Thoughts On Gratitude
As I write this letter shortly after Christmas day from my family’s home in Iowa, I find myself reflecting on “gratitude.” Christmas has a way of bringing out our gratefulness or lack thereof. Gifts are not the most important aspect of Christmas, but they do teach us something about gratitude. While gathering with my siblings, parents, and grandparents on Christmas evening I was struck by the fact that it was still mostly the same group of family gathered together to share a large meal, exchange gifts, and celebrate Jesus’ birth. One implication of this is that it has been the same people giving me Christmas gifts my entire life, and again, this year, I have now received another round of gifts from the same family members. Another year of sitting in my grandparents’ living room doing my best to express equal gratitude for all gifts received: the gifts I had asked for and the ones I hadn’t, the ones I know I’ll use almost everyday and the ones that spend significant time forgotten about in a closet; equal gratitude for all. The family members still giving me gifts now are the ones who I learned how to say thank you to. The polite things to do after opening a gift is to look at the person who gave you the gift, say “thank you,” and wait for their response before moving onto the next gift. I still follow that rule I was trained to follow at yearly family Christmas gatherings. Near the end of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians he urges to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Yearly family Christmas gatherings are familiar circumstances in which I know how to give thanks. I now find myself in relatively new circumstances where I am continually learning to give thanks. I have so much to be grateful for. I have received so many gifts from you all leading up to Christmas, and I am ever grateful. I am beyond blessed to be a part of First United Methodist Church. It is a wonderful gift to worship and serve God with you all, and I am grateful to continue doing so with you in 2018.
In Christ, Pastor Ryan
Advent and Christmas Season are about another kind of homecoming,
December is upon us, as is the winter season with its dropping temperatures, fresh snow, particularly blue skies, short days, bowls of soup, cups of hot chocolate, and plans to visit home and family. The winter season also brings the Advent season, when we await the birth of Christ into the world. As we begin our period of waiting, I invite you to reflect on this meditation from United Methodist Discipleship Ministires: “In the United States, Christmastime and thoughts of home just go together. “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” and “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” are two of the most popular holiday songs, year after year. Christmas movies and television shows regularly feature stories of people going to their family home or extended family home over the holidays. Among the rituals we create for this darkest time of the year in the Northern hemisphere, perhaps the majority of them are associated with either going home or doing special things at home-- whether lighting candles and having a time of family prayer during Advent, or decorating a Christmas tree, or caroling through a neighborhood, or hosting festive “open house” parties for friends, neighbors, and colleagues. It’s all about home. Advent and Christmas Season are about another kind of homecoming, the homecoming of Christ to redeem and renew us, this earth, and all creation till “heaven and nature sing” with joy eternally. The Scriptures the church uses for Advent focus first on the final fulfillment, and later on the beginning of that fulfillment in Jesus. As they seek God’s joyous desire, they also make plain just how far from it we have been and challenge us with just how far we have to go, ourselves, to begin to live into it.” -https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/advent-through christmas-season-2017-series-overview During the Advent season our worship will focus on the theme of homecoming; both Christ’s initial coming and Christ’s eventual and ultimate homecoming. As we engage the scriptures this season presents to us we will reflect on ways God leads us toward making our hearts, our lives, our families, our communities, and our world more like the home Christ’s ultimate homecoming will make it to be. In Christ, Pastor Ryan
A genuine thank you can really alter one’s perspective.
As we enter November, let me take a minute to remember October. I’m in no hurry for October to end in
part because it went by so fast, and also because our church marks October as “Pastor Appreciation
Month.” I had never even heard of Pastor Appreciation Month until becoming a pastor and suddenly receiving gifts various gifts and cards in October. I consumed more cake, pie, and ice cream in October than the
month of birthday, September. Between the gifts, gratitude of congregations, and deserts, October stands as
the month I am most grateful to serve two churches, because I am gifted with all the signs of gratitude
Though I’ve said some thank you’s from the pulpit, there is more thanking to be had. You all are in a
fairly tough spot having a pastor serving two churches 60 miles apart. It would be impossible for this arrangement without lots of help, guidance, and patience from the two congregations. I sometimes point out
that the time zone difference is what makes leading both services possible, but what makes serving Escanaba First and Menominee First possible is the congregations themselves. You all do so much to make this appointment possible.
Receiving authentic gratitude for being your pastor builds me up. Most people, including me, are pre
disposed and conditioned to see their flaws rather than their gifts. I get caught up on all the work I haven’t
gotten done without thinking about all that has been accomplished. Your gratitude and appreciation make it
a little harder to focus on my shortcomings. Feeling genuinely appreciated opens my eyes to all that God is
doing in our congregation. Continue being grateful towards all you encounter, because a genuine thank you
can really alter one’s perspective.
As November begins, so does Thanksgiving. Though a national holiday rather than a church holiday,
we can learn something from the season: a posture of gratitude. If you are
grateful for your less than perfect pastor, than how grateful are you for your
perfect God? As we think of all that God has done and is doing, our initial
response can always be thank you, thank you, thank you.
Resources Of Love
Over the past several weeks we have all followed the news regarding hurricanes Harvey and Irma. On news broadcasts we have seen photos and videos recording the extensive damage that heavy rains heavy winds can cause. Moreover, we have witnessed the devastating damage that ongoing flooding. Over a six day stretch Hurricane Harvey poured an estimated 27 trillion gallons of rain over Texas and Louisiana in the form of 51 inches of rain. For perspective, that is the most rainfall by landfall tropical storm ever recorded in the continental United States. The subsequent flooding has caused an estimated 75 billion dollars worth of damage. During Hurricane Harvey and the subsequent flooding over 72,000 people were rescued. Harvey was shortly followed by Irma, which ravaged the Caribbean and Florida. Beyond the storms a magnitude 7.1 magnitude earthquake shook Mexico City and the surrounding area, leveling more than 40 buildings, leading to over 230 deaths. Natural disaster has overwhelmed as of late. I can remember no time when there has been this many back to back to back. I have been moved by our church’s desire to help. Several people have asked what we can do to help. Many of you have offered your prayers and your resources to people you’ve never met. Over the past couple of weeks many of you have designated offerings towards the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). UMCOR exists exactly because the United Methodist church is committed to relief efforts in times of need. It is so important that we have built it into the structure of our denominational church. Apportionment dollars cover the overhead costs of UMCOR, meaning that all donations we are currently making and will continue to make go directly to relief efforts. Times of disaster are difficult, but I have been moved by the compassion and generosity displayed by people everywhere and within our church. In Christ, Pastor Ryan
Not Conformed but Transformed
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect.” -Romans 12:1-2
Throughout the summer and soon into the early fall (some say that the end of summer in the Upper Peninsula coincides with the conclusion of the U.P. State Fair, I am working my hardest to deny this notion and soaking up any bit of summer that may remain), our worship services have focused on Paul’s letter to the Romans. We have toiled, listened, and read carefully the good news the Apostle sends to the Church in Rome. For us who have worked through almost the entire letter of Romans, chapter 12 provides a payoff: In light of what God has done in Christ, this is what we are called to do. Paul has offered the “what”, the “so what,” and here the “now what. The above excerpt stands as a personal favorite scripture of mine and numerous other Christians. Here Paul exhorts us to, “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” Be transformed by the renewing of your minds, that is the “now what,” the implication of the letter up to this point. We were sinners condemned and enslaved to death (Romans 3). By grace we have been reconciled with God through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ our Lord (Romans 5). This is the hope in which we stand, and nothing, no power, nor height nor depth can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8). God’s promises to his chosen people Israel are fulfilled in Jesus (Romans 9-11). The result of all of this is Paul’s call for us to not be conformed to the ways and patterns of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Transformation is no small thing. “Trans” means to change, so transform means to change form. We are called to be transformed into a new creation as a result of the Gospel. This transformation affects every aspect of our lives: what we buy, what we eat, how we speak, what we believe, and how we relate to one another. I exhort you to be mindful of all the ways that the patterns of the world attempt to co-opt you, and to not be formed by the world, but by the renewing of your minds through Jesus our Lord.
In Christ, Pastor Ryan
The joy of hope overwhelms us
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I invite you to consider the following segment of scripture, Romans 8:18-25 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Recently many of us were able to to worship together in God’s creation at JW Wells Park. What a marvelous opportunity for member of Menominee First UMC and Escanaba First UMC to gather together, praise God, and share in food and fellowship. Summer is in full swing, meaning that many of us have had the opportunity to spend more time outside enjoying the beauty of creation: camping, working in gardens, gathering around a bonfire, fishing, picking strawberries, going down to the park, taking the boat out, walking the dog, and so much more. Paul’s passage above speaks to the cosmic scale of future hope of new creation. The glory to come is so big, so all-encompassing that all creation itself yearns with hope for what is to come. The hope is bigger than ourselves, for there is nowhere that God’s grace cannot reach. We who have the firstfruits of the Spirit also wait with anxious patience along with creation. Having the seen the firstfruits we see glimpses. We see the work of the Spirit now. We experience redemption now. The joy of hope overwhelms us now. Having seen, felt, and experienced the glory to come, we now wait for hope in its fullness, when all shall be well, all shall be glory, and all shall be peace. In Christ, Pastor Ryan
Lenten Focus on Baptismal Covenant
While self-examination and some individual work are part of the work of Lent, the early church developed Lent to be primarily “other-focused.” Lent was created as the final leg of intense preparation and support for people who had chosen to learn to live the way of Jesus. It was, we might say, a kind of finishing school for those preparing for baptism and lifelong Christian discipleship. In this tradition, the early church would baptize all new disciples on Easter morning.
Fittingly, each of the Gospel readings for this Lenten season corresponds with the various vows we make in our baptismal covenant. Framing our worship during Lent around our baptismal vows allows us to examine closely what it means to live out our baptismal calling. Below is an outline of what our focus of worship will be during Lent.
Renounce We walk the way of temptation with Jesus and learn from him what it means to continue to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin.
Accept Through powerful image of new birth and the biblical story of the serpent in the wilderness, Jesus shows Nicodemus and us what it takes for us to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
Confess In an encounter with a woman at a well in Samaria, Jesus confesses he is the Messiah, and she not only embraces this, but leads others to make the same confession.
Nurture The response of the crowds to Jesus’ healing of a man born blind says much about how our congregation can actively “nurture one another in the Christian faith and life, and include these persons now before you in your care,” or fail to do so.
Believe! The faith we confess, and the faith that transforms us, is more than intellectual assent to a theological construct. It is to stake our lives on the Triune God, and so join Martha’s confession, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into this world.”
In Christ, Pastor Ryan
Sermon Series on The Mount
moral teaching: The Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount begins at Matthew 5:1 and
ends at the conclusion of chapter 7. Over the course of four weeks we will cover the entirety of
Matthew’s 5th chapter. We will begin this series on Sunday, January 22nd, meaning that it is possible
that by the time you receive this newsletter, we will have already begun in Matthew 5. A favorite of
many Christians, the Sermon on the Mount contains many well known teachings including the
beatitudes, Jesus’ command to love enemies, His encouragement not to worry, and many other
pieces of scripture that are memorable to those who are well versed in scripture. If you find time, I
invite you to read and pray through The Sermon on the Mount in preparation for providing the sermon
texts in the coming weeks.
At this time of year, we find ourselves in the Sundays after The Epiphany. Epiphany means
“to reveal, or make known.” Therefore it is fitting that we focus on a portion of the Sermon on the
Mount at this time because in this extended teaching Jesus reveals much of who the Messiah truly
In Awe or at Odds
season we prepare for and anticipate the coming of Christ. The Advent season calls us to expectantly wait
until Christmas, when we remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus in a humble stable in Bethlehem. While
advent concludes with Christmas and recalling Jesus’ first coming, we also look forward, anticipating the
second coming of Christ as the fulfillment of all that is promised.
We Christians believe in what can be perceived as folly, that there is peace, love, joy and hope in
the midst of the good and difficult times. This makes us odd according to those who proclaim the victory of
decline and death all around. It is especially in this season of expectant hope that we can instead proclaim
the awe-inspiring presence of God’s reign that continually makes all things new. Advent is a season of odd
juxtapositions: swords into plowshares, wolves and lambs resting peacefully together, and the speechless
singing for joy.
Throughout Advent our worship services will focus on the odd juxtapositions that we proclaim during
this season: peace in the midst of conflict, love in the midst of hate, joy in the midst of despair, hope in the
midst of hopelessness, presence in the midst of loneliness, and praise in the midst of suffering. I wish all a
happy Advent as we expectantly wait for and proclaim the coming of God’s Son.
“Where can I go from your spirit?
Grace and Peace in the Lord Jesus Christ,
We are pleased to welcome Pastor Ryan Edwardson as the pastor of our church. Pastor Ryan will be half-time with us and Escanaba 1st UMC.
Pastor Ryan is excited to become a part of your church community, serving as pastor beginning July 3, 2016. A native of Spencer, IA, he looks forward to returning to the Midwest after four years in North Carolina. It was there that he felt the call to pastoral ministry while attending Duke Divinity School in Durham. His time spent in pastoral roles at three different local churches validated this call. Before seminary, he spent summers working as a camp counselor and also as a work projects coordinator for an outreach ministry organization on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He has spent the last year serving as a chaplain at the Durham VA Medical Center and feels positive about the transition to parish ministry.
Pastor Ryan enjoys running, sharing a meal, disc golf, being outside, and playing cards. He values fellowship, scripture, the ministry of presence, preaching, and is eager to see the ways that God is active in the people of Escanaba and Menominee.
We are grateful to God for being with all of us in this time of transition and we trust that God is leading us all into the future.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:"
Greetings to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
I use these words for funeral services as they succinctly remind us that the business of life is that of change. Outside of the eternity of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, change is the only constant we can count on. For the most part it is gradual and easy to deal with, yet at other times, change can shatter the lives of people; their hopes and dreams crushed by events outside of their immediate control.
As Candy and I prepare for our next season of change, we both look forward to having more time to be with our families – our elderly mothers in particular, and our grandchildren. I look forward to having time to devote to my other interests such as music, photography, travel and bird watching that got laid aside for simply a lack of time.
Be that as it may, yet there is the present reality taking place these next two weeks as we pack up. At best it is bittersweet. We look forward to this next change in our lives; yet, mourn the loss of the many relationships we have developed during our short tenure here.
To the entire church we offer our deepest thanks for being the wonderful people you are. For difficulties that may have arisen, we trust they will be laid aside as you prepare to meet and greet your new pastor and his wife. He will bring a level of energy to you that my physical limitations no longer permit me to offer.
Most of all, I am grateful for being called to ministry. It has been a joy serving our Lord and Savior.
With deepest thanks and sincerest regards, and always in the name of Christ, we bid you Godspeed.
Jeremiah 29:11-13a states:
Why we can now declare the end of ‘Christian America’
As once again we prepare for another cycle of elections, I like many of you become more and more disappointed in the manner by which candidates portray themselves and focus on discrediting their opponents. The following captures much of the frustration I feel when listening to the constant drone of the over saturated coverage the media which to me becomes more and more distasteful every two years.
Why we can now declare the end of ‘Christian America’
A religious essay appearing in the Washington Post by Norman Wirzba who is a professor of theology at Duke Divinity School and author most recently of “Way of Love: Recovering the Heart of Christianity.”
Political elections are as much about those doing the electing as it is about those eventually elected. If each vote represents what a voter believes and hopes for, then the person elected is
really a magnification of the desires voters happen to have.
This is why national elections are so fascinating. Every four years, Americans collectively paint and present to the world a picture that communicates their aspirations and fears. It is a picture that enables us to see the character of a nation.
When I first moved from Canada to the United States 30 years ago, I was told repeatedly that America is a Christian nation. It isn’t simply that America has many self-professing Christians living within its borders. The identity of America as a whole, its history and its destiny, are somehow tied to Christianity.
Political leaders feel the need to appear Christian, say Christian-sounding things, show up at Christian institutions, and end their speeches with “God bless America!” American money proclaims “In God we trust.” What could be more Christian than that?
The current election cycle is demonstrating (once again) that the rhetoric and mythology of a uniquely Christian America should come to an end. Why? Because the votes don’t lie.
Though voters may speak piously and rather vaguely about Christian values and ideals, polls and election results communicate clearly that this is a nation consumed by fear, anger and suspicion, none of which are Christian virtues.
If voters were serious about presenting to the world a picture of a Christian America, they would need to be painting with the colors of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, fidelity, gentleness and self-control, because these are the colors that, as the Apostle Paul said (in Galatians 5), witness
to Jesus Christ and the power of God at work in their lives.
Of course, Americans and their leaders will continue to speak in the name of God, even profess grand things about God, as they make their case for American Exceptionalism and the righteousness of the American Way. But from a scriptural point of view, it is all rubbish. What matters is not what you say but how you live. And from a Christian point of view, nothing matters more than living a life that is inspired by God’s love for everyone.
In Matthew’s gospel (chapter 25) readers are taken to the time when God judges all the nations of the world. It is a rather terrifying scene because many of the people present are convinced that they are the legitimate inheritors of the Kingdom of God.
But God is not fooled. God simply asks: Did you feed the hungry, offer drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit those in prison?
How will America fare in this time of judgment, especially when we admit as evidence the millions of Americans (many of them children and the elderly) who do not have enough good food to eat, or the millions of Americans who have to drink water polluted with lead and industrial/agricultural pollutants?
What about the refugees and immigrants who are being refused at our borders and made to feel unwelcome in our land, or the homeless (many of them ill) who do not have a home and proper protection from the elements, or the prison inmates (many of them African American) who are treated like the garbage of society?
God is asking the nations about their public policy, not their verbal piety, because the true test of Christianity has only ever been the test of love.
Imagine a political leader saying, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-2).
Love or noise? Love or nothing? Christianity hinges on how people choose between them. If Americans were serious about being a Christian country, they would call forth and elect leaders who are patient and kind, and never boastful or rude. They would demand a political process much less characterized by vitriol and noise.
In calling for an end to the rhetoric of a “Christian America,” I am not calling for an end to Christianity in America. The violence and hate, and the greed and the lack of sympathy for those deemed dangerously other, indicate that now is precisely the time for a sustained infusion of God’s love in our political deliberation.
But for that love to be genuinely Christian, and not a projection of our own fear, anxiety or arrogance, citizens are going to have to separate once and for all the false identification of American and Christian ideals. They may overlap from time to time, but they are not the same.
This is Not a Day Care. It’s a University!
I recently received this note from one of my colleagues. Given the national, state and local state of affairs, and its bent on political correctness; perhaps provocative, I am sharing this note with you for your consideration. Certainly, I welcome any and all feedback.
This is Not a Day Care. It’s a
Dr. Everett Piper, President
Oklahoma Wesleyan University This past week, I actually had a
student come forward after a university chapel service and complain because he felt “victimized” by a sermon on the topic of 1 Corinthians 13. It appears that this young scholar felt offended because a homily on love made him feel bad for not showing love! In his mind, the speaker was wrong for making him, and his peers, feel uncomfortable.
I’m not making this up. Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self absorbed and narcissistic! Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims!
Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them “feel bad” about themselves, is a “hater,” a “bigot,” an “oppressor,” and a “victimizer.”
I have a message for this young man and all others who care to listen. That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience! An altar call is supposed to make you feel bad! It is supposed to make you feel guilty! The goal of many a good sermon is to get you to confess your sins—not coddle you in your selfishness. The primary objective of the Church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization!
So here’s my advice:
If you want the chaplain to tell you you’re a victim rather than tell you that you need virtue, this may not be the university you’re looking for. If you want to complain about a sermon that makes you feel less than loving for not showing love, this might be the wrong place.
If you’re more interested in playing the “hater” card than you are in confessing your own hate; if you want to arrogantly lecture, rather than humbly learn; if you don’t want to feel guilt in your soul when you are guilty of sin; if you want to be enabled rather than confronted, there are many universities across the land (in Missouri and elsewhere) that will give you exactly what you want, but Oklahoma Wesleyan isn’t one of them.
At OKWU, we teach you to be selfless rather than self-centered. We are more interested in you practicing personal forgiveness than political revenge. We want you to model interpersonal reconciliation rather than foment personal conflict. We believe the content of your character is more important than the color of your skin. We don’t believe that you have been victimized every time you feel guilty and we don’t issue “trigger warnings” before altar calls.
Oklahoma Wesleyan is not a “safe place”, but rather, a place to learn: to learn that life isn’t about you, but about others; that the bad feeling you have while listening to a sermon is called guilt; that the way to address it is to repent of everything that’s wrong with you rather than blame others for everything that’s wrong with them. This is a place where you will quickly learn that you need to grow up!
This is not a day care. This is a university!
At this time of the year, I freely say to all, “Merry Christmas!” and not “happy holidays.” I believe the authenticity of scripture’s rendering of Jesus’ birth. I believe further that he died for my sins, and the sins of all others. I believe that only in His life, death and resurrection can I find salvation.
Further, I believe in sharing this with others, we offer the greatest gift of all!
We wish each and every one of you a blessed, peace and joy filled Holyday and New Year.
…Seek to Find and Serve Christ
As I write this, I marvel at the fact that Halloween is just but days away. I ask myself where time has gone. It seems like it was just yesterday when spring was announcing its beginning much less the subtle changes taking place in the trees and shrubs foretelling the arrival of autumn. Disconcerting to me is the knowledge that I will be thinking the same thing at the beginning of January when the question will be, “Where did 2015 go?” Time is a curious subject isn’t it? We all know what it is, but it eludes description. Let me suggest that it is the backdrop against which we live our lives; the pallet where the colors and hues of our existence are painted. Sometimes we take up the paint brush to add some new strokes, and at the same time others do. And somewhere amidst the easel from which all of the colors are mixed, emerge our lives; paintings simply emerging with or without our consent. And as we sense and undergo change, like a rapidly changing kaleidoscope of landscapes in everything around us, at the same time, our lives undergo a never ending metamorphosis prayerfully becoming the striking butterfly that God wishes us to become. Change, more change, subtle change, drastic change….simply, ever present change.
During the upcoming days and weeks and months we will be undergoing the charge that the season and people around us seemingly demand of us. Traditions, shopping, parties, cooking recipes… They all make demands on our time. Wouldn’t you agree that it is exhausting?
I would urge you to be intentional in setting aside some alone time. Time during which you can reflect upon the blessings and gifts you have received during this past year. And never forget the Biblical teaching that God’s love is steadfast and enduring. Further, strive to find Jesus all around you.
Whether you concentrate upon the miraculous birth that took place so many years ago, or celebrating the birth of new life around us…seek to find and serve Christ, Jesus is the only person I have ever met who doesn’t change. By doing so, we will find the true meaning of Christmas.
In the grip of His grace,
Jesus...Don't be afraid
Light Up the Church Building
From a pastor friend:
Light Up the Church Building
A little story that illustrates the problem of attendance goes like this:
In a certain mountain village in Europe several centuries ago, a nobleman wondered what legacy he should leave to people in his town. At last he decided to build them a church building.
No one saw the complete plans for the building until it was finished. When the people gathered, they marveled at its beauty and completeness. Then someone asked, “But where are the lamps? How will it be lighted?”
The nobleman pointed to some brackets in the walls. Then he gave to each family a candle which they were to bring with them each time they came to worship.
“Each time you are here the area where you are seated will be lighted,“ the nobleman said. “Each time you are not here, that area will be dark. This is to remind you that whenever you fail to come to church, some part of God's house will be dark.”
Should we start giving out candles next Sunday? This is just a story but it has a stinging point. Those who seldom, if ever, attend worship or Bible study in the evening may be like those of whom it was said: “The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up” (Matt. 4:16). That is, if they happened to see the church building in the evening from a distance.
Jesus also said, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house” (Matt. 5:14-15). Attending all services of the church is letting your light shine -- after all you come to worship God and study His word -- then leave to serve.
Maybe it would be good to pray, “For thou wilt light my candle: the LORD my God will enlighten my darkness” (Psa 18:28).
Prayers for a joy filled rest of your summer.
Yours in Christ,
That being said, make no mistake about it, Satan and thankfully GOD, never take a vacation. They are always active, no matter if we sense their presence or not. I would also suggest that Satan wins more battles for our hearts and spirits during this season than any other. Think for a second on how there will be an increase in boating and swimming accidents and deaths during these summer months. Think also how many people get themselves in a pack of trouble for drinking too much. And further, good spiritual habits that we make practice of during the rest of the year are laid aside so we can “relax,” after all we’ve worked hard all year long and deserve to relax – even from sound spiritual practices. Unfortunately, they are habits that are easily unlearned – and Satan takes advantage of such situations. 1 Peter 5: 8-9 says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…”
In that vein I have an essay that addresses the sundry reasons we choose not to read our Bibles. I laughed at a lot of them, as they hit to close to home. I’ll bet you a nickel that all of us can relate to one or more of this author’s statements.
I would urge all of us to take some deliberate time to read scripture. It will give you something to do during the lazy, hazy, days of summer.
Always in Christ,
Despite all the doom and gloom stories the media sensationalizes, I found it refreshing and heartwarming to read the story of the 3rd grade Denver teacher who asked her students, “What I’d like the teacher to know about me?” Some of their responses were humorous and yet some of them were heart wrenching. One little child said, “My mom doesn’t sign my homework because she is never around.” How sad is that? Unfortunately the same is true in many of our communities.
Upon further reflection I wondered the same thing about churches and pastors. How often do pastors think they know a lot about the individuals in their congregations and yet they are shocked to find out things that they never knew? Moreover, how many opportunities for ministry are missed simply because the pastor did not know something about a member?
And so I ask each and every one of you, “What would you like me to know about you?” How can I be more sensitive to your needs, or simply put, how can I extend more of the church’s ministry to you?
So, please take some time to let me know. You can let me know by phone, in a note or letter, by email, or taking some time to come up to the church to talk with me. Let me assure you that anything you share with me, stays with me and God of course who already knows.
Always in Christ,
I received this by email from a friend of mine. Sort of sums everything up nicely don’t you think?
The Maker of all human beings (GOD) is recalling all units manufactured, regardless of make or year, due to a serious defect in the primary and central component of the heart. This is due to a malfunction in the original prototype units code named Adam and Eve, resulting in the reproduction of the same defect in all subsequent units. This defect has been identified as "Sub sequential Internal Non-morality," more commonly known as S.I.N., as it is primarily expressed.
Some of the symptoms include:
1. Loss of direction
2. Foul vocal emissions
3. Amnesia of origin
4. Lack of peace and joy
5. Selfish or violent behavior
6. Depression or confusion
The Manufacturer, who is neither liable nor at fault for this defect, is providing factory-authorized repair and service free of charge to correct this defect.
The Repair Technician, JESUS, has most generously offered to bear the entire burden of the staggering cost of these repairs. There is no additional fee required.
The number to call for repair in all areas is: P-R-A-Y-E-R. Once connected, please upload your burden of SIN through the REPENTANCE procedure.
Next, download ATONEMENT from the Repair Technician, Jesus, into the heart component.
No matter how big or small the SIN defect is, Jesus will replace it with:
Please see the operating manual, the B.I.B.L.E. (BEST Instructions Before Leaving Earth), for further details on the use of these fixes.
WARNING: Continuing to operate the human being unit without correction voids any manufacturer warranties, exposing the unit to dangers and problems too numerous to list, and will result in the human unit being permanently impounded. For free emergency service, call on Jesus.
DANGER: The human being units not responding to this recall action will have to be scrapped in the furnace. The SIN defect will not be permitted to enter Heaven so as to prevent contamination of that facility. Thank you for your attention!
P.S. Please assist where possible by notifying others of this important recall notice, and you may contact the Father any time by 'Knee mail'!
Because HE Lives!
Working for God on earth doesn't pay much......but His retirement plan is out of this world!
In Christ’s Grip,
On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a little lifesaving station. The building was just a modest hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted embers kept a constant watch over the sea. With no thought for their own safety they went out day and night, tirelessly rescuing the lost. Many lives were saved, so the station became famous.
Some of those who were saved, along with others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station. They gave of their time, money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought, new crews were trained, and the lifesaving station grew.
Some of the members were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt a more comfortable place should be provided, so they replaced the emergency cots and beds and put better furniture in a new, larger and prettier building.
Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members. They decorated it exquisitely because they used it as sort of a club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do the work.
The lifesaving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where club initiations were held. About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in loads of cold, wet, half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick. The beautiful new club was considerably messed up. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where the shipwreck victims could be cleaned up before coming inside.
At the next meeting there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the lifesaving activity, because they thought it was a hindrance and unpleasant to the normal social life of the club. Some of members insisted on lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out they were still a lifesaving station after all. They were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of various kinds of people shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast, which they did.
As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that occurred in the old. It also evolved into a club, and another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that coast today, you’ll find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent, but most of the survivors drown.
Is our church today committed to saving people and sharing with them the greatest story ever told…or content to let them drown?
When is the last time you invited someone to church? If not…WHY not? Are we saving and transforming lives or have we become an exclusive club?
Candy and I want to thank you all for making us feel so welcome. We look forward to learning more about you during the next weeks, months, and we pray, years.
In Christ’s Grip I remain,
My Last “Gasp”
When Methodism’s founder, the Rev. John Wesley, lay very ill and dying in March of 1791, he had come to the conclusion of an outstanding and God-blessed lifetime of service in the ministry of the gospel. Now it was time to bid farewell to his many friends and supporters. The report of that scene ( (quite long ago, now) is that Wesley whispered, just moments before he breathed his last breath, the words:
“The best of all is – God is with us!”
It was a fitting, crowning assessment – although brought forth in a moment of sobering weakness and illness – of what Wesley had always believed and preached. And, it is certainly a credo much needed, in the current situation of all humanity, as we seek to “find a way forward,” in the turbulent world of the early 21st century. A “last gasp” – but astonishingly powerful in its capacity to underscore and to give motivation for what the church must be about, in our times.
Hopefully! – I am a long ways off, from the day in which I give out my “last gasp!...when I take by last breath and go to heaven!
This is retirement, after all – and not a funeral service! I will speak some “final words” as your pastor… and we will have to engage in some closing “rituals” and activities so as to finish up our years in this place. The moving van will come – and it will be “wind-it up time”. The last gasp, so to speak…
But – if that language and its accompanying image is too gruesome, and definitely unacceptable to you … just take a Big Eraser of imagination and wipe it out!
John Wesley was right --- the best of it all is – “God is with us.” No matter what – God is there (here)! He’s alive, in Christ! He will never fail us – and will always love us!
So … here is my “Last Gasp” – by the way of sort of a corny acrostic device:
A- Amazing …
P- Plan …
G – God is the one non-reducible reality we humans must come to terms with. We are not the center of the universe, nor are we the “masters of our destiny.” We are held in the palm of a “Master’s” hand – and it is our highest privilege and greatest joy to become rightly related to God, by faith in Christ.
A – Amazing is an appropriate term to describe the incredible, comprehensive, and altogether gracious extent of that which God has done for us, in the giving of his Son. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound”… indeed is my affirmation! I hope it is yours, too!
S – Salvation is what it’s all about. This is the goal of Christian preaching, service, missionary outreach and activity, etc. No matter how “old-fashioned” and “religious” – sounding the word is (many people today shy away from it), the fact is that folks need SAVING! Just getting educated, or psychoanalyzed, or reformed, or wealthy, or well-adjusted , or socially acclimated, or whatever else … is not enough! “You must be born anew,” Jesus said. – John 3:7
P – A Plan …I’m so glad God has a plan! The plan (or, salvation – story) is clearly and magnificently told, throughout the Bible. I have been truly blessed, to have the honor of preaching and teaching from the scriptures, over a 41- year pastoral career. God has not done things accidentally, or willy-nilly, or by happenstance – and neither has he been “secretive” or cruel or unreasonable, in the revealing of his Plan. Praise Jesus!
So there you have it! GASP!
God’s Amazing Salvation Plan… available for anyone who desires, to take advantage of – both knowing it and experiencing it.
My instinct tells me that both my “last gasp” and that of John Wesley are pretty much equivalent.
“God is with us!”
“God’s Amazing Salvation Plan”
Both give access into the heart of God, through faith in Jesus Christ!
You can’t (and neither can I) do any better than that!
Somehow …. Someway, I would like to try to tell the members of our congregation what I’ve been feeling – particularly concerning your responses to my preaching efforts, over these last 3 years. Those sentences (above) are – maybe -- just a “little bit” of a start in the right direction.
The reality is … I find myself profoundly humbled by all aspects of what we preachers sometimes call “the preaching task.” That’s much more the case now, as I approach the closing of my “official” period of service as a minister… than it was in 1972-73 when I started. I’ve always tried to convey to the church that I regard thepreparation of sermons, the content of sermons, and the delivery of sermons to be a fairly serious matter. “Serious” not overly solemn! And –“serious”… not an occasion for sensational stories, statements, or predictions.
After all, the teaching of scripture and the commissioning responsibility of the church on this matter is prettysimple, and straight forward:
n “Go out into the world (and the community) and tell the Good News of Jesus.”
n “Preach and teach the Word of God – The message of His love and grace.”
That’s a thing to be serious about – wouldn’t you agree? But not (as I say) to go about it in an exaggeratedly “solemn” way … nor to go to the other extreme, and treat the Gospel as a “sensation” (as kind of a “media event”—as commonly witnessed these days).
I ask myself: Have I succeeded in this endeavor? Answer: I like to think so – at least most of the time. I hope so! Yet … here I am, only 2 months from retirement – and at the depth of my understanding, and in the most honestway I can express it, these two convictions stand out:
1) I believe that I – and really, the whole church –have only begun to “scratch the surface” of discovery as to the meaning, mystery, and miracle of God’s plan for His creation and His people.
2) That being so – as I suggested earlier, I can’t help feeing at times quite unworthy, and profoundlyhumbled because of being called to preach about that plan, that gospel! Something of what the Apostle Paul was trying to say, figures into my outlook. He wrote to the Corinthians … “we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”(II Corinthians 4:5)
Yet, many of you have commented – my preaching has been a blessing to you. You have mentioned an insight shared, or a particular way of “seeing” a Biblical text that I’ve brought out, or an example I’ve used as helpful to you. You’ve ascribed “inspiration” to some of my messages! So many of you have been ever sokind! You have “spurred me on,” week after week… to do the best job that I am capable of doing, in this work. I’m very, very thankful for that!
I’m well aware that I have never come close to achieving anything like the powerful and extremely widespread appeal of preaching like that of Billy Graham. I can’t even approximate the passion of gospel presentation represented by, say, Rev. George Whitfield or the Rev. John Wesley. (They were contemporaries in 18th – century England, seeking to spread the great news of the love of God and salvation through Christ -- and both were incredibly effective in doing so). I make no claim to match the winsome, smiling magnetism of a Joel Osteen, in his very popular style of preaching and interpersonal sharing, these past 10-12 years.
But – trying to “compete” with these, and with other good preachers I have at times heard – this is beside the point. “Measuring up” to this or that gospel spokesman – I say “who needs that?” The important thing –whoever it is that may be trying to explain/teach/preach the Word of God – is this:
Am I truly receptive to what it is that God may be trying to say to me, through this preacher’s effort? And … do I intend to do what God wills, as that is revealed?
To conclude, I want to offer just two medium – length paragraphs from the sermons of a couple of “greats” of the past. These are from a volume titled Master Sermons Through The Ages, which I’ve often found helpful. And the sample paragraphs are from writings/messages of 2 very different individuals: AlexanderMacLaren, a native of Scotland who lived during the greater part of the span of the 19th century; and JohnCalvin, the notable French scholar, theologian, and preacher of Geneva, Switzerland – who did much to help launch the Protestant Reformation in the first half of the 16th century. Here are the “bits” of their sermons which seemed especially striking and well-expressed (to me)… along with a few descriptive notes fromMaster Sermons, about each man:
Alexander MacLaren… “was a quiet, tall, slender man who was interested in scholarship, happily involved in his family, and who outwardly led a simple, undramatic life …it is said that he lived between his study and the pulpit…” In a sermon based on an Old Testament passage from II Samuel 15, having to do with the life and trials of David, A. MacLaren penned these lines –
“We are made with hearts that need to rest upon an absolute love, we are made with understandings that need to grasp a pure, a perfect … personal truth… And, we are made with a moral nature that needs a perfect holiness. And we need all that love, truth, authority, purity, to be gathered into one, …
“That one is God, revealed and brought near to us in Jesus Christ. In that great Savior we have a love at once divine and human, we have the great transcendent instance of love leading to sacrifice. On that love and sacrifice for us Christ builds his claim on us for our hearts, and our all. Life alone can communicate life; it is only light that can diffuse light. It is only love thatcan kindle love; it is only sacrifice that can inspire sacrifice. And so he comes to us, and asks that we should just love him back again as he has loved us. He first gives himself utterly for and to us, and then asks us to give ourselves wholly to him. He first yields up his own life, and then he says: “He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” The object, the true object for all this depth of love which lies slumbering in our hearts, is God in Christ, the Christ that died for us.”
John Calvin is famous in Christian church history not only as an extremely able and persuasive advocate for Biblical faith and practice, but also for a pretty marked degree of intolerance toward any sort of religious opposition or differences of viewpoint, as he set about to organize the Protestant movement in and around Geneva. It was somewhat surprising to me to read that he “was an irritable man, whose fierce anger did not soon subside,… who lacked sympathy for the weak and erring, and who was deficient in geniality, humor, and gentleness.” The description goes on to observe that “these defects show in his preaching, yet he possessed great courage and candor, unsurpassed love of the truth, … and sincere consecration to God. These are also evident in his sermons….”
Expanding on the counsel given to Timothy by the Apostle Paul in I Timothy 3:14-15, J. Calvin gave this message on “Behavior in the church,” in which appears the paragraph –
“Seeing God is so gracious as to have his Word preached among us, let us live in obedience to his divine commands that he may reside with us, and we be his temple. For this cause, let us see that we cleanse ourselves from all our filthiness, and renounce it, that we may be a fit place for God’s holiness to dwell in. If we attend to these things, we shall reap great joy, seeing our Lord joineth himself to us, and maketh his residence in our souls and bodies. What are we? There is nothing but rottenness in us: I speak not of the body only, but more particularly of the soul, which is still more infected; and yet we see the Lord will build us up, that we may be fit temples for his majesty to reside in. We have great occasion to rejoice by reason of this text, and ought to strive to obtain the pureness which is required by the gospel, because God will have us joined to him, and sanctified by his Holy Spirit.”
Well … there you are! Generation after generation, age upon age – the task goes on. God’s servants must keep on………… “Preaching It!”
“Shattered … But Stabilized”
D.T. Niles was the author/preacher of these messages (sermons), which were presented first in 1952, and then published in book form. I think that my missionary cousin had somehow acquired it when she was living in India … then later it was passed to me. (The island of Ceylon – Rev. Niles’ birthplace – is now the independent nation of Sri Lanka, located off the southeast coast of India. So … this traces the connections between book, family ties, countries, etc …).
Regardless whether my readers are able to follow all of that!, I thought that since we see Easter fast approaching, I would make an effort to share some insights about the Resurrection of Jesus. D.T. Niles’ thoughts on the “Gospel of Resurrection” attracted my attention. I pulled it out from its long-held place on the shelf, opened it, and immediately noted that the writer addresses 4 extremely significant topics – all related to Christian faith and understanding:
“ The Signature of Hope”
“ “ “ Death”
“ “ “ Love”
“ “ “ Life”
That “hooked” me! Right away, I began to read Rev. Niles’s first message – on Hope. I was thinking; this is such an important aspect of how it is that we Christians should seek to face our world and its many challenges/problems, in our time! We need hope! And we should always be trying to reflect the hope of Christ’s gospel, and instill such hope, in others who live around us!
Further – I had a very, very positive “vibe” about the title of the volume: Preaching the Gospel of theResurrection. I trust that, on the whole, that is what I have tried to do over the several years of my pulpit ministry. Looking back over these past 41 years as I near retirement … I can say that it has been a TREMENDOUS PRIVILEGE, and a DISTINCT JOY – to fulfill the Lord’s calling in preaching that gospel!
Now … let me see if I can outline the connection between this “Hope” message – and the chosen title for this article. What about being “Shattered – yet Stabilized?”
This comes about because, in offering this first of 4 sermons, D.T. Niles makes reference to a couple of very intriguing characters. Unforgettable personalities. They are the Old Testament prophet Jonah … and the story surrounding the experience of Helen Keller. In the cases of both of them, there first came an instance of being shattered – undergoing a time of being broken, taken apart … in effect, destroyed.
For Jonah, this experience lay in his refusal to obey the Lord’s call to go and preach to the people of Nineveh. He knew that God would be merciful to this wicked city, and so, Niles writes, he “did not want to be caught in the toils of the barrierless love of God.” During his attempt to run away (by ship), the Bible goes on to tell of the storm that threatens the ship – and how Jonah prevailed upon the sailors to throw him over board. In this way their lives, and the voyage, were saved – but Jonah of course, is swallowed by a “great fish,” and “was inside the fish three days and three nights….” (Jonah 1:17)
In the little book I’ve been citing, D.T. Niles summarizes:
“Jonah’s comfortable world was shattered.” Actually, in being cast into the stormy sea, Jonah was castwholly upon the mercy of God.
He voices a witness to that mercy in the prayer, recorded in Jonah, Chap. 2 … especially the 6th verse: “you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God.” And so, the prayer being ended, the Lord gives a command and “the fish vomited Jonah onto dry land.” (v.10)
In essence, says Niles, through the traumatic experience – “Jonah died, and Jonah rose again… his own death and resurrection will be the ground on which he will stand as he proclaims God’s message… death announced toward sin, and … resurrection announced toward repentance and faith.”
Yes … to be sure – Jonah and his world were shattered. But, through the Lord’s mercy, in the end he was “stabilized,” He was given a “new lease on life” – and sent on his way to proclaim the word of the Lord to Nineveh. (Jonah 3:1-3) Now, he was better equipped to do so!
This is the reason, D.T. Niles explains, why Jesus had at one point responded to the religious leaders of his day when they asked to see a “miraculous sign” … that “none will be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” (Matthew 12:38-39). That’s it! No sign needed, no sign to be given; no “signature” … except the sign of HOPE, and Resurrection, as displayed in the experience of Jonah.
A life – first “shattered” but then “stabilized” by the mercy and grace of God … and then put to good use and purpose.
The second notable person Niles wrote about – briefly – was Helen Keller. The unfortunate little southern girl, rendered both deaf and blind at a very early age, through a transforming experience of love and learning at the hands of her teacher, Miss Sullivan, grew up to be one of the most admired figures of her and following generations. A two paragraph quotation is included from Keller’s Story of My Life. It describes how, at the time Miss Sullivan succeeded in “breaking through” to Helen about how everythinghas a name (the incident of associating “water” with the letters spelled out into her hand), she finally reached a decisive level of understanding.
It involved Helen’s treatment of a new doll. As Miss Sullivan was attempting to help her to grasp that this new plaything, too, had a name (d – o – l – l) – like everything else – Helen became impatient and annoyed and slammed the doll onto the floor, breaking it into several fragments. She professes that she “had not loved the doll” … that she had “no strong sentiment or tenderness” … and “I was keenly delighted when I felt the fragments of the broken doll at my feet.” Apparently, to her it was only a “thing” to handle with her child-fingers … to aid in filling up the hours of darkness and silence in her everyday world. And so, … “I felt my teacher sweep the fragments to one side of the hearth, and I had a sense of satisfaction that the cause of my discomfort was removed.”
After this, Helen was led outside, down to the well house with its water pump. Holding the child’s hand in the cold water-stream; it was then that the teacher, persisting in her efforts, was able to make Helen understand about the “naming” of every object:
“Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness … somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me … As we returned to the house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life … I remembered the doll I had broken. I felt my way to the hearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears; for I realized what I had done.”
What an extraordinary experience! What a powerful “telling” of it, by the adult Helen Keller, who found her way through the effects of crippling, life-long handicaps – to become a worthy example, to many! And – I say – what a compelling “picture” of the reality of Hope and of Resurrection, too! Here was a person –deeply immersed in the “shattering” circumstances of human life (the broken doll only a tiny part of it) – yet who came to find the “stabilizing” influences of a loving teacher and a living faith, more then adequate for life’s journey.
Yes – writes D.T, Niles by way of reminder: “Everything has a name …” In the Resurrection of Christ “we are overwhelmed by his love which knows us and calls us by name…” (He also makes reference to the scene described in John’s Gospel, Chap. 20:16-17 – where the Risen Christ appears before Mary and speaks her name…)
Nearing the conclusion of his message, Niles acknowledges the great Easter truth: “Jesus is risen… He has conquered death. How inevitable it is,… that he should confront us, and that, when we awake to our encounter with him, we should be shattered by his presence and, being shattered, should also bestabilized by his love.”
May it be so! Happy, blessed Easter! Rev. Dale Brown
“It’s terrible!”… “It’s so hard to face another cold, cold day!” I hope the pipes don’t freeze”… “Can’tstand it”… “Hope the car will start – it is ridiculously cold!”…
Even I (who seldom worry much about the weather) found myself commenting frequently to various people … about the fact that all of December and January, and early February snowfalls had still not melted until well past the middle of last month!
Yep … it sure was cold. Terribly cold! All that talk of the “Arctic Vortex” – who really cared?! It was just …COLD. Numbingly cold … nearly every day. So, we are all really looking forward to spring weather!
But … just a minute. Nobody really wants the weather to get HOT either. At least, not very soon! And – (oh, please, Lord!) – not for a long period of time! A couple or three 95 degree days – maybe twice during the summer – that might be OK. Tolerable. But no more than that! We don’t very much relish the experiences of heavy sweating, and paying out-landish air-conditioning bills, and going outside and trying to breathe in oppressively humid, sweltering weather conditions.
Other kinds of very, very hot objects, or developments, also garner plenty of “words of warning,” and the desire to avoid, if at all possible:
n “Don’t touch that hot stove burner.” We caution the 3-yr old toddler.
n “Be careful… “warns the restaurant waitress, “the bottom of this plate is very hot!”
n Recall the feelings of heightened anxiety – even dread – that most of us have when we learn of destructive forest fires or wildfires? Suppose our own house or property lay in the path of such an inferno?
n And what about this – elevated body temperature? Feeling poorly, and “yucky” is bad enough! It raises the sense of alarm (and the blood pressure) to have someone stick a thermometer in your mouth, or place a hand across your feverish forehead… and then excitedly announce: “You areburning up! You feel so hot!” Not a very good sign – that.
Well… I’m sure you get the idea. Most all of us much prefer moderate conditions insofar as the weather goes… and know we’d like to sidestep the “terrible temperatures” involved in living our lives. But, as I gave some thought to this – especially the HOT/COLD opposites – a certain verse of Scripture came to mind. It’s from the bood of Revelation, and I remember very early in my Christian faith experience – being struck with the impact of this:
“I know… that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” – Revelation 3:15-16 NIV
That’s a pretty explicit, and dramatic, statement! The imagery is something not easily forgotten, as a young Christian believer I used the King James Bible, which has “I will spew thee out of my mouth.” Plainly, the “neither hot nor cold.” (Zestos and Psuchros, in Greek), but rather “lukewarm” (chliaros) condition of what is being swallowed, causes the speaker of these lines to feel nauseously ill (the Greek phrase means literally – “Sick to the stomach”)
Who is the speaker? It is the risen Lord Jesus, addressing the lost of the “7 churches,” as recorded by John in the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Revelation. This was the Laodicean church, and whereas the other 6 churches named, all receive at least some words of commendation from Christ, Laodicea gets none. The stern rebuke about the “lukewarmness” of this early Christian community has nothing to do with the temperature of a fluid… and everything to do with the tepidness – the indifference, and lack of enthusiasm – pertaining to the quality of their faith, and commitment to God. Jesus continues (in verses 17-18) describing the self-satisfied and spiritually blind, exposed condition of the Laodiceans… and exhorts them, straight on, to repent (verse 19)! Then follows the gracious word of invitation, picturing “Christ knocking at the door”… promising to “come in and eat” with those who hear his voice and open the door )v.20)
It is a remarkable text of the Bible. To the point of this article, however – I find it so interesting, and so instructive, that as far as God/Christ is concerned, the most “Terrible Temperature” is to be lukewarm.
In other words… to be a Christian believer who is merely “drifting” along – not very vital, not verycommitted, not really very serious, about practicing his or her faith. Just kind of – lukewarm. Tepid. “There” – (but not very much). Indifferent, and not at all intentional about making any progress or growth in the “ways of the Lord.”
I suggest to you – this is quite a disturbing picture! Let us be praying constantly that the Holy Spirit would help us to “warm up,” and pursue a daily vitality in living out our faith. The objective should be an ever deepening relationship with God, through our obedience to and walk with the living Christ.
No…no…no – may we never behave so as to “make him sick!”
“Who Speaks For God?”
For sure, I know I still have plenty to learn… and I don’t intend to “drop out” of ministry altogether. Margaret and I will be looking forward to traveling more frequently (some of you may have guessed)… and also establishing more of a ‘permanent” home for some years, in Holt, Mi. I expect I will be doing some preaching and church work on a “fill-in” basis in the Lansing area – at least for awhile. We will be in Menominee through the month of June, under appointment.
But the thing that most impresses on my mind as I reflect about retirement, the church, and about the conditions of our whole society and our nation … is the question as you see it in this article’s title:
Who Speaks For God?
I believe I have been one who faithfully sought to do that, both here in Menominee and at the other 7 United Methodist charges where I’ve served. I’ve tried to be responsive to the Holy Spirit’s promptings, and to the abundant revelations of God’s truth found in the Bible – as I’ve preached and taught over the period of these several years. May God have mercy on me – wherever I’ve fallen short…But here’s the main thing:
The above phrase jumped out at me as I glanced over my shelf of “good books,” in the office, recently. It’s the title of a volume by Charles Colson, published 30 years ago, now – but containing a number of very provocative and timely essays having to do with how Christians need to “live out the faith,” and the relationship between church and society – as these topics have come to the fore over the last few years of the 20th century. Much that Colson writes, however, also pertains to what has been going on in these first decades of the present century! He maintains, at the beginning, that … “Who Speaks ForGod? reflects my unyielding commitment to the proposition that neither I, nor anyone else, speaks for God except insofar as they speak founded upon His inerrant word.”
Aha! I thought this would be a great “lead-off” to this month’s Newsletter message – (please stay with me)! These are two other powerful statements made by Colson in his Introduction:
n “I had spent my first 40 years seeking the whole world, to the neglect of my soul.” (Then Mr. Colson, the hyper-ambitious lawyer employed by the Nixon Administration – implicated in the Watergate scandal and sent to prison, remarks how “all worldly props had been stripped away”). And… “by God’s grace, I lost my life in order that I might find true life in Christ.”
n … “If we fail to stand for Christ at that place where the world is denying His Lordship, we are missing the mark.”
He then quotes Martin Luther about the necessity of confessing, and not merelyprofessing, faith in Jesus… and that “where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved…”
As I considered these insights in Colson’s book (only the beginning pages!), I thought how closely related all of this is, to the experience and testimony given by Polycarp, in the 2ndcentury after the time of Christ. Hopefully, many in the congregation have gained benefit from my messages throughout January … about Origen, Irenaeus, and Tertullian --- 3 of the most influential of the “church Fathers,” or, very early witnesses to the Christian gospelafter the time of the Bible documents, themselves. These were extraordinary men --- andvery strong “spokesmen for God!” This bit about Polycarp concludes what I wanted to offer about these “Fathers”—and I hope my readers will carefully absorb what follows…
The name --- “Polycarp” – is itself most unusual and noticeable in its addness. But it was his extremely bold, and unwavering loyalty to the risen Jesus, which has won for him a special place in the history of the church and of Christianity. It is believed that Jesus’ disciple John was at least an acquaintance, if not a “mentor” of sorts, for Polycarp – near the end of the 1st century, A.D. And then, this Polyarp became a fairly prominent teacher and beloved follower of the Christian way, as the 2nd century of the Christian era got underway. Eusebius recorded the “martyrdom of Polycarp” in his History of the Churchsome years later. This was based on a loving remembrance of how Polcarp had both lived and died, as written by one of his own disciples. I include the full page of this statement, as found in my copy of Eerdmans’ Handbook To The History of Christianity, pub. 1977, pg 81. What a sterling example of the kind of answer needed, for the leading question beforeus!
Close to Home?
“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” II Corinthians 5:1
An experience that is familiar to almost everyone is the long tiring ride in an automobile … and the sense that the trip must soon be coming to an end. Someone in the car pipes up with the question. “Are we there, yet?” (“Uh … No!” thinks the driver. “If we were There, we would have Stopped. But we haven’t stopped. Therefore we have not come to the end.”
Foolish question! But … yet, not so foolish. A different way of asking that question – particularly in the case of young, child-riders – is to say (in kind of a whiny tone): “How far are we from home? … How far now?”
This scene is presented in the first 2 paragraphs of a brief chapter written by Harold Kohn, from a thoughtful book I had quoted from, several months ago. The writer titles his chapter “How Far Are We From Home?” … and gives some valuable insight into the above Scripture passage, and the subject ofeternal life … or, “going home” to heaven, to be with God, etc.
With the transition to a New Year, and some lingering reflections on what seemed to me the “untimely” deaths of a number of friends and acquaintances over the past couple of years. – I fastened on Harold Kohn’s words as fitting material to consider. At least, these lines afforded for me a needed perspective …
The question “How Far?” was the one thing, Kohn writes, that an 83-yr old naturalist wanted to know, after he had fallen mortally ill on a lengthy, home-ward bound train journey. They were his dying words, in fact. And then Kohn continues with this:
“The question is appropriate for the very young and the extremely old: “How far are we from home?” Where do we stand in relation to where we belong? And if we ultimately belong to a house “not made with hands,” if we are not made for a short span of sixty or eighty or one hundred years, to live only in houses made of wood that finally rots or brick and stone that at long last crumble, if we are everlasting creatures who come from and return to an eternal home, then, how far are we from home, our eternal home?”
He says that “by that question I do not refer to the fragility of life, or to the uncertainty of how long” our years on earth may extend. Rather, the question “hints at glad gospel rather than somber warning and reminds us that our faith claims that right now we are very near home. The life eternal is always near us.”
Further … “Heaven spills over into this life, touching all our common days. The hereafter is also here.
We are now near our eternal home because at this moment we live in the midst of some things that shall never die. Death strikes but cannot hurt eternal things.”
Some additional “powerful sentences” offered by Harold Kohn on this topic, are these:
--“There are values that outlast the generations of men, who are so hearty-appearing at ten months or twenty years, but soon fade away.”
--“The finest influences of those we love most dearly are never lost. We shall always be better because their lives touched ours…”
--“We speak of heaven, our eternal home, as ‘The life everlasting.’ But the everlasting things are with us now. As [the Apostle] Paul put it, “And now abides faith, hope, and love! They will always abide.”
The chapter goes on, with the observation that not only useful values, and good influences, and the three-fold “faith, hope, and love” of I Corinthians 13:13 are our “familiar abiding place”… but –
“Your real home is invisible.” And … “your interests and wants, your thoughts and your purposes are where you really live;” … yet these are all unseen; however, these invisible values cause remarkableeffects within and upon the visible world.”
Something of a “Side-bar” comment is given by H. Kohn, as to how this insight applies to the life of the church, and “being spiritual:”
“A church building is apparent, but the more important things about a church are incapable of being seen. The faith that forms the fellowship of kindred minds, the inner spiritual cravings that bring people to worship remain beyond sensory perception. Houses are seen, but the love hat makes a house a home is invisible. We must live in the unseen if we are to live at all, and the more involved we are in the spiritual the nearer we are to our eternal home.”
“Finally, we are at home with God now if we are ever to be, which is to say we need to practice the fellowship with God we hope to have hereafter.”
He laments that too common is the hope for communion with God and enjoment of heavenly blessingsafter death, “without giving Him time, attention, or love now”…
A concluding, sharply-drawn example/story is then told, with the beginning sentence: “If we are not to be estranged from God and from our eternal home, we must plant a bit of heaven here.” Kohn writes of a boy raised In a remote mountain cabin, who eventually grew up, married, and moved away to a big city to pursue his life work and raise his family. After some 35 years, he returned to the mountains to visit the “ancient, weathered old home and to walk through misty memories of the past.”
“As he slowly sauntered along the creek down by the milk house, he saw a row of tall, stately walnut trees with branches spread in an amber bath of sunlight, and the man remembered how, when he was a very small tow headed boy, he had brought home from the woods a bag of walnuts and planted them within the sound of the brook’s gay laughter. Now there were the trees, silently witnessing to a lad’s foresight and adventure.”
“But what had he done with the rest of those walnuts in the bag? He had not planted them all. Then he remembered; the remainder of the walnuts he had hidden in the attic of the cabin. Now the man wondered if they could still be there. Small chance. Nevertheless he walked into the long-deserted cabin, found a rickety ladder standing in the cobwebbed corner, climbed the rungs to the hole in the attic floor, pulled himself up, and made his way through tiny jets of light into a far corner. There was the bag, musty and fragile. And there were the walnuts.”
Contrast! – Here were “poor, wrinkled, dusty walnuts in his hand… and great trees standing a few yards away.” The two types of objects were the same age and once had an “equal chance to make good.” But those “stuck away in the attic merely existed through wasted years and lost vitality. Only those thrust into the soil had grown into trees and fulfilled their purpose and reason for being.”
Among Harold Kohn’s parting words are these:
“Our belief in the life everlasting is a walnut – like idea, fruitful only when planted in the soil of everyday life. When stored in written or spoken creed or cleverly reasoned argument, it accomplishes little and gradually loses viability. But when planted in the here and now, the life everlasting springs up, giving the glory of permanence to our daily living, cramming earth with heaven.”
To begin “the heavenly life on earth” – through vital faith in God by daily trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ – “we are certain to live in an abiding awareness that we are never far from home.”
This is helpful insight… well – considered counsel – as we come to the start of another New Year!
A pastor friend wrote the following piece for the local newspaper, about 3 years ago. (Here I am – diving into my “Christmas resource” envelope for the 3rd straight year):
n Simply put …. God’s Love
The human lot is a sad one. Left to our own devices we would most certainly self destruct. God’s plan to save us from ourselves was fulfilled through Jesus. Thus, the birth of Jesus brings hope for a future: life, eternal life. Our knowledge of life after death has been revealed to us in many ways. Most clearly though, through the teachings, passion, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, Our Lord.
The fact that an elaborate plan was put into place to save us from ourselves indicates the sort of love God has for us. Starting with the Creation account and from that point forward, there are many indicators in Sacred Scripture, and elsewhere, that bear this point out. The hallmark of the Mission and Ministry of Jesus likewise give indication to the depth of His love for us as well as the love of God. At core, the meaning of Christmas is life and love. The details of the Infancy Narrative as given by the Gospel writers, most especially Luke, provide much for us to consider. A slow, thoughtful, and prayerful reading allows the reader to be drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery of the Incarnation which is a small part of a much larger plan referred to by Scripture Scholars as Salvation History. All said and done, when it comes to Christmas, Life and Love is where it is and what it is about: God’s Life and God’s Love.
My friend gave this title to his thoughts –
“Christmas is about God’s Life and Love”
His name is Fr. Wayne Ureel and he was The Roman Catholic priest serving 3 parishes in small communities near where I lived, prior to our move to Menominee. We cooperated together in a number of worth while ministries, serving the people of the Capac area. I thought that Father Ureel captured the heart of the Christmas message in his brief lines – and wanted to share it with you! I especially like that phrase about urging a “slow, thoughtful, and prayerful reading” (of Luke 2) which “allows the reader to be drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery” of God’s miracle.
An excellent recommendation! May each of YOU be caught up and immersed in God’s Life and Love, this Advent and Christmas!
Also… I hope that all of us may benefit spiritually, through worship and attention to the Word of God… through the 4 Sundays (and weeks) of Advent. Here is the proposed schedule of morning worship, Scripture portions, and sermon titles for the coming month.
Sunday, December 1 (Holy Communion)-- “What Time It Is”… Romans 13:11-14 –God’s salvation provided at just the right time.
Sunday, December 8— “God’s Brillo Pad and A Swinging Axe”.. Matthew 3:1-12-Themes of the Lord’s preparatory work of judgment.
Sunday, December 15— “This is Glad, not Sad”.. Isaiah 35:1-10—An inquiry into the source of genuine joy and rejoicing.
Sunday, December 22--- He Makes The Absent Present” … Matthew 1:18-25 – What does “God With Us” really signify?
Christmas Eve. December 24 at 7:00 p.m. –Candle lighting Service.
Christmas Celebration Folklore
Each year 10 million American families bring a natural Christmas tree into their homes to become the warm and glowing center of their Christmas celebration. The tradition endures year after year … but how did it get started?
It is generally agreed that the use of an evergreen tree as part of the Christian Christmas celebration started 400 years ago in Germany and spread to most of northern Europe by the 19th. Century.
A Philadelphia newspaper story printed in 1825 commented on decorated trees in German immigrant homes during the Christmas season. In 1842, a German named Charles Minnegeroda introduced the custom in Williamsburg, Virginia. His tree was described as “splendidly decorated” with strings of popcorn, lighted candles and gilded nuts.
The enduring tree symbol remains a firmly established part of our holiday customs, engaging not only our senses of sight, touch and smell, but also our sense of tradition.
“What The Leaves Say”
The leaves were saying – in fact, almost shouting – “We are gorgeous! We arebeautiful! Come have a look!” So it was, that Margaret and I, along with several thousand other tourists/travelers, took to the highways and byways of the State of New Hampshire in the early autumn … quite a number of years past. It was the “color season”… and for that area of New England that year, the hues of red, yellow, and orange in the foliage were extraordinarily intense. We were “leaf peepers” – as the native New Englanders are accustomed to calling those many visitors who flock into that region every fall. (I guess you’d say the same is true of many who come to Michigan and especially this “U.P.” area, and Wisconsin too, to view the autumn foliage).
… Which leads me to comment, as follows ---
Phyllis Johnson handed me a certain item several weeks ago. It was a reminder to me of both the resourcefulness of God’s people, in every place … and also of how it is that fascinating and valuable lessons in life, can be observed in the most commonplace things and relationships. What Phyllis gave me was an Advent Devotional Guide, for calendar year 2000. Several members of Menominee 1st UMC (many still present and active) had submitted short meditations, observations, and life-experience “stories” – and they were compiled together for the Advent Guidethat fall of 2000 … thirteen years ago.
“You might like to have a look at this,” Phyllis told me. “It’s kind of interesting.” She was right. I have selected one meditation in particular, to re-print for this month’s Newsletter message. It is a most thought-provoking, timely little piece written by Greg Dausey, for the date of December 11, 2000. He used Scripture passages from Isaiah 63:16-19 and Isaiah 64:1-8. The word states: …
“ we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
And this is what Greg wrote ---
The old Funky Winkerbean comic strip ran a series years ago about two fall leaves hanging from a tree discussing their impending doom. One was worried that he was beginning to turn red around the edges and confused about what he did to deserve the fateful sentence of being dropped from the tree. The other leaf considered the options. Perhaps, they could just hang on a bit longer, work harder, be better and then they wouldn’t fade, wither, or fall. He even requested a hearing with the executive branch and considered a transfer to another tree. Well, you know what happened next. The chilly nip in the air still came, their colors still changed, and the gusts of wind still blew. Eventually, they either turned brown and lost their grip or were swept away with the rest of the clinging leaves.
We too try to hang on with all of our might when it seems that all about us is chaos. We look to fix the brokenness, right the wrongs, and change the unfairness. We wonder where God is during the times of crisis. ,We cry out, “Oh that you would burst forth from the skies and come down!” We long for Him to save us on our terms, and inour time. We think that if we can just be good enough, pray hard enough, and serve long enough then He will save us. We fail to let go of our self-control or our self-righteousness. We forget that our only hope is to find the One who can save us. That One who has already fallen for us, died for us, and redeemed us.
Jesus is our tree of life to hang on to in the midst of our struggles. The world’s seasons will still change us, but our hope rests in Him.
Fall leaves – vividly colorful, beautiful … obviously they draw our attention. Leaves that fall (in the fall) … they remind us of impermanence, and the coming of winter. Changing seasons … they come and they go – and there’s not one thing any of us can do, to alter that natural rhythm. And, as Greg wrote “the world’s seasons will stillchange us…” In other words, circumstances both for good and for ill-will continually have their effects on us. Sometimes we will feel that we have faced up to life and its ”chaos, brokenness, and unfairness” – and have coped pretty well. Sometimes .. not.
But … there is “One who has already fallen for us, died for us, and redeemed us. Jesus is our tree of life … our hope rests in Him.”
"O Lord ...How Majestic Your Name!"
wonderfull blessing! It has helped me spiritually, and it has been something of a
surprise... something that I really had not expected. This blessing has come
through my reading and study of several of the Psalms - that section of the Old
Tesament Bible which contains song, poetry, inspirational writings which have
for many centuries been used by God's people both for worshipand for personal
The church Men's Bible Study and Prayer group, at the beginning of last fall,first
decided to cncentrate on the study of several of the well known Psalms.
We continued that throughout the better part of the winter, and by the time we
changed direction this past spring, we had taken a "closer look" at at about 40 of
the "songs"... many of them written by King David. It was a truly enriching experience!
Here are just 3 verses, drawn from a couple of the Psalms in the first part of theCollection:
_"Let the light of your face shne on us, O Lord." - Ps. 4:6
_"You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light."Ps. 18:28
_ "The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Savior!"Ps. 18:46
(All quoted from the New International Version)
One thing the men noticed right away was how encouraging so many of these
writings are. The Verses quoted above are definatley an example of that. We also
find it very helpful,and interesting, to compare how various different Bible
versions that we use, translate ancient Hebrew text... that kind of study often makes
the meaning come clearer than if everyone is using the same version.
Then,about the time the men finished this study - The Wendnesday evening study
group concluded a fascinating, all-winter-long pursuit of the Book of Job (also in
the Old Testament). And ... we moved along right into Psalms, as well! Once
again, we have been doing quite a lot of comparative study using different Bible
versions. And, unlike the men's study, we are looking at each of the poems in
exact numerical sequence - just as they appear in the Bible. It has been a
wonderful, spirit-lifting experience! Each member of the small group feels free to
comment on how the Psalm makes him/her feel... or what is puzzling about it...
or what it seems to contribute to building up our faith. This is what has been so
meaningful to me - and rather surprising (as mentioned earlier). Never before had
I been involved in a detailed study- and discussion - of the Psalms with an
organized church group. All previous usage of this book of the Bible had been
either as a rescource for worship materials, or asreadings for devotions. So - it
has been great! To this point, our Wednesday eve group has studied up through
P.s 46 ...thus, we are almost 1/3 of the way through this longest Biblical book (It
has 150 chapters). But - let's get the word direct! Like this:
_ "From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people"Ps. 3:8
_ "The Lord has heard my cry for mercy, The Lord accepts my prayer." Ps. 6:9
_ "Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless." Ps.10:12
_ "Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge." "I have set the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken." Ps. 16:1,8
(The theme of "refuge" in God is very often repeated in Psalms. See also Ps. ll:1,
18:2, 25:20,31:1, 51:1, 71:1 as examples).
Of course our study in Psalms has thus far taken us through the well known
"Shepherd Psalm" - chp. 23 ... about which we had a lively discussion. Also we
spent several minutes contemplating the incomparable expression of worshipful
praise that just sort of "gushes" from the pen of the Psalm -writer, in Ps. 8. It is
from the 1st and 8th verses both - of that beautifupoem, that the title of this
article is derived "OLord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!" Amen!
What about it? "I mean ... what about some of you who are reading this- who are
not presently involved in a Bible Study experience or group... or who have never
participated in such? We would welcome you - to come study Psalms with us!
Maybe this is the right time, the right oppurtunity.... Maybe the Lord is nudging
you, to get some "enrichment"... or some insight... or to seek a "boost" to your
Christian faith - thru study of the Scripture and interaction with several others of
the church family. This is a very "informal" meeting! We laugh and kid each other
a lot - as well as study and pray. Please feel free to join with us .. at least give it
a try! Right now we are working thru about 3-4 of the Psalms each Wednesday
evening session. It starts at 6:30 p.m.(although we might see that move to
7:00 p.m. , once the Wed. Nite Live community meals resume, later in Sept.)
Blessings in Christ, Rev. Brown
*Remember___ "For the word of the Lord is right and true; He is faithful in all He
does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his
unfailing love". - Psalm 33:4-5