Monthly Archives: September 2006

UnTied Methodists

I visit a lot of other churches.

In my role as a pastor in the United Methodist Church, I am required to fulfill three assignments:
1. the Bishop has appointed me to help lead a particular congregation of United Methodists, in word, in sacrament, in order, and in service…
2. the Bishop has appointed me to be a voice of unity, and a caring presence, representing Jesus Christ in the local community to which I’ve been assigned, and
3. the Bishop has appointed me to be an active part of the Methodist connection; in the district, the conference, and even the world.

It is in those last two capacities that I get to visit other churches…. Not on Sunday morning of course, but I’m there for meetings, visits, times of prayer, hymn sings, and district and community events.

Whenever I’m in a different church, whether United Methodist or not, I try to walk away with a handful of their handouts… to see how they do things so that we can learn some of the things that work well elsewhere.

In one of those churches a few years back, not a United Methodist church, I came across two rackfuls of literature located prominently by their main entrance that, I supposed, were chocked full of their most important tenets. I expected to find tracts about salvation and faith in Christ. Instead, I found very pointed brochures about how wrong people were who didn’t believe the same way they did… including several references in various places about why United Methodists were not only misled and confused, but we’re probably not even Christian.

The reasons cited by the authors of those brochures highlighted the facts that United Methodists have commercials running advertising that we have “open hearts, open minds and open doors.” That’s true. Supposedly that means that we’re TOO open… TOO embracing of those that aren’t acceptable… because of our open policy of ecumenical work… trying to work together with those Catholics and those Episcopalians and those Presbyterians and those… those… those… others.

Interestingly enough,isn’t that the very same accusation that the Pharisees leveled against Jesus…? He was hanging out with the wrong people!

As I continued to read, the brochures cited the ultimate evidence that our denomination is in error: we actually let the discussion of homosexuality come up in our legislative meetings. And that, according to what I read that day, is proof of our evilness.

Of course they didn’t mention that every single time the issues of ordaining homosexuals or marrying homosexuals has ever come up, it has ALWAYS been soundly voted down.

The other argument I read about pointed to the fact that we United Methodists weren’t really together on the important issues… and pointed to our stands on homosexuality, baptism, abortion, the death penalty, and such as proofs.

What those authors were saying, in effect, was that they were right… and they would be the greatest in the kingdom of God (and perhaps the ONLY ones in the kingdom of God).

That’s not really a new argument is it?

Jesus’ disciples, in Mark 9 and again in Luke 9, were doing the same things. Who would be God’s favorites? Who REALLY held the spiritual keys? Who would be IN, while everyone else would be OUT?

We read in Luke 9:46-48: An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest.”

This Scripture passage reminds us of two major principles of following Jesus Christ.

1. The greatest in the kingdom is identified as the one who welcomes in the children…

AND

2. The greatest in the kingdom is identified as the one who serves everyone else around them.

As United Methodists, we take those two principles seriously…

We believe that one of our main priorities needs to be welcoming in the children…Those who are young and innocent in age and those, I believe, who are young and innocent in faith… and remember… the children are the ones who don’t know any better yet… Sometimes they do wrong things or go about things the wrong way… and it’s expected.

That’s part of the emphasis we have in our denomination on Sunday schools, junior church, and nurseries. United Methodists try to reach out to children and make them welcome in the presence of the church and her Lord Jesus Christ. To introduce them to Christ and then help nurture them as they grow in faith.

Secondly, one of our main priorities in this denomination is serving others… And thus you see United Methodist hospitals, prison ministries, hunger programs, soup kitchens, mission outreaches, relief efforts, elderly homes, and even working hand-in-hand with others who don’t believe like we do in order to improve people’s lives. We even spend time and money trying to be an advocate for peace and for those who are denied justice… we try to serve our fellow humans… regardless of their beliefs.

But read the next verse…

Luke 9: 49-50 reads: “Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”

Mark 9: 38-41 says it like this… “Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.

In these two passages, we find Jesus telling us what to do when we are confronting a situation where another group, that isn’t exactly like us, is trying to minister in Jesus’ name…

We let them be… Because if they are ministering in Jesus’ name, then we’re on the same side… Even if an immature disciple like John calls us names or claims that we’re not real followers of Christ.

That is one of the undergirding, although often unmentioned, foundations of Methodism.

We recognize that what you believe about the king or the president, about marriage or homosexuality, about baptism or communion, isn’t nearly as important as to whether or not you know Jesus Christ.

We look to passages like Acts 16:31… “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved…” and passages like First John 5:1… “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…”

Notice it doesn’t say, ‘If you are baptized the right way, you’ll be saved’ or ‘If you hold the same theological understanding of communion or do communion the right way, then you’ll be saved.’ Nor does it say ‘If you follow the Bible exactly and do all it says to do then you’ll be saved.’ It doesn’t even say ‘You have to agree with one another on issues like abortion and homosexuality and drinking and gambling, then you’ll be saved.’

What DOES it say?
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved…”
Period.

We United Methodists are joined together by our belief that the Bible tells us that you come to salvation by a belief in Christ… That’s what ties us together in Methodism… That’s how we can be called UNITED Methodists.

And we also believe that you come to Christ like the song says: “Just as I am.”

And Jesus, will work on you from there on the things he wants to work on in your life…

And that’s why there’s SO much room in our church for so many people who don’t believe exactly like you and me… I recognize that Christ hasn’t perfected me yet, and I’m still a work in progress, and I’M allowed in the church, therefore someone else who calls Jesus ‘LORD’ but hasn’t been perfected yet, and doesn’t yet understand the truths that we understand, can fit in the Christian church just as easily…

And that’s why we don’t print brochures and tracts calling other churches names or claiming that we’re the right one ourselves.

Let’s thank God for the UNTIED nature of our church… for the room we have for those who aren’t perfected yet… because in such a church there is room for you and me!

Let’s thank God for the UNITED nature of our church… that all those who believe in Jesus can come just the way they are and be welcomed into our church life… where we’ll pray for, commune with, and love one another as we all seek to grow and mature in Christ.

I think this is especially important as we celebrate World Communion Sunday this weekend… At least as United Methodists, we invite EVERYONE that knows Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior to join us in this act of obediance, this act of unity, this declaration that knowing Jesus Christ is the ONLY way we can be saved and the ONLY criterion needed to determine whether or not you are welcome in our church… or in the kingdom of God….

–adapted from sermon for October 1, 2006, by Dayton D. Mix
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Remembering September 11th

Country singer Alan Jackson sings a wonderful song that asks a powerful question: “Where were you when the world stopped turning?” about the events of 9/11/2001. Here we are at the five-year anniversary of that horrific day and people have been asking that very same question again: “Where were you when you found out about the terrorist attacks?” Personally, I was on the phone and the person I called told me about the planes crashing…and the terror. We quickly finished talking and I left to watch the news.

Our foster daughter, Cass, who would be moving in with us in just a couple of months, was sitting in school in the little town of Shanksville… and felt the earth shake when Flight 93 crashed into a field less than two miles from her school…

How about you? Where were you? And what were your initial reactions? Your first thoughts? What did you do next?

Jackson runs through a series of questions asking what people did next: “Did you dust off that Bible at home?” Did you “Open your eyes and hope it never happened, close your eyes and not go to sleep.” Did you turn off the TV violence, give blood, buy a gun, or go home and cling tight to your family…

You know, this ‘singer of simple songs’ is really on to something… we each had choices to make following those events. In the book of Job, the Bible teaches that even when our world crashes around us, we still have choices as to how we respond. We couldn’t control what those terrorists did, but we ARE in control of how WE respond… We make the choice of how we deal with fear and terror, uncertainty and anger, just as we’re responsible for our choices in every other situation in our lives.

Just like this song says, some people did respond by turning for protection by buying a gun. Others responded by wishing the whole thing had never happened, or being overwhelmed by such fear that they couldn’t sleep at night. Some responded by seeking for ways to help, by giving blood or sending money, or not far from here where one of the planes went down by serving meals and making donations. Some turned to God in prayer, at church, and by reading their Bibles.

Even as Christians, we faced those same kinds of choices didn‘t we? We had to choose who to run to, who to talk to and share our feelings and emotions with, and what to do next. And like everyone else, we immediately felt alone… And that’s where we Christians have our first advantage over others… For we believe in Jesus, who is called “Emmanuel,” which means: “God with is.” (Matthew 1:23). People were asking “where was God?” and the truth is that He was there in the planes, He was there in the towers and in the Pentagon. He was there with YOU when you first heard and then walked through those mind-numbing next few days and weeks. Jesus said “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20)

Secondly, our protection in this sin-sick world, is never going to be found in guns or more violence… Even our military attempts at silencing this or that particular terrorist will never be completely successful, but God reminds us that He is our “refuge” and our “strength”… He is the “ever-present help” we can turn to in times of trouble and not be afraid. (Psalm 46:1-2)

Third, Jackson’s chorus echoes words of truth we read in the Bible that say “perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18) and of “faith, hope, and love.” (I Corinthians 13:13) Our fear will give way to peace, even in the worst of circumstances if we can get closer to our God… about whom the Bible says “God is Love.” (I John 4:8). Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Go to Him, get closer to Him, read what His word has to say, pray and talk with Him, and feel His peace.

–adapted from “Pastor’s Ponderings” by Dayton D. Mix, Trinity UMC, Patton, Sept. 2002

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Mixed Ministries

Then the LORD told me: “I will give you my message in the form of a vision. Write it clearly enough to be read at a glance. ”
–Habakkuk 2:2 (Contemporary English Version)
I enjoy writing.
When I was in high school, college, and seminary I didn’t do all that much writing unless it was assigned, but even then, I enjoyed the process. The ideas starting to develop and ‘percolate’ until there was a structure and a clear point that I could use to communicate whatever it was about which I was trying to write.
I have worked as a free-lance reporter for several local newspapers in northern Pennsylvania since the mid-80’s and wrote for my school papers in high school and college. Now, as a pastor for the past ten years, my writing tends to be in preparation for sermons or newsletters.
But this passage from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk’s little book reminds me of the responsibility we have in sharing the message we are given… the insights, the visions, the revelations… and to make them as clear as possible for others to read.
With that in mind, I start this blog. Not to dramatically impact the world around me… but simply to share what I get… the things I see, the insights God gives, the understandings, and even the struggles, of life as a Christian and as a pastor. Sometimes you’ll be able to simply read my own thoughts, sometimes it’ll be something I prepared for my congregation as a devotional or a pastoral letter, sometimes I might just share what I’m walking through.
By the way, I am an excellent speller, but can’t type worth a bean… so I make no guarantees about spelling or even officially proper grammar. I don’t tend to think in grammatically correct paragraphs, so I hardly ever write that way either.
Also, understand that as a pastor, there are many times when I don’t get to just sit around and play on the computer, so I don’t guarantee any certain frequency of my postings… we’ll just have to see!
So read… enjoy… agree or disagree… you can even respond if you want…

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