Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks for Christ and the NCC

I am thankful beyond measure

In my morning devotions I read Colossians 2.  Good timing for Thanksgiving.   Col 2:20, 21  Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"?   

I'm thinking that means I can eat turkey and dressing and celebrate with family today:-)

Deeper still, Jesus Christ satisfied all debts in my spiritual account and cleared accusations against me when he died on the cross, triumphing over all powers and principalities bent on the destruction of humanity and even my own soul (Colossians 2:8-19).   As a sinner saved by grace, and a believer renewed day by day in the Spirit, a member of the body of Christ which is being built up by the spirit of Christ from age to age and a bit player in the big plan of God to make all things and new engaged in merely light and momentary trouble which are achieving an eternal glory... wow am I thankful.

I've recently come out of the first GROW event for the NCC this year, the Metro Chicago event.  It was great to see so many people committed to inviting, increasing, involving and investing in bringing people from skepticism to Christlife.  From personal evangelism and structured outreach opportunities like Alpha to feeding thousands of the hungry year round, it is good to see, taste and hear how the Free Methodist congregations are making real impact in our challenged world.  And I'm thankful.

I look forward to leaving tomorrow for the Dakotas and Minnesota and engaging the 3D GROW event next weekend in Albert Lea, MN.  Being with this district will be fun!  They have consistently grown, churches partnering with significant urban ministries and others loving cowboys to Jesus, Hispanic ministries blasting through the gates of hell in powerful prison ministries (more than 40 inmates professing Christ as savior in the past three months!) and two new churches planted in just year.  I'm thankful. 

Several friends, family and colleagues are battling cancer, illnesses and the difficulties of aging, and providing examples of true hope and trust in God in the midst of this, shining brightly even in their pain.  It gives me hope. And while I pray with a heavy heart for many, I am thankful for the power and presence of God as we walk through the valleys of life.

Many young leaders in the conference are stepping up and leading with courage and grace, wisdom and hope and seeing turnaround in their churches.  And I am thankful that God does indeed provide from generation to generation a witness of the power of the Word and Spirit to impact the world.  Many who even come out of retirement to build up the church serve when every bone aches and deliver consistent good news and good planning.  From age to age God is faithful!  And I'm thankful!

A global perspective looms large in the Free Methodist Churches of the upper Midwest as several have come and gone to support our global partners (just this last month a group went to the Philippines and another to Kenya), local churches are raising support for Not For Sale and engaging the neo-abolition movement, praying for the persecuted church, assisting in conference ministries like Hope Africa (Janesville, WI), Olive Branch MIssion (Chicago IL), Hearthstone Ministries (Woodstock, IL).  I'm personally grateful for those who have contributed to the short term mission trip Kerrie and I will be engaging in January.  I'm so grateful, aren't you, that we are part of a movement that is not shrinking back in the face of local, national and global struggle but straining ahead toward the goals for which Christ has called us toward!  

Kerrie and I are thankful that you have given us the opportunity to serve as superintendent, to participate in the lives of your churches and work of your ministries, to pray for you, to mourn with you, to rejoice with you.  We are grateful beyond words.

Thanks for reading this, I just longed to tell you how thankful I am, and how such a large part of this is you, and Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Love and joy,

Supt. Mark

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

National Trends and the NCC... Do Real Religion & Hang out with Jesus

Does it seem as if fewer visitors are show-ing up at church? Not as many kids are in the Sunday School programs as in times past? More of your fellow worshipers con-sider attending church once a month as "regular" church attendance? The fact is, fewer Americans are claiming Christianity as their faith allegiance, are having children, or consider going to church weekly as essential to their devotion to God. The fastest growing faith category in America is "unaffiliated" or "irreligious."

The graph below tracks Gallup Poll information on the percentage of Americans who claim to be Christian and the percentage who claim to go to church regularly. I extrapolated the trends into 2025, with the most current Gallup data in this graph from 2008. Though approximately 40 per-cent of Americans self-report attending church regularly (data this graph is based upon), community "head counts" place that figure at around 20 percent.

It is good news that the American Free Methodist Church has grown 3 percent over the past year and has a track record of growth. This bucks many trends experienced by American churches. Regardless, the fastest growing "faith demographic" in the USA includes those who proactively avoid church and divest themselves of religion. North Central Conference believers, we have our work cut out for us. Here are three things which may reverse the trend.

Do real religion. Our authority, the Bible, reminds us, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: Look after orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (James 1:27).

Hang out with Jesus. This likely means less focus on standing and singing songs behind stained glass or techno cool strobe lights and more time with the sick, naked, hungry, thirsty, and imprisoned, because that is when we have visited with our Savior (Matthew 25:40).

Proclaim good news! Good news is always the way of escape, and as the majority of our American peers do not believe in Hell and seem unable to articulate sin, proclaiming freedom from these things will fall on deaf  ears and not be particularly good news. But a way of escape from meaninglessness, vain pursuits, selfishness, poverty, broken relationships, painfully confused sexuality, injustice, disunity, and despair is good news, and quite to the heart of the gospel of Jesus--and a beacon that draws people toward the light which yields present and eternal life.

When the church lives like the Body of Christ--acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly before God, she is more attractive than anything else God placed on earth. Doing real religion. Hanging out with Jesus. Proclaiming good news that sounds like good news because it is good news. These are ways of being church embraced by Free Methodists. These will contribute to reversing the trend embraced by 80 percent (if head count stats are to be trusted) of Americans -- avoiding church.

I believe church is avoided because it is seen, often accurately, as a self-absorbed, institutional organization which lives to rehearse old news with old songs that blame everything else. Instead, let us embrace ancient truths with new songs that bless everyone else. Do real religion, hang out with Jesus, and proclaim good news!

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Have you started upon the iPath? The Annual Conference 2011 theme – the iPath – is not a thing of the past but the ever present journey each healthy, growing church must be on. Superintendent Mark challenged every church to develop an iPath plan the coming year. Many are already engaging the iPath.

So then, what is the iPath? 

The iPath is the path from skepticism to Christlife. Each step of the way is guided by the Way, the Truth and the Life – Jesus. Everything we do must target becoming increasingly identified with, in love with, engaged with, overcome by, filled by, energized by, living for Almighty God, revealed in the person of Jesus, infusing the church by the Holy Spirit. 

A church can realistically state that it is bringing glory to God when those who call that church their spiritual home are consistently engaged in a life style and mindset that is visibly moving toward being more like Jesus. That’s a dangerous proposition.  People willing to turn their cheek to abuse heaped upon them for their beliefs, rather than fighting back with harsh attitudes, unkindness or violence.  People willing to sacrifice comfort and the American dream in order to share resources with those who have less. People who intentionally devote themselves – really DEVOTE themselves – to the Apostle’s teachings (learning and living them out), to prayer, to being together in faith, and to blessing, encouraging, loving and rebuilding the communities in which they live. People who bless their persecutors, courageously stand by their convictions without demanding that others share them and who exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Such people have changed the world. I want to be part of a movement that still does.

Before anyone can begin to grow into Christlife (a journey to be sure) they must be iNvited. Any Christian group that desires to iNcrease must create an environment where seekers and newbies are welcomed, nurtured and pointed in productive directions. The only real way to allow people to explore and express their faith is to iNvolve them in hands-on ministry. Jesus spent more time discussing the proper use of money than he did faith, so too we must not shy away from building in opportunities to iNvest in kingdom work – which is in fact a form of Christian love.

There it is … the iPath. • iNvite • iNcrease • iNvolve • iNvest. 

What are the intentional and corporate efforts your church employs to bless the community so much that when you iNvite skeptics to explore Christlife they seem to want to? What are the intentional and outrageously hospitable means you use to ensure that visitors and seekers feel welcome and want to return? What are intentional and systematic ways that your church allows everyone, young and old, sinner and saint, seeker and preacher, to be actively involved in some way in the work of God on earth?  CONTROVERSY ALERT! If there is no room for seekers and sinners to participate in your ministries then your church will die and it should. Who initially followed Jesus into town after town to do ministry but liars, thieves, rebels, unstable, anger-prone, thick-skulled, ambitious group of people we call the Apostles… They changed as they walked along the iPath with their Savior! Oddly enough, it always true that people who are personally and actively engaged in an endeavor iNvest in that work, and usually true that people not challenged to personal involvement will – go figure – be uninvolved and divested rather than invested in the ministry. 

WEIRED SPELLING ALERT! Why small “i” and big Path?  Because Jesus (the Way, the Path) must increase, and “I” must decrease (“i”).  Why the capital “N” within iNvite, iNcrease, iNvolve, iNvest?  “N” represents the up and down journey of moving from skepticism to Christlife, and that journey ALWAYS ends on an UP swing!

Please, send news about your church’s iPath plans to Superintendent Mark via!  NCC, change the world!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Churches Having Babies - Big Priority

As the denomination celebrates 150 years of “spreading scriptural holiness across the land” and “preaching the gospel to the poor,” we celebrative a history marked by explosive church planting.  With a purpose and resolve to bring a whole gospel to masses of people who lived with either no faith or hope at all, or with an impoverished view of the extend of God’s redemption, the early Free Methodists, launched churches wherever and whenever they could.  Many North Central Conference churches were launched by the wave of pastors and lay leaders committed to establishing kingdom outposts in county seats and communities. 

The average age of a church in America is about 80 years.  Churches are birthed, then they grow, then they struggle, then they find themselves, then they become established, then they begin to level off, then they begin to celebrate what they did and begin to be less interested in a compellingly different vision for a new future, and then they age gracefully, and then they die, and then they pass on their legacy to a new generation of churches (or not).  Most NCC churches have lived longer than 80 years, by God’s grace, through good leadership, through the constant struggle of looking to Christ, seeking the Spirit’s guidance and power to understand, love, reach and redeem an ever changing community around them.  Many have not.  A significant number of us are plateaued, declining or on the verge of passing on.  It’s part of the life cycle of an older collection of churches.  Not a single church St. Paul planted still exists today.  You would be hard pressed to find many that were planted by John Wesley that still stand or exist in the same form today.  You will find billions of Christians who live today because of the church planting heritage of St. Paul and millions who can look to the seminal founding work of Wesley and his peers. Look at the age of the NCC (152 years old) and its trend line over the past 50 years … multiple conference mergers as regions lose churches and require combining resources in order to survive – maybe the hope is thrive – yet closing more churches than it plants at a rate exceeding 3-1.   

For the NCC to survive as a movement God can bless, existing churches must keep eyes fixed on Jesus, the communities around them, and make sacrificial efforts to bless those communities and redeem souls as the living Body of Christ.   This can only be accomplished in an environment that loves disciples and builds communities that so love one another and those around them that souls are nourished and communities blessed. That will keep what God has given us strong.  But it will not mean we thrive.  

The NCC will not thrive unless churches have babies that grow up and have more babies who grow up and move away and have more babies in different communities all over the Midwest, USA and world.  The NCC will not thrive unless the collective effort and power that truly does exist in our connection called Free Methodist all together will go places with people and plans endued with the Spirit of Christ, blessing of his people, resources of his disciples that presently do not have groups of Christians dedicated to blessing communities through a holistic Christian presence. 

Easum, Bandy and Associates seminal work, “Transformation and Reproduction Across Denominational Lines” (2008) explored judicatories (conferences, regional connections of churches) that grow, and those (the majority) that are shrinking to determine differences.  They discovered that any region can grow IF they 1) have competent and passionate pastors who prioritize soul winning and community penetration rather than surviving and having a good place to teach stuff, 2) allow churches to struggle when an entrepreneurial pastor shakes up the status quo rather than  jumping to ‘restore order’ or engage in triangulation behavior, 3) have judicatories that understand they exist for the churches and that the churches do not exist for the denomination, 4) have aggressive church planting agendas which meet or exceed a 4% church plant to established church ratio.   I believe the NCC has made serious attempts to engage such priorities, and consequently we have seen growth overall in our movement. 

We must not, cannot, will not move away from engaging in the primal command of God to “be fruitful and multiply!”  We must, we can and we will plant churches (have babies!) in communities all over the Midwest, the USA and the world.  I look forward to celebrating several church plants that were started since last Annual Conference, and to praying over and consecrating new church planters.  We will plant and revitalize 50 congregations by 2025!   

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Jesus Sightings in the NCC

He lives, He lives
Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life’s narrow way.
He lives, he lives, Salvation to impart.
You ask me how I know he lives?
He lives within my heart!

Christian, many excellent apologetic arguments, solid reasons and historical evidences demonstrate that 2000 years ago Jesus died on the cross and resurrected to life. Yet, no more powerful argument exists for the Resurrection than the Living Christ bursting through with love and redemption in your heart and the heart of His mystical “body” – the church. 

We envision our collection of churches in the upper Midwest as “Bringing Jesus to the North Central United States through planting and growing healthy congregations advanced by boldly apostolic leaders working synergistically together.”  Bringing Jesus! When Christ LIVES in you, everywhere you go, you are bringing Jesus. Is this evident to your family, friends, peers, coworkers and Christian family? 

Here are some ways we see our peers in the North Central Conference Bringing Jesus lately. Nearly 1000 people trusted in Jesus for their eternal salvation in North Central Conference churches over the year. Shout hallelujah! 

Just last month 21 people became members of our churches, 14 people committed their lives to Jesus, 79 people made significant discipleship decisions.  Churches where people were born again this month include Iglesia Emanuel Pentecostal in Albert Lea, MN (Federico Rivera),Beloit FMC in Beloit, WI (Rich Whippler), Our Redeemer in Elgin, IL (Randy Stateler & Ernesto Ortega), Freeport FMC in Freeport, IL (Don Jamerson), Motley FMC in Motley, MN (Jim Johnson), New Hope in Oskaloosa, IA (Daryl Martin), Penn Street Church in Ottumwa, IA (Tim Ward), LifePointe Church in Tiffin, IA (Tommy Roberts), Toddville FMC in Toddville IA (Mark Lofquist), the Chapel in Chicago, IL (David Bates and Joel Smith) and Common Ground in Sioux Falls, SD (Mark Taylor and Pat an Marge McClanahan).

Men stood up to commit their lives to being patterned after Jesus rather than Oprah or the Spike TV ideals at Resolution Church in Oswego, IL (Erick & Bekki Ewaskowitz).  Thousands were fed through the Food Pantry in Evanston, IL (Pat Coakley and Maiya Lueptow) and Good in the Hood ministries at Cedarcrest Church in Bloomington, MN (Shawn and Jamie Morrison). A new community day care center – Noah’s Ark – was opened in Waterloo, IA (Al Taylor). Nearly 100 people attended a Valentines outreach in the small town of Wataga IL (Darren Anderson). Girls Night Out and Senior Citizens Breakfast are meeting community needs in Tiffin, IA (Tommy Roberts).  The Richland Center FMC is reaching people in their community using a Guitars for God program (Jim Berlin). Hilltop Church in Peoria, IL is launching the “Make a Friend” program (Paul Lee).  Ottumwa IA Free Methodists serve meals at the local homeless shelter (Tim Ward). Pine Grove FMC in Rockford, IL is distributing free batteries to their community in conjunction with the fire departments reminders to check life saving devices (Paul Bundschuh).  Emmanuel Church in Janesville WI is launching a Hot Rod Club and offering Line Dancing creating good community buzz (Dan Grimes). Several convicts give their life to Christ as New Hope in Fairfield IA launches a new jail ministry (Jim & Linda McGaffey). All over the conference sermons were preached, resources provided, concerts held, funds raised to set free the slaves in the world via Freedom Sunday activities.

Four new churches are in various stages of birth and launch! Common Ground, Sioux Falls (SD) launched with 200 in March. Clearview in Monroe WI, Mainstreet Ministries in Pella IA, Connect Church in DeKalb are building core groups and launching strategic ministries.

The sick are being healed, the hungry are being fed, the homeless are finding shelter, the lost are finding salvation.  YOU, North Central Conference Churches, are Bringing Jesus!  You have tasted and experienced the grace of God, grow more deeply in the knowledge of Christ and share God’s love broadly. Proclaim fearlessly the good news of the gospel over this Easter Season. 

He lives, He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, he lives, Salvation to impart.
You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Christian Camping Rocks


Tim’s parents were going through a divorce.  A bitter one, The kind that forced Tim out of the house. Living with his aunt and uncle was a hard adjustment for this eleven-year-old lad. When Auntie suggested he spend a week at the Sky Lodge Junior Camp, he grew sullen. “Yet another stupid ploy to get the kid no one wanted out of the house,” he thought silently.  He didn’t know anyone.  He didn’t like camping.  Well, actually he had never been camping so he just thought he wouldn’t like it. 

Not long after his Free Methodist aunt drug him to the place of banishment (Sky Lodge Camp) he discovered carpet ball, and few other kids who didn’t seem to be “with” anyone.  They became friends quickly and enjoyed some of the informal games around the camp.  Horse back riding, swimming, archery, capture the flag – camp – Tim discovered, was actually kind of fun.  And friends were made fairly easily.

Frank, the camp counselor assigned to him, didn’t know what Tim was going through, but he could tell there were problems. Frank made intentional efforts to draw Tim into the evening Bible studies and prayer time. One of the lessons, loosely based on forest birds, shared around a campfire, spoke of God’s love for even the sparrow.  Tim started bawling.  He felt God’s love pour into his heart, a lost little sparrow, and prayed to receive Jesus Christ as his savior – and his friend. 

It is impossible to count the number of young lives (and old!) that have been given new life at Sky Lodge and Heartland Christian Camps.  The NCC does not support Christian Camping just to have acreage in the woods and fun place to shoot arrows or ski.  Christian camping provides a unique opportunity to change lives in one of the rare points of time that facilitates total attention around the holistic good news of the gospel. 

Many of the kids your church will sponsor to go to camp may, like Tim, have a preconceived notion that camping is dull, and that they will not know anyone.  But these same kids will discover, along with Tim, that the experience is rich, fun, friendly, and life changing.

How are you supporting Christian Camping?  Some churches place Sky Lodge or Heartland Camp on their regular prayer list and in their annual budgets.  Many churches take advantage of the life changing opportunity to bring friends, family and even chance encounters to places where they WILL have fun and where the best relationship that takes flight is between a heart and God who loves that heart!  Many people personally partner together financially with Sky Lodge and Heartland to support these ministries


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Black History Month and the NCC

Established in 1925, “Negro History Week” was placed in the first week of February in between the birthday celebrations of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.  Over the years Americans have expanded the communal opportunity to reflect upon, embrace and learn more about the nation’s African heritage - both painful and beautiful. Now we observe Black History Month.  Free Methodists join in!

The first Free Methodists were “thrust out” of the larger Methodist body over their unshakable commitment to a holiness that was not merely private but insistently public. Abolition - fighting to end slavery - was a core issue for our denominational forefathers and mothers.  Underground railroad depots were part of the fabric of the this group of radical Christ-followers.  Our churches intentionally stripped barriers that kept black and white worshipers separate and embraced new ministries that invested in equipping and partnering with the poor, disenfranchised and oppressed.

Not surprisingly, most early Free Methodist churches formed in the North . . . an abolitionist church did not take easy root in the Southern United States. Nonetheless, the first Free Methodist Church organized in Missouri, a slave state at the time. This boldly testified that the church’s foundation would not be compromised by accepting injustice or the disunity of believers based upon skin color or social status. In Christ’s family there are only brothers and sisters loved by their heavenly Father.

Today, the largest NCC church is a black congregation – the Chapel. 500 worshipers gather weekly at the Chapel to praise God and testify of new hope and transformation in Christ. Connected to Olive Branch Mission, the Chapel serves Chicago’s Englewood community and the world.

Black pastors in the NCC are currently leading in churches in Chicago (Joel Smith with the Chapel), Madison (Larry Jackson with True Believers), Iowa City (Tommy Roberts with LifePointe Church), and Elliot Renfroe (Winfield, IL) provides consistent leadership to the Free Methodist Continental Urban Exchange.  Despite a history grounded in actively seeking equality and cross-cultural ministry, North American Free Methodists are a largely white group. Be bold, North Central Conference, in taking continued action today as a movement of embrace for all, seeking justice and engaging in partnership across all the divides which threaten to diminish the united Body of Christ.

Monday, January 10, 2011


American criminals advertize jobs for nannies and waitresses in third world countries. Young women, the average age is 14, apply for these jobs, and are excited when they are accepted and provided passage to the United States. Upon arrival, they are greeted by pimps who beat them into submission and threaten to kill their families if they try to escape or tell anyone of their new position.

Whose hands picked the beans for cup of java you enjoyed today? Global Horizons Manpower, Inc. is an international labor company that brings agricultural workers to America from Thailand. GHM came under indictment last year when it was discovered that their practices include giving Thai nationals the "opportunity" to mortgage their land for the fee needed to secure high-paying America jobs, and upon arrival to the U.S., had their passports confiscated and forced to work for minimal or pay, long hours, and with threat of economic, legal or even physical violence if they sought to escape. American companies who used these "employees" include Kaua'i Coffee and Maui Pineapple Farms.

This is modern slavery. It's real. It's pandemic. It's nearby. As we celebrate the life of America's clearest voice for freedom in our time, Martin Luther King, Jr., we need to ask, what are we doing about it?

Over 26 million people are estimated to be enslaved worldwide today. Estimates from the U.S. State Department indicate that this year between 15,000 and 50,000 people will be kidnaped, tricked, or bought from family members in third world countries (sometimes from our own streets) and enslaved for labor or sex in America.

Slavery is a North Central Conference issue.

In November 2010, 29 American Somalians were arrested in Minneapolis (home base for the Somali Outlaws, Somali Mafia and Lady Outlaws gangs). These gangs fulfilled their mission statement for 10 years before being caught. Their mission was to "identify, recruit and obtain girls 14 and under for American prostitution." One of the victims, a high school student found beaten by authorities, reported being frequently raped by her gang member owners and shipped between three states for their profit. Minnesota ranks 10 in the US for incidents of slavery.

A Chinese girl was promised work by a restaurant owner, but when she arrived her passport was confiscated, family threatened, and she lived a life of servitude and abuse in Ames, Iowa. 200 cases of suspected human trafficking were reported in Wisconsin in 2010. Illinois generates the fifth largest amount of calls to the U.S. Human Trafficking hotline (888-3737-888).

Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, and currently topped only by drug trade. Slavery is more common - and more lucrative - than illegal arms trading. A slave can be worth $400,000 a year in income to the criminal abusing this human being.

What is a human being worth to you? As Christ-followers and part of a church which began largely as an abolitionist movement, what are we going to do about it?


End slavery. Start by being a "FREEDOM SUNDAY" Church. If your church has not already registered as a Freedom Sunday Church, I urge you to do so. I believe every one of our churches must participate in some way to end slavery in our day. It’s our DNA. Registering will give you access to many excellent resources for awareness, prayer, advocacy and action that will end slavery in our time.

Freedom Sunday is March 13. But the war has been raging, battles engaged, and the time for action is now. Get started. Your church could be the next stop on a new underground railroad, your living room could be where teams are equipped to identify and aid victims of slavery, your phone call may provide the tip that saves a battered girl's life and family.

One of the largest neo-abolitionist groups today is "notforsalecampaign" - with which the Free Methodist Church is very involved. This organization needs state leaders for almost every state in the North Central Conference. Do you, or someone you know, have a passion to make a real difference in this world and become actively engaged in the struggle? Let Superintendent Mark know (, we want to partner to be a force for good in this dark world!

Join Freedom Sunday via
Join "Not For Sale" via

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Resolve to Love

What if in 2011 we focused not on growing churches so much as growing hearts – growing our capacity to love?  The theme this Conference year is “Making Contact,” based upon the idea that at Christmas “the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14).  Love was God’s motivation (John 3:16).

Love fulfills the law (Romans 13:10).  The distinguishing mark of a Christian is love - not merely for family and friends, even unbelievers  share that kind of love - but love for your enemy (Matthew 5:43-48).  Proof that we love God is our love for our neighbor (1 John 4:20).

Free Methodists identify with the holiness movement.  Sometimes this has led us to replace the royal law of love (James 2:8) with a legalism that has done more to hinder the expression of the gospel than to further it (Galatians 5).  John Wesley, our theological forefather, called the first Methodists to pursue perfection, to experience entire sanctification, which he identified as “love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Grow in love.  Grow in love and your church will grow.  Your heart will grow. Your relationships will grow. Your happiness will grow.  Your resources will grow.  Love is expansive, expressive, social and warm.  People are attracted to loving people.  People are attracted to loving churches.  The warmth of love will melt away the icy hardness of self-righteous pseudo holiness that keeps men and women, liberal and conservative, dark brown and light beige, generation Y and the builders from experiencing Christian community together.

Resolved for 2011: North Central Conference Free Methodists will be known as the most radically generous, openly loving, self-sacrificial people anyone will meet this year.  In love let’s shovel our neighbor’s walk, offer a kind word to the harassed grocery clerk, set aside our agendas to listen to the complaints and hurts of others. In love feed the hungry, free slaves, protect aliens and widows.

When people experience God’s love through you, you will be an amazingly attractive and compelling person. When our churches are known in the community as places of radical, uncompromising, extravagant love I suspect growth will come.  Christ in you, the hope of glory, is how God intends the world to know the gospel (Col.1.27). This is “Bringing Jesus to the North Central United States.”