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.

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".

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.

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

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