Friday, April 5, 2019

THE PRAYER OF JESUS

Someone once said that all people pray. I believe that. Everyone prays. Sure, maybe there are a few confirmed atheists who don’t pray. But, I would bet that in hard times, even Atheists meditate and comtemplate and...

Almost everybody prays. And, for most of us, prayer is that steady daily time of connection with God that keeps us going. If I started the day and things got away from me, I would sometimes miss my prayer time. Usually, at the end of the day, I would remember that. I always responded to the day and others better when I pray.

Even secularists are teaching others to spend some time in thought, meditation, reflection. They recommend that every person start the day with a few moments of silence.

We pray not to change God, but to change ourselves, to bring ourselves into that connection that saves us and makes us whole.

Jesus prayed. It’s one of the things about him that the disciples noticed most. Before Jesus gave us the Lord’s pray, Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray.

A noted preacher said: “We spend a lot of time asking Jesus to answer our prayers, but we don’t spend as much time trying to answer his prayers.” What if being a Christian, a follower of Jesus, means that I try to live my life as an answer to Jesus’ prayers.

One of Jesus’ great prayers is recorded in John 17. He prayed: “Lord, I do not ask you to take them out of the world...”. Then, why do we spend to much time trying to get out of the world. If God loved the world so much, then God still loves the world. Jesus prayed for us to stay and live out our faith in the world, in this world. Here and now.

Earlier in John’s Gospel Jesus says: “They will know you are my disciples by your love.” Stay in the world and love. Doesn’t sound that hard, right? No, in fact, it sounds very hard. And yet, nothing is more meaningful than the love of God. The love of God is the answer to everything; that’s why we call it salvation.

My blue grass group sings an old Dolly Partin number. The words say: When we’re gone, long gone, the only thing that will have mattered is the love that we shared and the way that we cared, when we’re gone, long gone.”

So, this Lent and beyond are you living your life as if you are an answer to the prayers of Jesus?

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

LET IT GO

A song that keeps going around and around in my head is from the movie: Frozen. It’s called: Let it go! About 10 days ago, I wrote about one of the great themes of Lent being about stopping and waiting and praying. Another great theme of lent has to do with letting go.

Sometimes we express this in challenging each other to give something up for Lent. And, some of us do try to give something up for Lent, like chocolate, or coffee, or the internet, or tv. I used to challenge my congregations not just to give something up but to take something on by way of sacrifice. Give up a meal during Lent and give the money that it would cost to a homeless shelter. Or, write a letter (does anybody do that anymore) to someone you’ve been meaning to touch base with, or call someone, or visit someone, or...

The list could go on and on. The point is that if I give up something or do something extra these things afford me the opportunity to focus for a bit on God, on my spiritual life, on the meaning of life.

Let it go! Is there something that you need to let go of during Lent? Letting go is a natural part of our faith in God in Christ. It’s a part of life. Maybe you need to let go of a grudge. I don’t know who’s reading this, but I do know you’re human and our human tendency is to stack up things that people have done to us. Make a list; check it twice. And, the normal human tendency is to cut them off, to write them off. In a very few cases, there’s nothing left to do. Even then, we forgive, let it go, and move on. Right?

I know someone who has been a Christian all her life, but years ago someone said something to her in church that hurt her feelings. I’m not playing down the hurt. The hurt is real. But, what could happen, if in the light of God’s love for all, she could let it go? It might open up all kinds of creative possibility. Whatever that person said to you that hurt, said more about her than it did about you. It’s not about you. This would mean that I will not live my life as if others have control over my life. I am ultimately the one who makes the decision to live out my life believing that God in Jesus loves me, no matter what. You are a child of God, precious in his sight. You are loved. You are surrounded by grace in family and friends.

Sure, you have to deal with the feelings. But, in faith we can let it go and move on.

Abraham and Sarah were old when God called them to father/mother the nation of Israel. They had to let go of all the supports of life, family and friends. They left what was familiar and moved on with God’s guidance.

A pastor friend has a wall paper in her office on which is printed the words over and over again: Let go; trust God. Let go; trust God. Let go; trust God.

At every stage of life, we experience things and people and events. It’s a kind of dying. Death means that we let go so that we may come to resurrection.

Henri Nouwen says that prayer is best done with open hands. Open hands can’t grasp too tightly or hold on to what needs to pass. What do you need to let go off this Lent?

Let go; let God.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

THE SEASON OF LENT

The Season of Lent is our season of preparation for Easter. Like Advent before Christmas, it calls us to give ourselves to a time of devotion, worship and prayer, so that we might properly celebrate when Christmas comes. Lent, unlike Advent, is not a time when we are in a rush to get somewhere. Even our secular culture rushes to get to Christmas, getting started with it as soon as Halloween is over. We could argue, maybe, as to why we are in such a hurry to get to Christmas. Is it commercial? Sure. Or, is it because the times are so filled with bad news that we can’t wait...

Lent is not that way. I don’t know anybody who is in a hurry to get to Easter. Also, Lent is longer than Advent and affords us more time to reflect, if we will, on this great journey of faith. Lent, in part, is that call to slow down, for God’s sake.

Being slow has not been a problem with me. (Don’t say a word!) I am by nature a person who enjoys taking my time. Sure I can waste time with the best of them, but taking my time is in my soul. I have always felt that part of being a disciple was going slower than the rest of the world, particularly when this present world seems to be in such a rush to get somewhere, where it doesn’t seem to know.

Now, don’t mistake my slowness with “not caring”, or not being interested. It’s just that the older I get the more I realize that each moment is precious. And, I don’t want to miss a single minute. Now, I know it’s March and I’m into March Madness and I don’t want to miss a single game. OK. I know that’s madness. But more, I’m talking about the moments of our lives. Every minute of every hour, every hour of every day, every day of every week, every week of every month, every month of every year...it’s all a gift. It’s not a burden. It’s not a problem to be solved or figured out. It’s not a space to fill up. It’s a gift.

Lent is a call to slow down. Maybe it’s a call even to stop. It’s a call to stop judging, and earning, and moving, and achieving, and worrying, and doing so that we can worship and pray more. God doesn’t seem to have a problem with stopping for Sabbath. “On the seventh day, God rested...”.

God rested and so should we. We rest in prayer and worship.

Lent is also a time to give up something, something that compels your attention. Most of us know what we need to give up for our soul’s sake. Lent gives us the opportunity to do just that.

Now, Lent is not about just focusing on your own self. God help us. NO. We rest, we stop, we slow down to focus on the gift of God’s love in Jesus Christ for us and for the whole world.

Check back with me in this season to ask: how am I doing?

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Cosby

Today is the day when Bill Cosby is sentenced to served 3-10 years in prison for sexual assault. The crime is almost unthinkable, that a man with Cosby’s gifts and graces would drug women and then have sex with them, rape them. I can’t even get to the question of why a married man would act this way. I can’t get passed the question about sex and our culture. We are so mixed up sexually. For many, sex seems to be this dirty thing, rather than the creative gift of God that it is. So much of our violence and pain and shame are acted out in sex crimes.

But, even more than all that today is the stunning realization that Bill Cosby was/is a predator and will go to prision. Many of us remember Bill Cosby as the great mentor and leader. He was a commedian of the highest order. We still own an album (vinyl) on which is Cosby’s retelling of the story of Noah. It’s absolutely hilarious and brilliant. It deals with a difficult scriptual passage and brings it to life.

Or, maybe you remember Cosby on the TV show “I spy”. Or, maybe you remember the TV show that my family and me never missed in which Cosby is Dr. Huxtable. He appears on screen as this loveable, wise, father and husband who is faithful. His humor comes through everything.

Cosby was a PHD. He promoted education and supported teachers. He chided those who did not take their role in family and community seriously enough. He was a example to be followed.

One of my favorite snippets from his book “Fatherhood” is one about sibling fighting. Cosby said that when two sibling are fighting they come to their father to settle it. They make their case and the father tells them to go to their room. Cosby says that the children think the father is interested in justcie, but the father is interested in peace and quiet.

Today, Cosby has fallen from grace. It’s almost too much to take in. He has done so much good, but left behind so much pain and suffering that he caused. It’s never right to take advantage of another human being. It’s never right for a man to rape or abuse or assault a woman. Never.

Sure, we’ll get over this just as we have absorbed the failures of others in the past. We will get over it just as we have gotten passed the sins of other men against women, other sinners. But, how much more grateful we should be for those men who treat women with the respect they deserve, as they gift that they are. How blessed are those men who are faithful to family and friends and church and God. May these be the men that we follow and emulate.

We have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. In human flesh is the treasure of God’s love, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray for Bill Cosby today and for all the victims of his recklessness. Where sin abounds, grace may much more abound.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Lex Talionis

I just watched a pretty good movie called: Lucky Number Slevin. It’s the story about a guy who, when he was a boy, lost his mother and father. His dad was a bad gambler always looking for the next winner. He played the horses one time too many and bet $20,000 with mobsters and he lost. He had inside info on a particular horse and something happened and the horse lost. The bad guys came to his house and killed his wife, tortured and killed him. And, even the bad guys couldn’t kill the little boy who looked to be about eight years old. They called in a professional assasin.

The assasin could do it either. He tried but couldn’t do it. So, he took the boy and raised him in his ways. Now, you don’t find out until nearly the end that that’s who this guy is. But, he goes after the bad guys who killed his family, with the help of his keeper. He killed the bad guys and more. He lived his whole life waiting on the time when he would take revenge on these bad guys.

It’s the way of the world, isn’t it. Someone does you wrong; you have a right to get them back. Lex Talionis is the law: A eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth. When the Jews came to this law it was a step forward from the blood shed of their day. It meant only one eye for one eye and nor more. It meant only one tooth for one tooth and not more.

Most of us are happy with the revenge idea. The bad guys should just get what’s coming to them. Then, Jesus comes along and ruins it. Doesn’t he do that often? He says: “Love your enemies. Do good to them that hurt you...”. Let the bloodshed stop with you. It has to stop somewhere.

I’m praying about and thinking my way through the awful stuff that has come out of the Catholic Church lately. I’m listening to the demands for justice. I’m sure there is some need to see revenge and you can understand it. I can understand it. Hurt like that, sexual, done by the church’s pastors is difficult to get over.

I have counseling some who have been sexually abused as children, not by priests, but by a parents or someone close. I can tell you that this grave sin damages a person for life. Add God and priests to the mix and you get a real mess, a life that is nearly destroyed before it gets started. I say that justice is the last that we can expect from the church.

What would justice look like? Right now, the statute of limitations covers such acts as far as the law goes, but shouldn’t the church dismiss all those who had any part is this sin. Give them a church trial and take their right to practice as the church’s representative. Acknowlege publicly what has been done; confess the sins. As often happens the coverup becomes as evil as the sin.

I don’t think these dear souls are looking for revenge. They want justice which would be a form of mercy for the victims. The greatest sin of all is to pretend that these sins didn’t happen.

Revenge is wrong but justice is only right. I pray for all those who are working through this. May God forgive those who hurt and maimed in his name.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Rosanne? What?

The TV Show Rosanne was back for a time a short time. I was never really a Rosanne fan the first time around, though we did watch the show some. She was always brash and harsh. It was supposed to be blue-collar comedy that hit hard and revealed the hard lives of many who go unnoticed in this country. It did a good job of that then.

I never wached this time around. I heard, like many of you, about the pro-Trump stuff. It was watched by many to start with, but then the twitter incident happened. Does Twitter just invite this kind of stuff? If often wish that the President would think a bit more before tweating out every though and idea in the middle of the night. Now, Rosanne tweets something that is just awful. I kept hearing that she had said something reprehensible, then I finallyr read the tweet. Wow!

You’ve got to be kidding me! Are people still saying and believing this kind of stuff? OK. Even if it was a joke, doesn’t it cross some kind of humane line or something?

Today, I saw that Rosanne was trying to take it back. And, like anyone trying to take something back that they said, she is finding that that’s hard to do. She said it was a joke, and she was on ambien. She says this as if there’s some kind of excuse for this kind of racist talk, as if somehow it justifies her comments.

Now, after some time, ABC has cancelled the show.

At least there are repercussions for talking like this. Sure, it’s free speech but even free speech has its conseqences. You can’t just say anything and get away with it. Mean, hateful, hurtful, and racist speech is still wrong and should be condemned.

As Christians, I don’t see how we can think any other way. It does bother me a bit that maybe our people do not remember or know our history. It bothers me that someone could have grown up in this country and been educated in our schools and lived through civil rights and all the rest, and not know or care that this kind of language is wrong because it treats people as less than human. If everybody is created in the image of God, then everyone deserves the respect and love of others.

Anyone with any feeling at all who reads through the racist literature of the past can see it reflected still in such tweets and language. It’s disgusting.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you talk and act like this tweet of Rosanne’s, you’re certainly not much of a Christian if at all. Followers of Jesus Christ are people who in to life and love and truth in Jesus Christ. Christ died for all.

So, Rosanne, take responsbility for your words. And, ask for forgiveness. This kind of speech will not stand. It’s like building your house on sand. The winds come, and the rain, and the storms, and...

”I have made of one blood all nations...”. The Book of Acts.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

MOVEMENT IS IN THE AIR

As a United Methodsit preacher, I always get a little nervous this time of year, even though I have been at my present appointment for 12 years. And, we don’t move like they used to move. But, every year as we approach Annual Conference, some are packing and hiring movers and getting ready to say goodbye to the place where they are. Soon, they will stand in a new pulpit and a new place. They will move into a new home.

I, and my dear wife and family, have moved seven times and we are getting ready for our last move to retirement. After 12 years in the same place, I’m remembering why I don’t like moving. There’s just so much to do to get ready to move, and if you’re going to another church appointment you’re gearing up for another challenge.

The Methodist way of itineracy goes way back to Father John himself who logged many miles on horseback. But, we’re in the modern world now and it somehow seems obsolete. There are so many needs to consider, so many people in the process. Our system in which we move one pastor out on one Sunday and the next Sunday there is another pastor at the church has always seemed “out of date” to the surrounding denominations who “call” their preachers.

United Methodist preachers are indeed called by God, but the Bishop appoints us to our place of service. We agree to that at ordination, though some forget it in the heat of battle. Most, however, go willingly to a new place. We all somehow still believe that God is in on this and that God goes ahead of us. We are sent.

There’s something very special about the fact that we are sent. We don’t get to pick our place of service. How utterly Biblical for God to appoint us to our place of service.

I have been so blessed to have been sent to some great churches. God was present in all of them, though it was harder to see God in some of them. Some of my friends have not been as blessed. I can remember listening and praying with friends who were going to appointments that they believed would be harmful. Most all of them survived, by the grace of God.

There is an old story about a preacher at Annual Conference in SC back when the appointments were acutally read out loud in front of God and everybody. The bishop read the appointment and one brother stood up and said: “We’re ruined Elizabeth!” Sometimes going to a place that we do not know or really want to go to can be difficult. We are a little like Abraham who went out not knowing where he was to go.

I would not have chosen a single appointment that I have served, but I would not take anything for having served every one. In each church and place, there was much of God’s work to do. And, there was always grace.

So, to all my brothers and sisters who are packing up now, I say: “Good for you! God is with you wherever you go!” It’s a daunting task to risk ministry, but nothing is more rewarding.

Go. Go in peace! The one who came to us in Jesus comes now to speed you on your journey. So be it.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Monday, February 26, 2018

Billy Graham

You know that Billy Graham died recently. His life and his death had a huge impact on many people all over the world. One church member/friend recently said to me: “What about Billy Graham’s death?” I said: “Well, he was 99 years old.” I was thinking that was a great long life. He said: “It’s sad.” He wasn’t saying that it was sad that a 99 year old died. I think I heard him saying rather that with Billy Graham’s passing there was the passing of an era, a time, a ministry that spanned generations. OK. I get that.

I can remember sitting in front of the television with the whole family when I was a boy watching and listening to Billy Graham. Even as a boy, he was good TV, and I mean it in a good way. He was a captivating, engaging, charismatic preacher of the Word. He included humor and story, and he had the authority of a prophet from the Bible. Many people owe their spiritual birth, or conversion, to Billy Graham.

In fact, many of our churches were blessed by people who were brought to Christ in that dramatic moment when it seemed the whole world was singing: Just as I am without one plea!

Dr. Graham came along at a time when television was being born. And, younger people laugh when I say this: there were only three channels to choose from. So, we all watched much of the same stuff. We all watched the man on the moon land. We all watched JFK get shot. We all watching MLK march and lead and then die. No, we didn’t watch all the same programs, even then. There were three options. But, much of the major stuff we saw together.

So, when Billy Graham took the Gospel to television, it was a new thing. In fact, it was a new thing to take his whole ministry to the air waves. And, to hand out an 800 number that you could call and get counseling and literature, free.

While many felt that Dr. Graham was not as prophetic as he ought to be in civil rights and other issues, I felt he was a part of that great American ideal that says that there are some things that transcend politics . Of course, nothing transcends politics now. Ha! He avoided the political rancor of partisan politics but he also embraced African-American leaders and taught and preached a Gospel that was a call to all people. A lot of people got upset when he stood with Nixon, but I can hear Graham saying it now: “We’re all sinners.”

So, for me, my faith came through the church and my family. We loved Billy Graham; there was no reason not to. He was a towering figure and in many ways he was, as some call him, the Protestant Pope. We will miss that towering figure who stood with presidents in times of crisis. Who can forget his presence at the National Cathedral after 9-11?

We wish his family well in the days ahead. And, we give thanks to God for this servant who kept his integrity in an age when many fell prey to a consumer mentality. His goal was not to be rich, but to be faithful to his calling to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified.

A good thing to remember and foster during this Season of Lent!

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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