holy dispositions — mercy, purity of heart, peace, humility, etc. — make me happy? (These questions also are in some tension with my post yesterday about dependence on God.)

I suspect part of the distinction that needs to be made here is the definition of happiness. Dick is using self-reports. Are you happy? Wesley interprets happiness as holiness. He argues that there is no real happiness that is distinct from holiness. I suspect a lot of people in America who self-report as happy would not necessarily embrace a Christian definition of holiness of heart and life as the meaning of happiness. So, these two voices might be talking past each other.

What do you think?

Jeff Conn: Reach the masses

I’ve been watching the comments on Dan Dick’s post about “cheap” religion. Jeff Conn offered a counter-argument to the general critique of megachurches:

I think McDonald’s and Wal-Mart are 2 good examples of how to reach the masses, which is what the church says we want to do. They have convenient, reliably consistent easily identified products at low cost in accessible areas. By contrast most of our churches are in old buildings, with insufficient parking, out of date music and lack of activities for kids. This I think is the main reason we are failing. We are offering last century’s religion to today’s people and wondering why they reject it. Nondenominational, larger churches seem to do pretty well and i don’t think it’s their theology. it’s their presentation. We could learn from them. I believe Wesley would be imitating their methods and providing his disciple-making small groups to go along with it.