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.

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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