Other Parts of the Christmas Story
December 6, 2009

In the popularly told version of Christmas not much mention is typically made of Zechariah and Elizabeth, even though the gospel of Luke actually starts out with the story.

Let’s face it, in these days it’s hard enough to keep the Christmas story straight with so many other added bits and pieces muddling things up!

Not only do we need to remember who it was that was born in the manger in Bethlehem with Mary and Joseph and Shepherds, angels, and wise men showing up, but we also have to explain to our worried kids about the North Pole and what’s going to happen to Santa’s workshop when the icecaps melt!  My guess is that someone will soon come up with a design for Santa’s abode that will look something like a giant offshore oil rig. And perhaps an entrepreneurial movie director will even add something to the Santa story that convinces kids that Santa was a roughneck on an offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico before he got his present job!

One of the latest movies about Christmas is one that was on ABC television last weekend, entitled “The Dog Who Saved Christmas.”

That title got the best of me. In my imagination I wondered what the dog could have done at the Bethlehem manger to protect the baby Jesus. Instead, the movie is simply about a dog that keeps two burglars from stealing his master’s Christmas presents.

In fact, over the years there have been several movies written about how someone saves Christmas, including: The Boy Who Saved Christmas, How Murray Saved Christmas, The Elf Who Saved Christmas, The Toy that Saved Christmas, and even Ernest Saves Christmas. There are a host of other such titles.

Why do we think we can save Christmas? It’s ironic that while such stories suggest how we can save Christmas, rarely is mention made about how the coming of Jesus (Christmas) saves us!

But, getting back to Zechariah and Elizabeth: Around the year “0,” they were prominent figures in the life of the Temple in Jerusalem. Luke 1 tells us that even though her husband had been praying for a child to be conceived in her for many years, Elizabeth was barren in her old age.

Finally, while Zechariah, the head priest, is conducting a worship service in the Temple the angel Gabriel appears to him and tells him that Elizabeth is going to have a baby. Zechariah can’t believe the good news. As a punishment for his lack of faith, he becomes mute until the day arrives that the baby is born.

Of course, that handicap messes up Zechariah professionally for months. A speechless priest?! Hopefully, he had workman’s comp!

Nevertheless, the first thing that happens after the baby is born is this: Zechariah starts to talk, again, filled with the Holy Spirit. And the words he says are an introduction to the world of who the baby is; that he is the one who will prepare the way for the Son of God.

That’s what this morning’s Canticle or Song of Zechariah is all about. So, pay attention! The words are important, because they’re about the One who comes “to guide our feet into the way of peace.”


1 Samuel 2:1b-10 -- Hannah's Song of Praise
November 15, 2009

The story of Hannah is beautiful and should be remembered by all as a story of wonderful faith and God's great concern for the poor and lowly.

I wrote the following antiphonal response to be used in worship for November 15th of this year.  The congregation sings the response.  The worship leader reads the scripture in light print.  The congregation reads the scripture in bold print. 

Other hymns I have written for the Revised Common Lectionary are here.  To see the full score of the antiphonal response go here.

Sing response

My heart exults in the Lord;
   my strength is exalted in my God.
My mouth derides my enemies,
   because I rejoice in my victory.

There is no Holy One like the Lord,
   no one besides you;
 there is no Rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
   for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
   and by him actions are weighed.

Sing response

The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full have hired
   themselves out for bread,
But those who were hungry are fat with spoil
The barren has borne seven,
But she who has many children is forlorn,
The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low, he also exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
   to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.

For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world.

Sing response

He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness;
   for not by might does one prevail.

The Lord’s adversaries shall be shattered;
 the Most High will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king,
   and exalt the power of his anointed.

Sing response

Just Say, “Yes!”
November 1, 2009

How can we be a living testimony and a positive force in spreading the word of Jesus in our community, as our church’s purpose proclaims? That’s the question each of us should to be asking ourselves as we live our daily lives following Jesus Christ.

Being positive means saying, “Yes!” to those in need. In Matthew 25:35-36 Jesus commanded his followers to say “Yes!” to the following: the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. Over the months I’ve been here, I’ve called it the six commandments of Jesus. Indeed, if there’s anything we need to be “literal” about in our faith life, I believe it ought to be saying, “Yes!” to these six things.

Saying, “Yes!” can be a challenge, though. Typically, the hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, and imprisoned have been those whom society has kept on the fringe. It was true in Jesus’ day and it is true in our own.

The righteous ones of Jesus’ day made it very clear that those persons who had these problems had it coming; that they were being punished by God. They had it wrong then. Sometimes we still get it wrong.

Jesus made it clear that if we’re going to be his followers we must not only include those who are on the fringe, but invite them – and not just invite them, but become one with them to the glory of God.

Before 2008 the purpose of The United Methodist Church was simply “to make disciples of Jesus Christ.”

More words got added to it at the 2008 General Conference. Now it is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

Evidently, one day, one of our bishops had been meditating on the purpose. The thought suddenly occurred to him, “It certainly is nice for us to want to make disciples of Jesus Christ. But, why would we be doing that? Would it be just to grow as a church? Or, is there something else God radically intends for us?”

The bishop realized that the reason God wants to us be disciples of Jesus Christ is to transform the world. As Christians we need to individually and collectively be about loving people like Jesus did – without conditions being placed on them – without first waiting for them to become like us – without waiting for them to be fed, or satisfied, or friends, or clothed, or well, or acceptable! Now, that’s radical!

If you want to know more about how we can go about this go to http://www.10thousanddoors.org.


Playing by the Rules
October 25, 2009

Back in Jesus’ day there were certain important rules you absolutely had to follow if you were going to be a respected rabbi, religious leader, miracle worker, or messiah.

For instance, if you were going to heal someone, the rule was that you had to do it on Sunday through Friday, but not on Saturday. We can see how this was true, for instance, when Jesus healed the blind man in the gospel story of John 9.
According to that story, it looks like Jesus made the intentionally insensitive mistake of breaking that fundamental rule when he healed the man on the Sabbath, infuriating the religious leaders. Even the formerly blind man and his mom and dad got in trouble over that one!

Sensible people might say that Jesus should have known better; that he might have been a little more successful had he been more attentive to the feelings of the righteous and respectable ones of that community. Of course, in reality, Jesus knew people would get mad; that the Pharisees wouldn’t stand for it and would eventually have Jesus crucified, or at least run him out of town. But, that didn’t stop him.

Pity! If Jesus had paid a little more attention to those Pharisees Good Friday would never have happened and everything would have been ok!

This morning’s gospel lesson is a similar story, only in this case, it is Bartimaeus the blind man who breaks the rules of the righteous. One of those rules was that people who were disabled were to suffer silently because either they or their parents had sinned; that their disability was the result of God’s perfect and righteous judgment upon them.

But, when Jesus was coming into Bartimaeus’ town, Bartimaeus foolishly stood at the side of the road and started crying out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Upon hearing this, the righteous ones of the town turned to the blind man and sternly told him to shut up. But, the more they scolded, the louder he cried out for Jesus.

It was then that Jesus broke another one of their rules: that when suffering people behave like that you should just ignore them. In this case, Jesus had the outright gall to tell the people to call the man to him. Upon hearing the invitation, the man threw off his coat, jumped up, came to Jesus and was healed.

What should be noticed about this story of Bartimaeus is that just before it takes place, Jesus tells his disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”

Sounds like Jesus wanted that to happen, right!?!

The lesson in this for us all is this: None of those nasty things would have ever happened to Jesus if he had just followed all the rules, fulfilled expectations of what a messiah was supposed to be, and simply kept the righteous people happy.

Let that be a lesson to anyone who might seriously want to follow in the footsteps of Christ!


The Greatest
October 18, 2009

Referring to the words of Revelation 22:17, Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the greatest and most respected civil rights leaders of the 20th century, once wrote: Any church that violates the “whosoever will, let him come” doctrine is a dead, cold church, and nothing but a little social club with a thin veneer of religiosity. Every Christian and every church needs to pay attention to these words in order to even come close to living the teachings of Jesus.

In today’s gospel lesson Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” In just these few words Jesus essentially dismissed the idea that anyone should consider him or herself as having greater honor than anyone else in the Kingdom of God.

Some persons, for instance, believe that if they have been the member of a church for a long time they deserve more respect than someone who may have been there for just a short period of time. Or, there are some who think they own a certain pew and are visibly offended when someone gets to church and sits in it before they do. Or, there are persons who keep a (sometimes secret) list of moral imperatives they think other persons must fulfill if they are to take any kind of a role in church life.

Of course, in Jesus’ statement to his disciples, he told them that such distinctions are made by those who are of the world. “Among the Gentiles,” Jesus said, “their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so with you. To be great you have to be a servant.”

Of course, Jesus’ statement about greatness doesn’t just apply to what we do together in the church, but also how we treat others out in the world. It may be that those who are in the world lord it over each other. But, Christians aren’t to do that even to persons who aren’t Christians.

Marvin Sapp wrote a song, “Whoever Will.” Some of the words are as follows:

God has given us all
A chance to come
Just as you are.
And He's given us time
To make up our mind
Who we will serve.

All ye who are weary
Come let him come.
All ye that labor
Come let him come.


Just Pray Harder!”

October 4, 2009

Someone I know well moved with her family to a new community a couple of years ago. One of the things they had to do was find a church to attend.

One of the first churches they found was on the edge of a nearby town with a fairly large membership. Visiting there, they realized that there was something disturbing about the church.

My friend tells me, “When they got to their prayer time, several people would get up and offer concerns for various people who were going through difficult experiences. Although that was nice, the thing that surprised me,” she said, “was the way they asked for prayers for people. They’d say something like, ‘Uncle Fred got terribly sick, last week. If we’d all been praying harder for him, that just wouldn’t have happened!’”

Then, my friend concluded, “I don’t want to go to a church where people blame one other for not praying hard enough!”

I looked the words up on the New International Bible in my computer. The words “pray” and “hard” simply are not there in any combination. In other words, the stress of your nervous system, or the tenseness of your muscles, or the tightness of your eyelids and folded hands do not in any way affect whether or not God is going to hear and answer your prayers. Yelling your prayers and stomping your feet isn’t any more effective than just quietly sitting and whispering your prayers to God.

And, certainly, God isn’t going to help somebody just because they have more people praying for them than some other luckless person!

The apostle Paul, on the other hand, did tell his readers to “Be joyful always and pray continually” (1 Thess. 5:16-17).

In fact, Paul’s advice is a pretty interesting combination – two of the shortest verses in the bible, right next to each other, telling us that being joyful and praying actually go together – that they aren’t mutually exclusive!

And then there is the teaching of Jesus who tells us that unlike unrighteous judges that do not respond to petitions, God is righteous and hears every prayer we pray, answering them as wisely and as timely as God can (Matthew 18:7).

The fact is that we do not know why bad things happen. It simply seems to be a part of life that sickness comes, accidents happen, and nasty things take place. And we all know some pretty nice Christian folks who always seem to be getting the raw end of the deal, while persons who act like pagans get away with murder! Go figure!

Why this happens is inexplicable. Nevertheless, faithful people must continue being faithful, no matter what.

Job’s wife couldn’t understand this. After so many awful things had happened to Job, she asked him, “Do you still persist in your faithfulness? Curse God, and die!”
But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”

Another way to look at it is: Don’t constantly ask what Christ can do for you. But, ask how you can be more faithful. It isn’t about you! It’s about God!


Thinking Like Christians About Health Care
September 9, 2009

I just read an article by Bishop William Willimon, of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church.  Of course, the UMC has taken a firm position in favor of health care reform, especially for those who are uninsured or  underinsured.  The article appeared in the September 7, 2009 newsletter of the Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church.

As a pastor I firmly support the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church and encourage United Methodists to study it.


An American Christian Heresy
September 2, 2009

Dr. Michael S. Horton, is a United Reformed Church pastor and professor of theology at Westminster Seminary, in California. In a recent article he writes:

"Name it, claim it"; the "health-and-wealth" or "prosperity gospel": these are nicknames for a heresy that in many respects is only an extreme version of perhaps the most typical focus of American Christianity today more generally: Basically, God is there for you and your happiness. He has some rules and principles for getting what you want out of life and if you follow them, you can have what you want. Just "declare it" and prosperity will come to you.

Although explicit proponents of the so-called "prosperity gospel" may be fewer than their influence suggests, its big names and best-selling authors (T. D. Jakes, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, and Joyce Meyer) are purveyors of a pagan worldview with a peculiarly American flavor. It's basically what Martin Luther called the "theology of glory" [that asks,] “How can I climb the ladder and attain the glory here and now that God has actually promised for us after a life of suffering?” The contrast is the "theology of the cross": the story of God's merciful descent to us, at great personal cost, a message that the Apostle Paul acknowledged was “offensive to the Jews” and "foolish to Greeks."

According to Horton, this faulty theology has been taking more and more of a front and center position in American Christendom, working its way into many of our local churches.

At the same time, these churches have dropped any emphasis on the teachings of the bible as interpreted by the major teachers of the Christian faith over the past 2,000 years. Rather than being seminary-trained, new pastors now tend to have little more than two-year degrees from bible colleges, if that. They are then hired as pastors by churches based on their flamboyance, people skills, and showmanship.

Horton goes on to say that one of the biggest problems with this popular brand of American Christendom is people come away with the message that we are not saved by Christ's objective work for us, but by our subjective "personal relationship with Jesus" through a series of works that we perform to secure his favor and blessing. God has set up all of these laws and now it's up to us to follow them so that we can be blessed. Sociologist Christian Smith has called American Religion "moralistic, therapeutic deism."

Many of today’s evangelicals falsely teach that we are saved from all sorts of things by just making a decision to have a personal relationship with God. They teach: If one's greatest problem is loneliness, the good news is that Jesus is a reliable friend. If the big problem is anxiety, Jesus will calm us down. Jesus is the glue that holds our marriages and families together, gives us purpose for us to strive toward, wisdom for daily life.

These half-truths never really bring us face to face with our real problem: that we stand naked and ashamed before a holy God and can only be acceptably clothed in God’s presence by being clothed, head to toe, in the righteousness of Christ. The apostle Paul warned the early Christians, saying, “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ...” (Ephesians 4:14-15).

Karl Marx said of a consumer-driven culture, “All that is solid melts into the air.” Unfortunately, religion, too, can all too easily become a commodity – a product or therapy – that we can buy and use for our personal well-being.

Personally, I’m not into marketing. I’m not a therapist or politician. I’m not much of a song and dance man. I resist living by a whole bunch of ever-changing pious rules to just to make people happy. Sometimes that confuses folks.

I just want to faithfully preach the gospel.


Thinking of God in the Midst of the Temple
July 5, 2009

The ninth verse of Psalm 48 has these words: “We have thought on your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple.”

At the time of the writing of that particular hymn, the temple in Jerusalem was believed to be the dwelling place of God on earth. Before the temple was built, it had been a tent. Before the tent it had been a box. Before that it had been a burning bush. Before that it had been no particular place, at all. But, that had been hard for most people understand.

The Hebrew concept of “God” was different from that of most of the other cultures of the ancient Middle East. Most of the other countries, including Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Cana, had gods that were represented by sculptures that were housed in temples. The Jewish people, on the other hand, had no idea what their God looked like. And, in fact, among their basic rules of conduct were the words, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exodus 20:4-5). There were no statues or pictures of God in the temple of Jerusalem. Even to this day, you will not find a picture or a statue of God (or of much else) in a synagogue.

Then, along came Jesus, who told his disciples that the day was coming when the temple would be destroyed, but that it would be replaced by the Living Body of Christ, comprised of believers in Jesus spread out across the face of the earth.

No longer would people think of God as being in a bush, or in a box, or even confined to a specific building or nation. Instead, God can meet with creation anywhere within creation!

For humans who have left the planet earth and even gone to the moon, the idea that God is not limited to the earth can be fascinating!

Likewise, this puts into serious doubt the very notion that God favors any particular nation or political system over any other. Instead, the emphasis for every follower of Jesus is how to love Christ first and foremost in their lives. We don’t do that by inventing and following pious rules, but by actually doing the things Jesus tells us to do: Feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, healing the sick, and visiting the imprisoned (Matthew 25:35-36). No amount of piety can come even close to putting one’s faith in Christ. And nothing less than putting to work one’s faith in Christ can lead to any greater piety.

No matter where we are in the universe, we find ourselves in the midst of God’s temple. If we are the followers of Christ we say we are it is important for us to think about God’s steadfast love and find ways to make that love meaningful and real for the sake of those around us, for the sake of God’s creation, and for the sake of those who are yet to come.


Clergy, Reverend, Pastor, Chaplain,
Missionary, Evangelist, Minister

June 28, 2009

There is often some confusion about what each of the above words mean. Over the years our culture has kind of lumped these words together to refer to a person who has made it his or her vocation to work as a leader in some kind of church-related work.

But, actually, there is a distinct difference between each of these words, a difference that is worth keeping in mind.

• Clergy is a general term for anyone who has been especially set aside and/or authorized by any religion to conduct worship services and minister in behalf of that religious body. For example, there are clergy of the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian faiths, among others.

• Reverend is a title given to anyone who is considered to be clergy of any religion. It comes from a Latin word that means “to be revered.” Hence, someone with that title is a person people revere for the authority granted by a particular religious body.

• A pastor is typically a clergy whose denominational leadership has given charge of a particular local Christian church, although a pastor’s duties usually extend beyond the local church. For example, Rev. Donelson is the pastor of a United Methodist Church, but also ministers to persons who do not go to CCUMC or to any church, for that matter, often representing the United Methodist Church and Jesus Christ on a much wider scale than simply the local church.

• A chaplain is a representative of a particular religious sect that is hired or appointed to work in an organization for the purpose of ministering to persons of that one particular religion or sect. For instance, a military chaplain who is Jewish usually ministers to Jewish soldiers, a Roman Catholic chaplain will minister to Catholic soldiers, etc. Although a chaplain may care for someone outside his/her faith, it would be extremely unusual and considered unethical for a chaplain from one religious sect to proselytize persons from another religious sect. In fact, chaplains (and soldiers) of the United States military are forbidden by General Order 1B from proselytizing among the locals of an occupied country as such would violate the agreements made that allow for the occupation. If a person becomes a U.S. military chaplain they agree to give up that right.

• A missionary or evangelist, on the other hand, is a person who specializes in taking the gospel into all the world, accepting the risk of doing so, especially in countries where Christianity may be illegal or unpopular. In hostile situations, a missionary or evangelist may minister quietly in the midst of a people, getting to know them, care for them, love and serve them, and gain their trust, while humbly sharing the Christian message. Often, missionaries and evangelists are able to start local faith communities that are supported by the local people, as well as by modest gifts from other Christian churches around the world.

• The United Methodist Church teaches that all baptized believers are ministers of Jesus Christ; that we are to share our faith and the love of Christ with others, no matter where we may be. Certainly, that can be a tough balancing act in the midst of a hostile world!


Mysteries of the Universe
June 14, 2009

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.”

We know a whole lot more about DNA (deoxyribose nucleic acid) than we did just five years ago. Nevertheless, even one strand of plant DNA can carry more bits of information than is contained in a multi-volume set of Encyclopedia Britannica. And when you consider that DNA is too small to be seen without a microscope, that’s pretty amazing!

Well, that’s how Jesus described the kingdom of God. It is so amazing and so deep that no mere mortal can understand it.

Jesus told his disciples that it might be difficult to think of anything that would compare with the Kingdom of God. Nevertheless, he came up with the example of the mustard seed.

The typical mustard seed is a ball less than one-eighth of an inch in diameter. Yet, within that seed is all the information it needs to grow up into a pretty good sized shrub with branches big enough for birds to make nests in them.

IBM and Intel can only dream of being able to pack so much information into a microchip of the same size!

If that is true of a mustard seed, imagine what it must be for an elephant, or a whale, not to mention a human being!

Of course, Jesus’ example of the kingdom of God being like a mustard seed becomes even more remarkable when we consider the part about how birds make nests in mustard bushes.

When you think about it, mustard bushes don’t choose what kind of birds can make nests in their shade, or whether any birds can nest there, at all. God didn’t design them to make those kinds of decisions. They can’t decide to be shelters for just bluebirds, or redbirds, or only white birds, or clean birds as opposed to dirty birds. Mustard bushes are inclusive of all birds!

And so it is the kingdom of God! That was difficult for the religious people of Jesus’ day to understand, since they had long believed that the kingdom of God was just for them. But – and this is important – You can also imagine how “outsiders” must have regarded the religious people who had that kind of an attitude!

Recently, a survey by the Barna Group found that at least 85% of non-Christians believe that Christians are judgmental and hypocritical. Even among church goers, 52% believe Christians are judgmental and 47% believe Christians are hypocritical! In fact, a growing number who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior are now beginning to be reluctant about even calling themselves “Christians.”

The study suggests that churches should not focus solely on converting people, as has been the emphasis for generations. Instead, we should put the emphasis on developing relationships with non-believers, serving them, loving them, and making them feel accepted.

Only then do we earn the right to share the gospel.


May 31, 2009

Today is the day that is known as Pentecost Sunday, the day, the scriptures tell us, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’ disciples and filled them with the Holy Spirit so that any foreigners who happened to come near them on that day were able to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ preached in their own native languages. Of course, that was a pretty impressive example of God’s power. So, quite a few people became Christians, that day.

Yet, that gift of the Holy Spirit had a particular purpose and benefit for the church when it was displayed. It had been specifically offered to the disciples in order to build up the Body of Christ.

It is interesting, however, that not long after that, some Christians started to believe that speaking unintelligibly during a worship service was a sign to everyone around them that they had been “baptized with the Holy Spirit,” even though that phrase occurs only twice in the New Testament (Acts 1:5; 11:16). Then, even in those examples, “speaking in tongues” as it became known, is not mentioned.

The apostle Paul was careful to point out that “speaking in tongues” is no certain proof of one’s being filled with the Spirit; that any display of that gift in the church had to be immediately accompanied by a verifiable translation if it was going to do any good (1 Cor. 14:27-28).

The problem Paul saw with the gift of tongues is that it started to be used for self-edification, as a means of a person’s showing others how close to God that person might appear to be. Some thought, “If people hear me speaking in tongues they’ll know I’m a good Christian!”

That wasn’t good! Yet, that can be a problem with any gift we may get from God, especially when it appears a lot more than enough.

In fact, for the Christian, all of God’s gifts are ultimately meant for the building up of the Body of Christ. I remember the song we used to sing in church before an offering was taken. The words were, “We give thee but thine own, what e’er the gift may be. All that we have is thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from thee” (No. 181, The Methodist Hymnal, 1964).

Haven’t we all had a lot given to us? Even in the midst of hard times those of us Americans who are the most affected by the bad economy are among the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population! This means that we really do have a lot more to give back to God than 90% of the rest of the world!

What God has given us was never intended for us as a means of showing off to everyone else, but was to be used to bring others to Christ. Think about that the next time you’re reminded of how much you’ve been blessed!


No Exceptions
May 17, 2009

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27).

As far as Jesus and the early church was concerned, persons who could not do this were hypocrites, no matter how pious they tried to appear to others.

In fact, that was one of the major problems with religion in Jesus’ day. The world seemed to be divided up into two different people – those who thought they were good, but weren’t, and those who were sinful and pretty much knew it.

Jesus came to level the playing field. As far as he was concerned, his followers had to think about only one thing: If what I am doing is loving towards God and neighbors, then there really aren’t any rules that I have to follow so that others will think that I’m good.

One of Jesus famous replies to a rich young man who called him a “Good teacher,” was “No one is good – except God alone.”

That’s something for any of us to remember, especially when we go out of our way to point out somebody else’s mistakes, foibles, and imperfections. Actually, finding “gotchas” in others is pretty easy to do in this world, especially as we make up new rules as we go along. On the other hand, finding “gotchas” in others is simply not a loving thing to do. That’s why Jesus said, “No one is good – except God alone.”

Jesus also talked about people who labor all day to find specks in their neighbors’ eyes when, as it turns out, they need to deal with the plank that is in their own eye! (Matthew 7:3-5).

So, Jesus told his followers to worry about only one thing – loving each other. As it turns out, loving God is the same thing. If you’re not doing one then you’re not doing the other!

It’s funny, though, since the time of Jesus how many rules and laws of our own we Christians have come up with, ostensibly with the aim of making sure that followers of Jesus (and everyone else) obey the Greatest Commandment.

Slowly but surely, the very thing that Jesus was concerned about (zealous pietism) has crept back into the Christian lifestyle, such that every nook and cranny of Christendom has it’s own little particular set of mores and rules.

What might Jesus say to us, today, in order to level our playing field so that we may more easily follow his Greatest Commandment?


Get Up and Go with the Flow!
May 13, 2009

Today’s lesson from the book of Acts is about Jesus’ disciple, Philip, who is told by an angel of the Lord to get up and go south on the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza. We’re told that Philip “Got up and went” (Acts 8:27).

Now, that was an act of faith on Philip’s part! We’re not told anything about the angel that had delivered this message to Philip. The fact is that Philip had probably not seen or heard an angel speaking to him, but had simply had a mysterious unexplainable urge to go south towards Gaza on the road from Jerusalem. Unexplainable urges that turn out to glorify God have often been attributed to angelic messengers, especially as stories get retold.

But, the story goes on: On that same road there just happened to be a eunuch from Ethiopia who was the secretary of the Ethiopian Department of Treasury. Riding along in his luxury vehicle, he was reading the book of Isaiah.
It is at this point that Luke tells us that Philip is told by the Spirit to go over to the man’s chariot and walk along by it.

Again, we’re not told exactly how the Spirit spoke to Philip. But, it probably happened then, as it often does, today. Philip simply got an unexplainable urge to go over and talk.

In their conversation, Philip gets to explain to the eunuch the Christian interpretation of the passage he was reading from Isaiah and how it pertained to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As a result of their conversation, the eunuch is converted to Christianity, tells his chauffeur to pull over, and is baptized in a ditch along the side of the road.

And, then, Luke tells us that the Spirit snatched Philip away; that the eunuch never saw him again, but went on his way home, rejoicing. Does that mean that Philip suddenly disappeared, like a ghost? No. It only means that after baptizing the eunuch, Philip immediately got a mysterious urge to head back up the road to Jerusalem, once again.

One of the lessons to be learned here is that a good disciple of Jesus must allow him or herself to get into the flow of the Spirit and go with it. Imagine what power the church would have if more of us did that kind of thing! But, could we stand it?
Psychologists talk about “flow” as being a very essential part of how very creative and spiritual persons work. The more a person relies on the creative Spirit as they do their work the more they find themselves in the process of “flow.”

Bill Johnson, author of the book, Dreaming with God, says people who are in the state of “flow,” often appear to be disturbingly happy to some people. On the other hand, happy people can also be fun to be with. Perhaps that is why Jesus was called the friend of sinners (see Luke 7:34). His joy exceeded all those around him. His joy was what many considered to be extreme. In Luke 10:21, it says, “Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit.” The word “rejoiced” suggests “shouting and leaping with joy.” Even proximity to Jesus brought joy. Johnson writes that joy is contagious and must become the mark of true believers, once again.

The problem with creative “flow,” however, is that many people in established society do not often understand nor appreciate what it is, and may look askance at those who display the state of creative flow around other people. This can be quite sad. For, while communities desperately need the services of those who are bursting with creativity, encouragement for such people is uncommon.

As with Philip, the openness one has to the creative flow of God’s Spirit is a mark of discipleship. But, it also a cross they may sometimes have to bear.


The Radical Teachings of John
May 3, 2009

"Radical." We’ve heard that word recently coming from a bishop of the United Methodist Church – Robert Schnase, to be exact – as he was telling us as a congregation to be "radically welcoming" to persons in our community. In his book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, the bishop agrees that every good church claims to welcome people. But, in order to grow, a church has to be truly radical about welcoming people. In other words, growing churches really bend over backwards to attract and keep new people.

Nevertheless, most of us don’t like to hear the word "radical" being applied to our practice of religion. Perhaps it is because we can think of how that word has been applied in the past by the media to groups like the SDS, or The Black Panthers, or the KKK, or some fundamentalist religious groups, or others who may have resorted to hatred and violence in order to make their point.

But, Bishop Schnase’s use of the word to describe how we need to welcome others simply implies that we are to take extra steps to ensure that persons outside our fellowship are invited, welcomed, appreciated, and really made to feel at home among us.

Take our lesson from 1st John 3:16-24, for example, where it begins by suggesting something pretty radical: "We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?" That’s radical!

Methodists have held proudly to the "extreme middle" during most of their history. United Methodists are a practical people, dedicated to "preaching the plain gospel to plain folk." The movement from its beginning recognized that self-righteousness is the bane of religion, be it the ideology of the Left or Right. However, John Wesley, Church of England priest and founder of Methodism, never retreated from a necessary fight, especially when it came to questions of justice.

For example, Wesley never forgot the evil and violence of slavery that he saw while a missionary in Georgia (1735-1738). He had the courage to speak out against it in Britain where slavery was a very lucrative business, especially among the powerful and prominent. On his deathbed, Wesley wrote William Wilberforce, a member of Parliament who had been converted under his ministry, to continue to fight slavery, "that execrable villainy which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature."

In the 18th century Wesley advocated for numerous social policies, passionate and vocal about the plight of the poor and the need not only to practice charity, but to alter economic policies that encourage greed and punish the poor. He was an advocate of reducing the national debt by minimizing military spending. He was critical of the wealthy classes for their decadence and failure to return enough of their investment to the workers. He advocated lowering grain prices to help the poor and taxing the rich for luxury items to improve public services. Wesley appealed for free clinics and medicines in addition to prayer for the sick.

Today, some might even call him "radical!"

-- PGD

What To Do For An Encore . . .
April 26, 2009

We just celebrated the 10th anniversary of being in our building on Windy Hill. What a day! It was nice to see all the faces of visitors, former pastors, and family members we haven’t seen in a while.

It was wonderful to celebrate and see pictures from the church’s history and consider all the things the church has done over the years.

The question now before us is this: Where do we want to go from here?

Our district superintendent, Rev. Peggy Paige reminded us that while what we have done here is commendable we still need a vision for the future. Paraphrasing Proverbs 29:18, she said, "Where there is no vision, the people begin to wander, but happy are those who know what God wants them to do."

One of the dangers I see facing us these days is the practice of not starting out with the teachings of the bible and of the church when it comes to developing our life’s visions. Instead, many people focus more on the frightened shrill voices coming at us from the world’s media.

The question we always need to ask when we hear something from the news media, for example, is this: Who is paying for the dissemination of the information that is being broadcast? Is it large, multi-national corporations who have a vested interest in people believing their interpretation of what’s going on? Do we really know what may be behind the information we think we should trust? I think we’d be surprised if we really knew!

In fact, I think this problem may become even more profound as local newspapers shut down their operations in the months and years to come, succumbing to the successful media giants of cable tv and the Internet.

Will we be influenced by whoever it is who has the most money to tell their version of the truth? Or will we, as God’s people, find more objective ways to get at the facts?

The United Methodist Church is becoming more and more aware of this need. As you go on the Internet, go to www.umc.org and find out what your church is boldly doing in the world in the name of Jesus and read stories about important things that are happening that you’ll never get from CNN or Fox News. Another place to go is www.gbgm-umc.org for information about what our church is doing in ministry in the face of global injustice, hunger, and poverty. Also, www.umportal.org, is the web site of the United Methodist Reporter, an independent news organization based in Dallas, TX.

Of course, some might ask, "Why should I give credibility to news reported by these church-related news organizations anymore than anyone else?" The answer should be obvious. It is because these organizations’ news sources are missionaries, pastors, and church people serving right at the scene who don’t get their funding from corporate sponsors with an axe to grind, but from churches like this one, all over the country.

www.sojo.net is also a good news source for anyone wanting a fresh prospective on faith in action. There is, indeed, a whole "‘nother" side to stories we thought we knew.


Church: The Place Where We Can Practice What Is Preached
April 19, 2009

What is the Church? That’s a question that many people in the 21st century may have a hard time answering. Indeed, a single town can have so many different churches believing and teaching so many different things and worshiping in so many assorted ways that it gets confusing when someone lumps them all together and calls it "the Church."

The other night I was watching a nationally televised news program. Two Christian leaders from very theologically divergent points of view were debating with each other. As they were throwing jabs at each other, it was hard for me to believe that they represented the same world religion – Christianity. But, unfortunately, that’s the way it is.

The earliest Church didn’t have that problem. In fact, today’s first lesson tells us plainly that the first Christians in Jerusalem believed the same things, heart and soul; that none of them even claimed private ownership, but shared everything with each other as anyone had need.

On top of that, these early Christians gave the apostles such authority that their testimony concerning the Lord’s resurrection and the news of the gospel was full of undeniable grace and power.

Certainly, these are biblical teachings that all of us Christians need to hear and live out in our daily lives. In fact, the bible teaches us many things about how we should live our lives in unity.

Cass City United Methodist Church has been up on the hill on Cemetery Road, just north of town, for ten years, now. What wonderful years of blessing they have been! Those years have certainly not been without their challenges and problems. But, God’s Spirit has guided us through all of that. And it has been a valuable learning experience for all.

But, that is what being the Church should be about! As we live our lives together and work to serve the Lord, our experience as the Church should be very much like a laboratory where we can practice on each other all those things Jesus wants us to be doing out in the rest of the world, itself.

Sometimes I’ve heard people say that they don’t get too involved with church life because it can be stressful having to deal with "all those people’s" problems and demands. What they may not realize is that a church may actually be the ideal place to learn how to deal with the stresses and demands that come along in the world, anyway. The only difference is that the Church may be more forgiving, patient and encouraging than the world is. Or, at least it should be, if it is indeed the Church!

Today’s Psalm says it well:

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes (Psalm 133:1-2).

Bishop Robert Schnase summarized it well with five things fruitful congregations need to be: (1.) Radically welcoming, (2.) Passionate in worship, (3.) Intentional in faith development, (4.) Risk-taking in mission and service, and (5) extravagant in generosity.

Let’s remember these things and keep up the faith and the good works!

-- PGD

The First "Apostle"
April 12, 2009

Mary Magdalene was the first apostle of the Christian era, a time beginning at the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In fact, the word "apostle" means "a person sent for as a messenger," and comes from the word the Greek word, "apostolos." Usually, when we hear the word "apostle" we immediately think of the 12 disciples – Simon, called Peter, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, James, son of Zebedee, John the brother of James, son of Zebedee, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, son of Alphaeus, Simon, Jude Thaddaeus, and Judas Iscariot. These men are the ones we’re most familiar with.

However, Luke 10 also says that there were 72 other disciples, as well, whose purpose it was to go forth and prepare the way for Jesus. While their individual names aren’t listed, we do know the names of other disciples, including Cleopas, one of the two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus on the evening of the resurrection.

What we don’t hear a lot about are the women who were Jesus’ disciples. But, there were several that the Bible mentions. Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, are mentioned in Luke 10. Then, Luke 8 talks about "Mary, called Magdalene, ... and Joanna the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others who provided for him out of their resources" (Luke 8:2-3). The gospel of Mark also mention that Mary, the mother of James and Salome witnessed the crucifixion, and that Salome was one of the women who went to the tomb. John says that Mary the wife of Clopas was at the tomb.

But, of all these women, probably the most is said about Mary of Magdalene, especially in the story of her experience with the Risen Christ at the Tomb.

The fact is that it was this particular Mary who was told by the Risen Christ, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’" It was Mary Magdalene who then went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20:17-18)

The fact that Jesus told her to go to the other disciples with the message of the resurrection makes Mary Magdalene the first Apostle sent out with news of the victory of Jesus over the powers of death. And this is especially interesting, since in those days it is doubtful whether the men would have believed her, since she was a woman.

That should be a lesson to us, though. If we are convinced that we have met the Risen Christ, then it our task to share with others the news that he has risen from the dead. Certainly, there will be those who will not listen or believe. But, still, God sends out to tell. We become apostles, as well.

We meet the risen Christ in worship, today. We meet the risen Christ in the fellowship of other Christians. We meet the risen Christ as we share our possessions with those who are in need, or offer support to those who are lonely, or pray for one another.

Who will be today’s first apostle? You?


Palm Sunday is Also Known as Passion Sunday
April 5, 2009

Sometimes we have a little trouble with words, especially as culture and society twists their meanings over time.

Take the word “passion,” for instance. While Wikipedia’s first definition for the word is, “feeling very strongly about a subject or person, usually referring to feelings of intense desire and attraction, be very passionate about something,” when you “Google” the word the first listings you get are for dating services for persons who are looking for far more than the casual date. It is only after you wade through these that you finally get to listings for such things as Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”

Of course, there is nothing at all wrong or right about being passionate, in and of itself. Being passionate about helping, loving, and caring for others is a good thing. But, being passionatly destructive, controlling, or hateful is bad. Like many other things, the virtue of passion all depends upon how you use it.

The Church has called the Sunday before Easter “Passion Sunday” because Christ’s entry into Jerusalem wasn’t just a happy, joyful occasion, as we usually think when we consider Palm Sunday. This particular Sunday is the beginning of “Holy Week,” where Jesus' final days of ministry led directly to the cross.

The problem the people of Jerusalem had that week was they were confused about what they needed to be passionate about.

So, I wrote this poem:

When he came into the city people stood to cheer,
Hoping the messiah was about to appear.
Laying out their cloaks along the road as he came by,
“Hail to the king! Hosanna!” was their cry.
As they saw him coming they cut branches from the trees.
Shouting very eagerly, “Now, Lord save us, please!”
And the children sang as he rode to Jerusalem,
Praising the Savior as he came to them.
Waiting there impatiently, they thought angelic hosts
Soon would oust the Roman legionnaires from their posts,
And destroy King Herod – take him off the nation’s throne!
“Do this, O Jesus, and you’ll be our own!
When we think our Lord and Savior came here just for us,
Clearing all our obstacles and stopping our fuss,
Can we just remember Jesus came to save us all?
Sharing the love of Jesus is our call!
Blessings! Hosanna in the heavens most high!
They didn’t know that he had come there to die.
“Hosanna! Save us!” was their fervent appeal!
Though, he had come to make us whole, to heal.

(To see and hear this poem as a hymn go here.)  Click here for the simple midi version.


Easter Breakfast
March 29, 2009

We Go with spices to the place,
   Advancing o’er the gloom.
The building that we’re going to
   Is shadowed like a tomb.
But soon we know the Sun will rise,
   His body we shall see,
No longer dead, but now awake,
   Alive in victory!

We go with spices to the place,
   His body to prepare.
We go inside and notice that
   His body isn’t there!
Of course, we knew it wouldn’t be:
   His body isn’t dead,
But working so that souls are healed,
   The poor and hungry fed.

We go with spices to the place,
   We go with sausage, too,
And pancake mix, a bunch of eggs;
   A breakfast we will do!
We’ll serve the Body of our Lord,
   And give it strength, anew.
For we are going to the church!
   Christ’s body, now, is you!


You Were Dead
March 23, 2000

Occasionally, someone will ask me, “How come you believe in a God that would condemn people for all eternity for not believing in Jesus? What kind of a God is that? Would you call that a loving God? Huh? Huh? How do you answer that question, Preacher?”

That question kind of reminds me of the first computer I ever bought. It was a Tandy Color Computer that I bought at Radio Shack in about 1982. It only had 16,000 bits of memory and used cartridges to run programs. I think it came with one program – a game. And for a monitor you hooked it up to a color tv set. And if you wanted to save programs you may have created on the computer, you had to buy a small tape recorder. Eventually, they even came out with a 5½ inch floppy disk drive for it that was bigger than the computer and weighed about fifteen pounds.
I remember bringing the computer home and thinking, “What a wonderful miracle of 20th century technology! This thing is really pretty neat!”

But, one day, I realized that this computer might also be useful in doing word processing for writing sermons and church newsletters, and so on. All I would have to do is buy another program cartridge, the floppy drive, and a dot matrix printer, plug all these things into the printer, and I’d be in business.

I told my wife that all of this would cost me about $500 and she responded with surprise, “You’ve got the computer, isn’t that enough? What do you need all that other stuff for?”

It was hard to explain. I told her that having the computer without the software and other peripherals was like having a record player without the records to play on it. The computer is a wonderful machine, but without the software, you can’t do much
with it but play a few silly games, as wonderful as they are.

Life is a lot like that. We can thank God’s love for the gift of life. What a marvelous thing it is! Think of all the wonderful things you have experienced over the years that you would not have experienced if God had not given you life! Most of us would agree that if all we’d ever gotten from God was this one life with all its amazing experiences, it would be more than enough. We should be grateful for that, alone!

But, we get greedy and maybe a little ticked off when somebody tells us that the life we were given when we were born doesn’t have an automatic reset button on it. In spite of what some of the spiritualists, and the tv show Ghost Whisperer, and religious charlatans may claim, the bible pretty much tells us that once we’ve lived our years here on earth, that’s it. It’s over. There “ain’t” no more!

By default, God gave us one life to live. It is a wonderful gift. We should make the most of it and do our best to help others do the same. Folks should be grateful to God even if they’re not given any more than that.

But ... then along comes Jesus! The gift of faith in Christ is kind of like the software and the peripherals that help the wonderful little computer be so much more than what it was intended to be all by itself. God gives us an “unexpected extra” when we put our faith in Jesus, giving us the extra gift of eternal life. We call that God’s “gracious gift of salvation.”


Environment for Ministry or a Marketplace?
March 15, 2009

Over the next few months we’re going to be hearing even more about the five things that Bishop Robert Schnase suggests fruitful congregations do. I know. I’ve preached five sermons in the past couple of months on Schnase’s book, but his message is so important, so crucial for all of us to hear, that I must emphasize it until it becomes a part of our language for everything we do in the church and as the people of God serving the community and world around us.

Today’s gospel lesson talks about how Jesus came into the city of Jerusalem to visit the Temple and how he was distressed to see how the Temple was being used as a place that focused more on making money than it did on the ministry of Almighty God. In fact, the Temple had been under construction for the past forty-six years and was one of the most magnificent buildings of its day. The main purpose for the Temple was supposed to be for ministry and for the worship of God. Unfortunately, as the years had gone by, other needs started to interfere with that purpose. For instance, the leaders of the Temple were concerned about having enough money to maintain and pay for the Temple. So, all sorts of schemes were developed to raise money, including the use of money changers who exchanged coins of the Roman Empire for specially minted Temple tokens (kind of like today’s casinos use). Then, on top of that, in order to make even more money, there were persons who rented booths for the selling of various animals that could be purchased for sacrifice on the altar in the Temple.

So, Jesus “cleansed” the Temple and told everyone, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

In other words, Jesus was thoroughly interested in returning the emphasis of Temple life back to ministry and worship.

That’s something every church needs to think about, as well!

As you may have heard, thirteen persons from Cass City UMC went down to Lapeer on Saturday, March 7 to hear Bishop Schnase give three presentations. In all of those presentations he told us that whatever takes place in our church must emphasize making disciples for the transformation of the world before we think about much else.

He gave an example: Suppose the church gets asked to sponsor a girl’s volleyball team and needs to use the church gym for practice and for some of the games. Not only should the church find a quick way to say “yes” to such a request, but several members of the church should also be eager to become part of the event, itself, even if they’re not volleyball fans! In an act of ministry, church members should see this as an God-given opportunity to get to know parents, family, and children who may participate in the event, but may not have a relationship with any church. These church members would participate because they want to bring people to Christ by showing them that they care. These persons might even throw an occasional after-game party or picnic for the children and their families. Or maybe they’d stick around after the practices to help clean up, turn off the lights, and so on. But, the whole idea would be to radically welcome and show concern for others for the sake of Jesus Christ.

This really, really is how churches grow!

There are many examples of such things that go on in fruitful congregations.

Everything we do as God’s people should invite others to love Jesus!

What project would you like to start or help with, here? Check out our schedule of events! See what we already have going on! How can you enhance existing church ministries for Jesus?

Find a few others who would like to help you start something new! Then, let me know!


Neither Despised nor Abhorred
March 8, 2009

Have you ever been watching TV and this guy comes on as a spokesperson for a charity advertising to get people to send money to help little kids living in poverty in some foreign country? The guy kind of looks like Santa Claus, but has a shorter beard, holds a little girl in his lap, and shows how she needs shoes, and explains how her whole town is nothing but a big garbage dump.

That commercial gets many people who are in the right mood to get out their check books and credit cards and make the phone call to the 800 number that appears on the screen. In fact, millions of dollars are raised every year using that commercial or commercials like them.

On the other hand, there are many people who watch those commercials and are completely turned off by what they portray. They hard-heartedly figure:

  1. If people can’t afford to feed and raise their kids properly they shouldn’t have them in the first place!
  2.  If we try to help little kids like that and they survive and reach the age where they can reproduce, we’ll simply have made the problem worse and enabled an already hopeless situation.
  3. Perhaps the reasons for extreme poverty are genetic; that survival of the fittest is the natural way of the world; that if we want to get rid of poverty we shouldn’t interfere; that we should take care of our own genetically superior kids and forget about the rest (Heil!).
  4.  Or, maybe God has put them in that squalor for a dog-gone good reason (like their parents are accursed sinners to the seventh generation, or something like that), and we shouldn’t interfere with God’s eternally righteous judgment.

It is amazing how many even professed “Christians” have horrible attitudes like these, unaware that their own ancestors (only a few generations back) probably came to America in an attempt to escape conditions pretty much like those in that commercial; and that it wouldn’t take much for any of us to find ourselves in similar conditions of squalor, once again! I’ve always felt good when I’ve heard people say about others who are suffering, “There, but for the grace of God, go I!”

Psalm 22 proclaims God’s attitude concerning those in need. The words are: “For God did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; God did not hide God’s face from me, but heard when I cried to God” (Ps. 22:24). And then it goes on to say: “The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him” (Ps. 22:26-27). And then it concludes with: “Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it” (Ps. 22:30-31).

Our job as followers of the Son of God is to go on proclaiming that message by neither despising or abhorring the poor of this world, including those who are our neighbors.

How can we use Lent to get a little more involved in this sort of thing?


Lent: What It Is and What To Do About It
March 1, 2009

The word Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, which means "spring." Lent began as a time of preparation for converts to Christianity (Easter was the traditional time of Baptism for the Early Church). Persons who were going to be confirmed would go through a period of prayer and fasting in preparation for their entry into Christianity. The preparation time evolved into a season that all Christians observed – preparing themselves for the observance and remembering of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ.

There are 40 days in Lent mirroring Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan (See Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, or Luke 4:1-12.). These were the 40 days of preparation for the beginning of his ministry. The number 40 was an important number in Jewish history (Remember that the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness before they entered the Promised Land).
Some people think they should give up things for Lent. Others think they should do extra things for Lent. Here is a list that you may want to consider:

  • Spend time in solitude each day.
  • Share in the Lenten Series on Wednesday evenings.
  • Read a book for inner growth.
  • Read twice through a Gospel.
  • Begin to keep a journal of prayer concerns, questions, reading.
  • Focus on thanksgiving, rather than on asking, in prayer.
  • Give myself a gift of three hours to do something I always say I don't have time to do.
  • Find a way to go to bed earlier or sleep in so I get enough rest.
  • Make a list of people with whom I need to be reconciled. Pray for them and let Jesus guide me in my thinking and feeling toward them.
  • Go to all of the Holy Week services as an act of love and waiting with Jesus.
  • Take one hour to inventory my priorities and plan how I will reorder them.
  • Give up a grudge or a rehearsal of a past event.
  • Forgive someone who has hurt me.
  • Dance my prayers to a favorite tape or CD.
  • Plan to visit a "shut-in" neighbor or church member weekly.
  • Write a letter of affirmation once a week to a person who has touched my life.
  • Go to coffee or dinner with someone I want to know better.
  • Begin to recycle waste from my home and workplace.
  • Give blood and recall the cross.
  • Say "NO" to something that is a waste of money and time.
  • Pray to God to help me resist racial prejudice and to give me courage in opposing it.
  • Decide to become a member of the church and speak to the pastor about it.
  • Rebuke the spirit of criticism and my own tongue out of control.
  • Find a way to live out the baptismal promise to "resist evil, injustice, and oppression" in the power and liberty God gives us by ______________.

    – PGD

Luke 4:16-30
February 1, 2009

Hospitable is Good. Radical is Bad?
January 25, 2009

Today is the day we start talking about the five seriously important things Bishop Robert Schnase believes are very important for Christians to do if they want to see their communities thrive and grow. We need to practice 1.) radical hospitality, 2.) passionate worship, 3.) intentional faith development, 4.) and extravagant generosity.

Notice that while each of the virtues listed are pretty acceptable behavior: hospitality, worship, faith development, and generosity. But, when you put any of these words in front of them, it makes us think: radical, passionate, intentional, and extravagant.

Take radical hospitality, for instance. We can all agree that it is great for us to be hospitable. But, many of us may think that being radical about anything is going a bit too far!

Nevertheless, that’s how Bishop Schnase suggests we think about how we welcome others into our fellowship. We need to be radical in hospitality!

Like how?

For instance, over the years I’ve seen grandmother-types get up from their familiar pews and go sit with visiting parents with little children just to help them feel welcome, and even offer a little help in holding a baby or quietly entertaining a little child. Now, that was radical!

I’ve experienced the eagerness of older church members to give up a quiet Sunday evening to help with a youth event that featured loud Christian rock music, flashing lights, and stayed after to clean up cheese and chili nachos from the floor, afterwards. Radical!

I’ve experienced the willingness of folks to invite, and then go out of their way with their cars, to pick up neighbors to go with them to Sunday school and worship, as well as other events going on throughout the week. Radical!

I’ve seen the love of those who were so turned on to the love of Jesus that they’d tell everybody they knew about the great things going on in their church, even though they could think of some things going on in their church that could be seriously improved. Radical!

I’ve seen the faithfulness of greeters and ushers who showed up at church on their assigned Sunday and not only welcomed strangers, but who also rushed to open doors for anyone they thought might have a bit of trouble getting in. Radical!

I’ve experienced the dedication of persons who deeply believe that being a member of the church means much more than doing what they like to do (like worshiping in ways that are meaningful to just them); but that it means joining in ministry to others, not expecting the paid staff to do it for them. Radical!

Over 200 years ago, The Methodist movement took off and grew by being radically hospitable. It’s time more of us got back to doing that, again – not just a few of us, or even 30% or 40% of us. Rather, it has to be the majority of us.

That’s the way it is for any movement to succeed. Being hospitable is good, but it’s simply not enough!

Radical hospitality is what it really takes. 


Anyone Want to Loan Out a Kid for a Few Years?
January 18, 2009

Imagine! You’re just a little kid and your mother gave you to the local priest to raise! That’s the way it was back in the day of the prophet Samuel. Hannah was so thrilled to have been blessed by Samuel’s birth that she gave him to the old priest to raise as an apprentice.

We 21st century clergy don’t do that sort of thing, anymore. Although, it might not be a bad idea, depending upon the situation.

Actually, I had the services of a couple of kids for a few years – a boy and a girl. After they learned how to walk, talk, and make their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches they turned out to be fairly useful, at times.

Of course, their training was somewhat extensive. By the time they were two years old they knew the Lord’s Prayer by heart, had learned quite a bit of the bible, and were familiar with some of the more weighty theological issues of the faith.

At the age of five or six my little apprentices were often useful at doing such things as folding bulletins, straightening up hymnals in their pew racks, taking out the trash, and other menial chores.

When they got to be older, they were allowed to do other things, like run the vacuum cleaner, wash the dishes, give the parsonage dog a bath, change light bulbs, mow the grass, and all that stuff.

The boy even advanced to preaching a sermon for me, one Sunday morning. The girl eventually sang in the choir and played her trumpet in worship. Sometimes they’d work as ushers, acolytes, and UMYF presidents.

Unfortunately, we don’t have those kids around, anymore, although they come back to visit from time to time. The girl grew up, got married, and has kids of her own. The boy is also married and has gone on to solving some of the mysteries of the universe, which isn’t much different from being a pastor, I guess.

Come to think about it, those two kids were full-time apprentices, for the most part. I didn’t just have them for an hour or two a week, but they lived and ate with my wife and me, and slept in the same house, and went with us about everywhere we went, and learned about and endured many of our clergy experiences.

When I think about those days, sometimes I kind of miss it. Recently, my wife and I were thinking, "Wouldn’t it be nice if someone would give us one or two of their kids for just a few years?"

On the other hand . . . come to think about it, in spite of all the things our apprentices did as they served in our household, having them around caused occasional hard work and worry for me and my wife. Providing food, clothing, health care, education, and stuff took a lot out of our budget.

Of course, I’m not too sure how many kids would like being my apprentice, anyway. For one thing, they’d have to do their homework and chores and other things before they could play. They’d have to join us for meals every morning and night, not to mention lunches on the weekends. They’d have to attend church with us for at least three hours a Sunday, not to mention other numerous visits during the week. They’d find themselves volunteering for a variety of things going on in the community several times a month. We wouldn’t let them "date" until they were at least sixteen, and then there would be some pretty strict "rules." "Their" computer would be "mine." They would not have their own car until after high school, and then only if they really needed it. They’d have to finish high school and then further their education in other ways. They probably wouldn’t have personal cell phones or their own TV until graduation from high school.  I think kids have way too many diversions, these days.

This is just the short list.

Would any kid what to be my apprentice? I doubt it!


We Sing Our Faith in Our Hymns
January 4, 2009

United Methodists have always believed that its hymnals are a vital and distinctive component of our worship of God. From our earliest years we have been a "singing people." In fact, our hymnals serve as a means by which our spiritual heritage has been received from the past, is celebrated in the present, and transmitted to future generations. Next to the Bible, our hymnals have been our most formative resource.

In 1761, John Wesley, the co-founder of the Methodist movement wrote these words and placed them on the first page of the first hymnal used by Methodists:

  1. Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.

  2. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.

  3. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

  4. Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.

  5. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make on clear melodious sound.

  6. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling away naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

  7. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

Our present hymnals have been in our pews for twenty years and will be replaced in 2013 by a new hymnal now being researched by a committee that was authorized at the 2008 General Conference. I expect that most of the old favorite hymns we know (or should know) from the old hymnal will be in the new hymnal, while other hymns will be replaced by new contemporary hymns. Thus, following John Wesley’s advice, when the new hymnal appears in our pews, it will be our opportunity as United Methodists to become familiar with those hymns of faith, just like we should be with the hymns we have now.

The main obstacle to doing this, however, is that most people have come to prefer hearing music performed rather than singing it, themselves. Timid worship leaders have been reluctant to teach new or unfamiliar hymns lest they be criticized. As a result, many of the hymns in our hymnal remain unsung and unlearned, even forgotten.

It is very sad that many congregations fail to learn the hymns of our church, thereby missing some of the important teachings and depth that come in the process. Singing our faith really helps persons to effectively internalize and learn our faith.

Therefore, as unfamiliar hymns from the old hymnal are sung in worship, please realize that those hymns have actually been around for a very long time! A pastor’s eagerness to use them should not be seen as an insensitivity to those who don’t know them, but rather as an indication of the love and dedication of a pastor to risk teaching those things that should be already well known!

– PGD (Paul G. Donelson)