Category Archives: Newsletter

Still True To Plumb?

Eleven years ago in 2008, in my Reynoldsville Church, we started the year with a slogan for the year… “Get It Straight in 2008.” During that year, we reviewed the different committees and ministry teams, as well as the way we did Sunday School, our monthly pancake breakfasts, our Vacation Bible school, the Men’s Ministry, the United Methodist Women, our library, our Missions Outreach Team, our youth group, we looked at how we did with our three worship services… and even the pastor’s weekly Bible Study classes. 

Some of the questions we were asking ourselves were like these: For those things and events and activities we already were doing, actually helping to bring people closer to Jesus and closer to each other? Did our teams and classes and committees, and even our Church Council meetings, faith based… did we pray, did we have devotions, did we thoroughly soak ourselves and all those administrative and ministry things in prayer? Or did we just have meetings like a business or Garden Club?

But then, of course, we had to eventually look back and ask ourselves: “How did we do?”

We ended up changing the way we did some of the things, our groups and committees started making sure there was a time of devotions and prayer at EVERY event… so that even going to a meeting could bring you closer to Jesus and closer to Jesus’s followers. We created two new Mission Outreaches and an annual short term mission trip to Guatemala. And A LOT of our things were doing really well and didn’t need much tweeking at all.

But in the midst of it all, I stumbled into the book of Amos at one point and got caught in Amos chapter 7, verses 7-8, where there is a prophetic vision where God Himself sets up a plumb line.

Now, for a non-construction kind of person like me, I haven’t seen a lot of plumb lines in my life. I am told that a plumb line is essentially a heavy pointed weight on the end of a string. I understand that a builder can ‘line up’ a vertical wall and make sure that his wall is exactly up and down straight by hanging a plumb line from the top and letting gravity pull the weight… and thus one can compare the building with the standard of what ought to be.

Amos sees God use a plumb line and then, prophetically, God declares that the lives of the Israelites are not measuring up to the standard God has set.

This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”
“A plumb line,” I replied.
Then said the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer…”
 (Amos 7:7-8, NIV)

As Christians, we believe the Bible can act like a plumb line for our lives as followers of Jesus. By reading the Bible we can learn of God’s ways & God’s standards. Then, with the power of God to help us, we can repent of the ways in which we haven’t lined up & we can adjust our behaviors & our attitudes to match his Biblical standard.

So, how about if we ask ourselves that same line of questioning? Are there areas in our lives that we need to “get straight” and make sure we line up with God’s Plumb Line. How about us as a congregation? How about us as individual Christians? Start by inviting God’s Holy Spirit to help you see what doesn’t quite line up with God’s “plumb line…”

AND, today there is one more application… You see, I need your help… I already know what God has spoken to me that I need to get straight in my life… How about you? Is there an area in life where you struggle and would like to understand God’s ‘plumb line’ for that area? Perhaps a particular teaching or Scripture that you are still not quite sure about?

Let me know… As I work on sermon planning and a possible Bible study, I need to know what would be most helpful to you in your Christian walk.

Then, together, even though it’s not 2008, we can have a ready plumb line so that we CAN keep it straight in 2008!

adapted from an original post in September 1, 2008.

https://mixedministries.wordpress.com/2008/09/01/true-to-plumb/

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Rest and Relax

The Lord is My Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

  –Psalm 23 (KJV)

Like many others, I love the Twenty-third Psalm. I read those words about “green pastures” and “still waters” and am reminded of the free spirited fun I had spending summers at my grandparents’ farm up a dirt road hollow in Potter County. Depending on the day, I’d go off on an adventure with our neighbor, or my cousins, or even my little brother, and we’d explore the pasture, the upper meadow, or the forest, staking out our claim to territory and finding great “undiscovered” camping sites.

But some of my best memories were the times I was alone, just me and God, out for a walk. Inevitably, I’d end up stopping and sitting alongside the banks of this one little stream that cut through the pasture behind the barn. I would just sit there and watch the water bubble along on its way down the stream… knowing that, eventually, that water would end up as part of the Gulf of Mexico via the Oswayo, Allegheny, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers. It was peaceful. In the quietness of those moments, I found myself close to God and able to talk with Him and hear Him talk with me.

Summertime is here again, only now I’m more than 45 years older. And I don’t have a schedule of playing, followed by hiking and exploring. Not even sitting down by a stream. I’m adult now… I have a lot to do. I have expectations to meet for my job and my family. I don’t have the time to do that “kid” stuff… Or do I? The problem is just this: In losing the “play” time, most of us lose the quiet time… and lose the time to spend quietly with our God, as well.

The Bible is filled with times where God commands His people to rest and times that they were commanded to play!

The command to take time off and rest goes back to the Ten Commandments, requiring that one day out of every seven be spent doing no work… just resting. And if you violated that command even to go out and try to pick up extra food (the manna lying on the ground), God would see to it that that food went bad before you got to eat it. He knew that He made the human body needing rest. Even now, without proper rest and time off, our bodies still become more susceptible to disease and injury… as well as stress and burn-out.

The command to celebrate was extra-time off every so often where the people had a festival, special meals, special worship services, being together with extended family and friends that you wouldn’t get to see all the time. It renewed the mind and rejuvenated the spirit. You had something to look forward to once again, no matter how tough the year might have been.

This summer, let’s schedule in some time to rest and to play… the way God meant for us to do. Time off to relax and connect with God again and also time deliberately spent reconnecting with the people He’s put in our lives… our families… at home and at church.

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A Way Forward

From February 23-26th, in St. Louis, Missouri, over 800 delegates from all over the world will come to represent their United Methodist Annual Conferences in an attempt to a make “A Way Forward” in the unifying of our denomination in regards to human sexuality.

General Conference normally meets once every four years and discusses any areas we want to change in our way of being the church and clarifying specific church “law” about how we will do the business of the church. The results of those “quadrennial” (every 4 years) conferences are published as the Book of Discipline and the Book of Resolutions. Topics include how to organize a local congregation, how to set up two or more churches in ministry together (called a “charge”), how to go into pastoral ministry, how we organize the annual conferences, the bishops, the district superintendents, the pastors, and even how to organize United Methodist Women, United Methodist Men, youth ministries, confirmation, baptism, Holy Communion, and more…

The problem has been (and currently is) the area of how do we agree that we United Methodists will try to live out the “holiness” the Bible talks about in so many places. We’re all in pretty much agreement about most areas of personal life and how we live as Christians EXCEPT in our practice of sexuality.

The United Methodist Church was formed out of the old Methodist Church and the old Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968. Our very first General Conference was four years later in 1972. In between those two events were the Stonewall riots in New York City that became the beginning of the Gay Liberation movement. Therefore, at the 1972 General Conference, there was church legislation reacting to this new awareness of what was happening in our culture… and it became “church law” that, in the United Methodist Church, we would not ordain “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.” In later years, as our culture continued to yield to those pressures, the Church would clarify that our pastors were not allowed to officiate, nor could our church buildings be used for, homosexual unions (or later same sex weddings). If you violated one of those rules, you were in “violation of the Discipline” and could lose your status as a pastor (called being “defrocked”) or even be kicked out of the church (as a clergy or as a lay person).

Every four years, at EVERY General Conference (1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012) these issues were brought up again. And they always were voted down. The United Methodist Church continued to state that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” And lobbyists and protesters began to do more and more to make their voice heard in an effort to get the Church to change its beliefs. The final straw came in 2016 when every single legislative proposal to change church beliefs in this area was voted down before they even got out of committee. And someone suggested they ask the bishops to help us “find a way forward” and simply not address those sexuality questions until some planning had been made that could help us get off this merry-go-round of always having these heated disagreements about what we believe. The delegates at that General Conference in 2016 agreed and charged the bishops to conduct a study and a planning strategy and, if needed, have a special General Conference to respond to any recommendations that might come forward.

Meanwhile, in July of 2016, the Western Jurisdiction (the out west collection of Annual Conferences from Nevada to Hawaii to Alaska to Colorado) elected an openly lesbian pastor out of California as a bishop in defiance of church law. And many of the other bishops turned a blind eye and others began to openly defy the Church. And this follows a long series of rebellious clergy conducting same sex weddings and rebellious Annual Conferences ordaining those who claimed to be homosexual.

The Council of Bishops did appoint a group (called the Commission of a Way Forward) to try to find a plan to “unite” us. Three recommendations came out of those meetings and the Council of Bishops did issue a call for a special General Conference to deal with the recommendations. That’s what’s going on in a few weeks in St. Louis.

The most popular plan (in the eyes of the bishops) is called the One Church Plan. Essentially, we would drop all the language restricting homosexuality, gay ordination, and the prohibitions against same sex weddings and allow each Annual Conference, and each local church congregation, to decide for themselves what they want to believe. Under this plan, each local congregation will decide if it will recommend a gay person for the ministry and if (and when) a gay wedding can happen on their properties or in their buildings. Likewise, pastors will have to decide whether they will or won’t officiate same sex weddings. The idea is that we can stop all the fighting and be a “united” church because there’s nothing left to fight about. What isn’t said is that it moves the fight into every single local church congregation. And it requires those who believe the Scripture has already clarified that homosexual practice is not compatible with Christianity to either shut up or leave.

The second plan is called the Connectional Church Plan and it seems to be an amalgamation of local church and annual conference decisions that would hold the church together as a denomination, but apparently ends up with the same basic final situation, for the pastor and for the local church congregation, as the One Church Plan. Again, the options for those who disagree are rather limited.

The final plan, has been called the Traditional Plan. It’s the plan that holds to the view of the Bible’s teachings as they have been discerned again and again every four years by General Conferences for the past 47 years. But it also addresses the open rebellion of clergy doing their own thing in defiance of what the Church has decided, by implementing more clear cut consequences for those who say they will live in covenant and abide by the United Methodist Book of Discipline, but then don’t.

Before I, as a clergy person, was ordained, the Bishop point blank asked me if I had studied and understood what our doctrine and polity was as United Methodists. (Polity just means how we are organized and the way we have made church law). And then, before he would ordain me, he also asked “Will you follow them (the doctrines and polity)?” I, and every clergy person ever ordained in our United Methodist Church, said “YES.”  It’s what we call our covenant. We agree with each other to follow the United Methodist way of doing Church and living our Christian lives. My choices are: follow the rules and laws I already agreed to or go find a church organization I CAN agree with.

Since the late 1990s, there have been clergy and lay people alike thumbing their noses at the doctrine and polity of the Church. Now we are told that if we drop the Scriptural directions out of our Book of Discipline, then everyone will be able to be in covenant again.

Folks, it breaks my heart because I love this denomination. There is much in the United Methodist Church that is amazing and God has used us for His glory so many times in so many ways. In the past, General Conference has spoken (by taking votes, in good American democracy style)… and there are hundreds and more who openly defy the Church. What will change if the Church changes its official beliefs? I’m afraid… nothing. I’m afraid that the ones who could not be trusted to obey that which they vowed before God to obey, won’t change their stripes if they get their way in this area. What will change is the target of what they want to change next. Those who would not live in covenant before will not live in covenant in any new system.

IF the Church ends up in another impass (which has happened before), then NOTHING will change and EVERYONE will just keep doing their same old thing (obeying or disobeying).

IF the Church reaffirms the Biblical understanding that has consistently passed every four years since 1972 until 2012, then I believe we will see MORE rebellion, by laity, by clergy, and by bishops. Nothing will change.

IF the Church changes our standards on human sexuality, in either the One Church Plan or the Connectional Church Plan, then there will be no room for people like me who can’t affirm something so against the Biblical witness. But, if the standards ARE changed, I’m afraid the fight will simply move into the local churches where each congregation has to fend for themselves as to what will or will not be allowed in that church’s ministry.

Meanwhile, I’m also a pragmatic and practical person, so I understand going into this, that whatever happens, it could take a few years to implement the changes that are enacted (whatever plan passes). So I’m not packing boxes quite yet.

 

SO WHAT DO WE DO NEXT?

FIRST… PRAY FOR GOD’S WISDOM FOR US IN OUR LOCAL CHURCH SETTING AND FOR THE GENERAL CONFERENCE MEETING FEB. 23rd-26th.

“Anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.” — James 1:5

SECOND… PRAY FOR OUR CONFERENCE DELEGATES (7 clergy and 7 lay people from Western Pennsylvania).

 “Pray for … everyone who is in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity.” — 1 Timothy 2:2

THIRD… STUDY THE SCRIPTURES TO SEE WHAT IT REALLY DOES TEACH.

“Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.”  — 2 Timothy 3:16-17

FOURTH… JOIN US ON SUNDAY, MARCH 3rd, IN MORNING WORSHIP AS WE SHARE THE RESULTS OF GENERAL CONFERENCE 2019.

By the way, IF YOU WANT TO FOLLOW ALONG WITH General Conference, you can go to this link for more information and directions.

http://www.umc.org/topics/general-conference-2019-special-session

    (This originally appeared in The Circuit Rider, the bimonthly newsletter of the First United Methodist Church of Carmichaels, PA, along with a side-bar story highlighting the Scriptural background that has led me to my understanding in this area. The contents of that sidebar appear as a separate post here.)

 

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REPOST: Teach Us To Number Our Days

I like the story of a man who accidentally calls a wrong 1-800 number and gets GOD. After being apologetic about wasting God’s time with a wrong number, God says that’s OK, what we humans think is a long time is really almost nothing to him. So the man says: “Let me get this right: 1000 of our years are like nothing more than a minute to you?” And God says “yes.”

“So what money?” says the man. He continues: “Is it true that you really own the cattle on a thousand hills and that everything we could possibly ever own is really yours?” Again, God responds with a “yes.”

Feeling a bit braver, he pushes on. He says, “So a million dollars to you is like nothing more than a penny, huh?” God says “That’s right.”
The man then asks “Hey God, I got a favor to ask. Can I have a penny?”
To which God responds: “In a minute.”

 

PSALM 90:10 says: “Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty.”

The most we can hope for, as far as our age goes, is about 70 years; maybe 80 or so if we’re exceptionally strong in health… more or less. And back in verse 4 of Psalm 90 we read “For you, a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours.”

Our full-life, in God’s reckoning of eternity, is like the morning fog: it’s gone pretty quickly without a trace. But what does 70 years give us… what value does it have?

Depends on what we put into it.

chalkboard-hours

There are 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year, which means we each have 8,760 hours in a year. If you multiply that number of hours in a year by a life span of, let’s go ahead and say 70, you get 613,200 hours in a 70 year lifespan.

BY THE WAY, by following the math out, a 70 year lifespan would have 36,792,000 minutes (36 MILLION…) OR 2,207,520,000 seconds (2 BILLION, 207 MILLION…)

So, since our time is our most precious commodity, we ALL could be considered to be MILLIONARES! (or even BILLIONAIRES). So how do we spend our time? Into what purposes and activities do we invest our time?

To start with, the average American person, in a 70 year lifespan, will have spent an average of 178,360 hours just sleeping. (7 hours/day x 7 days/ week x 52 wk/yr x 70 yr = 178,360 hours of sleep in your lifetime. To make it easier to process, you can take that number of sleeping hours (178,360) and divide it by the number of hours in a year (8760) and that means you sleep about 20 years of a 70 year lifespan.

That same person will have spent 104,000 hours of their life working, which turns out to be almost 16 years spent working out of 70.

That person will also spend an average of 76,440 hours of their life eating! (Assuming an hour for every meal (that’ll count your snacks) X 3 meals a day X 7 days a week X 52 weeks X 70 years = 76,440 hours of eating. That’s almost 9 years of eating!

Time spent watching television is also insightful: 3 hours of TV each day = another 9 years spent just watching T.V. !

Now, when it comes to church, there’s a bit of a problem because the AVERAGE American simply does NOT go to church! So for the average American it boils down to ZERO hours a year.

But, for OUR benefit, we’ll assume the Average American Church going Christian will have spent 6/10 of a year worshipping God.(Assuming an hour and a half each week, giving you time to get in here and get out plus the normal hour and fifteen minutes we usually set aside for the worship service.)

NOW, some reading this are going to challenge me in this. They might say: “That’s not fair, preacher! I go to church more often than that, I’m a really committed Christian!’”

Assuming that’s true, we’ll take you Sunday morning worship time PLUS EVERY Sunday School Class you’ve ever attended, PLUS EVERY Prayer Meeting scheduled, or Youth group meeting, or Women’s group, PLUS EVERY Bible Study that takes place, and we can bump your weekly Church worship time up to 5 hours in a week. What’s that give us? (5 hours per week X 52 weeks X 70 years = 18,200 hours in worship in your lifetime = about 2 years and a couple of months spent worshipping God.

Add to those numbers the results of a Survey of 6000 people polled in 1988, reported by U.S. News and World Report:

In a lifetime the average American will spend:

chalkboard years.pngSix months sitting at stoplights

Eight months opening junk mail

One year looking for misplaced objects

2 years unsuccessfully returning phone calls

4 years doing housework

5 years waiting in line

Reader’s Digest takes this even further and says that the Average American will spend 6 years looking for misplaced stuff.

OH GOD… Teach us to number our days……..

As we look back over this list of time spent, we can see how our little uses of time add up to YEARS throughout the course of a lifetime, so we need to ask God to help us number our days… to make the most of our time.

Who is our God? Our God is the one to whom we give our time and attention.

OH GOD… “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

-Psalm 90:12

(This originally started as a newsletter article years ago based on a message I had heard once at Cherry Run Camp. Then it became a blog post in January 2011. Now, it is ‘resurrected’ today here and served as the foundation for my Sunday morning sermon at Carmichaels: First United Methodist Church.)

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Dreading Christmas?

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and you shall call his name Immanuel.”

—Isaiah 7:14

Christmas is almost here again & people are pretty much doing one of three things: they’re looking forward to it, ignoring it, or dreading it. If you’re one of the ones looking forward to the holiday, you probably are one who has some very specific memories attached to Christmas from your own past. And it seems the day just can’t get here fast enough. (Just ask any 7 year old!)

It only takes a mild case of procrastination for one to ignore Christmas: “I’ll worry about Christmas when I get done with these other things.” And of course, you never get done with the other things in time. So this action eventually turns into dread.
For those dreading it, I suspect it may be financial. These are tough times. Yet Christmas is still coming.
But some that may be dreading Christmas have a much deeper reason than just finances. You see, there’s been a story going around for a while now that Christmas is actually a celebration of JESUS. And for those who, for whatever reason, hate Christianity and anything to do with Jesus, the Christmas holiday becomes almost a horror. You have to hear that name. The songs of old talk about the ‘new born king’ who is laid ‘away in a manger’ bringing ‘Joy to the world’ are just too much.
Often, these are the people who push aside the “Christ” of Christmas and opt for some “Happy Holidays” instead. And in the past seventy years or so, our society has even developed a whole canon of ‘Happy Holidays’ music so that Christmas can be celebrated without all that Christ talk. So now we hear the music of White Christmas, of Rudolf saving Santa, of Frosty and his magic hat, of grandma in a hit & run accident with a reindeer, of chestnuts being cooked by a fire, of a kid who wants teeth as a gift, and of another kid who’s misbehaved so much that he expects nothing for Christmas. And there’s even a few that are so suggestive that I’m embarrassed to even write about them.
What on earth do these songs have to do with Christmas? Very Little. And Lots. They have very little to do with the gift of a savior given by God Himself; sending his one and only son to live and die and be raised again.
But they also have a lot to do with Christmas because the savior who was born came to a world that wasn’t Christian and didn’t really even realize how much they needed a savior. They didn’t know God. They didn’t even know that they didn’t know him… let alone care.
The gushy, warm feelings of imagining a peaceful land without war is about as close to heaven as many people can ever get. In fact, without Jesus, it is as close as ANY of us could ever get. But with Jesus in our lives, we CAN know the peace of God.
Besides, the influence of Jesus Christ on the world around us is still pretty pervasive. Courts and marketplaces may have walked away from many of our earlier, Christian practices as a nation, but people the world over still know Christmas as a day of peace and hope, whether they know Jesus or not.
The first Bible passage I quoted, from Isaiah 7:14, is in the midst of God delivering Judah’s King Ahaz from an attack by a foreign army. God tells the king he’s going to deliver him from his enemies and he allows the king the privilege of a special sign as proof that God will keep his promise. Ahaz tells God “No.” He doesn’t want a sign. But the Lord gives him a sign anyway, so that everyone will understand that it was GOD ALMIGHTY who really rules and reigns. God’s sign describes a young woman who will give birth and have a miraculous son. And it goes on to describe how the birth, and life, of that child will be a reminder of God’s care for his people in Ahaz’s kingdom. In fact, whoever that little child was in Ahaz’s day, he didn’t grow very old before the enemies of Ahaz were no longer even nations! The child’s name was Immanuel. His name literally meant “God is with us!” Every time Ahaz (or anyone else) said this child’s name, they were reminded how much God was with them and how he had delivered them from their enemies. What a reminder! What a gift! What a gracious and loving God!
And yet, like so often in Scripture, God had a double meaning in that sign of the child. Yes, it referred to someone that Ahaz would have been able to see in his day (if not, then God would have been a liar). BUT God also was looking ahead to another day when another young woman, this one an actual virgin, would conceive and have a baby who would also be called Emmanuel… the very one that would save us from our sins.
And that second child, Emmanuel (from Greek) or Immanuel (from Hebrew) was truly more than just a reminder that God was with us… He literally was GOD WITH US!
In the midst of our day in and day out stuff that happens, even when it seems so ungodly and even hostile or painful, God is still with us. When the finances are tight, when the neighbors cause trouble, when things aren’t going well at work, God is still with us.
And, like Matthew did with a verse in Isaiah written to a king about an invading army, God will take seemingly unimportant things from our pasts and our surroundings and open up spiritual truths to us… helping us to see that God really is here with us at all times and in all places if we’ll turn to him.
And so it is that the world feels the ‘warmth’ of the season and celebrates as best as it can with “Happy Christmas’ and ‘Feliz Navidad,” and yet doesn’t realize that there’s more to the story. But as they see that story and peace exhibit itself in our lives, then they too will want what we have… and they won’t just have to imagine.

“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” —Matthew 1:23

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Weeping Jesus

     In January of 2002, my family visited the National Memorial in downtown Oklahoma City. After we explained to our girls the horrific story of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building, we began walking through the memorial that has since been built on the spot where the building once stood. I have never been so moved as I was that day.

     At each end are huge gates… one representing the moment before the bombing (9:01 a.m.) and the other representing the moment after the attack (9:03 a.m.). And in between those two gates… in between those two moments… was the blast and its aftermath. Each of the lives lost is symbolized by an empty chair bearing the name of one of the 168 victims. Walking around the reflecting pool, looking at the chairs and the remains of the one piece of wall that still stands, I slowly began to realize that the chairs were of different sizes… and I remembered that 19 of those killed were innocent children at play in their day-care center. And I was struck by the horror of it all over again.

     At each end of the memorial site stand two church buildings that had also been damaged in the blast. Across the street at the eastern end is the United Methodist Church, which included an open chapel on the grounds when they rebuilt, complete with helpful brochures, healing pamphlets, and even free Bibles, offering the peace of Christ and the hope of Jesus to any who want to leave the terror behind.

     Across the street at the western end is a Roman Catholic Church, that commissioned a memorial of their own when they rebuilt: a statue of Jesus, with his back to the grisly destruction, weeping.  weeping Jesus

     Jesus Christ, weeps in the face of such hatred that would be so violent and murderous. He turns his back to such evil and destruction. God cannot stand sin… sin cannot abide in his presence. According to the Gospels, God the Father hid his face from His own Son when He was bearing our sins on that cross so long ago.

     Engraved on the gates of the Oklahoma City Memorial are these words: “We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever…May all who leave here know the impact of violence…”

     We need to remember. Especially in light of the unimaginable events that we have since lived through lately. Bombings. Riots. Protests. Police shootings. Shootings of police. A truck deliberately crashing into pedestrians. Mass murder at a nightclub. A teen gunman in a mall luring people to their deaths. And that’s just the last few weeks in non-war zones. And looking ahead, we see events like the political rallies and even the Olympics coming up soon and wonder if we’re destined to endure even more heartbreak, sorrow, and terror.

     Terrorism is well named. For it is terror we feel when faced with these unthinkable, cowardly acts of violence. There is no protection it seems, no hope, no safety, no peace, when faced with terror.

     Yet, we are reminded by these two churches, and by the Scriptures, that even though our Lord despises and rejects such hatred, He is never untouched by the pain and the suffering. His back may be turned to evil, but his face is filled with tears of compassion and love. He promises to walk through the darkest of times hand-in-hand with any one of us who calls on Him and allows Him to bring us His peace and His comfort.

     We celebrated Christ’s victory over sin and death just a few months ago at Easter. But a key part of the Easter story is remembering the beatings, whippings, and gruesome death He endured. We remember his broken body and His shed blood as He turned His back to a cross and allowed Himself to be nailed to it in order to once and for all time purchase our eternal freedom. Since God cannot allow sin into His presence, and every one of us has sinned, we were all doomed for an eternity separated from God… an eternal death. But Jesus Christ, the only one who ever walked through life without ever sinning, took our place… facing death and hell so that we could be freed from that judgment of eternal death. Like when someone chooses to pay off a debt for you that you knew you’d never be able to pay.

     In this time of uncertainty, when the terror and fear and sin is so clearly visible, it is time for us to return to the weeping Jesus, and remember His death until He comes again.

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

This was my pastor’s newsletter in our church’s bi-monthly newsletter, The Circuit Rider, (August/September 2016), First United Methodist Church, Carmichaels, PA. (Based on an original devotional I wrote in 2002).

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Changing of the Seasons… Again

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…”    —Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV)

As I sit here writing my last pastoral letter, it’s the day before my 54th birthday. I don’t feel any older (or wiser or mature) than I did yesterday and I’m pretty sure tomorrow will feel much the same as today.

There’s nothing like a birthday to force you to reexamine how you spend your time and reassess what’s really important to you. And this year, on top of the birthday, there’s Joshua’s graduation from 6th grade and, next week, David will graduate from high school, and of course the moving trucks will be here in just a few weeks as well.

Last week, May 18th, was Gay’s and my 25th wedding anniversary. As I looked back at the wedding pictures recently, I was amazed at how much I had changed since that day in May of 1991. I was thinner and my hair was thicker (and all the same color). I don’t remember gaining weight and where did all that gray come from? And the hairs that didn’t turn gray, decided to turn loose! Sometimes it just feels like there’s TOO MUCH CHANGE!

I remember as a kid I couldn’t wait until I would be able to shave… I wish I had waited.

As a kid I could hardly wait until I would be able to get away from my parents and make my own decisions and have my own money and “pay my own way” through life… I sometimes wish I were still living at home with someone else figuring out how to pay all the bills… and just telling me what the right decisions for my life are supposed to be.

Time doesn’t stand still. And neither do we. Time passes, and we change.

Five years ago, July 1, 2011, I began serving as the pastor of the Clarks Mills United Methodist Church. Time hasn’t stood still. And we’ve changed. My family has changed, I’ve changed, our congregation has changed. We’re not the same people that we were back then.

And we will continue changing… because in God’s order of things anything that is alive and growing, changes. It’s never the same after growing as it was beforehand.

God has a plan for this congregation, and it’s a good plan. For now, He’s revealed the first page of the next chapter… a new parsonage and a new pastor. If you’ll allow Him to, God will continue to work in you and through you during this next season, to effect His will and His plan… and He’ll work on developing your spiritual life as you walk with Him.

As we walk through these last few days together before I’m moved to Carmichaels, I wonder if you’ll help me think and pray and reflect on our time together. What has God done in us as a congregation during these past five years? How have we been changed? What’s different? What ministries for the kingdom of God have we been able to do together? How have you allowed God to change you during these past five years? Are there areas of your life you need to turn over to him to allow him to work in you and through you as Pastor Adam comes?

[This is my final newsletter article as pastor of the Clarks Mills United Methodist Church. Published in The Flame, June 2016.]

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