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

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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