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

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Wild Epiphany

It’s been a wild Epiphany so far. Well, maybe not wild, but it has been unusual. January 6 is Epiphany Day, when Christmas Season is over. On this day we read about Matthew’s versioin of the visit of the Magi to see Jesus. They follow a star. So we used January 7 as that day, Epiphany Sunday. It would have ordinarly been Baptism of the Lord Sunday, which comes usually as the first Sunday after Epiphany.

We celebrated January 14 as Baptism of the Lord Sunday because our congregation has such a good time renewing their baptismal covenant. It’s very moving to see the whole congregation come forward to the baptismal font. They either look at the reflection in the water, touch the water, or put some water on their forehead, then they kneel at the altar. It’s an exciting, moving, time when we remember our baptisms.

And, in the church’s historical sense, to remember is much more than just call to mind. We do that, of course, but to remember is to enter in to the experience. We can’t be re-baptized; that’s a once in a lifetime experience, but we can experience again the newness of grace and love. While we sing Amazing Grace, we all come down to the altar. Did I say that it’s very moving?

Then, the Season after Epiphany revs us and on the next Sunday, January 21, Jesus is out there calling disciples: “Follow me.” And last Sunday, Jesus was in synagogue teaching away when a man with demons shouts: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” Mark says it’s astounding and amazing. This is a new teaching that stills the voices within us that possess and destroy us.

Even in Worship, we are accosted by the demons, and the devil. Maybe especially in worship, we are under attack by Satan. But, Jesus intrudes into our lives and stills the storms and the demon voices, and sets us free.

I just saw the movie: “The Greatest Showman”. It was fastastic story about P. T. Barnum and his circus. He chooses a young man to become his partner. The young man comes from a very wealthy and landed family. The young man says: “If I go with you, I risk losing everythying.” Barnum says: “Yeah!! And you might just find out what it’s like to be free.”

Come with me, says Jesus, and you will be free. Jesus is amazing, says Mark.

What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Jesus answers: “I have everything to do with you, everything!”

In Epiphany, Jesus and his kingdom move out intot he world. The light of the world lights up the world, and calls us to go with him.

There are only a few more Sundays left in Epiphany Season. I said it was wild this year. It happens fast and then it’s gone, and we’re in to Lent.

Everybody’s saying how the church is passing away. But, I say, Jesus is still out making himself a people. Is Jesus talking to you today: “I have everything to do with you!”

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

ADVENT?

I noticed the other day in the newspaper (that thing that comes out on paper every day or so- remember?) that even some of the non-liturgical churches are celebrating Advent. Not all, mind you, but some of the more open, see the benefit to the call of the church to prepare for Christ. Time was when some churches regarded candles as evil since they reminded them of other churches. Are there some who still feel that way?

I am glad to see that Advent is more universally recognized by churches. But, the culture is having no part of it, of course. This year, even before Halloween which is a big cultural holiday, by October 1 commercials were running on TV with Christmas themes.

Certainly, we all understand this. Since so much of the income for retail stores comes around Christmas then why not extend the notion of Christmas and therefore, Christmas spending. I get that. Employees get paid; the stores thrive; and they have enough to last the rest of the year. Nothing wrong with a thriving economy, though I could say something about our over-spending. That will wait for another day.

Advent is the season of just four Sundays before Christmas. Each Sunday has a theme, and we light a candle on the Advent Wreath to mark our steady movement toward the “coming” of the Christ. While the whole culture is saying: “Get busy; speed up; go fast.” The church is trying to say: “Slow down, for God’s sake!”

Slow down, reflect, think, pray, give, and remember the Lord you God. Children help with this, of course. With eyes wide open and ears perked, children give us some of the excitement of waiting and expecting.

Those of us who are adults are likely to have become jaded. That is, we are tempted to put it all down to a great cultural spasm. It’s so easy to get into a life of no expectation. It is what it is. That phrase covers a whole host of situations in life, situations over which we have no control. Even Christians are tempted to lose hope over the way things are. It’s easy.

Advent is a call to wait and pray and expect that the God of Jesus is on the move. Only those who truly have faith can see angels and hear angel choruses. Only those with faith in this God can know the joy of the presence of God with us.

So take a little time to work it out, to work through what it all means for you. And, keep your eyes open for the God who moves in history, will move in history, and will bring the Kingdoms of this world into his Kingdom. It’s enough to make you sing: Joy to the world!

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Thursday, October 12, 2017

500 YEARS

This year October 31 marks the 500 anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. On this day, All Hallow’s Eve, Martin Luther, a German monk, nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral. It was a university community where ideas were often debated; so, Luther added his own ideas to the mix of the discussions.

As with anything happening in the church, nothing happens in isolation. What happens in the culture affects the church and what happens in the church affects the culture. Many of the nations of Europe were making moves toward independence from Rome; Germany was among them. So, many were questioning the practices of the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

Also, the printing press had been invented and it made it possible to put out volumes of printed material for everyone to read. To this point, only Priests and teachers had access to the Bible, mostly in Latin. It was not available to the average person. With the printing press, the scriptures were made available in the language of the people for the first time in history. Everyone could read their own Bible.

Even to this day, this has led to many abuses as anyone may make their own interpretation of the scripture without benefit of scholarship or commentary. But, the benefit of having scripture in your own hands is such a gift.

The Protestant Reformation with Martin Luther was founded on several notions. One, had to do with justificaiton. Martin Luther said that we are justified before God by faith alone. It was a swipe at the tradition of the church and the other requirements that were laid on Christians. No, said Luther, it’s about faith in God in Christ. Faith alone.

There were other sillier notions that one could buy one’s relatives or friends from purgatory. The jingle went: “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

Catholics celebrated seven sacraments, but Protestants had only two. They made the decision as to what should be a sacrament with three questions: 1. Did Christ command it? 2. Are there physical elements/symbols? 3. Is it available to all people. The two were/are: Baptism and Holy Commuinion. Now, I might argue that marriage, when it’s right, is in fact a Sacrament. And, prayers at the time of death are sacramental. But, you see the point.

Martin Luther started a movement that is still going on today. We all, sort of, argue every so often whether the church we are now located in is still the Church that is the body of Christ. And, all these different churches that spring up around us are attempts in the minds of those doing the churches an attempt to reform what has gone before.

Every generation believes that they are reforming the excesses of the generation before. The church is the same way.

But, in the church, we believe that the Holy Spirit is always refining and sharpening us. We all have the need to be reformed, made better. After the Protestant Reformation, there was a Counter Reformation in the Catholic Church that brought sweep changes. And, so it goes with the Spirit.

We celebrate that the voice of one monk, in the power of the Spirit, had the power to change the church and the world! Thanks be to God.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols








Thursday, August 17, 2017

CHARLOTTESVILLE and US

God shows no partiality! This verse is taken from that material in Acts in which the early church is working out what to do about its diversity. God send Jesus into the world as Messiah but he sent him primarily to the Jews, God’s chosen people. OK. We get that. All the images that Jesus used to define himself and his ministry were Old Testament images. You wouldn’t understand them unless you had been totally immersed in Judaism. For instance, in Luke 4, Jesus defines his mission by quoting from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor…” But, primarily this word and message came to the Jews. Or, maybe it’s better to say that God in Jesus started with the Jews. There are all kinds of examples in which others from outside of Jewish faith came to Jesus for healing and grace. This Sunday, we have that great story of the Canaanite woman who comes to Jesus; her child is sick. Jesus, rather harshly, says that he has come to Israel and it’s not right to give food to the dogs. “Dog” was a common word for Gentiles. But, the woman persisted, and Jesus responded. Jesus was running in to people outside Israel who had great faith. So, now in Acts, in this New Testament community of faith, the Holy Spirit was breaking out of Judaism and moving Gentiles. The early church was a mix of people and had to work it through. How do Jews and Gentiles get along in the church as followers of Jesus? Peter has a vision and out of it says: “I am now convinced that God shows no partiality.” We know that, right? All people are made in the image of God, made of one blood. We are all, whether we know it or not, related to each other. God shows no partiality, but we do. I understand it when people show partiality or unfairness in society or in their family and react to it. But, God shows no partiality. The church, you see, is that body of believers who are baptized into Christ. And, in baptism, says Paul, there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Greek. And, we can add: there is neither black nor white. We are all one in Christ Jesus. Charlottesville and the recent events that happened there have reminded us that we are not there yet in our country. The deep wounds of the civil war are still there. The deep wound of slavery and race in our culture continue to dominate our common life. We know, we have always known, that God shows no partiality. Racism and hatred are dead wrong. And, anyone who professes Jesus Christ knows this. In this age and every age, we fight racism by teaching our children in church and in our families that all people, every single person, if God’s child, and deserves respect and the right to life and liberty and love and food. The Kingdom of God is made up of people of all ages, nations, and races; that’s what our baptism ritual says. And, we believe that. We stand up to crass jokes and snide remarks about race. We don’t make them and we challenge anyone who does to stop it. At work, or play, or church, we reach out to people of all races and seek to make peace with all. We wish all people well. We pray that God will intervene in this, sort of, mass hysteria. We pray that God will forgive us when we have failed at this love business and will give us new ways to love and include all. God shows no partiality. Blessings! Dave Nichols

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

IN A TIME OF FEAR...

It's a time for fear, at least that's what we hear and see and breathe every day. There is always this rush to claim that the end is coming.

I remember once when I was in middle school. It was a dull, gray day outside and I was at recess with a good friend. I was a seriious child (well, mostly so) and I said to him, looking at the day, the end is near. He laughed and said: "You're nuts!" Of course, you know that he was right about that.

What's funny is that I was the religioius one; he never went to church. I had been trained in faith and love and church and worship and all the rest, and I was living more in fear than he was. What's that about?

In someone's scenario, the sky is almost always falling. Now, I don't want to downplay your pain or sorrow. I don't even want to downplay mine. There is plenty to be concerned about, plenty to mourn, plenty of suffering. There always has been.

A friend of mine commented on those movies/tv shows about vampires and the walking dead. Or, there are plenty of movies about annihilation, and coming asteroids, etc. We have this fascination with death in our culture and with crisis. You can't look at the news on TV or cell phone and not hear or read about the hourly crisis.

But, we are the religioius ones. The only crisis that we know about is the crisis of those who have given up on faith or given up on life or despaired about the world as we know it. I worry that we live too much in fear, too much with fear. We lose ourselves and the moments that we have in fear.

God knows there's plenty to be afraid about. But, what if fear is a bigger problem and will kill us way before whatever we're afraid of will.

Jesus calls Peter out of his boat to walk to him on the water. You know the story. Peter is overcome with fear. There's a storm, for God's sake. Peter sinks in the water. At the last moment, Jesus reaches out and brings him back. Jesus says: "O Ye of little faith!"

That's you and me. Faith in Jesus and the God who sent him, and the God who sends the Spirit now, is the basis on which we live. WE do not have to be so afraid. There is One who is with us in the storms who is greater than the storms.

1 John says: "The one in you is greater than the one who is in the world...". I don't know about you, but I think that we're the Christians here, the religious ones. And, the claim of faith on our lives is greater than the claim of anything else. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Right?

I believe it!
Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Thursday, June 29, 2017

HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA

July 4th is a special day in our country. It's the day when we celebrate being Americans and hopefully we give thanks for being among the most blessed people God ever made. Like many holidays, July 4th is a family day, of sorts. Most people get some time around the 4th and we barbecue and eat and party and enjoy our families. My wife loves fireworks, not the kind that I could do, but the professional show that many towns put on now. Spartanburg has a Red, White and Boom time. For a few minutes we gather with neighbors and strangers and family and look up to the sky at the colorful fireworks.

I always try to take my vacation time around the 4th, and our familes join us as they can. It's a time of relaxation and joy. It should be.

As Chrisitans, we don't worship government, certainly. Look what the government did to Jesus. All government is inherently oppressive, some more, some less so. Truly a democatric republic like the US is greatly different from a Communist government. I think it was Churchill who said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the rest. In a democracy, everyone, at least in principle, has a voice.

Of course, there's not perfect government or country, not even our own. There is much to be done in the way of learning better ways to communicate and care for each other. We Chrisitians has been taught from early on that there are two great commandments: Love God and love you neighbor. And, as Christians, we are joining with others in community to do our best to express what it means to love our neighbor.

I think it's true that as Christians we are called to care to the least among us. There are some who won't eat and will never make unless we provide a basic foundation for them. I think that every person deserves to eat, especially when the rest of us are eating so much that we have weight problems. I am coming to see that maybe health care is a part of this whole care for neighbor stuff.

I also think that we Christians might teach the world, and our country that there are better ways to treat each other, except that we Christians have been the worst at it. Often, even Christians, are mean and hurtful to those with whom we disagree. We treat other Christians as if they are stupid since we are so smart and right.

I think Jesus gives us the key to all relationships: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Not the better known statement: Do unto others before they do unto you. What if there is more to life than winning all the time? What if in the midst of all this anger and hurt and pain we Christians hold the key to it all in Christ? Treat each other as Jesus treated all. Easier said than done, I know, but essential in a divided and hateful world.

Now, I'm well aware that when you add politics and power to the mix that it gets more difficult. But, what if God is calling us even now to lead others down the right road of justice and mercy and compassion.

For a few minutes this 4th, say thanks to God. Say your thanks out loud. We have so much to be grateful for. We are so blessed so that we might be a blessing to others. I see this miracle of faith worked out every day somewhere. And, while you're praying, ask God to show you where you might dig in a little deeper into this world to be a more effective witness for Jesus Christ in all of life.

Like the hymn we pray: Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. So be it!

Happy birthday, America!

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Thursday, April 20, 2017

EASTER- a season

Easter Day around here was magnificent; it always is. The music is phenomenal. The love, the grace are wonderful. The release of butterflies beautiful. And, it's one big, great, celebration. What's not to like? Then, it's over. Well, not exactly.

Often we treat Easter the way we treat Christmas. At Christmas, we start celebrating Christmas at Thannksgiving. But, the church gives us Advent to prepare us for the celebration. And, we think it's over on Christmas day, but it goes for 12 days until Epiphany, when the Wise men/Magi visit Jesus with gifts. In the same way, Lent prepares us for Easter, and then Easter comes with beauty. But, Easter Season lasts for 50 days. We call it the Great Fifty Days of Easter.

This is the time when Jesus appeared to the disciples and others, over 500 people before he ascended into heaven. So, the scriptures of the church guide us in working out what it means for us to be Easter people, and an Easter Church. To be Easter people is not just to celebrate on one day, but it is to live every day as an expression of our faith in the Risen Christ. If Jesus is alive, then our lives show it.

It's always interested me that the church gives us in the lectionary John 20: 19ff for the first Sunday after Easter. It's that great story in John in which the disciples are meeting together on the evening of Easter. The women have told the disciples that Jesus is alive, but they aren't sure. Thomas voices what they all must have been feeling. He says: "I will not believe unless I see for myself, unless I put my hands in his wounds."

Few of us get the results that Thomas gof. The next week, the disciples are together again and Jesus comes, through locked doors. Jesus most always comes through locked doors. He offers himself to the group, but especially Thomas. Thomas is overwhelmedby the presence of the Risen Christ, so much so that we don't know if he actually touched Jesus' wounds or not.

He falls down and says: "It's really you; my Lord and my God." Jesus then breathes on them and says: "Receive the Holy Spirit." Recelve the Spirit as my constant presence with you form now on.

She came to me after a worship service one day and said: "Do you ever have doubts?" I answered: "Yes." And, it started a conversation about the meaning of doubt and faith. How they can be partners and not enemies...

I mean: if you doubt, you're thinking and working it through and taking it seriously enough to struggle with it. It's too important to gloss over or ignore. It's life. We see; we believe. We trust sometimes when we don't or can't see. We move forward in faith even when we aren't sure.

I'm glad that Thomas is there for us. We all doubt, even after the big day. But, as we doubt, the Risen Christ comes to us too and breathes the Spirit for us.

Ask yourself: As Easter people, what does that look like as we live our lives?

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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