Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Children were allowed to stay in the sanctuary as we sang through almost all the carols at least one verse. The Organist let go after waiting through Advent to open up that grand organ. It was magnificent.
A Dad and his daughter did their usual Christmas Eve duet- Do You Hear What I Hear? A soloist, a voice teacher in her own right, professor, stood at the piano and gave us "O Holy Night". Unbelievably beautiful.
I waited my turn to preach as my two associates read scripture and led worship. Then, I got up to read Luke 2. I don't know why, but I was moved. I'm always moved by Luke 2 and its beauty, but this time I nearly broke down. I had to work hard not to lose it. Emotion is fine, but I had to preach even if it was a short sermon.
I told about a boy who was playing a "magi" in the church play. The church was packed. The choir sang and narrators read. Then, the moment came for the boy's one line. For the life of him, he couldn't remember that line. After a moment, the boy next to him showed him the line. He tried to say the line but he couldn't get it out.
If he said it now, everyone would know he had messed up. So, standing there for what seemed like thirty minutes (really only one minute probably), he let the moment pass. The choir started up; he lived through it.
I said: "Slip in among those other boys and girls at the nativity. Forget all your lines; forget what you planned to say. Say nothing. Before such beauty, such wonder, there really is nothing more to say."
In the next moment, the sanctuary lights went out and the candles came up. And, we sang: "Silent Night; Holy Night". Then, we belted out: "Joy to the World", and went out into the night. It was cold and rainy. I looked to see if my "homeless" buddy was there; he was there last year. As I came out the door, he was there last year. But not this time. I walked to my car grateful to be just a small part of such a tremendous story, the story.
Monday, December 1, 2008
It is also the Gospel that comes closest to being written after King Nero's idiocy. Remember that Nero fiddled while Rome burned.
So, we know that Mark was written to the church during a time of intense presecution for its faith. In Mark, we have this mixture of end-time symbols and images, alongside the stuff that was happening to the church in its present life.
Mark 13 is called the "Little Apocalypse". Apocolyptic Literature is literature like that of the Book of Revelation. It uses symbols and dreams and visions to convey the drama of God's great war with evil. And, it is always meant to be a word of encouragement for the people to whom it is written.
It is saying: "You must endure tribulations, suffering, but it will not last forever; the time of crisis will pass and in God's good time, God will overcome. Good will overcome evil. And, when it's all said and done, the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever. Amen."
We, unlike the early Christians, are not being persecuted for our faith, at least not directly, although we do live in a time when our culture not only questions the things of faith but seems to reward cynicism. We are most always living in a time of crisis, economic, or otherwise.
Hear this as a word of encouragement. Jesus says: "Endure. Wait. Watch. For you do not know the time when all these things will occur. Wake up, for you do not want to miss it when it happens. All these things which are happening are just the beginning of the birth pains."
Something is being born. Get ready, not just for Christmas, but get ready to meet God.
See you in Church
Monday, November 17, 2008
We preachers try to hold our churches back from getting to Christmas too soon without adequate preparation. The church has always taught that we have to have some time of preparation, prayer, and repentance to celebrate properly. You don't just jump to the celebration. You think, reflect, pray, worship and repent your way to Christmas.
It's like trying to hold wild stallions back. The culture starts Christmas stuff at Halloween. I know the anxiety of merchants who depend on Christmas being the biggest sales time of the year. We hear about it every year. And, the anxiety is especially there this year- what with the economy in change and slowdown.
I shouldn't be so cranky, I guess.
So, as you go to your parties, starting up soon, and church, and plays and choir presentations, enjoy, of course, but remember that it's all about a baby in a manger and a holy family, and the Son of God.
Is it too much to ask you to reflect and pray and repent your way to that?
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
The big news this year, of course, is the economy. Our current budget is way behind in terms of budget goals, though we always have a big December. Everything was good financially until July. And, September was awful in terms of giving.
So, as we sit down to write a new budget for next year, we do so with faith and a little fear and trembling. The economic news is not good, at least if you watch any of the news channels. Plus, a Presidential Election time adds uncertainty to things, no matter how it turns out.
We are trimming somethings in the budget to keep things where they are budget-wise for 2009. And, we are counting on pledges for 2009 to help us determine where we are. Next Sunday, October 26 is Pledge Sunday. It is one of the most impressive Sundays of the year when nearly everybody brings a card to the altar and spends some time praying. En Masse, we come together, never alone, to make our commitment to the church, Christ's body on earth. It's beautiful.
I'm sure that this year will not be any different. Christians all over the world will join in making this commitment for another year. Many other Christians are in worse shape than we and will still give all they have.
I know that some of our own people are suffering; some, with job layoffs and a slowed economy.
It's never easy. Church life is messy. We all say: if everybody tithed. I say: if everybody gave 5% of their incomes we'd be way ahead. Or, some say, if I could win that lottery I'd fix things.
Well, whether we make the budget or not, whether we pledge next year's budget or not, God is working mightily among us. Our prayers are rising to God; and God's spirit is coming to us, leading, guiding, renewing, changing us.
See you in church!
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Today the newspaper had a picture of the whole thing. One member commented that the Baptists had maimed the deer and it came over to the Methodist Church to seek refuge and, well...
Another emailed me that he would miss Wednesday night's meal but understood the menu had been changed to venison. Everybody's a commedian.
Just a few years ago, before I arrived, a deer broke through a window and ran down the main hall where it entered a Sunday School Class. The Youth Minister then commented to the Senior Pastor that he should preach a sermon to the deer and put him to sleep.
Today, all is well at Bethel Church. Everyone is a little shaken at the prospect of gunfire near us, but we'll survive.
This all reminded me of an something that I did when I was pastor at Clemson UMC. One Sunday I was preaching away about God's elusiveness. And, I told a story about hunting with these church members. They deposited me on a dirt road with my shotgun. They said: "Keep an eye out for the deer. We'll run any that we see this way."
A bit later, they all came running up in their trucks asking: "Did you shoot the deer." I said: "What deer?" I never saw a deer. They said: "It came this way."
I realize the obvious problem of talking about shooting a deer and shooting God. On the way out of church someone told me that in Sunday School that morning they talked about the National Park System and protecting wild life. Some days you can't win.
It is usually safe around here as we celebrate the gift of all creatures of our God and King.
Blessings on you!
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
I know. At first, it sounded hokey to me, too. They have a Christian chaplain who works with 180 employees to support them with prayer and spiritual counsel. There are people of all major faiths working there but they still operate on Christ-centered principles like: integrity, honesty, love.
Just recently they told us that someone, an employee, committed suicide. So, they all gathered for a worship service. No one was compelled; everyone was invited. They said they don't beat anybody over the head with the Bible, but they do try to live out their faith in word and deed.
One of the witnesses said: "You don't find this in churches all the time..." It seemed strange to admit that but I have to say that she's right. The President of the company said that they strive for it but don't always meet it.
In churches where I have served over the years, the core values of some were power and control, not prayer and love and kindness.
At Bethel, I find a very loving community of people. Let us resolve to be as Christlike in our church toward each other as we can be. We won't get there completely, but we strive for it.
Monday, August 25, 2008
1. Five biblical texts form the basic framework for Spiritual Gifts.
a. I Corinthians 12-14
Wisdom: Equips a person to have insight into how certain knowledge should be applied to specific needs.
I Cor. 12:8
I Cor. 2: 1-13
Acts 6: 3, 10
James 1: 5-6
2 Peter 3:15,16
Knowledge: Equips a person to discover, analyze, clarify, and articulate information and concepts essential to the work of the Body of Christ.
2 Cor. 11:6
I Cor. 12: 8
I Cor. 2:14
Faith: Equips a person to have so much confidence in God that they never see an impasse --only detours which they can go around in pursuit of God's work.
1 Cor. 12:9
Prophecy: Equips an individual to proclaim truth in a way people can understand for the purpose of correction, repentance, or nurture. This is not so much fore-telling the future as it is being able to draw implications from the Bible to life's situations.
I Cor. 12:10,28
Teaching: Equips a person to understand and communicate information so that others within the Body learn and grow.
I Cor. 12:28
Helps/Service: Equips a person to accomplish practical and necessary tasks which support and build up the Body. These people usually work alone and behind the scene. Often, this gift has nothing to do with people.
I Cor. 12:28
Administration: Equips a person to bring order to all or part of an organization and to formulate and enact procedures that enhance the function of the organization and support the mission and vision of the Body.
I Cor. 12:28
b. Romans 12
Leadership (governments): Equips a person to articulate, cast, and share a vision in such a way that the individual members of the Body discover ways in which they can make the vision a reality
I Cor. 12:8
I Timothy 5:17
Exhortation (encouragement): Equips a person to reassure, strengthen, affirm, and offer comfort to those who may be faltering in their faith or who are going through hard times. This is seldom seen as a gift by the person using it.
I Timothy 4:13
Mercy: Equips a person to respond lovingly and compassionately to both the churched and unchurched who are suffering.
I Cor. 12:8
Giving: Equips a person to contribute cheerfully and liberally of his/her material resources so the work of God may spread. (This may be the only gift this person has, and it may not be realized as a gift.)
I Cor. 12:8
II Cor. 8:1-7
II Cor. 9:2-8
c. Ephesians 4
Evangelism: Equips the person to effectively communicate the story of Jesus Christ so that the unchurched will respond and move toward discipleship. (This person enjoys sharing his/her faith.)
II Timothy 4:5
Shepherding: Equips a person to guide, care for, and nurture individuals or groups in the Body so they can grow in their faith. This person may or may not be an ordained minister; however, this gift assumes a longtime, personal commitment to the spiritual welfare of others.
I Peter 4:11
I Timothy 3:1-7
I Peter 5:1-3
d. I Peter 4
Hospitality: Equips a person to enjoy opening his/her home to guests and to provide food, fellowship, or shelter.
I Peter 4:9
Romans 12:13; 16:23
e. Others Texts on Spiritual Gifts
Intercession: Equips a person to pray for an extended period of time on a regular basis for individuals, both the churched and the unchurched, and for specific ministries of the Body.
I Timothy 2:1-2
Counseling: Equips a person to effectively listen to people and assist them in their psychological and relational Proverbs journeys toward wholeness.
Discernment: Equips a person to be able to see through phony individuals and ideas. (People with this gift must take care not to be overly judgmental.)
I John 4:16-18
I Cor. 12:10
Apostleship: Equips a person to be a church planter, Multiple site pastor and entrepreneurial leader. These people enjoy beginning projects more than f
Monday, August 18, 2008
1 Corinthians 12
1. There is a HOLY SPIRIT!
a. Acts 19- Ephesians did not know there was a Holy Spirit- Do we?
b. God is TRINITY- When Jesus was crucified and raised, he ascended and there was this sending forth of the Holy Spirit which made the disciples into the church- the Holy Spirit is God making a difference in our lives and in other’s lives
2. The CHURCH is the BODY OF CHRIST!
a. DIVERSITY- God must love diversity; he sure made a lot of it- We are different
b. ONE BODY- but we are one in the Spirit
3. EVERYONE is a MINISTER!
a. GIFTS- Spiritual Gifts are listed in the Bible I Corinthians 12; Romans 12
b. MINISTRY- each Christian has gifts and a ministry
4. The PURPOSE of EACH GIFT is:
a. To Build up the Body of Christ
b. To give glory to God
c. LOVE- This is the most important gift
5. What can I do?
a. Spiritual Gifts Inventory – made available to the congregation- please take it
b. Pray about God’s Will
c. Share it with someone- Share you gift with Sunday School Class or someone
d. Learn, grow, move out- Do the ministry that God is calling you to do with the gifts God has given and is giving you.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Another website where you can take the inventory online is: http://www.churchgrowth.org/cgi-cg/gifts.cgi?intro=1.
These are two good sites. There are others equally as good. Just put in Spiritual Gifts Inventory in your search engine and a myriad of different sites will come up.
Notice that I'm not calling this a test. It is not a test. You can't fail it. This is an inventory, an assessment of how you see yourself as gifted by God's Spirit.
If you do choose to go online, then share the results with someone. If you're in Sunday School, your class will be given some inventories and you will be asked to share with the class. The purpose of asking you to do this as said before is:
1. To give you an idea of your own gifts
2. To reveal to the Natural Church Development Team those who are gifted in evangelism
3. So that we might be better Christians at using our gifts for God's glory
Again, this is not an attempt to say that we are not already using our gifts. It is a call to expand the number of persons who know their gifts for ministry.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Next Sunday, August 17, I will preach at Spirit Song and at 10:55 on the Spiritual Gifts. Four passages in the New Testament talk about Spiritual Gifts: Romans 12: 3-8;1Corinthians 12: 1-11, 27-31; Ephesians 4:11-12; and, 1 Peter 4: 9-11.
Every Christian is a minister and is given at least one gift to be used in ministry. The following Spiritual Gifts are listed in the New Testament:
The above list of Spiritual Gifts is a compilation of those listed in the New Testament. There are other gifts, I think, that the Holy Spirit has given to the church. No gift is any more important than the others. The Spirit has given to the Body of Christ, the church, the gifts that are needed to do the work of Christ in the world.
Now, over the next few weeks we (the Natural Church Development Team) will be making available a Spiritual Gifts Inventory that we would like for everyone to take to determine their gifts. Some of you may have already taken such an inventory, but we encourage you to join us in this effort.
Two inventories will be available through your Sunday School Classes. There will be a Short Form and a Long Form, so to speak. The short form will give you feedback about your gifts in a simple way. The Long form is a more extensive, in-depth, look at your gifts.
Once you have taken the inventory and discovered your gift/gifts, we invite you pray about where God will use your gifts. Many of you are already using your gifts for God’s glory in and through Bethel Church.
Our structure in the church may provide a place for you to serve on a committee or mission team, at the Bethlehem Center or soup kitchen. However, God may also be calling you to use your gift/gifts in the creation of some new ministry for which you don’t need our permission.
We will ask you over the next month to give us some indication if you would like to serve on some church planning or mission team, finance, trustees, etc. But, we hope that you will feel free to dream about what God is calling you to do.
As we begin to think, pray and study about our Spiritual Gifts, we don’t mean to imply that ministry is not now going on.
We do want to encourage all of us to see ourselves as God’s
ministers with a ministry to do. We hope that you will use this as a time to reflect in some depth about your own calling.
We aren’t doing this because we need bodies to fill positions in the church. We are doing quite well with that already. Our goal is help each person identify their gifts so that the Body of Christ might be enhanced.
We hope that you will share your ministry gifts with others in your Sunday School Class. Share how you feel about your discoveries.
If some of you find that your gift is Evangelism, then let us know. We will be forming a new Evangelism Team this year.
If you need any further guidance, the church ministry staff and the Natural Church Development Team are ready to assist you. This article will appear on my blog (http://denichols.blogspot.com), along with other material about Spiritual Gifts, plus some online Spiritual Gifts Inventories that you may use instead of the ones we will give you.
If you’re not in a Sunday School Class, we will make some inventories available in worship.
We invite your prayers and your support in this effort at moving our church forward.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Just recently our choir and the choirs of other United Methodist Churches performed in a tribute to Charles Wesley’s 300th birthday. It was a glorious evening at Twitchell Auditorium at Converse College. With orchestra, and narration, we were led in a beautiful trip through some of Charles Wesley’s greatest hymns. Many of you know that John Wesley, Charles’ brother, was the founder of the Methodist Church. Some say that John was the preacher and Charles the musician/hymn writer.
Music is the great gift of God. Whether it’s the gift of the birds singing early in the day or the gift of a church choir, like ours, praising God, music calls forth our deepest selves. Psalm 150 invites all creation, all who breathe, to praise God with cymbal, and strings. Charles Wesley writes: “O for a Thousand Tongues to sing, my great redeemer’s praise; the glories of my God and King; the triumphs of his grace.” I wish I had a thousand tongues, said Wesley, to give the praise that God deserves.
Several years ago, when Betsy (our oldest daughter) was in elementary school, she sang in the chorus. And, of course, mom and dad were there. I was amazed that the choir sand “religious” music. With the separation of church state and all, I didn’t think it would be permitted. But, as I thought about it later, as our Frances and Martha, sang in choruses, the best music is religious music.
Nothing is more beautiful than hearing voices crying out to God, for God, and because of God. Tom Long tells the story about visiting one of the great Episcopal Churches in New England, where the great Phillips Brooks preached. Long entered the sanctuary. It was quiet. Then, all of sudden, someone sang, “Come Thou Almighty King, help us thy name to sing…” It got quiet again. Then, the voice sang, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty…” After several verses, Long decided that this great church was so filled with praise for God that voices were there all the time singing and praising God.
Looking around, Long found the sexton on his back under the pews cleaning and polishing and singing his way around the sanctuary. Long says that it was almost as if the sexton, aware of the holiness of his task, could not help but break into hymns.
The organ is still going in the sanctuary. We are blessed with a great instrument, a great pipe organ. A pipe organ brings out all the sounds of a whole orchestra almost. It is a pleasure to hear the singing along with the pipe organ. Dale has been playing in the absence of our latest organist. We regretted losing Gregg Duncan. But, with Dale at the console, and Mark leading the choir, we have been able to go on celebrating “the Church’s one Foundation”.
Pray for the Organist Search Committee as we come now to the end of our work. Pray that God will give us insight as we take care of this important ministry of our church.
See you in church!
Monday, June 16, 2008
Two weeks ago I preached about Genesis 1: 26-31 and asked the question: "Who are you?" Yesterday I preached from Genesis 3 about sin, always a popular topic. I asked the question that God asked: "What have you done?" I talked about God's placing Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with everything necessary to make life full and meaningful. God often took walks in the cool of the day with Adam and Eve.
God said: "Eat whatever you like, except for the one tree here." A wonderful Jewish theologian says that this story reminds him of what it's like having a GPS system in your car. I was riding with a friend of mine the other day on the way to a golf course. Yesterday one of my members wanted to know which golf course I didn't know the directions too. (so funny)
I friend put in "recreation" and the golf course came up. We drove down the road a bit and a woman's voice said: "Turn left." Then, "Turn right"- "Take this exit."
My Jewish theologian says that no self-respecting Jew would do what a voice in a car told him/her to do. If told to go left, he would most likely go right.
That's good Jewish theology, and good Christian theology. God says: "Do not eat." And, we eat. The serpent tempts. Eve eats and turns to Adam and says: "Here, eat this dummy." He eats. And, they're exposed, naked, afraid, and they try to hide.
God says:"What have you done?"
I didn't get to use one of my favorite stories yesterday in the second service. Time ran short. Carlyle Marney preached on sin and walked to the narthex to greet people on their way out. One lovely young woman asked: "Where is the Garden of Eden?" Marney said, without hesitation, "215 Elm Street, Knoxville, Tennessee." The young woman said: "You're lying; it's somewhere in Asia."
Marney said: "You can't prove it by me. When I was a boy on Elm Street I remember the day when I stole a quarter from my mother's purse and bought candy with it. I ate the candy, but I felt so ashamed that I hid in the closet."
Marney said: "My mother came looking for me. She said: 'where are you? what have you done? why are you hiding?'"
Sin means, as I said yesterday, living my life as if God were not its author. The passage ends with God making clothes for Adam and Eve, a sign of God's graciousness and forgiveness and protection. The consequence is still there; "Leave the garden." But, so is forgiveness.
See you in church.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
He goes out under the night time sky and says: "When I look at the heavens, the moon and the stars, which you have made, and all creation I ask: 'what are human beings that you are mindful of them, their children that you care for them?'" He goes on: "You have made them "a little less than God, and crowned them with glory and honor." The King James Bible translates this verse to say: "You have made them a little lower than the angels..."
I guess the translators of the King James couldn't bring themselves to say that God had created human beings "a little less than God..."
That is an interesting phrase, don't you think? "A little less than God." The accompanying lesson from the Old Testament for Sunday is the creation story.
I plan to work on what it means to be "a little less than God..." It's a mixed bag for me. These young people have, on the whole, grown up in a world of violence, and hatred and greed. And, they have been affirmed to death. And, because we were afraid they wouldn't be affirmed enough, we affirmed them some more.
So, what does it mean: "a little less than God..."?
Thursday, April 10, 2008
However, I didn't read the pamphlets that she had on each table. If I had read them ahead of time, I would have tossed them. I'm told by others that they were inflammatory, and anti-Semitic. I'll check out any handouts next time before any program.
Wednesday nights around here are a meal for about 200 people, then worship and prayer. Next, small groups, choirs, etc. Last night, it became a poilitical rally. I know I can't control everything. I really don't want to control everything. I'm smart enough to know that we all don't agree on everything. However, I resent visitors who speak in my church who just assume "everybody" agrees with them.
How do you feel about this kind of thing? Hey, Hilary and George are both United Methodists. So, the only way to hold us together is if Jesus does it, right?
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
We had eaten and pushed our plates aside when we started talking. Often we get into "deep" subjects. We enjoy the exchange. And, we can say what we really think to each other without fear of reprisal.
My friend said: "I want a church that is truly inclusive..." We talked some about what he meant by that and it became clear that he meant the kind of "Howard Hangar" inclusive. Howard Hangar is a kind of off-the-wall (I think he's admit that) pastor of a church in Ashville, N. C. He was recently defrocked by the UMC for marrying gays. You get the picture.
I have always admired my friend's honesty and his openness. He knows I'm not quite there yet. So, we talked further about being inclusive.
Playing the devil's advocate I offered: "There is no such thing as a totally inclusive community." The minute that a group of poeple come together and define themselves they create boundaries. Others who do not fit their definition are not included.
A church made up of liberals is not welcoming to conservatives by definition, if being liberal is the treasured value. The same is true of conservatives.
The challenge of the New Testament was to create a community, a church, founded on Jesus Christ as Lord. Those who meet the requirement of commitment to Jesus Christ are included. Seekers are welcome but membership is reserved for all who believe.
I know what my friend means though. There ought to be a way in Christ's name to treat others as Christ treated them and include them in the fellowship whether we agree with their particular sin or not. That would, I guess, be the Kingdom of God.
But, humanly, and even Christianly, there is no such thing as a totally inclusive community. We shoot in that direction, but we have to settle for getting as close to target as we can.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Certainly churches and Christians do have a right, and maybe an obligation, to speak their mind on issues. I have no problem with that. In fact, maybe we're a little too slow as Christians at speaking our mind on important issues. But, this business of endorsing a candidate from the pulpit, of using the pulpit to support a particular politician is distasteful to me.
Maybe I'm just jealous that no one cares what we Methodists think anymore, if they ever did. Or, maybe I'm a little sqeamish about associating too closely with Politicians (celebrities) in our culture. For me, religion is something that goes beyond mere politics and politicians. Our call to serve Christ who is Lord of heaven and earth is a call to serve the world. No matter who the politician, we don't put our faith in "princes", according to scripture.
I think it was Stan Hauerwas who said that we Christians ought never to forget what the government w/religion did to Jesus.
I will vote because it is part of my responsibility. But to say that one politician is better than the others is not for me to say from the pulpit. I wil pray for all of them. There is more at stake than whether one politician or another get elected.
January 15, 2007
Monday, January 7, 2008
I said I was a little blue. So, at this time of year I do several things to try to get back on track.
1. I try to start praying again regularly. Not that I stopped praying during Christmas. But, with the busy schedule and all my own spiritual life takes second place. That's part of the reason I'm exhausted now. I start to thinking about making the budget and getting the next budget pledged all while I'm working on Christmas joy. So, today I'll try to get back on track with prayer. It reminds me that it's not all up to me. It's not you know.
2. I take a few days off to plan and scheme for the new year. I make a list of my goals for the new year- the things I hope to accomplish. I know I won't get around to all of them but it helps to have a list to work on. I try to at least plan my preaching and scripture texts for the next six months so I know what I direction I'm moving in.
3. I get back in touch with my friends. I do have friends, you know. I have some very close friends that I have taken for granted. I need my friends; they know me. They hear me through. They laugh at me and with me. I will start getting together with me "bros" as I call them regularly again.
That's it. Nothing dramatic. Just ordinary things to get my life back in order. I know that if I don't take care of myself I can't take care of anybody or anything very well. So, pastor/preacher, get your habits back. It's a good time to resolve to do that.
My Church's Website
I hope these pastoral ponderings will generate something in you that is hopeful.
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