Monday, March 13, 2017

KEEPING LENT

Lent started on Ash Wednesday, March 1. It was a dark blustery night. Lightning and thunder and rain were our gifts for the evening. I laughingly said that I had ordered that setting for Ash Wednesday; however, you have to admit that Lightning and thunder and rain were appropriate for the beginning of Lent.

On Ash Wednesday, we talk about the two these of the season and of that night: our sin and our mortality. Talk about those two things will most assuredly bring a crowd. But, where else are you going to hear the truth except in church. Here in church, we are invited and are free to confess our sin before God and in each other's presence. Our common sin is the same. As Lucy said to Charlie Brown when she discovered that the earth revolved around the sun, "Huh! I thought the world revolved around me!"

As one of my teachers used to say, sin means that we strut around here as if we own the place. We treat the world and creation as if we owned it. We treat each other as if we were the owners of all that is good and noble and everyone else is ignorant and less good than we. The hymn says it so well: "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love!". Prone to wander about all over the place; prone to wander after other gods and other ways. Prone to leave the God I love.

I grieves God that we so readily turn from him and away from his gifts. Salvation is when we trust God in Jesus Christ to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all wrongness. At Lent, we confess our sin, we ask forgivesness and we turn around and move back to God. You wouldn't thing that we would forget so easily who God is, would you? But we forget before the next Sunday.

Lent starts with the stark realization that we are sinners. And, we die. This life as we know it comes to an end. Time runs out on all our projects and all our dreams. Sure, we know Easter's coming, but how poor we are if we don't at some point acknowledge that our life is but a "span". It is all a gift and then it goes so fast that we hardly know it. Regrets? Sure, but why waste time on that? Receive each day, each moment, as if it were your last, because one day, it will be. Death has come for many of our loved ones sooner than we wanted. Certainly, it has come sooner than we expected. Sometimes death tears at us with tragedy. Death strips our pretense and our smugness away. In it's wake, we come to God in our vulnerability. All salvation is in God; all salvation comes from Jesus.

So, on Ash Wednesday, we ran by the altar, and got marked on the forehead with a cross in ashes to remind us all this. In this sober way, we started Lent together. And, we are invited to give more, to worship more, to love more, to get ready for what's coming.

The church has long tried to teach us that you can't get to Easter without going through and by the cross, through Lent. Jesus will be crucified and die for your sins. See it. Experience it anew. And wait to see what God will do. We're half way through or so. Look around to see what God is calling you to do right here, right now! It's all a gift.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

EPIPHANY- Do What?

Epiphany is not one of the words that we use daily. Consider: you're at coffee with a friend and you're feeling thoughtful and you say: "By the way, I had an epiphany the other day." OK, we don't say that word: epiphany, but we might say it like this. "Something came to me the other day." Not just I had a thought.

Surely, we get new thoughts all the time. If you're like me, and who isn't? You will every once in awhile think something that you need to know or do. Sometimes you're busy doing something else and a word will come to you. Or, you're praying, and when you listen for a few minutes, an idea comes to you. Now, Epiphany is all that and more.

Epiphany means "revelation". It means that when we are in relationship with God in Jesus we are a part of this ongoing process of kingdom living. We are living the "God With Us" life and sometimes something just "comes to us". Someone says that you know it's from God if you can't do it all by yourself without God. If it's something that is too big for you, or seemingly impossible, then it's God speaking.

But, it may be something as simple as the need to forgive someone you've been holding something against for a time. But, Epiphany means that it's a gift of God. It just comes to you. Not out of the blue, but from God, from the power of the Holy Spirit. It just comes to you.

While writing sermons or writing blogs, or working in and out of hospitals and homes and worship, I am always looking for an Epiphany. I am always looking, expecting, that God is speaking to me, appearing to me, wanting to talk to me. And, If I listen, and pray, and live my life for Christ, then it will come to me.

That is sometimes the advice that I give someone who is struggling with something. They don't know what to do about someone or something. They ask me. I might help them explore the issue or the need and then I'll say something like: Well, if you're praying, and keeping your commitment to Christ with worship, and study. If you're regularly studying scripture and you're listening, it will come to you.

Samuel was sent to live with old Eli in the Temple (1 SAMUEL). And, in the middle of the night, a voice came to him: Samuel. And, Samuel got up from the bed and sent to Eli and said: "What do you want?" Eli said: "It wasn't me. Go back to bed." This happened three times, and finally, Eli said: "Samuel, if this happens again, it this voice comes to you, then say 'speak, Lord, your servant is listening.'" Samuel heard the voice again; it came to him. And, God spoke.

I don't know if this means anything to you, but my hunch is that the chances are good that there is some reason that you are listening to God. Keep listening. Be open for the light to appear and for a voice or an idea or a revelation to come to you.

John says: "Look, there he is! The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." It's an epiphany. During this season after Epiphany, keep you're eyes open. Look and you may just see; listen and you may just hear; pray and you may just have an Epiphany. Our God is a living God.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

ADVENT

I seem to be having a time keeping my appointment with this blog. If you're a regular reader, please forgive me. No excuses. So, for now, I'm back and what a great time to come back to this task.

If there's anything that makes me want to write and reflect, it's Advent/Christimas. It still bothers me that we want to rush to quickly to the Christmas Season. I'm sure that a lot of the cultural stuff is about commerce. Why else would we start playing Christimas music on the radio and TV right after Halloween? When I was a boy, we would wait at least until after Thanksgiving. At Thanksgiving the Macy's parade was held in New York and at the end of the parade was jolly, old, St. Nick. Here we go; Christmas was near.

But, now, without fail, as soon as Halloween is over, the culture just sort of skips over Thanksgiving and goes right to Christmas. I was taught, in the dark ages, that we should teach our people to wait on Christmas, to take advantage of Advent as a time to pray and repent and reflect on the meaning of it all. For instance, don't sing any Christmas carols until Christmas Eve. Then, sing them for the 12 days of Christmas, up to Epiphany. That's what they taught me. And, still I try not to have us sing any Christmas music for a couple of Sundays, though some of you will come to me and say: "Why can't we sing the Christmas carols?" And, of course, the appropriate response is: it isn't Christmas yet. It's like trying to hold back a team of wild horses.

So, why is it that every year we get earlier in our celebration of Christmas? Commercialism? Yes, no doubt, we want our merchants, and therefore, everyone, to benefit from the huge buying and selling of this season. I save for another day any comment about over-commercialization and all that. For now, I acknowledge that we are into that part of it- at least some.

But, I think there's more to it than that. I think there's something about Christmas that makes us want to make it hurry up and get here. What if the world, as we know it, is often so bad and we think of Christmas as so good and happy, that we can't wait for it to get here. Sure, there are some people who are sad, and for good reason. But, on the whole, Christmas brings out the best in people, the best in us. The grouchiest among us find some reason to give and share and be happy, if for only a moment.

There's just something about a young mother and a baby born out there in the middle of nowhere, angels singing, shepherds worshipping, Magi bringing gifts. There where the stench of the world is greatest is that beautiful baby, Son of God.

See, we do need Advent to remind us that deep within and without us is this deep desire and yearning for joy and happiness. And the only joy and happiness that we know that is truly a gift is wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in a manger.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David...Glory to God in the highest and earth...

Joy to the world! Joy Indeed!

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

KEEPING THE FAITH

I started to write this column several times but shyed away from it. I am always reticent to share my own feelings too much. It's not about me, I tell myself. However, as a pastor in the church, what I think and feel does matter. So here goes...

Several years ago, I was sitting at the Pastor's Convocation at Duke. For many years, I went every year. Regretfully, I have not been back in a while. This particular year the speaker at this gathering was a guy named Rob Bell. Some of you may have heard of him. He was at one time the pastor of a huge church, and he travelled around the country to speak like a rock star. Over the years, he gathered quite a following of young people.

Duke usually likes to be on the cutting edge of change, particularly in the church. So, here was Rob Bell to talk to us about church and the world as he saw it. I have to admit that he is a very good speaker, relying of course on powerpoint and pictures on a screen to speak to us.

The thing that still sticks with me is the first thing he said. He said: "What must it be like to be a pastor in a church that is dying, fading away." This was a while ago, but I still feel the impact of that question. I especially feel the weight of it. I know it's not just about me, but I feel guilty that our church, the United Methodist Church is in this position. And, whether they will admit it or not, the whole Christian Church in the western world is in trouble. Sure, there are some successes out there; new Messiahs arise by the dozens. Mega Church is heralded as the wave of the future, though many prognosticators say that even the large Mega Churches are on the wane, as they draw off members from other more traditional churches. But, on the whole, the western church is in trouble. Some even go so far as to say that Christianity is in trouble.

The fastest growing churches are located in Africa, and now China is beginning to grow some in Christian faith. But, in America, we are praying and searching for ways to listen to where the Holy Spirit is leading us. Even Christians, who are among the most faithful members of the church do not attend worship or study or anything as much as they used to.

In a recent meeting at my church, we went around the circle bemoaning the fact that church attendance is down everywhere. Some said: "When I was a child here, this place was full of people." Well, yes, that was fifty years ago. All churches were filled with people. After some more whining and complaining, I said: "Wait a minute! Go around this room. None of you go to church like you used to." They all had to agree. Talk to any Christian in the Western world and they will tell you that everyone who studies these things says that Christian faith is in trouble- not growing.

So, the question that we ask mostly is: what can we do about it? For much of the church, the blame is laid on the the clergy. We aren't doing things like we used to do them; or, we aren't working hard enough.

And yet, if you asked the average pastor about their work load, you would find that they are usually exhausted and afraid to take a day off. A friend of mine, a pastor in another denomination, went on vacation and came back to find that he had been voted out as pastor. Thankfully, that's not a worry for United Methodists, not usually. Still the stress of working with people alone is enough to break anyone over time. Add to that worries about money and facilities and programs and all the rest and you got the picture.

Now, I would be the first to say that I love what I do. I am doing it still because Jesus came along the shore and said: "Follow me". I went and I've never been sorry. So, I refuse to despair over the mission of Jesus Christ and his church. It's his church after all.

I will over the next few weeks address some of the issues that some see that the modern church faces as we move forward in our faith.

I hope that you will read these articles and join in prayer around the issues raised.
Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Being Religious

Several years ago, a Mega Church pastor had been accused of being hateful toward certain people. So, in an interview, trying to be clever, he said: “I don’t hate anybody but religious people.” I thought immediately: “Does he not think he’s religious?” I listened as he explained that he hated church-goers or people who are religious. I know what he meant. He meant that he hated anyone who wasn’t in his movement and therefore, right and not religious. OK. I get the modern-day attempt by some to play on the cultural idea that all religion is bad. Now, we live in the Bible belt where religion is a lot more popular than in other parts of the country or world. Sure, but there is still this underlying notion that religious people are hypocrites. That’s troubling to a pastor and it should be troubling to church people, Christians. Admittedly, there are some things about religious people that bother me too. Someone once said to me that if you’re going to lose your mind, it’s come to be about money or religion. Well, that is hard to dispute. There are a lot of people who are religious who are off their rockers- though I would argue that there are just as many non-religious people who are off their rockers. And, there is something ugly about religious people who claim to be followers of Jesus who are just a mean and hateful and racist and bigoted as the rest of the world. Certainly, we do expect that following Jesus ought to make some difference in people’s lives, particularly when it comes to how they treat other people. Wouldn’t it be great if we could be followers of Jesus and lose our tendency to sin? No, we’re sinners; I don’t care who baptized us. But, we should be able to expect some progress in faith, shouldn’t we? I mean, a person who hates others should be able to see that over time, in the presence of Jesus and worship and service, that he/she goes from hating to loving others. If not, something is wrong, of course. And, it’s deeply troubling. I would go nuts if I found out that one of my church members/Christians was in the KKK. When I was pastor in Clemson, someone was interviewed in the paper from the KKK and claimed that they had a KKK church. I wrote in our newsletter then that that was impossible. It’s a KKK group, a clan, but never, under any circumstances, a church. That word is reserved for the people of God who are living toward the Kingdom of God, where all are welcomed, where all come from one blood, where all are precious. I would claim that that Mega Church pastor was indeed religious, as religious as I am religious. Religion is about the “ordering” of life in Christ/God. It is an establishing of priorities and the naming of the things that are important. It is claiming and being claimed by God in Christ for the Kingdom of God, and then doing all in the power of the Holy Spirit to live out that faith in love in the world. No one is perfect. And, if we were, you wouldn’t want to be around us. A hypocrite is someone who pretends to goodness, pretends to faith, pretends to love. We should all hate that, even in ourselves. Jesus calls us to lay aside our pretending and to be real before God. We are sinners, that’s for sure. And, somehow, in God’s grace, we are moved from hate to love for all. Jesus said: “Do no practice your religion in front of people to draw attention to yourself…” No, do what you do religiously, regularly, to call attention to Christ and his love. Blessings! Dave Nichols

Thursday, May 5, 2016

We Are One

Recently, the Lectionary has moved us over in to the Gospel of John.  And, If I had to name a theme hymn for John it would be: 

          We are one in the spirit; we are one in the Lord.
          We are one in the spirit; we are one in the Lord.
          We pray that all unity will one day be restored, and 
          They'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.

Get it?  I'm not sure we do.  Jesus leaves and gives us the eleventh commandment in John: Love one another.  They will know you are my disciples by your love for one another..."  No question about the importance of love here for Jesus, and the church.  But, how does it work itself out in practical terms?  Or does it?

Even the most committed Christian has to admit that we don't always get it right.  You could say that if we loved each other (all Christians) we could get together in one church.  Not!!  Or, you could say that if we truly loved each other we could get along in the church we're in.  Not!!  Rodney King's question echoes down to us: Why can't we all just get along?

Even in the smallest of spiritual entities, the family, we struggle to make love the center of our quest.  So, in church, Jesus brings us together with all our differences.  And, for the most part, we do well with love with those who are like us.  We love those who are like us politically, morally, in terms of belief.  We have so politicized the whole of life in this county.  Politics is God.  We live and die by politics.  Maybe because we expect too much from politics.  I hate to say this but politics is not God.

Never has American life been more fragmented.  Or, maybe we've always been fragmented, but we just didn't have it so in front of us on TV and Internet twenty four hours a day.  I don't know.  But, it seems that we've reached a pinnacle of fragmentation.  

It doesn't explain everything but I think that this is the ultimate outcome of a philosophy of individualism which basically says that there is not central authority..  Every person is their own god, their own religion.  

IN a great book of the last century, a religious sociologist says this same thing.  He describes the typical person as someone name Sheila who lives out her Sheilaism, her religion is herself.  And, the rest of us, well, we're just tolerated so she can get what she wants.  Ourselves, our group, our lives are made the essence of all things.  How it affects me is the great value to be lived.  No concern for the common good or for anyone else other than my own.  

So, here we are.  We Christians are not much of an example for the rest of the world.  We just get in the filth with them.  But, Jesus knows that love matters more than anything.  The community of faith, the church, is to be a body of Christ, a community of love and forgiveness.  Love one another.  Love one another.  

Not tolerate each other, or put up with each other, but love, with all our differences and all our problems.  They will know we are Christians by our love.  Period.

Blessings!
David E. Nichols

Friday, February 19, 2016

Lenten Journeying

Lent started for me and my church on Ash Wednesday.  We all were marked with ashes and heard the historic words of scripture: You are dust and to dust you shall return.  It's a powerful time when we look into each other's eyes and proclaim the truth of what it means to be human.  We could not do this were it not for also knowing that God is love.

Just two days before I was struck by the "crud", cough and cold and had to spend some time at home, away from anyone.  It was a time to get ready for the power of Ash Wednesday.  So, after some time of sickness and prayer time, I came to worship and was able to lead the church in remembering that indeed we are mortal sinners.

Then, immediately two persons died and I was involved in their funerals.  One of the people who died is someone who had been away from this area for over 20 years; the other, was a faithful member of our community of faith.  What followed was typical.  I met with the out of town family and got to know the person who had died, and then I planned the service.  The other person, here and faithful, had a son who was special needs.  I went with family and others to tell him, but before we got it out, he guessed why we were there.  He asked: "Is something wrong with Dad?"  His mother said: "Yes".  Then, he asked: "Did daddy die?"  His mother nodded her head and we went inside to embrace and pray and do what we do in our humanness.

The two funeral services were both on Sunday afternoon: one at 3pm; the other, at 4:30.  Of course, they were at opposite ends of town, but I though I could make it work.  We always try to accommodate the families' needs and the funeral homes needs.  So, in a weak moment, I agreed.

The 3pm service went well but we were not done at the church until nearly 4pm and then it was almost 4:30 by the time we got everyone to the graveside.  So, I did the committal and ran to my car.

I got to the 4:30 service at 4:50 and found a chapel full of people at the Mortuary waiting on me.  I ran in and consulted with everyone, apologized, and we got started.  An hour later, we had worshipped God and it was a time of celebration and emotional sharing.  A number of people shared their love for the deceased and the family.

I went to the door and spoke to as many others as I could.  Then, I went to my car to let Mary know that I was on the way home.  Exhausted, I collapsed in my chair and ate supper.  Watching TV I drifted off to sleep.  

It hit me that this was Lent and a time of greater self-giving and love.  And, it reminded me that in our humanity we meet the love of God with us.  This is what it feels like to give ourselves away for Christ.  It is utterly exhausting and wonderfully fulfilling.  You've felt that way as you've poured yourself out for family or friends or church.  What a way to begin this Season of Lent- on my knees.


Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Monday, February 1, 2016

YOU KNOW IT'S LENT WHEN...

You know it’s Lent when Transfiguration Sunday happens. This is the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. You know it’s Lent when people start talking about Easter, although it’s not appropriate yet to talk about it. It doesn’t help that the stores start decorating for Easter with candy and bunnies, etc. You know it’s Lent when the pastor starts looking for ashes to use on Ash Wednesday. Usually, ashes are made by burning last year’s Palm Sunday branches. When that doesn’t work, the Catholics have a great kit to use. Ashes, of course, mean death but it’s more. It also means change, repentance. You know it’s Lent when you see the color purple in the Sanctuary. Lent, like Advent, is a Season of preparation and repentance. Purple means to repent, turn around, in thinking and living. Lent is hopeful. You know it’s Lent when everything points to the cross, when all that we know about Jesus is grounded in the truth that he “set his face” to go to Jerusalem. Blessings! Dave Nichols

Welcome

Thanks for checking out my blog. I'm new to this, as you can probably see. But, I, like you, have convictions and ideas worth sharing. I hope this will be an opportunity to connect with others who are Christian and/or religious. I am happily United Methodist. I am committed to the basic teachings of our church, and to the compassionate outreach to the world.

I hope these pastoral ponderings will generate something in you that is hopeful.
Blessings!
Dave

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About Me

A graduate of Newberry College and Duke University Divinity School.  I have served as a pastor in the United Methodist Church since 1975.

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