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

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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