Week of November 24-30 — Come Home For Advent
“Boy oh boy, do I have good news for you!” That’s how it came out. The real words to be spoken were, “Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy!” The youngster in James Moore’s church practiced for weeks. He had never before said words like “behold” or “glad tidings.” He worked hard and mastered the phrase for the play at the church. He was ready…that is, until the curtain came up on opening night and there were people out there. He got a case of stage fright and when it came time for his line Joey spoke these words: “Boy oh boy, do I have good news for you.” He received a standing ovation.
As it is with all things, some folks had critical words to say about his altering his line, but the majority were delighted that the child had spoken his line as he did. And whenever Christmas comes around in this city…to this day, people still say of Advent and Christmas: “Boy oh boy, do I have great news for you.” (James W. Moore, The Miracle of Christmas, page 10)
Children are special and they have a “way” about them.. They are terrific! I am so thankful for leadership and volunteers keeping our ministry to children “happening” and “relevant.” As a sign of gratitude for all they have done, perhaps some of you could join in volunteering and helping. Wednesday evening could always use an extra hand. The church is grateful to all who give time and energy to the children.
Advent means “God coming toward us.” As the children learn the story of Christ’s birth the warmth and security of God’s love envelopes them. When I see them sharing the love of God, Advent takes on an entirely new meaning for me. I am always amazed at the ease with which children exhibit in faith. They trust God because they know God loves them and they want to love God back. They trust what they have been told by parents and teachers and volunteers about the church and about God’s love. We can see some how some of that looks when we have the Children’s Pageant on Christmas Eve. I’m amazed at how little ones marvel over the Christ Child.
Maybe we all can yearn for such trust in our own hearts. I, for one, am led to a closer walk with my Savior each Sunday….by the faith of children. Today, we again experience the majesty of God’s name and love once more. “Boy, oh boy, do I have great news for you.”
Our theme for Advent is “Come Home for Advent” and what is meant by that is that our people need to “come home” during this December. We want our people to exercise due cautions, but if you are one who can move about Charleston and go to numerous places, I ask that you think of church as an essential place to be. This time is a time of preparation. Hearts need to get ready. Hearts need to become cradles for the gift of God in Christ. There’s so much more to Advent than parties and presents and huge dinners. The more “shines in the streets of Bethlehem” and tries to shine in human hearts.
The Christmas Spirit is not a spirit that is caught. I’ve heard people all my life say that they are “trying to catch the Christmas Spirit.” The Christmas Spirit is a spirit that “invades” our routines and points us to the Holy and to the Eternal matters of life. Advent allows us to be transformed into stronger believers and disciples. One of the symbols is a Chrismon Tree. The symbols all point to the reality of God and the birth of Jesus. These symbols hang on a tree because when the baby Jesus grows up and begins a public ministry he will die hanging on a tree. When the greenery of the tree is no more and the branches have been stripped and bound together then connected to the trunk of the tree…we find a cross.
Spend some time praying for the Lord to come near and to have his way with your heart. It is a good news you can proclaim.
Week of November 17-23 — Looking back, gaining perspective and appreciating our youth
Philip Yancey in his book, The Bible Jesus Read, shares the following: “A Chinese philosopher insisted on riding his donkey backward so that he would not be distracted by where he was going and could instead reflect on where he had been. The Bible works in somewhat the same way. The Epistles shed light backward on the events of the Gospels, so that we understand them in a new way. Epistles and Gospels both shed light backward on the Old Testament.”
It’s important to look back in order to see truth that brings to life the light of God that is before our eyes. Looking back helps us with our perspectives of life. Looking back brings truth to center stage and helps us find strength and perspective for the day to day challenges of living.
Our purpose on this Sunday prior to Thanksgiving is to continue speaking words that shape our perspectives. The difficult times in which we live create questions about security and our future and our well-being. The harsh economic realities have caused business people to conduct their business in different ways and it has led the church to approach stewardship with new ideas. We have declared that we are BLESSED even in the face of economic realities and the work of God will move forward.
The writer of Proverbs lived a riches to rags story. Perspective played a major role in his life changes. Trust in God is a vital component of faith. It is difficult for faith to thrive when human activity demonstrates a plethora of loyalties. Looking back to the truth of the Old Testament, specifically Proverbs, reminds us about an important perspective on where “trust is placed” and how that perspective points us to the light of Christ that invites us to love God with our all. And it was Jesus who defined all to include our hearts, soul, mind, and strength.
Of the many things for which I am grateful, I would list the youth of the church at the top of the list. I remember being young and loving the Lord in my way. I was fortunate to grow up in a church that did not critique how the youth loved God. The adults of the church expressed gratitude for our presence and for our efforts. When Youth Sunday would come, our adults would flock to the church to hear what we had to say and to sing. Encouragement was present and I was always grateful for it. I believe a great deal of it had to do with the volunteer leaders who helped with youth group. It was called UMYF in those days. We were just as interested back in those days as folks are now to “do worship” in a way that “spoke” to us. We would take popular songs of the day and insert Jesus into them making them a worship offering. The messages we gave were from the heart and were shorter than our long-winded preacher.
As our youth come to lead Youth Sunday for us, I am thankful for their voices and their hearts and their faith. It is my hope to utilize our youth in substantive ways in worship in future days that are not Youth Sunday. I would like to see our youth serve as Lay readers and to serve as Crucifers that carry the Processional Cross into Worship. I would like to eventually get a Bible for the Altar table and have it carried in during a Processional Hymn. I would like for the choir to consider processing during an opening hymn. Even if we do not move to a full processional I would like to utilize children and young people as acolytes, crucifers, and Bible Bearers.
Thanksgiving comes next week. While these celebrations and gatherings may change somewhat due to Covid restrictions and precautions…it is a time that we celebrate the blessings of life we enjoy. I have learned that being grateful is important because it helps us handle the challenges of living. Gratitude has an impact on emotions like anger, depression, heartache. Counting blessings helps us focus on what we have instead of what might be missing. Appreciation for family is seen as important because family is a gift from God. This holiday signals that the world will begin thinking about a coming Savior during Advent. Thanksgiving is a holiday that was “put on the calendar” by the government for purely religious reasons. Gratitude reveals a connection to God.
If you would like to assist in decorating the Sanctuary or the LMR for Advent, the times for that will be November 23 and 24 beginning at 10:00 a.m. Our theme this year is “Come Home for Advent.” There will be three services (8:30, 10:50, and 11:00 a.m.) and the livestream will be from the 8:30 service. It promises to be a meaningful season for us as we anticipate the birth of the Christ Child.
Lastly, please get your Loyalty cards into the Church Office or turn them in at the close of worship. Doing so is an act of faith in the face of trying times that have tried to steal peace, joy, comfort, and security from us. Our prayer is for 100% participation. It is another way of “looking up” though hardships are all around. Our faith calls for us to look up…to God. God is ever-present to walk with us and help us day by day as we “get out of the boat” and “walk on the water” to do the seemingly impossible things that the church can do by faith.
Week of November 10- 16 — Saying what we are willing to give to God is a holy moment
Our Stewardship Theme is “If You Want to Walk on Water, You Gotta Get Out of the Boat.” To make the theme more memorable and repeatable it has been shortened to “Step Onto the Water.” Stewardship is about faith and our relationship to and with God. It is very difficult to get everyone on the same page where stewardship is concerned because every person lives into their own definitions.
Stewardship is like a long journey in a crowded car. Most everyone in the car has their own idea about the journey and how it should be made. One person is on a mission to get from point A to point B with as few stops as necessary. One person sees opportunities to stop and “smell the roses” along the way which might include some sight-seeing and shopping, etc. Some are wanting things the others do not want. Someone will say, “Stop humming!’ or “You’re sitting too close to me!” or “Make them share!” Each person has a different slant on the journey.
It can be the same with stewardship. For many, stewardship is the time of the year for the church to ask us for money. While there is a Loyalty Sunday (for us it will be November 15) the pledge card is only one component of stewardship. That component is driven by the other portions of it. Christians are a praying people. We pray for each other, We pray for the church. We pray for God’s will. We pray for God to be near, to guide, and direct us. Our prayers are driven by belief that God listens and cares. Another component is our presence. We believe that gathering together as the community of faith grants us a strength to face life. All gathering together express a need for God to be present in our living. Our presence declares that we cannot live by our own merits and resources and knowledge. Collectively, we admit our need for a Savior. One of the things we have been taught is to “remember the sabbath and keep it holy.” Our reverence for God brings us to Church and Sunday School. We believe God will speak to our hearts and souls through teaching and preaching.
Stewardship when driven by a relationship to God will move us to “serve” God in ways that we are able. The church doesn’t define areas of service, but instead invites people to let us know your passions and ideas and when you go forth to serve you do so in the name of God and the Church. Service is not hard. There are many random acts of kindness that count as service. There are also means for serving in the church when called upon to be a leader or member of a committee or mission. A Faithful Witness comes into stewardship as we confess our faith in words consistent with the Gospel. A faithful witness doesn’t “put down” the church. A faithful witness does get to say, “I wish the church would do this or that.” A faithful witness is more than an opinion. We are people of the book…the witness of Scripture is important.
Sunday, November 15, on Loyalty Sunday, we ask you to bring with you to church the card provided in the church’s mailing. If you do not plan to attend church on November 15, we ask you to drop your card by the church or mail it to the church. Giving this card that represents a willingness to give to God is a holy moment. Our ability to do many of the ministries this church is known for is determined by a willingness to surrender the giving component to God’s direction. At the close of the service, along with your regular offering, place the cards in the offering plates as you leave. My expectation is for our congregation to respond in 100% fashion. Giving of oneself to God is a holy act. God has given us so much. Our response must be one of gratitude.
Again, it is total stewardship about which I speak. The giving component alone is not sufficient. Making disciples for Jesus Christ is about the total stewardship of one’s heart and life unto God. I pray that as a family unit you will include children and youth in discussions about stewardship and about giving as a component of it. Parents can be essential examples of stewardship and model it for the family. Stewardship is not a hidden treasure that just awakens one day in the mind and heart of Christians. Stewardship is taught. Its values are taught. Come Sunday expecting to “walk on the water.”
In the coming weeks things will change a bit. On November 22, we will observe Youth Sunday. There will be two services. One at 8:30 and the other at 11:00. Note the time changes in format. Parents of youth are asked to come to the early service and allow others to come at the 11:00am service. November 29, the first Sunday of Advent, we invite our people to “Come Home for Advent.” On this day we will return to three services. Our goal is not to create another hybrid worship experience. We will return to 8:30, 10:50, and 11:00 a.m. services and asks our membership to pick the service they desire to attend. Steve and I will alternate at the services. Once a month I will do the 10:50 service and Steve will be in Traditional. Otherwise, Steve will be giving primary leadership to the 10:50 service. This service will be in the LMR. It allows for appropriate social distancing for those in worship and for members of the band.
These are exciting days at John Wesley Church. I hope you will make being present a part of your discipleship. We continue to respect those who have health concerns and avoid coming due to said concerns. God bless and keep us all as we move into our future, the “normal” we desire to see come to fruition.
Week of November 3-9 — Continuing our mission during the pandemic
I hope many are enjoying the chance to be back at church in person. It’s is special to be able to see and speak with people. The masks and social distancing are part of the new realities and new normal we find ourselves living into as we strive to be the church and live in safety. It is now November and we have entered into the final months of 2020. When Covid-19 began, none of us imagined we would still be talking about it and living with concerns as we are at this closing of the year. The resounding theme throughout has been: God did not bring this disease and pandemic upon His people. Yet, God is with us in the midst of it. One day, God will help us find its end. One day we will discover our lives returned to us, albeit with lessons we will always remember and employ.
I am thankful that the church’s ministry has continued during the pandemic and that its life is being enjoyed in spite of Covid. This week, we will have some special opportunities on Wednesday evening as we share with children, youth, adults, and families. Sunday, we will have some great moments in worship. We have two children to baptize and we will do this in the community of faith. As God “claims” these young children and promises to help them grow in knowledge of God, we will remember our own baptisms and connection to God as well as making a pledge to be involved in living the Christian life before these young lives in such a way that their living will lead to life eternal. Pay close attention as “Child of Blessing, Child of Promise” is sung because it speaks to our theology of Baptism. Baptism is something God does and it provides an “inward and spiritual grace.”
We will hear some words about our Stewardship Emphasis for the coming year. We are moving it back to the Fall and it will not be as involved as previous years. Pat Hogan will speak at the service and give an overview of what we will ask of the congregation. We plan to live into the budget that “never was.” Not many changes going into 2021. The pandemic shut down many things and I have asked the Stewardship Committee to approach this from a perspective that “knows” how weary people are of having hard times. We will ask for your “yes” or “no” for the coming year. You will receive information through the mail that will be self-explanatory and we will look for your response on November 15 which will be called “Loyalty Sunday.” I will not say much more here because I want Pat to share the plan with you on Sunday.
Last, but not least, we will have a time to “remember and honor our veterans.” November 11 is veterans Day. As a pastor, I choose to honor our veterans in the worship service. There are some voices in church-world that do not think this type of acknowledgement or celebration is appropriate, but I am not one of those persons. I admire our veterans for their service to this nation and for helping provide the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. Our Veterans are treasures to me. Worship is a good time to honor such service and to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Patriotism is different from Nationalism. I love my country. I’m grateful when I can say that I think my country is wrong about something. I worship God only. I feel many things in my heart where my country is concerned, but I only give my heart to God. Our ultimate loyalty is to the Kingdom of God and we give ourselves in service to that Kingdom. I believe that the Kingdom of God can make America better and holy. I believe that all people are children of God and that America still understands what it means to be a place where “all” are welcome. I have traveled over the world and always felt great when I got back home to America. There’s no place like it for me, but there is also no better place than the Kingdom of God for the Kingdom alone guides me in the way that leads to eternal life.
The church has a great many things going on. Your family would love to see you. We respect choices about safety and health issues that prevent people from coming. Hopefully, one day we will all be able to join together once more. By the way, we are getting close to the average attendance figures that will bring us back to multiple services offered on Sundays. I’ll share more in the coming weeks.
Week of October 27 – November 2 — The Church Mission Is Beyond Our Doors
I wrote the following words while in Houston, Texas, at a conference deemed “Tough Ministries.” They are called “tough” because it is difficult for people to not choose these ministries as their focus. While there, I had the opportunity to participate in good worship, to meet Methodists and people from other denominations, and to marvel at the structure of Woodland Hills United Methodist Church. I listened to challenging speakers who have reminded me of our mission to seek the “lost and the least.”
- I listened as one man spoke of having to take a skillet to his bed at night as he lived in fear of a parent coming to harm him. He was fortunate enough to become a foster child in the care of a Christian family. Today, he leads a ministry whose goal is to help foster children find Christian homes. There are 143 million foster children in need of homes. It is one of many “tough ministries” in which the church can be engaged.
- I heard a Bishop from the Baptist tradition speak of making a difference in the lives of children. His church which is in Possum Trot, Texas, has 200 members, but they have families who have adopted 74 foster children. Quite an undertaking. So much so, he makes the rounds on the television news circuit as he is interviewed about what is happening in his church.
- I had the privilege to preach at the Church Under the Bridge while in Houston. Ed Jackson (now a former member) arranged this opportunity which was life altering. Church Under the Bridge continues to be a means of bringing the Sanctuary to people instead of the other way around. The people present were hungry for God’s care. I was humbled and moved as we shared in Holy Communion through worship. I was embraced by people I may never see again and had the privilege to pray with them.
- I listened as David Ring preached at the conference. He has cerebral palsy but it does not have him. He spoke of how God doesn’t see his life as broken. He spoke of how God called him and uses him not in spite of cerebral palsy but through it. He is an amazing man with a great message!
Through all of it I was reminded that the church mission is beyond our doors. I have been challenged again that the way God thinks and the way I think are different. It’s important for us at John Wesley to understand how God thinks. It is a key to fashioning our faith and ministry. We are called to have “a heart for God” and to discover the “renewing of our minds” in Jesus Christ. The Church is not left alone to figure out for itself what we are supposed to be doing. The Church is very different from the government in that we seek for the Gospel to inform our responses to issues where social justice is concerned. “The Mind of Christ” comes from the influence of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit.
In the Church, our purpose is to surrender ourselves to Christ and to seek to become more like our Savior in all matters. As a pastor it is my job to invite people to know Jesus and see where that relationship will go. It has never been my job to legislate matters of faith nor to judge people in their faith. I have the freedom to follow the Lord and to seek the Lord’s growing presence in my heart.
I did not wake up one day and just decide to have a caring heart. I have heard that preached all my life and I had wonderful people to model that example for me. I saw men and women who were devoted followers of Jesus demonstrate what following looks like. I heard people share their testimonies of coming to faith. I know people who cherish the Bible and study it as a means of “informing” and “influencing” their faith. I have seen people in every church I have served who follow the Lord’s teachings as they deal with people and I have witnessed people who do not follow the Lord’s teachings when dealing with people. Those who follow have always had a profound impact on me. I came to the cross because I was led to it. At every point in my life I have had people to help guide me to a closer walk with God. I have known people who taught me to surrender to God’s wisdom. They also taught me that it is a lifelong process.
John Wesley has these types of people. This Sunday, All Saint’s Sunday, we will remember some of them who have died in the faith and now are part of the Church Triumphant. The Bell Banner will enter the Sanctuary following the Light of Christ with bells that represent our memories of “the many” who have gone before us. During the service, we will light candles on the Altar table and call the names of those who have graduated to the Church Triumphant in the last year. The influence and the encouragement of the Saints will go a long way to helping us continuing becoming the Church of Jesus Christ and their examples will constantly remind us what Christin living involves and what it means to the Church.
Week of October 20-26 — Are you ready for God’s call?
There is an old story told of a man who while falling off the side of a cliff grabs a small branch and clutches it for dear life. As he hangs there he shouts the question, “Is there anyone out there who can help me?” A voice responds from the sky saying, “I will.” The man inquires, “Who is it?” The voice responds, “It is the Lord.” The man feels relief and says, “Lord, what should I do?” And God responds, “Let go of the branch. I’ve got you.” The man thinks about it for a minute and then says, “Is there anyone else up there?”
Many believers today declare their desire to love God and serve God, to understand grace and receive grace, to cherish God and follow God, but when the instructions come or when the Lord points the way to the task “believers” will often ask, “What’s the next thing you would have us do, Lord?” It’s not a new thing. Throughout the entire Bible in most every situation where God is asking someone to do something that individual is not initially “excited” about the task.
When Moses stood before the bush that “burned but was not consumed” and was told by God where to go…Moses did not show excitement and enthusiasm. He tried to convince the Lord that the Lord has asked the wrong person. Moses was well acquainted with his shortcomings. Yet, God does not call the qualified. God qualifies the called. He sent Moses because Moses was the one chosen to serve. You and I know the “rest of the story.”
Each of us must stand ready for God’s call. It comes to every believer. It is not always a call to go to a foreign land, nor is it a call to stand on the street corners and preach. It is rarely a call to give up all we have. The call of God comes when we are asked to visit a neighbor in the hospital, to teach a child to pray, to walk proudly to church every Sunday for worship, to say a blessing over one’s food in a restaurant, to buy a sandwich for a homeless brother or sister. Our response is an answer to God’s call.
Stewardship is the means through which we “answer” God’s call on our lives to be faithful and committed to His Spirit and to the Church.
Stewardship is not the one time period of the year when the church talks about giving and money. I have heard through the years that the fall is the time to go to church to hear the “sermons about money.” The plan I hope to helps us adopt and develop here will not involve preaching week after week on money. I want to re-introduce stewardship as a discipline that incorporates numerous expressions of faithfulness. Those expressions are
When it comes to PRAYER, are we praying for our church, for our relationship with God to grow, for the church’s leaders, and for personal holiness to capture heart and life?
With PRESENCE, are we making our way to the church as best as we are able? Are we connecting to one another even in the midst of Covid precautions? Slowly, but surely, we are moving in a positive direction toward reclaiming church as we once knew it.
In GIVING, do we believe that it is a defining thing when it comes to our relationship to God. Do we know that church members never give to a budget, but to God’s own hand? DO we understand that God takes faithfulness in giving and brings increase and blessing to a faithful giver? A faithful giver doesn’t give to GET and increase, but God will increase what faithful people give. Scarcity, which is the fear of not having enough, goes away. We exchange Scarcity for believing that we have ENOUGH.
Through SERVICE, we give to God our willingness to be led into areas of ministry. To be a servant is to be a butler and in serving others we “capture” the Spirit of Jesus who came as a servant to all. His example inspires people to give of themselves in service to others and to the church.
The FAITHFUL WITNESS means we speak up about the God we know and love. All of us are ambassadors for Christ and the Church. Our positive expressions of love for John Wesley UMC will go a long way to us having that special, inviting Spirit that helps people seek us out. Our FAITHFUL WITNESS points to God as the source of life for us and we openly express we are not “alone to decide matters for ourselves.” We have God’s guidance and presence to help us.
Stewardship involves many aspects. As we “live into” our stewardship before God we demonstrate our loyalty to God and to the Church. It’s why I have always called one Sunday annually a Loyalty Sunday. On it, we make our determinations to give unto God everything about us that matters. This year, that Sunday at John Wesley will be November 15, 2020. Our Stewardship Committee has formulated a plan for us approaching a new year and will give us some direction about it in coming weeks.
All of us must be ready to “answer the call” when God makes it. The church’s life reflects the answers given.