Walking resolutely with Jesus

I read one of my favorite passages from Luke’s gospel the other day, Luke 9:51.  It tells us that Jesus, “resolutely set his face towards Jerusalem.”  It is, for me, a profound statement about Jesus embracing the cross and all that it would mean for him personally.  But when we put it in its context it says even more about what discipleship is all about.

This verse is bracketed by a conversation that John has with Jesus about an individual who has apparently been casting out demons in Jesus name, but who was not one of the disciples.  John informs Jesus that they stopped the guy (he doesn’t indicate what they did to stop him, whether they spoke to him, warned him, or passed legislation at Conference to keep him out), but whatever means were used, they made it clear to him that since he wasn’t one of the official group he was not allowed to use the “Jesus brand.”  Jesus informs John that they are not to stop him “for whoever is not against you is for you.”  Jesus, as he sets his face towards Jerusalem broadens the definition of disciple.

Following Luke 9:51 is another event involving John and this time, his brother James as well.  As Jesus and the disciples come to a Samaritan village they are, the text says, “Not welcomed because they are going to Jerusalem.”  How it was known they were going to Jerusalem is not clear, but James and John are incensed about the attitude and suggest to Jesus that he call down fire on the people.  I love one commentator’s suggestion that this event was the impetus behind Jesus’ later tongue in cheek reference to these two as the sons of thunder!  In any case Luke tells us that Jesus “rebukes” them for their suggestion and they move on to another village.

So what do these two events — bracketing Jesus resolutely setting his face to Jerusalem — tell us?  Well I think they reveal some misconceptions regarding discipleship.  Discipleship is not about privilege.  It’s not about us against them.  It is always about the road to Jerusalem.  It is always about setting our faces towards the places of sacrifice and offering grace.  As one commentator has put it in describing the context of Luke 9:51:

“Taken with the episode that follows about the conditions of discipleship, the two scenes serve to correct wrong ideas of what it means to follow Jesus. Discipleship does not consist in zealous punishment of those who reject Jesus and his mission; nor does it consist in qualified following. All of this comes from the teacher who walks resolutely toward the goal.”

As we continue to walk through the days of this Lenten season, may we be those who walk resolutely with Jesus towards the goal of servant-hood and mercy, the true mark of a disciple.


Let’s celebrate 50 Years as the Grand Rapids District!

As we get closer to the time when we will begin this journey as one Annual Conference, I thought it might be helpful to outline for you some of the plans as we move into this new reality.

First, by January 1, 2018 (and probably before) we will have the final boundaries of the new 9 Districts in place and that will be shared across the state.  As you, hopefully, are aware we are moving from 12 Districts which make up the current West Michigan and Detroit Annual Conferences to 9 Districts that will make up the new Michigan Annual Conference.  That means of course that all 9 Districts will be new entities with new names as well as congregational makeup.

But before the Grand Rapids District closes, we are going to have a celebration!  On January 27, 2018 from 9:00am – noon we will gather to celebrate the 50 years of ministry we have shared in the United Methodist Grand Rapids District.  Our former District Superintendent, now Bishop Laurie Haller, will be preaching as we gather for worship.  We’ll hear stories of where we have been and what has been accomplished as we have walked together these five decades.  So make sure that this date is on your calendar, you will not want to miss it! Details are coming soon.

Then as we look forward to the beginning of the “new” District we will have some opportunities to get together in regions to talk about hopes and dreams.  That process will culminate in an Organizing District Conference on Sunday, April 22, 2018.  At that Conference we will elect the needed Disciplinary Committees, District Committee on Ministry, District Committee on Building and Location, and the District Committee on Superintendency.  We will also elect a District Visioning Team that will lead us into our first year helping us to discern what leadership structure we will need going forward.  It has not been finally decided at this point, but we may also be selecting a name for the District at that organizing conference.

Then on July 1, 2018 we will begin functioning as 9 Districts in one Annual Conference.  The caveat to that July 1 beginning is that from a legal and financial perspective we will not be the Michigan Annual Conference officially until January 1, 2019.  We are still working on how those details will be worked out in that six month period, but I trust and am sure we will find our way.

These are exciting times and I look forward, as I hope you do, to the ways our new District and our new Annual Conference will help congregations make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!


A Partner in Ministry All Along The Way

I won’t be writing a Castings article the next two weeks.  My wife Robin and I are going to Mexico next Tuesday for 10 days!  On May 7 we will be celebrating 40 years of marriage; I can hardly believe it has been that long.  It just seems like yesterday that we were moving our things into married student housing at Eastern Michigan University! I know not everybody has this blessing and God uses each one of our unique situations in ministry for the work God has given, but I have had the awesome gift of a partner in ministry all along the way.

Robin and I met at a “Mid-Winter” District youth retreat on the Lansing District at age 16.  I first felt called into ministry at age 17, so we have been in this together all along the way.  And Robin has made significant sacrifices along the way in this itinerant system in which we live.  Robin is retired now, but she taught Special Education at various levels for 30 years.  Because of our 4 local church appointments she received, gave up, and earned once again her tenure − three different times!

In the early days, before computers, Robin typed sermons (sometimes on Saturday night!!).  She juggled raising kids, with a husband and father who wasn’t always able to be around in the evening or at critical moments.  She has also used her rich gifts for her own ministry serving as District Youth Coordinator on no less than three districts, singing in choirs and bands, and helping cabins full of girls at camp discover the joys and wonder of God’s grace.  We have walked the road God has given to us and it has been wonderful.

Now…it hasn’t been perfect.  There have been times we have talked with counselors to help us try and sort out issues we struggle with and continue to struggle with.  There have been times our temperaments and perspectives have brought us to different places in decision making, but for the most part, it has been a delightful journey.  And I am so humbled and thankful for the gift our journey has been and continues to be.

So….I won’t be writing Castings for the next two weeks.  I will be hanging out on a beach with my partner in life and in ministry, thinking back over the past 40 years and looking forward to all God has for us all along the way ahead.


Rev. Dr. Glenn Wagner-New Book Signing on July 14 and 17

Press Release

The United Methodist Church of the Dunes is pleased to announce the arrival of the new book, God Incidents – Real-Life Stories to Strengthen and Restore Your Faith, by Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Glenn Wagner.  This book, which was the number one best seller at the recent state wide conference of United Methodists, invites persons who are struggling with belief to reconsider God.

With honesty, empathy, and inspiration from four decades of global pastoral experience, Pastor Glenn shares many different ways that God is made known so that persons who doubt God and those who seek to help them may find new perspectives for living.

“In nearly four decades of pastoral ministry, I have had the privilege of meeting many people who reject God.  They disbelieve with strong reasons.  Their authentic doubts have helped me grow. They have caused me to stretch my understanding of faith.  They have humbled me. They have taught me to listen – to them and to God.  Their attitudes about God are increasingly commonplace.  I wrote this book as a personal and pastoral response to their very real and legitimate questions about God.”  ~ Glenn Wagner

Pastor Glenn shares life shaping events that have helped him to deepen his understanding of God including the inspirational story of his special-needs sister, Jane. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of each book supports Lambs Farm in Libertyville, Illinois, a world-class community for special-needs adults that has been Jane’s home for over thirty years.

Chapters cover different facets of God by examining topics such as defining God-incidents, miracles, creation, prayer, dreams, places to discover God, ways to discover God, what to do when God seems absent, dealing with disappointment and doubt, discovering God in community, and more. Discussion questions for each chapter are offered at the end of the book, and will also be used in the 5-week book discussion class led by Pastor Glenn on Wednesday evenings, beginning July 27.

Pastor Glenn Wagner (188x239) (2)
Rev. Dr. Glenn Wagner

Meet the Author, Rev. Dr. Glenn Wagner at his book signings on Thursday, July 14 at 7:00 p.m. at The Bookman, 715 W. Washington Street, Grand Haven or Sunday, July 17 at 9:30 a.m. at Church of the Dunes, 717 Sheldon, Grand Haven.  Sunday morning’s event will take place in the Wiltse Center from 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.  Pastor Glenn will be on hand at both events to meet you and sign your book.

For more information about God Incidents, including excerpts, visit www.glennmwagner.com. Copies will also be available for purchase at The Bookman.

God-Incidents is endorsed by Bishop Kiesey with a forward by Bishop Sharon Rader. A simple way to learn more about the book, link to a preview of the book, or to booksellers to direct order, is through the website www.glennmwagner.com

Churches interested in having Glenn come for a book signing or in arranging for volume discounts for book study groups are welcome to contact him at 616.510.1770.

Purchase a paperback copy HERE

Purchase a Kindle copy HERE

God’s Reassuring Spirit is ALWAYS with us!

On Saturday I’m flying to Liberia to share in the Annual Conference of the Liberian United Methodist Church.  I am excited about the trip and I feel privileged to represent our Conference, but I am also just a bit apprehensive.  While I have done a lot of traveling in my life, I have never been to this part of the world.  I don’t have any context for my imagination.  Oh yes, I’ve seen pictures.  I’ve talked to Rev. Dr. Charles Boayue, Detroit Renaissance District Superintendent, who is from Liberia, and whose advice was to watch out for the infestation of lions!!  And yes, I have lived with my three foster sons who are from Liberia for the past seven years and have learned much about the culture, but I’ve never actually been to the place! And so I’m a little apprehensive about the journey.

As I thought about my upcoming trip, I was reminded of the text from Joshua 3:4.  It comes as the Israelites are about to enter the Promised Land.  It instructs them with these words, “When you see it (the ark), you must move out from where you are and follow it. Then you will know which way to go. You have never gone this way before.”  What I have always taken away from this text over the years is that God is with us when we go into places and situations we have never encountered before.  It requires us to pay attention, to look for the Spirit’s leading and presence, but God is with us, God will guide us as we go into places and situations unknown to us.  And that is good news!

For while I’m dealing with the small challenge of traveling to a geographic location I have never visited, some of you are walking into much more difficult settings.  Some are engaging new diagnoses and the journey of chemotherapy or some other treatment.  Some are moving through the uncharted waters of divorce or unemployment.  Some of you are wandering the twists and turns of grief and the sorting of life without that significant one who has always been there.

The good news that I would invite us all to hear again today is that as we go into every new place, as we walk into every new unknown location, God’s Spirit goes with us and leads us.  May we do our best to pay attention to that Spirit gift and may we receive it with humility and hope.