Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Time

One of the great hymns of the church- “O God our Help in Ages Past”- has a line in it which says: “Time like an ever-flowing stream bears all who breathe away…”

I guess many of us think about time this time of year as 2009 fades into 2010. Whenever a year passes, we say things like: “time and tide wait for no one,” or “time sure flies when you’re having fun.”

When you’re young time seems endless, the future is spread out in front of you. When I was in first grade, our teacher asked us to think about what we would be doing in the year 2000. I remember thinking: “Will I live that long? Will I be able to do anything if I do?”

Shaun Connery was being interviewed on late night television. He told about filming a movie deep in the hinterlands of Scotland. Every day he said: “I would rise up early and have breakfast. My limousine driver would meet me out front and I would get into a temperature controlled car and ride a few hours to my destination. At the end of the day, I would get back into my car and ride back to my motel.”

He said: “Every day I noticed an old man. On my way out he was walking, and on my way back in he was walking back.”

He said: “I asked my driver to stop one morning and I asked the man if we could give him a ride. I told him that we would pick him up in the morning and take him to where he wanted to go and then on the way back we would pick him up and take him home.”

The man said: “No…” Connery said: “Why not?” The man said: “What would I do with all that time?”

Connery said that he and the man were living in two different worlds. I was living in a fast time, moving as fast as I could get to where I was going. The man was living a step at a time.

The truth is that when we get older time doesn’t go faster really. It’s still 24 hours a day. But, it sure seems to go faster, doesn’t it?

Last Sunday, I used Paul’s letter to Galatia as my text: Chapter 4:4-7. Paul says: “In the fullness of time, God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law…”

In the fullness of time means when the time was right, when the time was ripe, as ripe as a peach on a tree, God sent forth his son. We would say that when Jesus was born it hardly seems like the right time. But, some theologians say that the time was ripe in that Rome had built roads to everywhere in the known world to enhance trade. Even sea routes were regularly travelled to import and export goods.

The time was right for the Gospel to be spread throughout the world.

In a day or two, many will gather in Time Square to await the coming of a new year. Many will not think much of the meaning of time.

Our culture, in fact, teaches us that if time is to have meaning it must come from us. Time is something to be manipulated and planned out. Our faith teaches us that if time is to have any meaning at all, it must come from God. God has plans for us that we do not yet know.

Only God knows the times. Time is a gift to be lived, not frittered away. In our time, God sent forth his son to claim us as his children.

Happy New Year!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Nativity Story

We watched the movie: The Nativity Story. About 70 or so people came. Children, youth, and adults all came. And, when it was over, we all had wet eyes. It is one of the most moving movies on the Christmas story that I have ever seen.

It is beautiful in its simplicity, just like the Christmas story itself. A young mother, a really young mother and an older Joseph are married. Their marriage is arranged, as all marriages are arranged back then. Mary and Joseph both see angels and hear them speaking. Mary is pregnant, “with child” as the King James version says it.

Her would-be husband is astounded at it. Her parents are embarrassed. The community gossips and points. Still Mary maintains she has done nothing wrong.

In the middle of it, an order comes from Caesar that everyone should return to the town of their origin to register for the tax. Joseph and pregnant Mary start out; she is riding a donkey. He is walking, leading the donkey.

There’s a wonderful scene when they get to Bethlehem. Mary is just about to give birth. In desperation, Joseph carries Mary in his arms from door to door asking for a place to stay. An innkeeper tells them that he only has room in the cave, where the animals lodge.

Within minutes, Mary delivers the baby Jesus and Jesus is laid in a manger. Heavenly visitors have proclaimed to the shepherds that Jesus the Savior is born. Astrologers from the east arrive after months of tracking a star.

The whole thing ends with Mary and Joseph running to Egypt to escape the furor of Herod. It’s a simple, wonderful story of love and hate, of violence and peace, of suffering and joy.

One person said that they had forgotten just how hard people back then had to live. But mostly it was the simplicity of a mother expecting a baby and a husband remaining faithful. It was the simplicity of a God who comes into the world, not by going down to capital city, nor to the religious and political leaders, but to Bethlehem to a simple couple.

The God whom we worship and adore is just the kind of god who makes his appearance in the filthiest place in the world, in the place where animals lodge. Every baby is a miracle, but this baby is Savior of the world. This one is the Redeemer in flesh.

In the midst of a world of turmoil and violence and change, in a world of hatred and bitterness, in a world of darkness, like our world, the Messiah is born. Listen as the baby cries in the night. There are so many babies crying on this night. But, this baby cries so that no one ever will have to cry in the night again- without hope.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mighty God

During these Sundays in Advent, we have been using Isaiah 9:6 as our focus. In this passage, it’s the eighth century. The Assyrian Empire lurks at the borders of Israel (the northern kingdom). Israel has entered an uneasy alliance with Syria in the hope of keeping the Assyrians back. But, all Assyria wants is to gobble up every small country on its way to the Mediterranean Sea.

Soon Israel will be overwhelmed by the Assyrians and Judah (the southern kingdom) will be threatened by the approaching empire. But, something happens, an act of God, and Assyria turns away. Judah will go another 150 years or so before being overrun by the Babylonians.

In this darkness, in a world that is changing rapidly, in a world threatened by empires and kingdoms, Isaiah speaks his word. Isaiah 9 foresees the coming of Messiah. A child will be born; a son given to us. His name shall be called: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

The church looked back at that passage and heard Isaiah speaking his word and saw in Jesus the fulfillment of this prophecy. Jesus is: Mighty God. He is Messiah come to save the world.

Last Sunday I talked about “Mighty God” and its meaning. We know about might in this world. We think of power and strength. The word for God here is “el”, a familiar name for God in the Old Testament. We see it in the name of our church- Bethel which means house of God.

Messiah is God mighty in power, wisdom and love. You can see why those who expected Messiah did not see it in Jesus. Jesus is born in a stable, the place where animals lodge. He, who had no place to lay his head, comes to offer himself is love for the world.

This is “mighty God”. This is God’s might clothed in weakness and wonder. Isaiah was probably foretelling the coming of the king Hezekiah. But, the church looked at it and said: “More is going on here than we know.” Jesus of Nazareth born in Bethlehem is the Messiah. He is might clothed in weakness.

Every Christian knows that this is the way God does business. God does not come to live in palaces or great kingdoms. His kingdom, his reign, is present in weakness, and in suffering love.

At a recent graduation, I heard a woman from the Middle East crying out in faith and in celebration: “El,El,El”. She sang it rapidly in that high, squealing, voice which which we are familiar. We hear it on television sometimes when there is a funeral procession in the Middle East. She is crying out: “God, God, God…”

During Advent, we yearn for that Messiah who has come and will come. We yearn for his kingdom of love and light. We yearn for the one who will make true peace. To him and for him all our prayers ascend.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent- and so it begins!

Everyone has commented this year especially that every year there seems to be a concerted effort to extend the Christmas shopping season. I don’t know if there’s anything concerted about it or not. I don’t mean to imply that there is something necessarily sinister about it. It’s just that every year it gets longer. This year it seemed to me that as soon as Halloween arrived we were asked to think of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas as the holiday season.

Now, I understand that merchants and shopkeepers certainly rely on the income from Christmas to support them business the whole year. And, I know many of them and they are not evil people. They are people who are simply trying to make a living.

Sunday, November 29, the season of Advent began with the lighting of the first Advent candle. Advent is the church’s way of saying: “slow down, take it all in, think, pray, reflect.”

Advent marks the beginning of the church’s year when we begin telling the story all over again. The color is purple and is about majesty, royalty, and repentance. The king is coming to visit; get ready. Make preparations. And, keep your eyes open for where he might appear to you.

I imagine that this year will be a little different for most of us. For one, we are given permission to think of this season and how to celebrate it with less concern for gifts and more concern with giving.

This year, some of my church folk, asked if we might do something to help children. We investigated and found that last year in Spartanburg County the Salvation Army had care for 1300 children’s Christmas needs. This year, they have some 3000 to care for.

So, we put out an angel tree with fifty children’s names and they were all picked the first Sunday. We got some more and people are still pulling them.

The problem for all of us is not that there is crass commercialization out there. We don’t have to wait for Christmas for that. There are always those out there who are simply out to get to your money.

The problem is when we don’t say anything more or give anything more or share anything more at Christmas so that the real story of Christmas is not displayed and preached and shared. So, pray, and love, and share, and give as you always do, all to the honor of the one who comes among us as a baby.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Thursday, November 19, 2009

We are So Blessed

Say it with me: "We are so blessed." We are so accustomed to thinking about life in a closed-fist sort of way rather than thinking of life as abundance, an abundant gift from God. And, God has not stopped giving. We are so blessed.

After the wedding of our second daughter which is chronicled earlier on this blog (I think I told you part of this before), everyone left. Everyone left except the caterer and Mary and me. We sent our younger daughter home because she had a "bug". Betsy, the eldest daughter was there but not really into doing much. We loaded up her car and sent her home.

Mary and I finished packing up the food that was leftover. They asked me what to do with it and I said: "Throw it out..." But, Mary, who is more patient than I, sometimes, said: "No, we'll take it with us. I don't think she knew how much was left over. Everybody ate their fill and left and we had all this food.

Now, as a child, I learned to clean my plate because it's a sin to waste food. I still think that but it was about 10 o'clock and we were exhausted.

We packed all the food, every last bit of it. I drove home wondering where we would put it all or what we would do with it. I drove carefully, dodging potholes, not turning too quickly until we go to the house.

There, we unloaded it and Mary finally got to eat something. Then, Mary suggested that we take the leftovers over to Miracle Hill, the homeless shelter. It was nearly midnight.

I told her to call and she did. They said to come on they'd help us unload it. We packed up the car, again, and headed out. We drove around back through the gate and they directed us to the building where about six men came to help us. In just a minute everything was gone.

I yelled out to them as we got in the car, "God bless you!" Several yelled back, "he does every day."

I nearly cried. I asked Mary: "Did you hear that?" Here I was in whatever state I was in, and here a man, with little or nothing, said he was blessed. What right did he have to say he was blessed everyday, unless he had a great faith.

It's Thanksgiving- family, friends, worship. For once, don't focus on what you don't have or what you lack, focus on this: "We are so blessed."

Here we go. Say it with me: "We are so blessed".

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Stewardship Anyone?

The first full-time appointment that I served was a three-point charge (three churches). I’m trying to remember. I think the entire budget for that charge was around $60,000. And, we had among the three churches 300 members. So, every year we had no problem raising the money to meet the maintenance, and ministry needs of the churches. Staff? I was it, of course. No stewardship campaigns or appeals. We didn’t need them.

My second appointment was to one church. (You remember that United Methodist pastors are appointed to their churches by the bishop.) We had 218 members and the budget was around $60,000. Again, I was the staff and we raised all we needed. No stewardship appeals were needed.

Then, I heard God calling me to start a “new” church down in Goose Creek (north of Charleston is all you need to know). Mary and I and Betsy moved to Goose Creek where we had 8 adults and six children waiting on us to get started. You need to know, if you don’t already, that I’m a little crazy and I was very young. After six and a-half-years we had 300 members and 250 active. We met in rented space for over four years and then built our first building to the tune of $400,000. Our small congregation then assumed this and the budget. Or, should I say we tried to assume it. The average age of the congregation was 27.

We moved into the new building in June of 1989. And, some of you will remember that hurricane Hugo hit in September bringing some damage to our new building. For one month, we missed getting much in the way of offerings. Then, in December we had a record snow fall and missed two more Sunday’s offerings. Did I say they were 27 or so? Did I also say that we didn’t have any reserves or history?

With God’s help, and some radical measures we made it. Then, we moved on to Socastee UMC where we have a huge debt on a new sanctuary. I moved in and met with the Treasurer who told me that we had about $18,000 in the bank and had paid no apportionments that year. Apportionments are United Methodist mission and denominational causes. “OK”, I said.

Then, we served Clemson UMC and next I was District Superintendent for six years in Rock Hill. And, in 2006, we were pleased to be appointed to Bethel UMC in Spartanburg. Here our budget is one million plus dollars and there are, counting Day Care and After School, some nearly 30 staff members. We have two huge mission trips- adults and youth. We have great youth and children’s ministries. We have a staff second to none in providing leadership in music and worship, pastoral care, and nurture. There is so much that God is calling us to do. And, every year we are privileged to talk about stewardship as we plan next year’s mission budget.

And, what happens, the economy drops. Every church and organization and business is feeling the pinch. We have had to make adjustments as we pray for our people to get work again and our culture to return to some movement forward.

Sunday at Bethel we will be celebrating the privilege of being Christian givers and followers of Jesus Christ. No sacrifice that we make can compare to God’s sacrifice (giving) for us. As we are faithful, we imitate the faithfulness of God to us. And, we trust in all things that God will provide.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

All Saints' Sunday

Last Sunday Nov. 1 just happened to be All Saints' Day. All Saints' Day is always the day after All Hallow's Eve (Halloween). Some say that Halloween had it's origins in Celtic pagan practice. The Celts believed that at this time of the year, the end of summer, that the spirits, both good and bad were allowed to roam the earth. The good spirits were welcomed; the bad spirits, warded off. They believed that at this time of year the border between this life and the next grew thin.

As with other secular holidays, the church baptized it and made it a Christian holiday called All Saints' Day or All Soul's Day. We, in the United Methodist Church do not worship the saints, but we do admire them. On All Saints' Day, last sunday, we named the honored dead, those who had "died in the Lord..." Scripture assures us that living or dead we still belong to God.

We had twenty honored dead. Looking over the list you might wonder about the sainthood. All of them were human beings living their lives in the service of God in Christ through the church.

Several years ago, a country singer sang about his wife who put up with anything from him. He sang: "She's a saint, even thought I know I ain't".

To be a Saint in Biblical understanding is to be someone who reflects the glory of God in all of life. A little boy noticed the stained-glass windows in church and that there were people, images, in them. These are some of the Saints, he was told. The boy said: "I can see the sunlight through them..."

That's it. It's not that any of us are perfect, far from it. On any given day, our thoughts and actions...well, you know, don't you.

But, as we seek to live out God's gracious claim on our lives through Christ, we pray that someone might see the light of God through us. Do they? Wherever you are, say a prayer that God will reveal himself not only to you, but to all you meet.

See you in Church!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Trip to the Dermatologist and Maturity

I went for the first time ever to the Dermatologist this morning. My children are regulars there with skin issues going way back to acne, etc. Something came up on my face about six years ago. It didn't hurt and I was fine with it. It's my face, after all. But, Mary, my wife, has not been ok with it from the beginning. So, it took her around six years to wear me down. I cave much quicker on other stuff.

So, I went in this morning and took off my shirt and sat down. The doctor, a wonderful guy, came in and introduced himself. He asked why I was there. I told him my wife made me come in. He said: "Gee, I've never heard that before." He's awfully funny.

I showed him the place on my face and he found another 10 or so places just like it. He looked and said (using very scientific terms) that it was harmless "warty" stuff that comes with maturity. I said: "Oh good. I'm so glad it has nothing to do with aging." He offered to take the thing off my face, but said it was ok with him. So, I allowed as how if it was ok with him, it was great with me.

There is a cyst on my back that he can remove if need be but it was ok too. So, I posted my results on facebook and I've gotten all kinds of interesting remarks. One guy says his wife tried to get his "wart" off with nail polish remover. One of my "friends" said that for insurance purposes these things are called senior acne.

There are some good things about maturity. Of course, the maturity I'm talking about has nothing to do with age. It can have something to do with aging but it doesn't have to. I've seen younger people with a lot of maturity. And, I've seen older people with the maturity of a teenager.

Jesus says: "Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect." Perfect means something like maturity- maturity in love. If we are fortunate, we live to grow older. And, I hope with God's help, and the Holy Spirit's guidance, that we are growing into maturity as well.

And, remember God loves us "warts" and all. Thank God.
Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Veteran's Luncheon


Yesterday, at Bethel, thanks to Maureen King and the Senior Adult Council we had our annual Veteran's Luncheon at Bethel. It was well-attended; it always is. The speakcer was Brig. Gen. Ed Hall who has taught at Wofford College and has been a leader in the ocmmunity for many years. He talked about what it means to be a soldier. It was moving as he talked about the soldier and the families who were part of their service. Dorothy Voss led in music from the "war" era. And, we sang, ending it all with God Bless America.

It still amazes me how many are still around who served in World War II. What a wonderful group: the greatest generation. There were people who had served in WW II, Korea, and Vietnam. I have always admired those who gave/give themselves in military service to our country.

I graduated from high school in 1970 and the Vietnam War was winding down. You remember that it ended officially in 1973. As I remember, our country went to a lottery system. Each person with a Draft Card was assigned a number based on their birthday. Those with lower numbers would be called first. I remember that my number was 50. I thought I would be called, but was not. Some of my friends went, of course. Some of them died. One good friend died in a Jeep accident.

I would have gone. My family was one that believed in duty and service. I was on my way to seminary, in my first years of college. But, my number didn't come up. Since then, we've gone to an all-volunteer service method.

My churches served military people when I was in Charleston. There at least 30% of my people were active military, mostly Navy. Some were in the Air Force.

In Myrtle Beach, many were in the Air Force until the base was closed. Many others were retired military, there for the services at the base and for the beach.

Everyone prays for an end to war; the soldier prays it most. We give thanks for all those who have been willing to give themselves in service to their country.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

After the Wedding

We gathered on Friday last week to rehearse for the wedding that I talked about last week. Our middle daughter was getting married. Most of the future in-laws had arrived and we spoke briefly before the rehearsal. Some of them were not there because of a flight cancellation. You remember that they are from Texas, most of them.

Rehearsal was uneventful. By that, I mean all went well. The pastor (Chris' former youth pastor) was there as were all the bridesmaids, groomsmen, etc. I was surprised at how emotional I felt at the rehearsal. I guess this was the first time it came home to me that this was really going to happen. My way of dealing with things like this is to put them off emotionally. I believe and practice: Don't cross the bridge until you get to it. Well we were at the bridge and I felt it. It was a beautiful sunny day at the rehearsal. All went well.

We got home and collapsed. Next day, the day of the wedding, we got up and got started. The women had a brunch to attend at 11am. The men met with me at the parsonage for barbecue. My next "son-in-law" cooked the barbecue. It was great. We ate and watched football and had fun.

The women came home and we had a few hours. So, we relaxed until we left for the wedding. There were clouds; so, we, left the tent up for this outdoor wedding. But, there was not a drop of rain. It was a wonderful, joyful, service celebrating God's presence in it all.

Bluegrass music from the Saggy Bottom Boys and Brandy made the service more special. Then, in a blink of the eye, it was over and we went to the party. We greeted family and friends. We ate a bit; shared cake. Then, we danced.

Frances came to me and said: "Tell the DJ to play one more song and then we'll go." I told him. The song flew by and I looked up to see Frances and Chris running out the door and everyone behind them. I caught up just as they were pulling away.

Then, we spent about an hour cleaning up- flowers, food, and other things. Late that night, Mary and I (at her urging) took the leftover food to the Homeless shelter. They were so appreciative. I was humbled.

Then, back home, we stayed up later and then went to bed. Sunday was good, yet sad, as we adjusted to the idea. We picked up a car at the airport and brought it back to our house. Martha, our third daughter, was at home because of Fall Break at school.

That night we watched "Father of the Bride" (1950). Though the movie is old, it reminded us that not much has changed over time.

It's Wednesday and I'm beginning to recover. Jesus does show up at weddings, by the way.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

When a Daughter Gets Married

Mary suggested this week that we pull out the old version of the movie “Father of the Bride…” I nixed the idea. I remember the movie all too well and the trials of the father. I have seen the newer version with Steve Martin. The older version is better but the newer one is good.

We’re heading down the home stretch at the Nichols house as we get ready for Frances to be married to Chris next weekend, October 10th. At this point, as far as I can tell, everything is ready to go- as ready as everything can be for a wedding. You all have been so gracious and understanding of the situation. You all have been generous as you always are. We’re grateful to you. Keep us in your prayers.

Weddings are special times for families. There are so many feelings focused on that one event in a family’s life. There is so much to say and do. Parents are seeing their little boy or girl step up to another level in life. Parents are happy for their children, yes, immensely happy, and yet they are sad. Time and tide wait for no one, the saying goes. Time moves on. You wouldn’t have it any other way. To keep them from this moment would be an injustice.

Brides and Grooms are experiencing the joy of wanting to get on with it- to continue the separation from their parents- to make their own lives together. Surrounded by family and friends, in front of God and everybody they stand at an altar and promise to…well, you know.

It’s different being on this side of things. As a pastor, I have stood on the altar side with countless couples who were making their promises. I have had run-ins with photographers and now, videographers. It’s not a circus, you know, or it’s not supposed to be. One groom told me he wasn’t saying: “Till death do us part…” We were on the way out for the service. I said: “You’ll say it or we stop the ceremony right there.” He said it and as far as I know they’re still married happily.

I’ve been round and round with families about the music that’s allowed in a Christian wedding. A wedding is, like any worship service, a service that gives praise to God. It’s a worship service. So, all the romantic music in the world is not enough to give praise to God. I’ve been a part of weddings small and large and celebrated the beginning of life for so many.

But, it’s different from this side as daddy. It’s good; it’s just different. I’m practicing my one line: “Her mother and I do…” I think I’ve got it.

One last thing to remember: Jesus shows up at weddings. Remember John 2, Jesus shows up at a wedding at Cana of Galilee. Something goes wrong. It most always does. There are so many details. They are out of wine. Jesus has the servants draw water from the well. It’s not water; it’s wine. The host is complimented that he has saved the best until last.

John wants us to see that God has saved the best until last: Jesus. So, on Saturday, as we worship God and Frances moves on, I’ll look around the room at smiling faces and for the one who brings joy to all the important moments of our lives

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Healing

Last Sunday, Sept. 27, the lectionary included that passage from James which asks: "Is anyone sick?" An Anglican priest was serving communion from house to house in his parish when he got a call from his bishop. The bishop said: "You can't do that; house communion is reserved for the sick." The priest responded: "That's just fine, bishop, in my parish, we're all sick."

James tells us to call for the Elders of the church to pray and anoint the sick. So, I felt led last week to have a Healing Service in church. I have done Healing Services before in smaller settings. In one church I served, the practice was to have a Healing Service immediately after Communion. We'd go from Communion in the sanctuary to a Healing Service in the chapel. It was a group of ten or twelve. We prayed and anointed with oil.

Never had I don't anything like this in a larger setting. So, I felt led to do it on Sunday. I got the olive oil and I invited all who wanted to come forward to be anointed to do do.

I gave the invitation, not telling peoople not to go to the doctor. No, we live in a wonderful age when all kinds of treatment and help are available for our health. I said that God in Christ offers us a deeper healing- which is the meaning of salvation or wholeness.

AA reminds us that we are all at times hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. I asked: "Are you hungry, angry, lonely, or tired?"

I expected some to come, but I was astounded when just about everybody came. I anointed them and said: "Be healed in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." The altar was full of people. It was moving. Lots of tears were shed and lots of love was experienced- God's love.

We are living in a difficult time when many of us are feeling the hurt and pain of the economy, the brokenness in the world, and our own loneliness.

My prayer is that God's healing was experienced in new ways at Bethel Church.
Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Love...in Action

Last Sunday, Sept. 20th, I preached the last in a series of sermons on our Core Values at Bethel. I said at the beginning of the series that I was preaching out of my nearly four years of experience of Bethel and also out of my own life-long experience of the United Methodist Church, not to mention nearly 35 years of ministry.

The last in the series was "Love...in action". I took as my text the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. I said that we are on a mission from God, individually and corporately. John Wesley called this factor of faith: an act of mercy. The acts of piety are worship, prayer, Bible Study, fasting, etc. The acts of mercy are loving our neighbors.

In response to a young lawyer (expert on religious law), more like a religion professor, Jesus asks: "How do you read the law? How do you think one inherits eternal life?" The lawyer says: "Love God and love your neighbor." Jesus says: "Do this and you will live."

The text says that the lawyer, seeking to justify himself, asks: "OK, who is my neighbor." Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. A man is going from Jerusalem to Jericho and is attached by robbers who beat, stripped him, and left him for dead.

Two religious persons, a Priest and a Levite see the man and walk by on the other side. The Samaritan sees the man, and puts him on his animal. He takes the man to an inn where he leaves his credit care to take care of the man until he returns.

Jesus asks: "Of the three, who was neighbor to the man who fell among theives?" The lawyer answers: "The one who showed mercy."

Love in action means that we see the suffering. We don't ignore it or pull down the shades. We see the suffering and the sufferer like the Samaritan.

Then, like the Samaritan, we move toward the suffering. The others got as far away from the suffering as they could get. We move toward suffering.

Finally, we do what we can to show mercy, to relieve suffering. We can't do everything, but we can do something. We offer a cold cup of water, or we work to change a law, or...

We are under a moral obligation to love...

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Monday, September 14, 2009

When You're Depressed

The Bible never talks about depression, though the Psalmist asks his soul: "Why are you disquieted within me?" Scripture sees everything from the standpoint of faith. I am down because I am away from God. I have let other things come between me and my faith, other priorities take first place.

And, yet, we do get down. Depression is basically anger turned in on oneself. Feelings are just feelings and we all have them. And, if we don't deal with them, they don't go away. Feelings will hang around within and they can hurt us. Sometimes they have the power to destroy us.

Living the way we do we don't take time to take care of ourselves enough. We ignore our feelings or push them down.

We are living through a time right now when people are collectively depressed. It sort of reminds me of the time when Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston. We were living in Goose Creek, SC, just north of Charleston. We had just built our new building for the new church which we started in 1984. And, Hugo hit leaving devestation in its wake. We were fortunate. All the pine trees were down in our yard, and the roof of our house had to be replaced. Others lost much more.

The Sunday after Hugo hit we gathered for worship in our church. No electricity or water, we huddled together and held each other. It was a difficult time as we all tried to put our lives back together. That year we lost about a month of offerings. You think we've got it bad now?

Never before had I seen people so depressed, not just one of us, but en masse, so to speak. And, like then, our collective depression will pass, but while we're going through it what should we do.

We should keep our faith and trust God to get us through this. God really will get us through this. We will survive. During such a time as this, we need to keep working and moving forward. It is a time to pare down, to ask what is most important in life. It is a time to pray and worship. Maybe it's a time to think about someone else's needs.

So, if you find yourself down, you really are not the only one. All of us are fighting off this feeling that we have been robbed.

The Psalmist also says: "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want...Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life..." Goodness and mercy are right behind you.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Friday, September 11, 2009

9- 11

Where were you when 9-11 happened? You know, when the planes flew into the towers and the Pengagon, where were you? We ask that question as readily as my generation is asked "where were you when John Kennedy was shot?"

When John Kennedy was shot I was in the sixth grade. It was the last class of the day, sixth period study hall. Mrs. Mabry, my science and math teacher came into our room and announced that the President had been shot. Mrs. Mabry was crying. Wow. She was the meanest teacher I ever had and she was crying. I knew something serious was going on.

School was dismissed early that day and we all went home not knowing whether our country would hold together or not. Was this just one thing among many that would happen? Was there an underlying conspiracy to overthrow our country? We watched as that huge Lyndon Johnson was sworn into office. We watched the funeral and John-John salute his daddy's casket. It was a moving and difficult time. We were mired in Vietnam and the civil rights movement was in full swing. When you're eleven or so, the world seems so big.

In 2001, Sept. 11, I was putting on my shoes in front of the TV when the first plane hit and it was reported. I drove to the office where we learned about the other planes and all that was going on. We sat for hours in front of the television trying to take it all in. We were in a collective depression.

At a worship service at the National Cathedral, world leaders gathered to worship and pray. These big people seemed all of a sudden so small. All kinds of questions circulated as we tried to figure out why this could happen. Did others hate us that much? What did we do? Most of the people killed were just at work.

Some say that this was an event that changed the world. One of my teachers says that this event didn't change the world; it was just more of the same. An endless cycle of violence and revenge. My teacher says that Easter was the day that changed the world- but nobody believes in Easter.

Maybe that's overstating it a bit. And yet, as Christians we always have to ask: "What is God saying to us in all of this?" Not that God caused it or wanted it to happen. But, what is going on here.

It's difficult for us to ask questions like that. It sounds like we're saying at some level that we deserved it. NO, no one deserves this- no matter what.

No, it's just acknowledging that it's God that we worship. And, our great towers of pride have come down. Shouldn't that remind us who is truly God and what is of true value in this world?

God bless the USA!
Dave Nichols

Friday, September 4, 2009

Don't Waste Good Crisis

The speaker for our Spartanburg Kiwanis meeting on Thurdsday, Sept. 3rd, was Darrell Parker, dean of the business school at the University of South Carolina Upstate. He was there, of course, to talk about the great new business school building that is being built in Spartanburg. He did a good job of talking about what they are going to do educationally and business wise.

But, when question time came, the topic of discussion was the economy. Is it over yet? What can we expect from the fall quarter? If we don't produce anything in this country, do we have a future? There were some really good questions.

One thing that stuck with me was a line that Darrell Parker said while talking about the economy. He said something like: "You don't want to waste a good crisis." He said that this crisis in which we have seen about a 12% drop is a good time to take stock, re-evaluate ourselves, and make some solid plans to come back. He said that if business is smart in this they won't waste a good crisis.

That applies to life in so many ways. Even Christians know that life is filled with storms and crises. We know that the in the Chinese language the same symbol is used for crisis as opportunity.

Every crisis is an opportunity to pare back to what is necessary. It is a time to take stock of what is really important. It's a good time return to what is important. We ask questions like this in times of crisis. When everything is going well, when there are not real challenges to our lives, we rock along. But, when the waters come up to our necks, when things are out of control (and they most always are), we get serious about what we value and what we love.

This has been a time of cutting back, paring, and changing, I hope it's been a time when we've really dealt with what is important. After all, no one should waste a good crisis.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Teamwork

On Sunday Aug. 30th, we worked with our third core value at Bethel Church. The first, you remember was Biblical Foundation. The second was evangelism. I got the notion of teamwork from a book called: Church is a Team Sport. It got me to thinking about the church as the Body of Christ.

If God had wanted to do his thing without benefit of a community of people, God could have done that. Instead, in God's wisdom, God chose to work with and through us to make "his appeal to the world..."

As a team, I said, we are united. We are one. Recall Matthew 18 where Jesus establishes the church and says that the "gates of hades shall not prevail against it." Recall John 17 where Jesus prayed to God in his high priestly prayer that his followers would all be one. Recall Ephesians 4 where Paul reminds us that we are one because we have one Lord, one faith, on baptism, one God and Father of us all.

It doesn't mean that we all agree on everything. We, as John Wesley says, agree on the essentials and we have love/charity about the rest. Jesus invites us to this unity when he reminds us that if we have something against another when we come to the altar to bring our gift we should go get it straight first then come to the altar. I invited the congregation to look around the room and if there is anyone who has anything against anyone to get it straight because we don't want anything standing in the way of our doing God's will.

I also said that in this team we "bear one another's burdens". On any given Sunday we come to church with burdens, pain, grief, suffering. Sometimes it's all we can to do bring ourselves before each other and God. But, in church we are reminded that we are not alone. We are part of a team that is hold us up, praying for us, working with us. Susie ran into a little girl with a broken doll. Susie's mother asked: "Did you help her fix it?" susie said: "We couldn't fix it, but I stayed a while to help her cry..." That's it. We share our burdens on this team.

Next, I said, that we have a common calling. We are all ordained (chosen) in baptism to be God's agents of love and grace in the world. Pastors are expected to be agents of God's love; so is every Christian expected to walk out into the world in service and love. At work, at play, wherever we are we are one in our calling. Jesus said: "Follow me and together we will change the world..."

Last, I said, we have a common mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. We do that by inviting others to Christ, by growing in Christ, by sending others out into the world to live out Christ's love. This is the church.

We are on the same team, working for the same purpose, and sharing the same love. Our prayer is that we will grow together in love as we seek to do God's will.
Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Evangelism

As some of you know, I am preaching a series of sermons on the core values at Bethel United Methodist Church. I am preaching out of my three-plus years with Bethel and out of my own ministry of some years in the church. I am using the letters in Bethel to work out our core commitments.

Last week we worked on a Biblical Foundation together. We worked on this not in an effort to make everyone the same. We worked on this to challenge ourselves to read the Bible everyday and to study it in groups. Groups like Disciple Bible Study offer a unique opportunity to get into the Word. Scripture has a privileged place among us.

On Sunday, Aug, 23rd, I worked on the second core value: evangelism. We've said a lot about evangelism over the last couple of years, mainly because "need-oriented evangelism" was singled out by Natural Church Development as our minimum factor (the one on which we need to work most as a church).

Visits to Sunday School classes gave us reasons why we are low on evangelism. Reasons stated were: it's not a priority; we don't see it as important; we are afraid. So, I think we need to commit ourselves to making it our core value if we are to be a fully alive church.

In my sermon I said first what evangelism is not. Evangelism is not: manipulation, or canned, or offensive, or unusual. Evangelism is not weird or anything like that. It is not beating people over the head with the Gospel. There are some who still do that, by the way.

Lucy said to Linus: "I have finally convinced the boy behind me in class that my religion is better than his." Linus said: "How?" She said: "I hit him on the head." That kind of convincing witness is not worthy of the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Then, I spent some time on what evangelism is. Evangelism is: caring, sharing, the spiritual dimension. I said that it's like planting seeds, good seeds.

My main point was that our assumption that everyone who is outside the church is somehow different from us- is false. 90% of Americans in almost every poll say they believe in God already. A large percentage of Americans are interested in this "spiritual". So, the truth is that we are not, on the whole, dealing with people who are aetheists.

Evangelism is about love because everyone needs to be loved; everyone needs a community; everyone needs God in Christ. So, we plant our seeds and leave the rest to God.

Look among the people in your sphere of influence. Pray for them and as the Spirit gives you opportunity share, witness, invite others to Jesus Christ.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Biblical Foundation

We began our series Sunday, Aug. 16, on our Core Values at Bethel. I said that the idea for this series came from a story that I read about a coach who decided to teach/coach basketball for children saying that he had become frustrated that older kids don't know the basics. He said that no one knows the basics anymore.

I think that goes for Christian faith as well. We get along in our faith and get to thinking that we no longer need to master the basics. But, as the coach said: "Michael Jordan was great because he had mastered the basics. That's what set him free to be great..." So, the first basic for us is a Biblical Foundation.

The Bible has a privileged place among us. I cannot go rummaging around in "Newsweek, or Psychology Today, or the New York Times for a text from which to preach on Sunday. I may, in fact, read them, but I must go the Bible for a text.

The Bible is a our agreed-upon text, the main rule for faith and practice. While the Bible is not a science book or a history book, not primarily, the Bible is a book about God. It is God's word and all who read it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit hear God speak and are formed into that story.

The Rabbis say that God got tired of being mis-quoted and wrongly reported; so, he decided to write his own story. So, he hired a personal secretary to write as he dictated. Everybody knows that while God likes to talk, he hates to write. For forty days and nights God told his story and his secretary wrote it down.

Finally, it was done and God sat down. God had been pacing back and forth while dictating. Suddenly, the secretary wrote the last word and stood up. He threw down his pen and said, with rage of someone who had been plagiarized: "My God, that's my story..."

As Christians, we are a people who are enrolled in a story. We bend our lives toward that story. We stand under the judgement of that account of reality. We read it and cry out: "My God, that's my story."

John Wesley said that the Bible contains all things necessary for salvation. We read the Bible, if only a verse, every day. We study the Bible with others. And, we remain open to God's Spirit.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Three Kinds of Churches

Len Sweet, whom we preachers know well, is a professor at Drew Divinity School. He is a historian/preacher/theologian. He is a kind of prognosticator/prophet, if you will, in church matters. He sees the vast changes that have happened in our world and culture in the last 40 years, and he calls the church and us pastors to respond in kind. He has all kinds of ways of looking at church and world.

One of his ways of analyzing churches came my way recently. Len Sweet says that there are three kinds of churches: undertaking, care taking, and risk-taking.

You know what an undertaking church is. These are churches that are more concerned with the dead than the living. Now, certainly, we, in our faith community, must be concerned with the dying. But, an undertaking church is one that is content just to fade into existence and bury itself in the past. Churches like this turn away from any opportunity to grow or change.

A care taking church is one that cares only about its own people. As a district superintendent I learned just how many of our churches are "family" churches. That means that the only way to get into those churches is to marry into them. You become literally one of the family. The focus of these church is totally inward with little or no concern with anybody who is not literally connected to them and their way of life. A visitor to these churches is likely to notice right off that they are not "part" of the group, and never will be.

The last kind of church is a risk-taking church. These are churches who risk a raising a budget to meet the needs of ministry. These churches are focused outwardly on the community and the world. These churches may make decisions sometimes that do not "make sense" to anyone. They trust God through the Holy Spirit to guide them into his way. They work and plan and trust God.

Now there's probably some of all those kind of churches in all of our churches. But, if there is too much undertaking, and care taking, and not much risk-taking, then we are doomed to live in the past. Jesus calls us not to live risk-free lives, but to launch out into the deep, to take a chance sometimes, to move forward, even though we can't see everything out there, because we trust that that is where Jesus wants us to be- in his future.

See you in Church!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

God is at Work, HMMMMMMMMMMM

Last night we had a good but difficult Finance Committee meeting. We are so far behind on our budget right now that...well, you get the idea. One of the most helpless feelings I ever get is the feeling of watching budget numbers deteriorate. Week after week to watch them slide downward gives me a "sinking" feeling.

On the whole, Finance Committee people are doing a great job trying to move the ministries of the church foward while at the same time trying to stop us before we go over a cliff financially. Don't get the wrong idea. We do have reserves, but you can't spend those down every year and keep losing money.

We are faced with living through the harshest reality that we've faced in this country in a while. A number of our members have lost their jobs; some will have to relocate to find work. Others feels the pinch at work. While they haven't lost their jobs they have been cut back some. So, they do the best they can.

My challenge as a pastoral leader is to be realistic on the one hand. Yes, we are behind. We want to be good stewards of what we have. And, we have to let others know that we are struggling to decide about staff and other things as we start up the pledge campaign for another year.

As a pastoral leader, I also have to hold up our calling to make disciples of Jesus Christ. How can we in bad economic times continue to do what God is calling us to do on less? How can we continue to go out in ministry to others and not let this drag us into using it as an excuse to do nothing?

This morning, I head God's word in my devotion. Philippians 2:13. It says: "God is at work in you to will and to work his good pleasure..." OK. Even in the mist of this turmoil, maybe especially in the midst of this turmoil, God is still at work in me, in you, in all of us, to work his will.

Don't be discouraged. Trust God. Right?
Dave Nichols

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Love God and Enjoy....

Rabbis say that the first question that God will ask at the judgement is: "Did you enjoy the blessings that I gave you?" The old catechism says that the chief end of human beings is to "love God and enjoy him forever." And, yet, when we suffer and hurt, we cast about trying not to drown. Enjoy?

Scott Peck says, in his book The Road Less Travelled, that life is difficult. He adds that life is supposed to be difficult. Alright, we say, then why does it have to be difficult just for me. Life is not difficult for anyone but me. Others have a life of ease; they don't suffer. They don't struggle. Things work out for them. But, my life is filled with toil and trouble and pain.

The Psalmist says: "My foot almost slipped..." when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They do evil and yet, they do not suffer. They get by with life and have it made. And, here I am, a child of God, a follower of Jesus Christ, and I am out of work, or lost, or afraid, or suffering with pain. What do we do? How can we be expected to enjoy anything when...

And, even if we aren't looking at the ease of others and comparing to our own difficulty, we wonder what good faith is, especially in a time like ours, when the economy is in the tank and life is hard for so many good people.

John Bright in his book The Kingdom of God, says that it is pagan to believe that just because we have faith and devotion that we are to be spared difficulty. Pagans of old believed that if they made the right sacrifice and gave the right offering that life would be good. It's the same thing when we think that if we pray the right prayers things will always be good.

No, life is filled with toil and trouble. Just when we think we have it all figured out, things change. We suffer and have trouble. But, faith is our foundation on which to stand even in a storm. We know what the pagans do not know- that even in difficulty, God is with us. Maybe especially in difficulty, the God whom we know in Jesus Christ is powerfully with us and will see us through. There is blessing even in trouble.

Well, how goes it with you? Are you enjoying the blessings that God has given you?
Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Stay in Love with God

Sunday, July 26th, is the last Sunday of our series at Bethel on the book Three Simple Rules. You remember that this book is written by a retired Bishop of the church. He takes off on the three general rules of John Wesley for his Methodist Societies. When people were converted to Christ, they asked Father John how they could keep their faith alive and well. They knew that the tendency of human beings who are in love with anything is to let their love fade or cool. Someone who is hot with love for God will tend to grow cool as time passes. It is the nature of human life for that white hot love to cool somewhat.

John Wesley formed the groups called "societies" and encouraged Methodists to meet weekly for mutual accountability and support. The rules were: 1. Do no harm. 2. Do good. and 3. Stay in love with God.

How does one stay in love with one's spouse? By communicating, dating, eating together, sharing, learning, growing, changing, and developing. How does one stay in love with God? John Wesley would say: "Stay in church".

A pastor was visiting a man who had fallen away from the church. A fire was burning in the fireplace. A hot burning coal fell from the fire and turned slowly cold. The man got the point and said he would be coming back to church.

The assumption of many is that when one becomes a Christian the work is done. But, that's just the beginning. Faith requires the nurture, study, prayer, and growth that all of life requires to stay real and true.

Wesley says that we stay in love with God by keeping the ordinances of God. They are:

Worship
Prayer
Searching the Scriptures
Bible Study
The Lord's Supper
Fasting

These are practices that show one loves God, that keep one in touch with God. God's love and grace don't just drop from the sky. They come to us through practices of faith. When we come to Christ, the work is just getting started.

Do you love God? How do you know? What are you doing that shows that you love God?
See you in Church!
Dave Nichols

Monday, July 20, 2009

Do All the Good you Can

John Wesley said it this way:

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Do Good

We are in the middle of our series on the book, Three Simple Rules. This is, as you remember, the book written by Reuben Job based on the three simple rules of John Wesley for his early Methodist "societies", groups of Christians gathered weekly, before work, or after work, to "watch over one another in love."

Reuben Job calls these "general" rules of Wesley simple. But, they are anything but simple. They are simple in that they are forthright and doable. They are complicated in that in the push and shove of human life things get clouded by situations beyond our control.

Last week we worked with "Do no harm" the first rule. And, we talked and worked with the notion that we should do no harm to ourselves, to others, and to our community and world. Yet, even as we worked with it, you and I know that we often do harm. Sometimes we know it; sometimes we don't. Harm is done to each other, to ourselves and to our world. Ways in which we harm the environment came up in Sunday School. The call is to pay enough attention to our lives and our actions so that we do less harm. If we can't help then we try not to make it worse.

Sunday, July 19, we will work with "Do Good". As with "do no harm", this rule calls us to pay attention to what we do and to set out to do good intentionally, both personally and corporately. We send out mission teams; we teach; we tutor; we wash feet; we serve. All of this is witness to our deep faith in Jesus Christ whom we follow.

I'll ask tomorrow that we think of it in this way- as a call to:
1. Go into the world.
2. Obey the Spirit.
3. Open doors.
4. Do all you can.

John Wesley says: "Do all the good you can, in all the places you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can."

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Loving our World

Loving our World is the title of a Chapter in a book (The Taste of Joy) written by Calvin Miller. It has something to say to us about the second rule of Three Simple Rules: Do Good. Here is a quote from that chapter:

I have been a Christian long enough to see that churches are often
communication jams. There is too much talking and too little listening.
Sometimes churches are sterile places where people meet and shake hands with
the mittens on. The late Father Divine once criticized the clergy with the
words, "...Do you know how to relate to others in the church? Or are we afraid
to touch? Do we really trust our brothers and sisters?

Love is the goal of all our relationships.

We love, each other, in church, warts and all, as a way of practicing our faith. We practice so that when we go out into the world we will know what to do.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Do No Harm

As I said earlier, we are working and praying our way through Reuben Job's book: Three Simple Rules which are anything but simple. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Movement was challenged by those who were converted to faith to help them keep the fire of their faith alive. So, in small groups, societies, these early Methodists held each other accountable and held each other close in faith. There were three general rules: Do no harm; Do good; Stay in love with God.

Do no harm to yourself, other, and the world. In my sermon last Sunday, I said that John Wesley said that if you couldn't make things better then don't make them worse. He said Do no harm by:

Not keeping the Sabbath
Drunkeness
Gossip- uncharitable and unprofitable talk
Laying up treasures on earth

He listed some other things but you get the idea. We are accustomed to saying things like: "we aren't hurting anyone but ourselves.." Not true. If we are doing something that hurts us, we are hurting others. Everything we say, everything that we do, everything that we see or hear affects the ones around us and our world.

Someone in Sunday School suggested that as Christians we should be more concerned about the environment.

Wesley invites us to think carefully, prayerfully, about how we live our lives. In the book I Robot, the main rule for Robots is: "you can do no harm to any human being and you cannot refuse to help a human being who is in trouble..."

Do no harm.
Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Friday, July 10, 2009

It is Simple Really?

This Sunday, July 12, in the heat of summer, with a lot of people on vacation and 78 people on a mission trip to Louisiana, we will be working with Reuben Job's book "Three Simple Rules" in Sunday School and Church. And, over the next three Sundays we will be doing John Wesley's three rules: 1. Do no harm. 2. Do Good. 3. Stay in love with God.

Job says in his book that if we, United Methodist Christians, lived by these three rules we could change the world. I guess it could be said that if we Christians lived fully what we believed that we could change the world. As one of the earlier church leaders said: "The Christian faith has been tried and found wanting; it's never been tried."

Now that's a bit harsh, don't you think? And yet, let's admit that as Christians we are prone to take the easy way out, just like a lot of the culture. Most of our lives and time are spent merging with the culture rather than enlarging the distance by giving witness to the radical nature of Jesus' Gospel.

I just heard that on television this morning someone from another denomination, a leader, said that personal salvation was a heresy and idolatry. Oh well. This may be a great time for us to look again at the basics of our faith.

John Wesley gives us three rules. Whether they are simple or not is another question. Done right, the Christian faith is hard work. That means that we are saved not just to sit down. It's not over then; it's just beginning. We are called to get into the game then, to move out in love and service, all of us, in the hope of tranforming the world; individual and corporate salvation is still in style.

I have some 90 books that have just arrived. I will have them Sunday. If you want one, they are $5 or if you can't do that, you may just have one.

I am excited about the possibilities as we pray and study and worship our way through these rules as followers of Jesus Christ. In a few weeks, I will begin another series of sermons on the core values of our church, Bethel that is. Pray for us as we seek more and more to do God's will around here and in the world.

See you Sunday!
Dave Nichols

Saturday, July 4, 2009

An Open Letter to the Governor of SC

Dear Governor Sanford,


Our prayers are with you and your family. We deeply regret for you and your family and the state of South Carolina the storm that is swirling. I am compelled to write you at this time to express for me and, I hope, for others what I am thinking and feeling at this time, to speak the truth in love, and to encourage you to move forward in a redemptive way.

First, I know that you’re a sinner. As a Christian pastor, and a human being, I know that we are all sinners. I knew this when President Clinton had an indiscretion. So, we believe that when we confess, we are candidates for forgiveness. I believe that you, in your mind, have confessed, but I’m not convinced that you’re repented (actually turned).

Second, we are all responsible for what we do or don’t do. Or else, what else is there. In part, this is why many hate Christians right now. We talk publicly about our moral superiority and then we act and live just like everybody else. I know we’re all guilty of this to some extent. I certainly preach more than I do. You have to take responsibility for your actions and the hurt you’ve caused, particularly to your family, your boys.

Third, please stop acting like a hormone-soaked teenager. Soul mate? Please. Fall in love with your wife again? Please. You were in power and you took advantage of the situation. A grown man of your age ought to know that our hearts are deceptive. Martin Luther says the heart is a factory of idols. And, the chief idol is the self. So, any talk of falling in love, soul mate, etc., is nothing more than giving in to the world’s definition of love. Love is not just feeling. It’s a commitment in marriage to be together “for better, for worse.” You get the picture.

Fourth, please stop talking about it in public. You need to take the conversation to your wife and family. No excuses. You did wrong. You hurt others. Now, admit it. Let go the talk of your teen years, and get on with the hard work of forgiveness and redemption.

Several years ago, I heard a young man say, after his girl friend tested positive for pregnancy: “It just happened.” Things like sex and adultery don’t just happen. They happen after careful fantasizing and planning and scheming and hiding and deception and temptation. They happen when we do them. We are responsible. Or else, what is there?

Blessings!
David E. Nichols

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Three Simple Rules

I have said earlier that we will study on Sundays Reuben Job's book: Three Simple Rules.. The first rule will be dealt with on July 12th: Do NO Harm.

Below is a study guide for Do no harm. Use it as you will to enhance your daily devotions, for Sunday School class sessions, for family reflections.

Three Simple Rules / Reuben Job (All Scripture taken from New Revised Standard Version)

Open session with the “ Prayer at the Beginning of the Day ” found on pages 69-70.

Close session with the “ Prayer at Midday ” found on pages 71-72. Sing the hymn: “Stay in Love with God ” (p77) as a benediction – It is short enough to be repeated 3-4 times or more.

Read the chapters in the week before discussion. You may want to substitute any of the other listed scriptures for the “ Consider this scripture. ”

Session I Charting a New Course-

Even as people of faith, we find our lives can be messy, filled with addiction, fretfulness, and fears. John Wesley believed that living a holy and good life required help from a caring community, commitment to the practice of spiritual discipline, and ongoing instruction. For him, the Great Commandment (see below) superseded all others as “ a guide to the highest form of faithfulness ” (p.9).

Wesley gave the Methodist movement General Rules which were the practical application of what it meant to follow Christ – they were outlined and the people were instructed on them within the class structure. Accountability for practice was centered in the classes that formed the United Societies (pg. 17 & Discipline ¶103).

Thus, the General Rules became distilled into this behavioral trinity – “ Do No Harm, Do Good, Stay in Love with God . ” These three simple rules gave new life to the movement (p.17). Living in a new way, becoming a new creation is risky business.

It requires sacrifice - the willingness to undergo a radical transformation – it requires creating a way through the wilderness where there was no way before.

Consider this scripture: Mark 12:29-31. Jesus answered, “ The first is, ‘ Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. ’ The second is this, ‘ You shall love your neighbor as yourself. ’ There is no other commandment greater than these. ”

Read: Preface / Introduction (pp. 7-17) Questions:

1. Lack of reconciliation in our world makes our faithfulness to Christ seem inauthentic. How can we say we are Christians when we behave toward one another the way we do?

2. How are we to listen to Jesus? How are we to live our lives? Is there a better way to practice our faith that includes and is open to others?

3. Do we look at one another and see ourselves becoming one in Christ? Can others look at us and see God at work in our lives? Do we have life-giving lives?

4. What is the path to radical faithfulness for you? What does this mean for you? What would it take for you to be on that road?

5. My desire to “do good” is not limited by the thoughts and actions of others, nor is it controlled by that of others, for I have decided to follow Jesus! This is also a song that Christians of the Garo tribe in India sang. Although the author is anonymous, it was translated into the English language prior to the 1950’s. The hymn tune is from an Indian Folk Melody. The words are:

“I have decided to follow Jesus; I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus; No turning back, no turning back.
(2) Though I may wonder, I still will follow…;
(3) The world behind me, the cross before me…;
(4) Though none go with me, still I will follow…;
(5) Will you decide now to follow Jesus?...:”1

How does this song speak to you and your experience? How does it relate to what you just read?

Additional Scriptures

1 Corinthians 13:11-13. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

John 17: 11. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. (Jesus’ prayer)

Colossians 3:12-17. As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Galatians 5:22-26. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

1 More information about this tune can be found at
www.ajoyfulnoise.net/followJesus.htm.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Only Believe

Today the lectionary Gospel was Mark 5: 21-43. There are two healing stories. It begins with Jesus getting out of the boat and moving through this huge crowd. A leader of the synagogue begs Jesus to go to his home where his twelve year old daughter is dying. Jesus moves through the crowd to go with him, when, remarkably, according to Mark, Jesus feels power go out of him. He asks who touched him. The disciples laugh: “Everybody touched you; why do you ask ‘who touched me?’”

The woman is overwhelmed and admits that she touched Jesus. She said: “I knew that if I could just touch your garment, I would be healed.” Twelve years she has been sick. Jesus heals her and says: “Your faith has made you whole.”

Then, Jesus moves on to the synagogue leader’s home where he finds the girl already dead and everyone in the throes of grief. Jesus says: “She is not dead; she is sleeping.” He speaks to her: “Talitha Cum”, “Get up.” She gets up and Jesus tells them to get her something to eat.

I saw faith demonstrated here. I had four points.

1. They heard about Jesus.
2. They looked for Jesus.
3. They invited Jesus into their lives.
4. They believed.

Martin Luther said: “God has made it so that all things depend on faith. Whoever has faith has everything; whoever does not have faith, has nothing.”

May we slip in among the crowds around Jesus with this man and woman of faith, and may we believe as they believed. May Jesus say to us: “Your faith has made you whole, complete, new…”

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Three Simple Rules

In July,we will be thinking about a book entitled Three Simple Rules written by Rueben P. Job. The subtitle is "A Wesleyan Way of Living". It's a wonderful little book available at Christian Book Stores and Cokesbury Stores.

John Wesley, founder of the United Methodist Church, was, in many ways, the father of the small group movement. When persons were converted to Christ, Wesley formed them into small groups called societies. The purpose of these groups was both for support/nurture and accountability. Persons in these groups were charged with the responsibility to "watch over one another in love." The "societies" had some general rules. The three main rules are highlighted by Job in his book.

The three rules are:
1. Do no harm.
2. Do good.
3. Always stay in love with God.

Job takes each of the rules and works with them as they apply to our lives today. July 12, 19, and 26, we will as a congregation be hearing sermons based on these three rules. I have study guides for Sunday School Classes who want to begin a study of these rules on July 5th and carry through for the month. If classes want to do this, I will make these notes available to them. Plus I have 10 books that I will share with those who want to teach these things.

In hot July, this is a way for us to get in touch with our roots in John Wesley and to learn a bit more about our heritage. While some tell us that denominationalism is dead, denominations are certainly not dead. And, as long as we are Methodist, we will share a common heritage that deserves some exploration.

David and I will preach these three rules and we invite you to join in the discussion in your Sunday School Classes. I will also prepare a daily study guide for individuals as they pray and think about these things each day.

This promises to be a fun time at Bethel. Keep us in your prayers as we work on these rules together.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Boat in a Storm

The lectionary for today was that wonderful passage in Mark 4:35-41. Jesus and the disciples in a boat are on their way across the lake when a storm comes up. In the early church, the main symbol of the church was this: a boat in a storm.

It's no news that life has many storms. In the African-American tradition, they say that we are either leaving a storm, in the midst of a storm, or going into a storm. Whether it's a child that isn't doing what we want him/her to do, or an illness, or an aging parent, or a million other things going on in our lives, the image of the storm is real for us.

Two things to remember in the storm:
1. Stop complaining about the weather. As youth say: "Get with it, get over it or get help." The weather is the weather; it is what it is. Stop complaining about the situation you find yourself in.
2. Don't fight with the other passengers. We do that. We look at the situation and say somebody has to be responsible for this. Who's to blame?

Then, what do we do? How can we live in the midst of the storm. In my sermon I offered five ways that we get through the storms.

1. Lift anchor and launch out. Launch out into the deep. When a storm is coming, boats and ships are moved out to the deep. The harbor is not safe in a storm, as one member said to me. Of course. But, we think of the harbor as a place of safety. Launch out. Take a risk. Leave the safety of the harbor. Those who need us most are in deep water. "Rescue the Perishing..." Jesus says: "The one who seeks to save their life will lose it."

2. Steer Into the Storm. You can't run from the storm. It will find you. A lion's pride when it wants food will form a circle of the young lions. And, in the middle of the circle is the oldest lion. He has no teeth, but can he roar. He roars and animals run from the roar into the paws of the younger lions. Jesus says: "Run to the storm. Run to the roar. Run to the fear."

3. Get rid of excess cargo. A storm makes us pare down and ask: "What is really important in life?" What do I really need? We have so much stuff in this country that we can't keep in our house so we rent facilities in which we store our stuff. In a boat in a storm, passengers start unloading the things that are too heavy. Throw the things that hold you back overboard. Let go of whatever it is that is keeping you from being the person you want to be.

4. Lash the Captain to the mast. Tradition is that the captain is lashed to the mast. So, when the boat goes down, the captain goes down with it. Lash yourselves to the mast, the cross. Stay close to the cross, close to the place where God's love was poured out for us.

5. Enjoy the ride. The disciples wake Jesus up and he stills the storm. Then, he rebukes the disciples. He says: "O ye of little faith. You settled for the cheap thrill. You missed the greatest adventure of your lives. Did you not know that I was in the boat with you? I will no always still your storms, but I will always still you in the midst of the storm."

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Church With Purpose

I know it sounds strange to say it, but churches lose their mission and purpose just like individuals do. We forget why we are the church and what the church was created to do. As a DS, I saw many good churches in the sense that they were made up of good people, really good people. No doubt about it, most of the churches that I saw were made up of good people. Even those churches that were dying were made up of good people.

Now, as a District Superintendent, I did see some mean people as well. In some churches, not Bethel, of course, there were mean Christians. Sometimes a whole congregation of good people would allow one or two aggressive and mean-spirited people to control the whole church. The good people would not make good decisions; they would often do whatever it took to keep things peaceful. And, that meant doing what those few controllers wanted them to do.

Generally, though, churches are made up of good people, really good people. They live their lives as Christians. They are moral.(Sinners, too, of course) They mean well. Even declining churches are made up of really good people.

One church, with which I dealt as a District Superintendent, told me that they sent station (that is, they became a one-church charge served by their own pastor) so they could grow. They went station twenty years ago. I said to them that in the last twenty years they had in fact lost members during that time. They said to me: "Are you saying that we don't want to grow?" I said: "Every church that wants to grow will grow."

That means that churches that want to grow will do the things that will make it possible for them to grow. They will change.

Now, I would remind us that our mission statement at a church says that our purpose is to make disciples of Jesus Christ by inviting persons to discipleship, growing disciples through worship and study, and sending disciples out to share God's love with the world."

A couple of years ago we started a process called Natural Church Development. And, we went through a process to discern what we needed to work on as a church. NCD says that healthy church have eight basic factors. We measured ourselves with a survey and we found that our minimum factor is Need-Oriented Evangelism. We visited Sunday School classes and got responses as to why this was our lowest factor. We too those reasons and designed some steps which we have completed up to forming an Evangelism Team which will lead us in that area and keep evangelism before us as a church.

If you want to explore NCD go to this Website: www.ncd-international.org. We haven't forgotten about it. We will move forward with it this fall in an effort to hear God's call to grow and change where we need to.

Are you with me?
Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A God Named Trinity

Last Sunday was Trinity Sunday and I did what every preaching professor says not to do. I preaching on the doctrine of the Trinity. Usually, preaching that deals with doctrine or belief systems is considered to be boring.(How is that different from other Sundays?) Don't be a smart aleck.

When we think of doctrine, we think of something that is just not as interesting as, say, a good story. And yet, doctrine, what we believe, is, in my humble opinion, something interesting and compelling. As a pastor/preacher, I find myself in the middle of two schools of thought. One one side, people are saying that beliefs are the important thing. On the other side, others are saying that beliefs don't matter; it's how you live that matters. Well, what if both beliefs and living matter? And, what if beliefs do, in fact, affect how we live?

Now, you won't find the word "trinity" anywhere in scripture. Or course, you do find Jesus telling us to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Trinity simply means that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It means first that we experience God as trinity. We have in Christian history experienced God as Father (creator) as Son (redeemer) and as the Holy Spirit (sustainer). To say trinity is to say the whole of Christian faith history. It is to tell the whole story. This is how we have experienced this God that we know.

It means something more. It means not only that we have experience God this way. It means also that God is trinity in his nature. It says something about the nature of God. God is communal within himself. This God whom we worship is just so effusive, so full of love, that he loves the son with reckless abandon. And that love spills over as the Holy Spirit.

This God, whom we adore, is far deeper than we can think about. This God is far more loving and faithful than we understand.

Christianity is a revealed religion. That is, we couldn't have sat down and figured it out. God has revealed himself to us and his name is Trinity. God is mysteriously revealed to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Church Fathers struggled to explain. Augustine said that there is the Lover, the beloved and the love. That's good, but all our attempts to explain fall short. Before this God, Trinity, we can only fall down in worship.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Monday, June 8, 2009

Did You Hear the One About the Priest and the Pastor?

I was privileged to be a part of the wedding of one of our lovely young women at Bethel on last Saturday. As all weddings are; this one was beautiful. Wonderful music. Everyone decked out in their finest clothes. Wedding Director on the spot. Custodians at their post. It all went off without a hitch. And, when you think of all of the little details that go into a wedding, that's pretty amazing.

I presided sat this wedding and was assisted by a Catholic Priest. Early on I learned that our young lady was marrying a nice Catholic young man. They spoke to me about having the Priest participate in the service. Of course, I said. No problem. He can take half the service and I the other half. They wanted me to do the vows; so I offered to give the other half of the service to the Priest.

A month or so ago while visiting with the bride and groom, they suggested that the Priest just do the Gospel and the Homily. Word from the Priest was that if he did anything more than that he would have to fill out all kinds of paperwork.

That's fine. I told them I would do everything else. The Priest arrived and we shared the service. It was a lovely occasion.

Now, I say all this to say that we United Methodists have always been leaders in the ecumenical movement. That is, we have always been leaders in bringing people together from other Christian Churches, synagogues, or other religious groups. That's because we believe in the "Holy Catholic Church".

Some ask what "Holy Catholic Church" means when we say it in the creed on Sundays. It means simply: "the whole church, the one church, all of every stripe and category of Christian are part of the church." We believe that, while we may not agree on every detail of our faith, we do share enough as followers of Jesus Christ to, at least, bless each other.

Over my ministry I have preached in all kinds of churches, even a Catholic Church. And, I have shared all kinds of services with my brothers and sisters of other denominations. As one of friends once said: "If we can't get together, then who can?"

I say we can do more than that, we can accept and love each other as well. My life has been enriched by other Christians of other churches.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Friday, June 5, 2009

Being in Control

I like being in control, don't you? Or maybe it's truer to say: I like the illusion of being in control.

I know better; I really do. But, there is something inside me (where I don't know) that likes to live with the illusion that all things are under my control. So, if things get out of control, I get irritable or resentful (see I Corinthians 13) and think that if I get irritable enough that gives me some measure of control.

I have seen this with married couples. Two strong-willed people shouting at each other. All the time they are thinking at some level (maybe unconsciously) that if they shout loud enough things will change in their favor. Men often won't talk things out very well. For some of them, not-talking is a way to feel in control. If they start talking and admit to too much or say too much, feelings might get out of hand and they will lost control.

I love the illusion of control. I know better; I really do. But, there is something in side me that makes me think that if I get angry or irritable... Do you understand.

Maybe I feel the need to be in control because everything seems so out of my control. Anyone with children learns this. Anyone who ever taught school knows this. All of us at some level know that things are not under our control, no matter who we are.

Now, I do try to express some control with leadership as a pastor. Leading means influencing things to go a certain way by influencing people. But, a good leader knows that he or she puts things in motion and then so many things come along and put it out of control.

The really hurtful side of this control business is that we, who feel the need to be in control, often try to carry the whole world on our shoulders. After all, we're told: "If it's to be; it's up to me." And, a lot of things are up to me. But, I hear one of my old teachers in my ear saying: "The sole responsibility for overcoming evil in the world is God's, not mine." If you knew my teacher, you would know that he did everything he could to lead and influence and denounce evil.

But, people of faith know that it's not all up to us. It's up to us to do all that we can within our calling, but ultimately. God must intervene.

So, we pray and live trusting this God. Even when things happen over which we have no control, we know that God is able to bring good out of evil. And, ultimately, God will overcome evil. Love will conquer. The Kingdom of God will come.

God help us to give up our illusion of control.
Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Annual Conferences of the United Methodist Church

As I write this, I am getting ready to go to our annual gathering (hence the name Annual Conference) of United Methodist in each Conference. Our conference is the SC Conference. Each local church, like Bethel, has lay and clergy delegates as their representatives. All clergy are members of the Annual Conference, and each local church has at least one lay delegate. Depending on the size of the local church, there are more delegates. Bethel has five lay delegates in addition to my associate and me as their representatives.

We do what you might expect. We set a budget for the new year. Because of economic issues in our state, we are going to set a budget with a huge decrease. District Superintendents are taking a 4% decrease in salaries, and The Methodist Center in Columbia may see as many as four less employees based on the recommended budget. We will also elect officers to fill the positions of leadership that are needed. We will hear reports from Colleges, Retirement Homes, and ministries throughout our Conference and beyond.

We will have Bible Studies and Worship services for our learning and encouragement. We will ordain (actually the Bishop ordains) pastors for service to the church. We will retire those who have reached that age and status. We will remember those who have died since last Annual Conference. At the end of the week, we will hear the Bishop send forth all of us for service. Pastors will be appointed to their place of service for another year.

This year we will debate and vote on 32 amendments to the Constitution of the United Methodist Church. To pass, two thirds majority vote is required from all lay and clergy delegates to every Annual Conference in the whole church. Some amendments simply recommend editorial changes. Others call for a sea change in relationship to the church in the world, in other countries. There is concern (which I share) that a "yes" vote on the so-called "World" amendments may lead to a fragmentation of the United Methodist Church. I will vote "no" on the "world" amendments.

All in all, Annual Conference is a time of fellowship, worship, and planning as we move from one year to another. I will see friends from other churches where I have served. I may even see friends from the church where I grew up. I will see clergy friends from all over the state. And, we will celebrate that God has led through another year.

The first song sung at every Annual Conference since the beginning of Methodism is an old Wesley hymn: "And Are We Yet Alive..." As we have another Annual Conference, my prayer is that God's Holy Spirit will drive our every decision.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Friday, May 29, 2009

So, Where's Good News?

As I heard the news about the North Korean testing of missiles this week, I was reminded of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Some of you are old enough to remember that; others of you can read about it. Russia was moving missiles to Cuba in the sixties. Right under our own noses, Cuba would be able to reach Florida with missiles made by the Communists.

Well, Russia is split asunder, into, it seems, a thousand tiny pieces. Though we aren't quite sure where it will all come out over there, we can be sure that Russia is not the world power that it once was, a world power bent on our destruction. Some would say that Russia was just so afraid of us and we, of them, that we and they just kept making more and more nuclear missiles and bombs.

So much has changed since President Kennedy backed the Russians down. Russia has dissolved, sort of, the Berlin Wall came down in the eighties. Northern Ireland has found independence and peace.

But, in recent memory there is still plenty in the world to think about. Terrorism founds its way to our country in 2001. And, now, those pesky North Koreans keep pushing the envelope. Most everybody I know agrees that their leader is nuts. He is threatening to use his missiles on anybody who threatens him.

So, while we are growing toward a kind of "one world", small world, notion, the world is getting more complicated. There's still China, and Iraq, and all that is going on all the time in the Middle East.

It's enough to make even the most faith-filled among us fearful.

What is there to say? Well, the world has always been a fearful and complicated place. Just look at the history of the world and our history. Then, there's the stuff of our own lives: grief, anger, doubt, pain.

So, we pray, as we always do, for our leaders and the leaders of the world. We pray for them wisdom and strength. We pray that God will intervene as he has seemed to do when Russia backed down, and the Berlin Wall fell, and we had the courage to get up from 9/11 and move forward.

Keep in mind, as we do the best we can with diplomacy, that God is at work, sometimes beyond our ability to see, but at work mysteriously. Bad things happen in the world, but God is still at work. We pray and we take some comfort in that.

Scripture teaches us that God is a God of history, that history is HIS story. Trust in the God who is worthy of our trust.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Aldersgate 2

In my previous blog, I said that I would preach on May 24th on John Wesley's Aldersgate experience. On May 24th 1738, John Wesley, founder of Methodism, had a heart-warming experience. I asked what it means for us.

Some say that this was John Wesley's conversion. But, how can we call it conversion when Wesley has been preaching, teaching and living the Christian faith all his life? Now, in his mid-thirties, it seems strange to say that now he comes to Christ after all his previous life in faith. And yet, something does change for Wesley. From here on, he moves out with more courage, often running into resistance from Anglican Church authorities.

He says: "My heart was strangely warmed." I think of this this way. For years, John Wesley thought the right thing in his head, and he did the right things with his hands in ministry. But, his heart was not in it. He, who believed mightily in human effort, now came to a point after years of searching where he received the peace that he wanted. Now, not only were his hands and head involved in ministry, but also his heart.

Some of us Christian Methodists are guilty of giving our heads and our hands to the work of faith while keeping our hearts at bay.

What about you? Is your heart in your faith? Is your heart (love) in what you're believing and doing for Christ?

At Bethel, our hearts are being "strangely warmed" by God's Holy Spirit all the time. Come and see.

Blessings!
Dave Nichols

Friday, May 22, 2009

United Methodists and Aldersgate

Next Sunday, May 24th, is what we United Methodists call Aldersgate Sunday. On May 24, 1738, John Wesley had his "Aldersgate" experience. You have to understand that John Wesley was, as we would say today, tightly wound. He was reared by a mother who taught him everything, including his incredible discipline.

At Oxford, Father Wesley, his brother Charles and others, formed a group that met each week for Bible Study, prayer, mutual accountability and ministry to prisoners and others. John Wesley had it all together except that he lived with the notion that something was missing. He did not have the assurance of his own relationship to God.

He was good at doing the ministry but felt that he did not have within the faith that he wanted so badly. His search took him to America where he served Christ Episcopal Church in Savannah. The pastor a few years ago reminded my Confirmation Class that John Wesley was always an Anglican.

That's true. John Wesley had no problems with the Anglican Church, it's doctrine or practices. He felt the church lacked the love to reach out to the "common" person. In Georgia, Father John fell in love with Sophie Hopkey. She wanted to get married; John did not. So, she married someone else. And, when Sophie came to communion, John refused to serve her. (He was human, you know) This got Father John run out of Georgia.

He slipped up to Charleston under cover of darkness and caught a boat to England. On board ship, there was a terrible storm at sea. John was terrified, but the Moravians on board were calm and peaceful, singing hymns and offering prayers. This further caused John to ask what the Moravians had that he did not. It also led to productive relationships with the Moravians.

So, on May 24th, 1738, John Wesley said that for his devotions that day he read in Mark about the lawyer asking Jesus about the greatest commandment. Jesus told the lawyer to answer. The lawyer said: "Love God and love your neighbor." Jesus told the lawyer: "You are not far from the Kingdom."

John felt that God was speaking to him. "You are not far from the kingdom." That night, John went, unwillingly, to a meeting of Christians at a meetinghouse on Aldersgate Street in London. While the leader was reading from Luther's Preface to the Romans (pretty dull stuff actually) John was moved. He said: "I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sin, even mine and saved me from the law of sin and death."

This was a watershed experience for John Wesley. Now, what he had lived and taught, preached and sought, he experienced within. This was John Wesley's "Heart-warming experience".

United Methodists, whatever their politics or their varied practices, are still a "warm-hearted" people.

What does this mean to us today? I'll try to address that Sunday in my sermon.
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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