Friday, May 20, 2011

It's Not the End of the World

Not that many of you are avidly listening to Rev. Harold Camping, who has predicted the end of the world for May 21, 2011, but the secular media has jumped all over this story. I felt that as your pastor I should weigh in on all such matters and rumors related to any biblically-calculated end of the world scenarios.
While it is possible that God has given Rev. Camping some unique insight or revelation, I will confess to being quite skeptical. Ever since the Second Great Awakening in the late 1800's, pastors and laypeople have written to express their belief that God has revealed to them the exact timing of the end. Whole movements and denominations have sprung up declaring that the end of the world was near, and many have even got specific about stating an end date. Those dates all passed, as I suspect this one will too.
Jesus made it very clear to his disciples that “no one will know the day or time” when the world will end and Christ will descend upon the clouds. He said to them, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36) So this passage causes me to be pretty skeptical about all this end-time talk.
I think one of the purposes of Rev. Camping, and all those who would foment a fear of an impending end of the world, is to get people to consider the state of their spiritual lives and of their relationship with God. If this end date causes some people to re-examine their faith, their behavior, or their relationship with God, then it may have some positive value. If on the other hand, this date comes and goes, and nothing happens, then Rev. Camping makes a mockery of the roles and influence of pastors and church leaders, showing that we cannot be trusted to speak the truth, and that we will do anything to get our 15 minutes of fame. Remember that Koran-burning pastor in Florida, Rev. Terry Jones.

Here is the most important thing: I will share with you exactly what I say at many funerals and whenever someone asks me about the end of the world. There is a greater likelihood of your dying from sudden heart-attack or stroke, or being involved in an accident, then the end of the world coming. Ecclesiastes 9:12 makes this clear: “Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.” As we well know, we cannot know the date of our death or the means, and we cannot be assured that we will have a long life, or a long illness in which to prepare ourselves spiritually for our meeting our maker. We must live everyday ready to give an account for our life, our lifestyle, our choices and most importantly the current state of our relationship with God. How is it with your soul?
I am very likely to see everyone in church on Sunday morning. But just in case I don’t see you because something happened to you overnight, “are you up to date on all your shots?” What I mean is, are you sufficiently connected to God? Do you live in such a way that you are certain you will be received in heaven with the greeting, “Well done, you good and faithful servant”?
I don’t worry about the end time. If it comes, I am ready. If it doesn’t come, I am ready to keep on serving. If I die tonight, I am ready. If I don’t, I will continue to live and serve the best I can. I hope you have the same confidence.
Don’t fear tomorrow, or any predicted end time. And do not fear your death. Jesus said, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:4-7)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Fistfights in Church?

You may have read in the newspaper or seen on the local news that a church in Washington DC was having a congregational meeting, when emotions ran so high and the controversy was so great and contentious, that eventually some church members started slugging one another and eventually the police had to be called in.
Are you as shocked as I am? Are you as disappointed as I am?
Jesus prayed that the church might be ONE. He prayed that his disciples would get along and would care more about unity than about issues. Having our own way is not what Christian discipleship is about. Jesus said on more than one occasion, "Love one another." He even said, that people would know that we belonged to him by the way we love each other.
Now, we are all human, and it is hard sometimes to remember that we are to reflect and project the love of Christ in everything we do. That's in EVERYTHING we do. And this is especially true when it comes to what we do in the church and as the church.
Imagine the message the church sends to the community when even within its own body, there is fighting, angry disagreement, and fistfights.
Of course the Church (all of it) is not immune to controversy, disagreements and differences of opinion, or differences in the interpretation of scripture, or differences in discerning the will of God. But one thing is clear: We are to love each other, even when we disagree, and we are to always reflect the love of God, until we can sort out our differences.
That church in Washington may have been arguing over which pastor to hire, or whether to put a new roof on the church, or whether to begin a new ministry. But the attitudes and actions of the members were anything but Christian.
We, United Methodists are also going down the path of controversy and disagreement. In my opinion, it is an unresolvable difference of opinion. And to me, since that is the case, it is pointless to make the issue that final litmus test of one's Christianity.
As we prepare for General Conference, the quadrennial gathering of the church (in the spring of 2012) for the purpose of updating our Book of Discipline, there is another flurry of activity around a variety of issues that undoubtedly will occupy the time of the delegates as they deliberate and vote on these issues. One debate I am not willing to get sucked into is the whole discussion on homosexuality.
Everyone has their opinions, and there is no topic about which people have more tightly held perspectives. No one is willing to change their minds, so what is the point of talking. There is no right and wrong on this issue, and until we die and go to heaven, we will never really know what is "God's will"; though all of us think we already know it now.
The more important matter above all things, is unity, love, charity, compassion and caring for each other regardless of our stances, opinions or perspectives. The kingdom of heaven is about love, mercy, acceptance, caring, service to each other, personal sacrifice for the sake of others, and forgiveness. Our congregation, our denomination, and the whole of the Christian Church has to be mindful of its witness to the world, to those not yet aware of Jesus' saving love.
If you were unchurched, a non-believer, why would you want to join an organization that is constantly in a state of anger, accusation, and animosity. You wouldn't. Yet in the Great Commission, Jesus instructed all his disciples to go out and tell the world about the great LOVE of God which was demonstrated in his Son, Jesus. Jesus has not called us to argue, or rebuke each other over personal opinions. He has called us to restore peace, love and gentility to a world already too full of hate and strife. There is no place for fighting in the church.
Let us reflect the kingdom of heaven in all that we do and say, please.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Intentional Reading

One of the inspirations I've gotten is to encourage as many as possible in our congregation to commit to reading the whole of the New Testament over the summer. The goal is to have it done by August 31. There are 260 chapters in the 27 books of the New Testament. One book is only 1 chapter (Philemon) (pronounced Fi-LEE-mun)and some are only 5 or 6 chapters. If you read just three chapters a day from June 1 you'll be finished before August 31. So if you miss a day that's okay. There are 92 days in the three summer months, and at three chapters a day, you'll be done in 87 days. So there is some grace along the way.
All of us have read some of the New Testament. Many have read one of the gospels, or one of the letters, but not many of us have actually read the whole thing from front to back in a continuous pattern. Now I know several have told me that they have already read the whole of the New Testament, but then they usually tell me that was some years ago. So, it's probably time again anyway.
This whole thing started when I challenged my daughter to read the whole New Testament this summer. She's an avid reader, and a deeply committed Christian, but between schoolwork and fun summer reading, I wanted to squeeze in a little head knowledge of the Bible, and give her some inspiration. So to make it a challenge, I agreed that I too would read the whole New Testament this summer, if she would. She agreed. So we are both on the hook.
Then I thought, well, that's actually not a bad thing for all of us to do. And I said to myself, "I wonder how many people in the church would be willing to try it with us?" So I put the challenge out there, and I am so pleased at how many are deciding to take up the challenge. For many, this may be the first time they read much of the core documents of our faith. I pray that the Holy Spirit will work on all of us as we read or re-read the sacred story of who we are as Christians.
So, will you join us? Over 30 people signed up on the first Sunday I invited people to read along. You may start at any time. The goal is to be finished by or on August 31. Let us know that you are reading along with us. On Sunday, September 5 we will celebrate everyone's accomplishments. Enjoy!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti and Hatred

I am troubled by two things ...
1) all the pain and devastation I see on the news among those poor people in Haiti. Everyone is trying their best to help, but the needs are so great. We will do our part on Sunday (January 17 and beyond) by taking a collection for Haiti and praying for them in church this Sunday. (Go to if you wish to donate online.)
2) the insensitive remarks by "so-called" Christian "spokesmen" who believe they have the right to speak for God, and then pass judgment on the poor suffering people of Haiti as if God directed vengeance against them.

I am truly saddened by the remarks of 700 Club host Rev. Pat Robertson, and saddened that the secular media has picked up his remarks and replayed them so the whole world can hear his idiocy. It does make the job sharing the Good News of Jesus much more difficult when so-called Christians speak in such judgmental tones.

So, there are a couple of things I need to say here ...
When you have a theology that God controls everything, and when you believe that nothing happens unless God directs it, then you have no choice but to find a reason "to explain God's behavior." This is what I think is Pat Robertson's problem.

I believe that we live in a fragile world, where tragedies happen everyday of different magnitudes and breadth, and all we can do as Christians is sympathize and help people tangibly with our money, our time, our selves, our prayers and anything else we may be able to do to help. Whether it is earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, monsoons, or volcanoes; our posture must be first to help and empathize, not lay blame or try to explain.

Our God, the God I believe in and serve, is a God of love and compassion, forgiveness and grace, long-suffering mercy and kindness; NOT a God of "unannounced wrath".

And that brings me to another point, even in an Old Testament mindset where God wrought destruction, he always warned the people first. He always sent prophets to warn the people and give them a chance to repent and change.
Look at Nineveh. God sent Jonah to warn them of coming destruction. They heeded the warnings, repented in sackcloth and ashes and God spared the city.
Look at Israel. God sent Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and a host of other prophets, over and over, warning Israel and Judah of the destruction that invading armies would bring if they did not repent, and they chose to ignore the warnings.
So we can see that God is a God of grace and renewal, not a God of wanton destruction, especially for something that supposedly occurred in 1791. (Apparently the slaves of Haiti engaged in a Voodoo ceremony in August of 1791, asking for help to defeat their oppressors, the French.) Ultimately the slaves succeeded. This is the "pact with the Devil" that Pat Robertson refers to in his judgmental statement.

I pray that we can be much more like Jesus, than be like the Pharisees. Let us see the pain that the poor Haitians are enduring through the compassionate eyes of Jesus, not the critical eyes of the Chief Priests. Why would God take judgment against a people for something their ancestors may have done over 200 years ago. It doesn't make sense. Perhaps that's the problem of having a daily television show. You have to fill the airwaves with something, even if you have no idea what you're talking about. Let us pray for all the people of Haiti, and for all the misguided Christians who actually believe that stuff.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas means God is With Us

Christmas is in many ways “the most wonderful time of
the year.” It is a time for family, friends, parties, giving,
special services, great music (both religious and secular),
great food. It is also a time to allow the excitement and joy
of children to rub off on each of us. We remember the excitement
of Christmastime from when we were kids. We
didn’t know all the things we know today, and the whole
season seemed magical.
We can have the same sense of wonder and joy as adults
when we consider the wonderful gift we are about to receive.
In the gift of the Baby Jesus, everyone one of us
benefits from the coming of the very presence of God in our
midst. ‘God is with us’ is what Emmanuel actually means.
No matter how dark, no matter how cold, no matter how
alone we may feel, the whole message of the season, the
good news of Christmas is that God chose to come down to
earth and to be with us. In Jesus, God experienced life
through our eyes. Jesus is said in scripture to have experienced
everything in life that we experience. He knows
about temptation. He knows about frustration. He knows
about criticism. He knows about abandonment. He knows
about pain and ridicule. He knows about abuse, both physical
and emotional. Jesus lived his life, just as we live our
lives, only he did not sin.
The whole lesson of Christmas which is filled with joy
and hope is that Christ came in humility, born as a helpless
infant, growing up a boy in a small town, having his bar
mitzvah and working in his father’s carpentry shop until it
became his. Then he helped his mother raise his brothers
and sisters.
The details of the birth are miraculous and wonderful on
so many levels. He was not born under the most ideal circumstances.
Mary had to ride on a donkey about 85 miles
from Nazareth to Bethlehem while 9 months pregnant. She
ended up finding the only place to rest was in a stable, and
wouldn’t you know it, that’s when it was time for her to
deliver her baby. We certainly can’t get the idea that Jesus
had it made, or that he was born in privilege or even in
normal conditions. He was born in a stable: no birthing
room, no hospital bed, no sterile conditions, not even her
own bed. No boiling water, no mother to help her. Perhaps
there was a midwife, but we are never told of such.
No matter how bleak our circumstances, no matter how
rough or difficult our days, Jesus came and identified with
all who suffer rejection, loneliness, exile and inadequate
housing. Jesus, the King of the Universe, the Son of God,
came to earth and was born like a common peasant, a beggar,
born to a homeless family, which quickly became a
refugee family.
On the other hand, despite all these setbacks and deficits
for his beginning, the message of Christmas is extremely
joyful, hopeful and uplifting. God, the creator of
the universe and everything in it, the one who made each
of us perfectly, is also the one who loves us so much that he
came down to earth to be with us. To this day, God is with
us. We are never alone. Through the life, teachings, death
and resurrection of Jesus we were saved from ourselves,
and saved from the worst circumstances of life. We have
been given new life, healing and much hope. We realize
that God has a plan for us, just as he had a plan for Jesus.
God has goals for us to accomplish while we are here on
earth, just as God had goals for Jesus while he was here on
So as we sing the lovely Christmas carols, as we feast at
some wonderful meals, as we hear the Christmas story told
and retold, as we hold the light of Christ in our hands, let us
remember that Jesus came to give us light and life, joy and
hope, peace and love, redemption and companionship.
Jesus fills our every void and our every emptiness. Jesus is
love embodied. Jesus is the incarnation of the God whom
we love and trust. Jesus is the best news, ever. I hope you
have a very blessed Christmas!

Monday, June 22, 2009

What Not to Wear

One of my favorite shows on cable is TLC's "What Not to Wear" with Stacey and Clinton. I've learned a lot about how to dress, and what goes together. You will have to judge if I've actually succeeded in dressing well.

I don't very often get peeved, nor do I very often rant, but this is one time I think I probably should, though I realize I am preaching to the choir.

Personally, I don't care what people wear to church. I think worship should be inviting and people should come in whatever clothing they wish to wear. God doesn't look at the clothes, God looks at our hearts.

But weddings and funerals are different! Over the past few weeks, I've had several funerals and a couple of weddings, so this is fresh in my mind. It just breaks my heart to see men walk into a wedding in jeans and an open shirt. This is someone's most important day of their life, and they are going diss them by showing up like a slob? Women aren't always a lot better, but for some reason most women care about how they look. There are a few exceptions. Sadly, some women dress as if they are hoping to pick up someone at the reception and take them home. A little modesty would go a long way.
I've seen every kind of attire, and it really irks me. Jesus once told a parable about a wedding feast and someone actually got thrown out of the wedding feast because they didn't have on the right clothing. I wish we did that sometimes.

And funerals ... it is almost worst there. Funerals are to honor the deceased. They are to be supportive of the families, and they are supposed to be signs of respect. Yet again, untrained, uneducated or oblivious people walk into funeral homes and churches dressed like they are going to the beach. Where's the respect in that? Where's the sense that this is a solemn moment? It used to be (and this was way before my time, so it's not just that I am getting old) that when a funeral procession went by, people would stop what they were doing, they stood still and took off their hats, while the hearse passed by. Now, people cut in and out through funeral processions like it's just so much traffic. I've seen cars put on their high beams and flashers to join a procession, just to ride through red lights, and then once clear of the intersection, they turn off their lights and speed by.

I don't know how we could share some instructive word with our "unchurched" and ill-trained friends, but for Pete's sake people. Dress up a little bit for the sake of others. Tell them, "It's not about YOU!" Weddings and funerals are about others. It's about those whom we say we care about!

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now, and go back to being Mr. Nice Guy.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Holy Spirit, Not Holy Ghost

Throughout my ministry I have been regularly confronted by a fearful response to any discussion of the Holy Spirit. Somehow, it seems, people are afraid that inviting the Holy Spirit into our hearts or into our worship, will mean that we are inviting weird behavior, extreme reactions, and embarrassing expressions of belief. These people seem to think that encouraging the Holy Spirit will lead to speaking in tongues in church or snake handling in the pews. Puh-lease!
The Holy Spirit is not something to be feared. That is one of the reasons why the church has moved away from such archaic language like “holy ghost”. The Spirit is not a ghost. It is not ghastly and it is not intended to frighten us. The Holy Spirit can never make someone do something that they are uncomfortable doing. We cannot get “possessed” by the Holy Spirit and ‘forced’ to do something weird or strange or awful.
The Holy Spirit is the very presence of God in our lives. When we invite the Holy Spirit to come into our hearts we are energized both to love God even more, and energized to love our neighbors even more. With the Holy Spirit, we gain insight into the mind and heart of God. We gain uncanny wisdom, clear understanding of the ways of God, and courage to do the things we want to do, but have been afraid to do in the past.
The Holy Spirit is like the accelerator on your car. When we give our lives to Christ, and invite Christ to be our Lord and Savior, it is as if we started the car. We are still sitting in the driveway or parking lot, but we are not moving. We can play the radio, turn on the lights, and regulate the temperature. But we are not moving which is what cars were invented to do. Without the Holy Spirit we are only idling in our faith. But with the Holy Spirit, we are put into gear. The more we are filled with the Holy Spirit, the more we can accelerate. When empowered by a deepening relationship with God, we are able to do more, go faster, and accomplish more for the sake of God’s kingdom.
Throughout the Bible, the empowerment of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples meant that their testimony and their ministry had more power and more impact upon the people to whom they were preaching. Healing is a good thing. That’s a result of the Holy Spirit’s power. Discernment is a good thing. Knowing with clarity the difference between right and wrong is critical to living lives that avoid the potholes of life, and whose witness demonstrates the things we can accomplish when God is present with us.
On the day of Pentecost, as we read the story in Acts 2, the fearful, hesitant, and dim-witted disciples become transformed into bold and courageous proclaimers of the gospel, willing to stand up in an open marketplace to declare that Jesus died on the cross for us, was raised from the dead on Easter, and his Spirit is distributed to those who believe. Throughout the rest of the Book of Acts we see demonstrations of wisdom, insight, power, healing, amazing preaching, and transformed lives. On Saturday, May 30, those in the Alpha Course will learn much more about the importance and value of the Holy Spirit. On Sunday, May 31 we will celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit when we worship.
I pray for each of you that you will be open to what the Holy Spirit can do to bless and strengthen your life. Please do not be afraid, and do not resist. If God loves you completely, he would not give us a gift that would harm us.