Monday, December 27, 2010

The Sermon You Missed

Since we called off church on Dec. 26th, something I really hate to do, here is a copy of my sermon that I was going to preach if we had met. See, you knew I wasn't letting you off that easily. Blessings! Dave Nichols

The Word
Christmas 1- 2010

Four Sundays in Advent waiting, expecting, looking forward to the coming of the One. It’s like Lucy says in the Chronicles of Narnia. She and the others were looking into a stable and she said: “In our world, too, a stable once held something bigger than the world…”

On Christmas Eve we gathered, this place, filled with people singing our hearts out: “Silent Night”; “Joy to the World”. We lit our candles and went out into the night.

This morning seems like an afterthought really. Just a day after Christmas Day. Still singing carols and experiencing the glow of a light that shines in the darkness, we gather, maybe a bit worn by the journey to think once more about the meaning of all this.

It’s John who enters the story this morning giving high and lofty poetry to describe it.

Some scholars believe that this first part of the Gospel of John was in fact a hymn. We’ve always sing about the things in our lives that are too beautiful to describe, or explain. So, John sings:

In the beginning was the word
The word was with God
The word was God.
Nothing existed but the word
The same was in the beginning with God

The word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth
We have seen his glory, glory as of the only son from the father, glory.

To all who believed he gave power to become children of God.

First, THE WORD.

In the beginning was the word. The Greek word here is the Logos. Logos has a history of sorts among Greeks and Jews. Plato/Aristotle and others talked about the principle of wisdom. The Jews taught that there is such a thing as wisdom.

Not only that, but we know the God whom we worship as a god who speaks. He speaks words. John wants us to recall creation. In the beginning, God created…all things. He speaks and it comes into beings. God says: “Let there be light and there is light…” God’s word is alive and active.

It’s about communication, in part. Something as fragile as a word; something as thin as air passing over your voice box communicates the thoughts of your heart and mind.

Words give meaning to life or bring destruction to life. My mother taught me as yours taught you to say: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me…” Well, we know better. Words do hurt and heal.

Or else, why does a person think carefully before saying: “I love you” or “I’m sorry”?

Words are about communication and creativity. Words create worlds. Words can create a world of judgment and criticism or words can create a world of love and acceptance.

God’s word is so full of life and purpose that his word does not go out without achieving what it is supposed to do. Out of the mouth of God, from the depths of God’s heart and mind, from the inner purposes of God, into the world, into this new creation, God sends another word.

Two: Flesh.

John says that this word became flesh and dwelt among us. The word behind “flesh” is the Greek “sarx” and points to carnal. Carnal, flesh, human. Flesh means all that you are I as human beings are.

The word became flesh and dwelt among us – this is the Incarnation. God enfleshed, wrapped up in skin- wrapped up in humanity. This is why the great Karl Barth could write a book called The Humanity of God.

God’s becoming human in Jesus means that all of our bodies and minds and personalities and relationships and hopes and dreams and the world are all important to God…What happens to human flesh matters; what happens in the world matters.

Have you read the book or seen the play: “The Best Christmas Pagaent Ever?”

It’s a story of a church Christmas pageant with bathrobes and handmade crowns. Six rather unruly children show up at church when they hear that they can get free snacks in Sunday School. And, horror of horrors, the Sunday School teachers give them parts in the Christmas pageant. It’s a very human portrayal of the story in the words of this family named Herdman. In one scene, the mother Herdmen is being told the story.

Grace Bradley reads the story: “and the angel of the Lord came upon them…”

Gladys Herdman says: “Shazaaaaaam”.

Grace says: “What?”

Gladys says: “Out with a vengeance in the darkness the mighty Marvel…”

Grace says: “Gladys I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Gladys says: “The Mighty Marvel in comics…”

Grace says: “No, this is the angel of the Lord…”

Gladys says: “Out of nowhere, right? In the black night, right?”

Grace says: “Well, yes, in a way…”

Gladys says: “Shazaaaaaam”

The Word of God became flesh and lived among us- full of grace and truth.

Third. Glory. John says: “We have seen his glory…glory as the glory of the only Son sent from the Father…”

You may remember that Moses, in conversation with God, asked God’s name, then asked to see God’s glory. No one has ever seen God, much less God’s glory. God says to Moses: “Stand in the cleft of the rock…I will pass by and you can see my backside…”

The backside of God’s glory. The wonder of God’s beauty. What do you see at Christmas? You see the glory of God. The Word made flesh lying in a manger.

The great preacher Phillips Brooks spent Christmas in Jerusalem and went to an impressive worship service that lasted several hours. Later, as he was winding down, he spent part of the evening on the hillside outside Jerusalem and he looked out at Bethlehem, a small town. He saw Christ there and wrote: “O little Town of Bethlehem…” and said; “In thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.”

There is no place so dark or so small or too ordinary, or life too troubled, or too insignificant that God cannot come…

Paul Sherer asks: “What is the glory of God?” He says: “The majesty that had nowhere to lay its head; the grandeur that was meek and lowly; the beauty that had neither form nor comeliness that we should desire him, the splendor of a lonely wanderer, weary and footsore, with nails through his hands and feet…”

He says: “I have found in and through him all the God I want. Nothing less than that. All that I know of God I do not say that I have learned from him. I say that I have seen in him. I say that I have seen it in him. And when I celebrate the day of his birth, I celebrate the day when God made himself so manifest men and women have not been able to get away from him…”
Paul Scherer, Love Is a Spendthrift, New York, Harper, 1961, pp. 16-17.

In the beginning was the word
The word was with God
The word was God
He was in the beginning with God
Nothing was made that was made without him

The word was made flesh and dwelt among us
We saw his glory, glory as of the only son of the Father…

Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Bethel Family Christmas

This is my Christmas letter to all. You know how some families send out these letters each year catching you up on what is going on with everybody. The Bethel Family is ready for Christmas.

Advent was, as usual, fun and exciting. On the first Sunday we put up Chrismon Tree and wreathes and an Advent Wreath. The music turned to expectation: “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus…” Come indeed. After this, parties started happening everywhere. Classes and circles ate and shared time together.

The next Sunday, we gathered in the Fellowship Hall for our annual Special Education Christmas. We sang carols with our friends and shared an unbelievable feeling that something was afoot among, even among us, that we could not quite get a handle on.

In addition to the other services of Holy Communion and preaching, we had the Children’s Presentation at 10:55: Star of Wonder. Our children outdid themselves, obviously the result of careful planning and rehearsing by Dale Fischer.

Parties and more parties. Then, the next Sunday, the Youth and Adult Choirs blessed us with “Winter Grace”. It was an incredible mix of scripture and music. Everybody came one way and went home another, moved by the experience.

Handbells, wonderful Organ music by Pamela Smithey, and each week we sang more and more carols.

Last Sunday, we turned our hearts to Matthew 1:18-25 and watched and listened and Joseph and Mary worked it out being guided by angels and dreams. Four Sundays of expectation and waiting bring us to the place of celebration.

We had a wonderful staff party and sent letters to all who lost loved ones this year. The first Christmas is always the hardest. It all happens in a flurry of activity as we move closer to Christmas. The color on the altar is purple which reflects the penitence and preparation of Advent. We prayed all the more: “Come, Lord Jesus…” We know, you see, that in God’s good time, Jesus will come again to make things right, to finally put it all to rights.

This last week before Christmas everything settles down around here a bit. A few people drop by to leave us sweets and to be sweet to us. We are so grateful for this family. We get busy getting three weeks of bulletins ready, since the time between now and the new year is short. We get three sermons ready for Christmas Eve, The first Sunday after Christmas, and the first Sunday of the new year.

I usually plan out the preaching and worship for six months in advance; so, last week I put together plans for January. I’ve worked on plans for the other five months but need to pick out hymns and other things. I will get to that first thing after the new year.

We wait around here this time of year for the rest of the pledge cards to come in, although some will not get them in until next year. We wait on the end of the year giving to the church to see where the budget will stand. We pray a lot about that and other things around here, especially this time of year.

We are always able to do what we need to do, what God is calling us to do, because of the faithfulness of so many who love Bethel and love God. I am sure that the end of this year will be no different. We will end the year as we lived it: blessed to be a blessing.

Advent/Christmas in our family at Bethel is like a joyous party. We hold each other close while saying goodbye to others. We welcome new people who add a special grace to the family. We sing and pray and worship and serve. And underneath it all, we feel it. Something is breaking forth again, something that we cannot get hold of- something (God) that gets hold of us.

In a few days, this church will be full of people and we will celebrate the coming of Jesus in a manger. We will behold the glory of the Lord. The thing about Christmas is that God comes in a baby and you just can’t get away from that. Thanks be to God!

Merry Christmas!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Wonder

Last night we had our Child Enrichment (Day Care) Christmas presentation in the sanctuary. As always it was a time for lots of music and giggles. The children came through the door to the sanctuary looking for the ones who were there for them. The Parents, Grandparents, and others were looking at the one they came to see. After some rousing carols we went downstairs for pandemonium and Santa Claus. It was a wonderful time.

Today I had chapel for the day care and we sang carols and prayed. Again, lots of giggles and smiles and hugs were everywhere to be seen.

I just checked the weather forecast: snow and sleet tonight, they say. It’s a fun time of year. We give gifts and share time together. When my mother was alive, and we lived in other places, we would meet her at the mall and get right in the middle of it all, especially when the children were little.

Christmas is the time for memories: a Roy Rogers and Dale Evans outfit for me and my sister; a BB gun; pajamas and socks. Papa, granny, and mamma…

There was the Christmas when Betsy had to have a Barbie car. Mary called all over creation looking for one. I heard her calling: “Do you have a Barbie Chevette…?” When she hung up she asked my why everyone was laughing at her. I said: “Honey, Barbie wouldn’t be caught dead in a Chevette. She drives a Corvette.” There’s quite a bit of difference between a Chevette and a Corvette.

There was the Christmas when we had to find a Cabbage-patch doll. Who invents these things?

Now, some would do away with all this, saying that it’s all nonsense. But, we have to be careful here. After all, Christmas is about surprise, and wonder, and gifts, and love, and all the rest. Christmas is about all the silliness that a baby brings.

Look at children this time of year or any time for that matter and you see the wonder of life, its beauty and surprise.

In the movie, Joseph grabs his wife Mary off the donkey and carries her around looking for a place stay for the night. In the darkness, a baby cries and Mary and Joseph are filled with wonder.

In all the busyness and stress, let your mind go to that story again. See a young teenager with a baby in the straw, her husband standing near, angels, animals and a lot of other impossible stuff. It’s Christmas. If your Christmas has no wonder and magic, if your Christmas has nothing impossible about it, then it’s not really Christmas.

It came to pass, in those days…and there was a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest…” Glory indeed!

Dave Nichols

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The New Church Year

The Christian year has two cycles. The first looks like this: Advent-Christmas-Epiphany. The second is: Lent-Easter-Pentecost. Each of the cycles is similar in that each has a season of preparation, a season of celebration, and a season of growth. We started the Season of Advent last Sunday as we prepare for the coming of Christ.

As always the first Sunday of Advent assigns the Gospel about what we call the Second Coming of Christ. Here we are thinking about Christmas and…It was November 1 when I got in my car and turned the radio to one of the stations in Greenville to which I listen. The singer sang: “Have a holly, jolly Christmas…” Mercy. I turned the channel as quickly as I could so as not to be corrupted by the secular season which gets longer every year.

When I was a boy, we at least had to wait until after Thanksgiving to see Christmas decorations to up in the stores. Now, we’re barely past Halloween when it starts up.

I certainly understand the practicality of it. Most of the money made by merchants in our economy comes in at Christmas, during the Christmas season. Every year we are encouraged to spend knowing that at the end of it all we will not have spent enough to keep things going. I understand that stores sell things that people have made, and that they employ people who in turn spend money on things. I understand how it works. And the notion is, of course, that maybe we need to expand the Christmas season so as to make it more profitable for all.

In the midst of this, here’s the church trying to hold everybody back. The church has always known that a part of being all-in at Christmas is about the preparation, spiritually. So, Advent (coming) invites us not just to prepare for Christmas, though we do. Advent invites us to prepare for the coming of Christ.

So, the church throws everything up against the background of Matthew 24: 36-44. The end is coming; the kingdom of God has come near. It will all come down, a block at a time. Jesus will return in a cosmic event. All will be stirred by it. It will bring, as it brought with Jesus’ first coming, tension and redemptive judgment. It will cause a clash of powers and values and commitments. But, then, in God’s good time, the kingdom will come in all its fullness and God will finally make all things right.

Advent calls us to prepare for this coming of Christ, to get ready with prayer and worship and giving.

Don’t worry about when. Jesus doesn’t even know when. No, pay attention to the signs, the changes, the movements. God is coming in Christ again. You’d better get ready.

Get ready so that when he does come at night or at noonday you will not miss him this time.

We yearn for that time when it will all come together. In God’s good time, everything will finally be made right. In the meantime, we watch and wait and pray and serve that kingdom and that Christ.

See you in Church!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

With Our Gifts

Last Sunday we came to the last in the discipleship series on “Blessed to Be a Blessing”. Remember that we have been working our way through the membership vows of Methodists. We promise to uphold the church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. I have tried to say in this series that these five things are marks of discipleship for us. We are blessed with the privilege and sent to bless others with these commitments.

Last Sunday we worked on upholding the church with our gifts. It was Consecration Sunday and we brought out pledges for 2011 to the altar as a church. It was, as always, a moving service as everyone moved forward toward the altar to leave their gift.

I made four points. First, I said that God owns everything. I pointed out that one scholar I know defines sin as “strutting around as if we owned the place.” God owns everything because he made everything and everybody. God is our benefactor, our creator. But, we forget that. Deuteronomy 8 says that Moses called all the children of Israel together as they were getting ready to enter the Promised Land and said: “when you live in fine houses, when you silver and gold are multiplies, when your livestock are multiplied, be careful and don’t forget God who gave you the power to get wealth in the first place…” God owns everything and gives everything away.

Second, giving is a pleasure. We love to give gifts to those we love. Nothing gives us more pleasure than to give a gift to someone. Why do people give to the church? A survey said that we give because giving is a part of worship, and we give because it is a pleasure to share. We also give, the survey says, because it makes us feel good.

Third, giving is a requirement for Christians. Since we have been given so much, we are expected to give. The Old Testament principle is the Tithe, which is 10% of our income. And, if we do we are promised that God will open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing. The children of Israel brought what they had to the tent; they made a sacrifice in response to God’s choice of them as his people. A widow in the New Testament throws in two copper coins. She gave all she had. It’s not the amount. It’s the trust and faith that God will provide.

Fourth, Jesus is King. Consecration Sunday was also Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Church’s year. Jesus is exalted. The text was from Luke 23. Jesus is crucified between two thieves. Over Jesus on the cross were the words: “The King of the Jews”. It was meant to mock Jesus. But, Luke wants us to see that Jesus is a different kind of king. He is King of Love.
Just recently, I was introduced to a wonderful hymn in our hymnal written by Fred Pratt Green, a British Methodist preacher who died in 2000. He wrote:

To mock your reign, O dearest Lord,
They made a crown of thorns.
Set you with taunts along that road
From which no one returns.
They did not know, as we do now,
That glorious is your crown.
That thorns would flower upon your brow
Your sorrows heal our own.

They did not know as we do now that glorious is your crown. Looking up to this king, we cannot help but give our best.

See you in Church!
Dave Nichols

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

With My Service

We are moving rapidly through the covenant marks of our discipleship. As Methodists we promise to uphold the church and the marks of our upholding the church are found in prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. This past Sunday we looked a moment at service as that great big movement that we make that we make into action.

It was interesting to me that the lectionary Gospel for that Sunday was Luke 21: 7-19. It is the “little apocalypse”. It is a picture of the end of the age, the destruction of the temple, Israel’s center. It is place where we end every church year- in judgment- waiting for God’s great conclusion when Jesus returns. We live on that edge, waiting on God to make everything right. We call that the Kingdom of God.

So, what does this have to do with service? It has to do with service as everything has to do with service in scripture. In the face of God’s great coming to us in Jesus Christ, in the face of Easter, in anticipation of Christ’s coming again, we all ask rightly: “How shall we then live?”

We certainly don’t go out to the mountainside and wait on Christ to return. People in Paul’s day did that and were admonished to return to work. Paul said: “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” Some do focus all their energy on trying to predict the end times. A quick look at the internet gives you all kinds of attempts to name the end and the date of the end. I am amazed that anybody engages in that kind of waste of time.

No, we don’t sit around and wait. We go to work and wait; we pray and wait. Martin Luther was asked: “If you knew that the end was coming tomorrow what would you do?” He said: “I would still plant my apple tree.”

Not only was Luther acknowledging the nonsense of predictions, he was also saying that Christians go on living and serving as they are in the world. The end is up to God. So, we ask: “How then should we live.”

And, Christians live as servants of Christ in the world, up to the end. So, I gave three quick points:

1. Every person is a minister. Each church is led by ministers, yes, but it doesn’t let other Christians off the hook. You don’t become part of the Body of Christ, the church, only to be ministered to, though you get that. You are called, saved, to be of use to somebody else. Every Christian is a minister. As a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, you are a human being who is part of a story of redemption. And, you reach out to bring others into that redemptive story. What we do is part of God’s doing for others in the world. Paul says that Christ makes his appeal to the world through us.

2. Every Christian has gifts. And, we are called to use those gifts for others. I asked leaders of Spartanburg what the three major needs are in this city. They said: 1. Literacy, 2. Teenage Pregnancy, 3. Financial Management (for those who have little). Is there a way that God is calling us to respond to the needs here in our city. Your calling is where you gifts meet the needs of the world.

3. One way to look at service is to think of your “holy discontent”. Bill Hybels says that it’s like the Popeye cartoon. Popeye takes all he can take and then blows his stack and says: “I can’t stands no more…” What is it that bugs you, that makes you say “I can’t stand no more…” That’s God calling you to do something about it.

I will uphold the church…with my service. Romans 12 says: “I beseech you, my brother and sisters, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice….”

See you in Church!
Dave Nichols

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Celebration at Bethel

Tuesday, Nov. 9, was our Veteran’s Day celebration at Bethel. Sr. Adult Ministry every year does this to honor our veterans. A bulletin board in the hallway shows pictures and letters from veterans and celebrates their service. Maxine Reynolds is responsible for that. You should check it out. Dr. Paul W. Harmon, our Spartanburg District Superintendent, United Methodist Church, was our speaker and gave a wonderful talk, sharing with us about his own grandmother who sat and prayed over her four boys all of whom were at war. And, they all came home. He talked about the sacrifices that veterans make but also the sacrifice of family and others who wait and pray. Quoting the poem “Flanders Field” he reminded us of the great commitments of those who serve their country.

He read Psalm 27 to remind us in whose sight we all serve.

The picture above tells the story. What a great group.

See you in Church!
Dave Nichols

With My Witness

As I have said previously, United Methodists define discipleship by promising to uphold the church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. Last Sunday, it was All Saints Sunday; so, we looked at upholding the church with our witness. This was certainly appropriate as we honored those who have died since last year. I offered three points:

1. Every Christian is a witness. Remember the song: “Can I get a witness?” Every believer is a witness. We may not say a word or do anything out of the ordinary, but we are still witnesses to Christ. Now, I know that this is a difficult subject for Methodists and other main-line Protestants. We did a study with Natural Church Development to determine what our church’s lowest factor was. Turns out we were lowest in Need-Based Evangelism. So, we asked for feedback from the congregation. Why is evangelism so low on our scales of measurement? We said things like: 1. we don’t see it as a priority; 2. we don’t know what it means; 3. we aren’t going from door to door. Informally, some shared with me that evangelism is so distorted by many around us that it is difficult to know how to do it with love. For instance, a particular, University sends their students over to Wofford to accost the students. Often Wofford students are yelled at: “Are you saved?”

It is difficult. But, it’s still true that we are witnesses. God never leaves himself without a witness. Your love, your words, your deeds, your influence are all ways in which God bears witness through you. God makes his appeal to the world through us according to 2 Corinthians.

2. You have an effect on others. Most of us don’t think our lives affect other people very much. But, your life affects a whole network of people whom you know and even acquaintances that you don’t know well. Children, grandchildren, friends, neighbors, you may not think they are watching but they are. A child walks behind his father in the snow carefully making sure to try to stretch to walk in his father’s footprints.

The survey that we took for Natural Church Development said that most of us were not friends with any people who were not Christians. Maybe so. Or, maybe we are just not looking to make friends with anyone else. You have an effect on others. Don’t forget that you have an effect on others for Christ.

3. Your witness lives on long after you. Of course, we celebrated this on All Saints Sunday. Everyone who lived among us as a follower of Christ had a lasting impact on Bethel Church, their family, and the community. They prepared the way for us. Now, we modern day witnesses take up their mantle and take responsibility for our time and place in the world. Everything that we say, everything that we do, everything that we give, everyone that we love, benefits from our witness to Jesus Christ as Lord.

How are you doing with your witness? Do you ever talk to anyone about your own faith? Do you ever think to invite someone to your church and faith who might not otherwise have been invited? Most of the people who do not attend church say they don’t because they have not been invited. Look around your neighborhood. If you believe that everyone needs Jesus Christ and salvation, then keep your eyes open and your ears unstopped. Someone out there needs you.

See you in Church!
Dave Nichols

Thursday, November 4, 2010

With My Presence

Last Sunday we looked at our second week in the series of services around the theme: “Blessed to Be a Blessing”. And, we looked at that with our commitment to uphold the church with our presence. We promise to be present in worship. We promise not because worship it is a requirement, but because worship it is a mark of Christians. Christian disciples worship; that’s what we do.

In the sermon I talked about worshiping our Awesome God. When I was young and starting out, an older pastor asked me: “David, what do you consider to be the main problem in the world today with regard to the church?” I said, and I still believe it, that we had lost our sense of “awe” and wonder. The present modern world of the enlightenment has taught us that everything can be explained, everything. If we don’t understand it yet, then we will one day understand it because human ingenuity and intelligence will make it understandable. We understand where the world came from; how we were made, etc. There is nothing in the world or in us that cannot be explained in such a world. The assumption is that if we have right information about something that we have thereby defined it, even God.

Of course, there is no god in this kind of world. If we can’t see it or think of it, it doesn’t exist. Christian faith comes into this world saying that we do not understand everything. Even if we know it’s origins, we have not defined it. The world is still full of mystery and the greatest mystery of all is God, this God who created all things and then created us. Look at the beauty and wonder, the beauty and wonder of human beings.

Worship is bringing ourselves, our lives, before this God in praise and offering. Worship is keeping an appointment that has been made for us with God. Now, certainly worship, like everything, is a choice.

Scripture tells us that we will worship. The question is: which god will we worship? When Moses came down from Sinai he found the children of Israel worshiping a golden calf. We will worship and if not the God of Christian faith, we will worship something usually that is shiny and gold or has the promise of gold.

I find our culture filled with people who are chasing a dream of wealth and teaching their children that this is what we value. You can see the results of such worship and teaching. A world filled with people who are their own god is a world filled with, well, you know, don’t you?

He is called the oldest student in the world. He lived in a village in northern Kenya. Maruge was 86 years old when the government started giving scholarships to school. Maruge, who could not read, but always wanted to learn, went to Elementary School. Pictures show Maruge in a small desk in a class full of small children. Soon, the government changed and Maruge was forced to move. But, he found another school where he did in fact learn to read. The one dream of his life was to learn to read---so that he could read his Bible for himself.

That kind of dream sounds strange to most of us. We have other dreams, but no dream is greater than the dream of worshiping and serving God.
How are you doing with your presence? Are you keeping your weekly appointment with God?

By the way, See you in church!
Dave Nichols

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Blessed to Bless With Our Prayers

Our Stewardship/Discipleship theme is Blessed to Bless. With this theme in mind we embark on that annual journey of renewing our faith commitments to uphold the church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness. These five things are the marks of discipleship for us. What does a Christian look like? A Christian prays, presents him/herself in worship and study, gives, serves and witnesses in the name of Jesus Christ.

So, at this time of the year we call each other to account and ask: “How have we done?” or “Where can we improve and move forward in our commitment to Christ?”

Last Sunday, I invited the congregation to see how they were doing with their prayers. John Stott, great evangelist, was speaking to a conference. He started his remarks by saying: “We all know that we need to pray more…”

One could look at this Pharisaically and ask: “What is enough?” Maxie Dunnam says that there are some things that God will not do unless we pray. Some say that the world is such a mess right now because Christian are not praying. I offered Sunday three things about prayer.

1. Prayer is naming God. This means that when we pray as follower of Christ, we call on God as Father. We name God as the God of our lives. We acknowledge that prayer is a hunger here. Psalm 42 says: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, O God, so my soul longs for you.” The text was Luke 18:9ff. It’s the story of the two prayers: the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee stands up at the altar physically but is far from God when he says; “I thank you God that I am not like other people…especially this tax collector. The tax collector then cries out for God’s mercy. The one who asked for mercy went home right with God, says Jesus.

2. Prayer is name ourselves as we are before God. We don’t come to God pretending to be something we are not. We come as we are- named as a child of God through Christ. My friend says that he told his spiritual director: “Sometimes I don’t feel that my prayers get through the ceiling.” The spiritual director leaned over and touch my friend’s chest with his finger and said: “ Your prayers only need to get this far.” Bring your needs and your wants/desires to God, just as you are.

3. Prayer is allowing God to name us. When we are praying and offer God our own needs as honestly as we can, God comes to us giving us the assurance of his presence with us. Isaiah 43 says that when we pass through the waters they will not overwhelm us…when we pass through the fire…it will not burn us…God will be with us wherever we go, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in.

How are you doing with this gift of prayer? Are you using prayer to bless others? Are you growing in your prayer life? Are you moving from praying only about yourself to praying about others and to the point where prayer is listening to God- when prayer is as important to you as breathing? We are blessed to bless with our prayers.

Dave Nichiols

Monday, October 18, 2010

Blessed to Bless

Yesterday, we started our next sermon series which laid the foundation for our Stewardship theme: Blessed to bless others! Our text was Genesis 12: 1-9, that wonderful passage in which God approaches a 75-year-old man, Abram, with a calling.

When the Jews begin to tell their/our story they say of Abram: “My father was a wandering Aramean…” Abram and Sarai were nomads who wandered the desert, settling wherever they found precious water. Some think that they were worshippers of pagan gods, not unusual for people in that day and time and place. Then, our God appears and calls him to go…That’s how God’s call most always comes to us: “Go.” Go to another place in the world, to another space in your mind, to another idea than your present one. Take your body and your life and your family and your time and go…”

Of course, the Promised Land was the destination. God would create for himself a people to be a light to the world. And, he would carve out a place in this world for them. So, as we come to that time of the year when we bring each other to some account for our Christian walk, as we ask how we’re doing with our journey of faith, our foundation is laid in Abram and Sarai who were blessed by God to be a blessing to the whole world.

So, yesterday, Sunday, I invited the worshippers to turn to their neighbors and say first: “I am blessed…” Since by extension we, as followers/believers of/in Jesus Christ, we are, too, a blessed people. Psalm 103 says: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits…” There are benefits to this walk of faith in the God of Abram. We are blessed with many blessings. So, think of yourself as blessed…”

In our culture, our world, which is largely pagan, we are taught to think of ourselves in two ways: lucky or unlucky. If you’re doing relatively well, we consider you lucky. If not, then unlucky. Of course, our God is not involved in luck. Luck involves a pagan trust in the stars, or something, in a lottery, or some other form of superstition.

We don’t believe in luck; we believe in Jesus. Not that everything that happens to us is God’s will, or is good, but we believe that even when things are bad that our God can/will bring good out of the worst things.

I guess that are some of us who think of ourselves as cursed, not blessed. We certainly are prone to think of ourselves as lacking instead of prosperous. To say “I am blessed” is to walk by faith trusting God to be with us, to help us, to love us through whatever we’re going through, to lead us forward with all that we need to be and do God’s will.

Next, I asked the worshippers to turn to their neighbors and say: “I am a blessing…” We are blessed to be a blessing. I suggested four ways that we are blessings to others: with a loving touch, a kind word, friendship, and making a difference.

I ended my sermon with the story of Mr. Chen Si. Mr. Chen was listening to his radio one day and heard the terrible report that the bridge over the Yangze River in Nanjing was known for the number of people who jumped from it. 1000 people have jumped from it. Mr. Chen decided to do something about it. He wears binoculars in his off hours and walks the bridge looking for people who are ready to jump. He has saved some 170 people. People tell stories of how they went over the side and were grabbed by Chen. He is called the “angel of Nanjing”. Wow.

In what ways are you being an “angel” a blessing to others? That’s the foundation. In the next five weeks we will call each other to our covenant walk asking how we can bless others with our prayers, presence, service, witness, and gifts. Each week you will be asked to measure your own faithfulness and see where you might do better. Are you with me in this?

I trust you and I trust God. We are blessed to be a blessing!
Dave Nichols

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Top Ten Questions God Asks Us- Number Ten

I feel a little bit like Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. I acknowledge that most of you probably don’t know who Johnny Carson was. Carson was the host of the Tonight Show for many years; when he retired, Jay Leno took over. Anyway, Carson did a routine call Carnac in which he was a soothsayer who would give the answers to questions having never before seen the questions. His sidekick, Ed McMahon, would hold the questions in an envelope. Without fail, he would hold the last envelope in his hand and say: “I hold in my hand the last envelope.” And, the audience would erupt into wild applause.

This is the tenth question that God asks us in our series of ten questions God asks us. This is the last question. Do I hear wild applause? The question is: “Do you know what I have done to you?”

The question comes in chapter 13 of John’s Gospel. It’s after the Passover meal with his disciples. Jesus gets up from table and takes off his outer garment. He takes a towel and a basin of water and starts to wash the disciples’ feet. Peter is first and he protests that the Messiah, the Savior of the world, should not be washing his feet. Jesus says: “If I don’t wash your feet, you have no part in me…” Peter says: “Then, not just me feet, wash my hands, my head, my whole body…”

It’s an utterly absurd act. Everyone walked in those days, you remember. The roads were dusty. Someone’s feet would be dirty after only walking a short distance. Feet would perhaps be wounded by rocks or sticks along the way. When you arrived at someone’s house, the host would order the servant to wash your feet.

You knew is someone was rich if they had a servant to wash your feet. A host would never wash feet. So, when Jesus, Mr. Savior of the world, gets on hands and knees to wash feet, it seems totally out of place.

Jesus washes all their feet and then asks: “Do you know what I have done to you?” This is a teaching moment. Jesus is teacher and Lord. But what about this? In my sermon on this, I said that I thought Jesus was saying three things here. He was saying first: I touched you. I touched you at the place where your pain is most real. I touched you at the place where the filth and dirt of the world have collected. He also said: I gave you example.

This was kind of an acted-out parable. Since I have washing your feet (loved you), you ought to wash one another’s feet (love each other).

There are some churches in which this foot-washing action is a sacrament. Just as we see in Holy Communion and Baptism the action of God, they see in foot-washing the sacramental action of God.

It was 1991. I was pastor at Socastee UMC. It was Maundy Thursday when we read this text and talk about it with the congregation before we have Communion together. My mother was there in a wheel chair. She had been diagnosed with Scleroderma, which is an arthritic condition with no treatment. It attacks the major organs of the body. It was attacking her lungs and that caused all kinds of problems.

I served her Holy Communion at church; I’ll never forget it. Later that night as I was helping her get to bed in my bed my mother said: “David, will you rub my feet; my feet hurt so much.” A light went on. Just as I have done this to you; so you…Do you know what I have done to you. In a kind of sacrament I returned the grace that she had given me and rubbed her feet.

In millions of ways, Jesus example is lived out in the church as you serve and love each other. Do you know what I have done to you? Yes, you took a towel, a basin of water, and a cross...

Dave Nichols

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Top Ten Questions God Asks Us- Number Nine

The ninth question in the series of Top Ten Questions God Asks Us is: Why are you Weeping? Remember that this series of sermons is based on the book by Trevor Hudson called Questions God Asks Us.

This question comes in the resurrection narrative of John’s Gospel. Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb early. She peeps into the tomb and sees two angels and they ask her: “Why are you weeping?” She says: “Where is my Lord? Have they taken him away? Tell me where they have taken him that I may take him away.”

Looking for a dead body, not expecting that Jesus was alive, even though Jesus had told them, she weeps. In the garden, someone appears and asks: “Why are you weeping?” Mary says: “They have taken away my Lord…” Jesus says: “Mary.” And, Mary recognizes Jesus and says: “Rabboni”.

The Bible is filled with weeping. In the Book of Ecclesiastes, the writer says: “There is a time to laugh and a time to weep.” Life is this mixture of joy and sadness; laughter and tears. Without the tears we would not know the meaning of laughter.

Israel is exiled from her homeland. The Babylonians come and take away the most educated and skilled people and scatter them throughout the empire. The Jews who were left in Jerusalem were either enslaved or murdered. The Babylonians destroyed their homes, their temple, their city, and their lives.

Years later, Israel is set free to return home. God uses Cyrus the Persian who writes an edict setting Israel free. Ezra and Nehemiah lead the Israelites home. There’s a wonderful scene in which all Israel is gathered. Scripture is read and preached all day. The people weep. At one point it says that the Jews were shouting in praise of God and weeping at the same time. You couldn’t tell one from another.

The shouts of joy were mingled with tears of sadness and grief. Why are you weeping?

I don’t know about you but I am sick and tired of the talk shows where people are paraded out in front of everybody. There’s yelling and screaming and lots of tears. Sometimes I feel that we are awash with tears in this culture. People cry and they think they’ve done something. You can’t watch a TV show without seeing/hearing someone crying.

And yet, I have to acknowledge the importance of our tears. Loss, pain, grief, or just the passing of time lead us all to emotion. Ray, on Everybody Loves Raymond, comes home early one day and catches his wife crying. Immediately he tries to fix it, to get her to stop crying. Ray tries and tries. Finally, his wife says; “It’s OK Ray; I’m fine. Sometimes I just need to cry.”

If we’re honest, we all need to cry sometime. Something like a movie sets it off. We all have reason to cry.

Even Jesus, the savior of the world, Mr. Word made flesh, wept. It’s the shortest verse in scripture: “Jesus wept.” It’s the most precious verse in scripture.

Church at its best is the place, the people, where we can cry and not worry about it. Christians are the people who understand tears, if nothing else, and don’t rush to stop them, but seek to understand them. On Sundays, as we praise God, the tears are flowing. It’s good.

We know, you see, that our tears, all our tears, are not the last word. We worship a God who dries our tears and will one day bring all our tears to joy in that kingdom which has no end.

Why are you weeping? It’s ok to cry in church.

Dave Nichols

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Top Ten Questions God Asks Us- Number Eight

The eighth question that God Asks Us is: Do You Want to be Made Well? This question is found in John 5. A man is lying on his mat by the Pool of Bethzatha. Jesus comes in from Bethany to Jerusalem and is about to enter through the Shepherd’s Gate. Now there are Lions on either side of that gate, but it is called the Shepherd’s Gate. If there was a threat to humans and animals they could run through this gate to safety.

Outside the gate were originally two huge pools. The Romans tied the two pools together and built five porches (porticos) over them. They were built to honor the Roman god of healing. So, people would gather about the pools waiting to be healed. The myth said that at certain times an angel would stir the water and the first one in the pool after that would be healed.

Jesus comes to the man lying on his mat who has been sick for 38 years and asks him: “Do you want to be made well?” Now, every time that I hear that question I want to say: “Sure, of course, doesn’t everyone want to be made well?”

And yet, I know that the implication is that maybe we don’t really want to be made well, to be made whole? The change that would come from being made well or the change that would have to be made to get well…might be too much for us.

I imagine that those about the pool are camped out waiting on healing. It reminds me of those who gather in the intensive care waiting room. You’ve seen them. Maybe you’re been a part of them. They bring pillows and blankets, food and drinks. They camp out waiting on the time to see their patient, waiting on the time to see the doctor, waiting on some news, hopefully good news, but any news at all.

They waited at the pool for healing. It was sort of a “culture of the five porticos”. We do the same here. We are promised healing from every corner. Gurus, witch doctors, whoever will make a promise, all get out attention. Just visit the local bookstore. One of the largest sections in the store is the self-help section, God help us. We go to a pool, a porch, a pill, looking, waiting for healing.

Jesus says: “Take up your mat and walk.” Put one foot in front of the other. In response to the man who said: “I have no one to put me in the water; I can’t get there first.”, Jesus says: “I am here; now you have someone to help.”

Now the Greek word here is not the word for “cure”. There is a Greek word for “cure”, but this word is the word for “wholeness.” Of course, our word salvation has its roots in the word for healing. Do you want to be made whole?

She came to me about her marriage. She was in her fifties. Her children were all gone and she was left with her husband. Her husband was a religious man but a brutal man. All her married life she had suffered under his stern criticism and mean language. He never laid a hand on her, good nor bad. In fact, he stopped touching her soon after all her children were born. She lived with his bitterness and anger. I listened as she told me about it.
A few weeks later she told me she had left him. But, she said, “How do I know if I’ve done the right thing.” I said: “How does it feel.” She said: “I feel free…” I said: “Then take your wings and fly; find your voice and sing.” Take up your mat and walk.

What is it that is holding you bondage? Take up your mat…

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Top Ten Questions God Asks Us- Number Seven

The seventh question of the Top Ten Questions God Asks Us is: Who do you say I am? We move deeper into the New Testament now. Jesus is with his disciples at Caesarea Philippi in Northernmost Israel. This incident is the turning point in the Gospel story. Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, stops here with those he loves best, with his best followers.

Jesus asks first: “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples respond with what would be for the Jews obvious answers: “Some say you’re John the Baptist returned from the dead. Some, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Even Herod thought Jesus to be John the Baptist come back from the dead. Elijah, it was said, would return before the great and terrible day of the Lord and the coming of Messiah. Jeremiah wept for the sin of his people and God’s judgment of them. All of the prophets confronted the powers and were rejected, just like Jesus.

Jesus is one of the most fascinating people in history. It should not surprise us that people have such strong opinions about him still. You hear people say all the time in our culture about Jesus: He was a good man, a great teacher, a social reformer, a prophet, or a sage of wisdom.

These identifications of Jesus are true as far as they go. If we have these opinions, we can go our merry way. Jesus is a good teacher and, so are others. I have heard Jesus, in our day, called a myth and a metaphor.

Now, you see, Jesus didn’t ask what others were saying about him just to see what the polls were saying. He asked this question to lay the foundation for the next question, the question. Who do you say that I am?

Of course, it’s Peter who answers: “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God…” Jesus is not someone that we can make into whatever we want. We would like that. Some still do this- refusing to name who Jesus is. But it takes faith to say what Peter said. We should expect that people without faith and the Holy Spirit could say this. It’s only with faith that we can say that Jesus is Messiah and Son of God.

Just in the last few years, I found myself in a class at one of our Methodist places. The teacher was talking about leadership. He was a good teacher. He spoke with conviction and tears some of the time. Then, we started talking about God and Jesus; and suddenly it was all metaphor. He said: “Jesus was not the Son of God; that’s just how we think of him.” And, we were encouraged to think of Jesus any way that we wanted, not bound by revelation or anything passé like that.

No, Jesus was Messiah, the One, who was to come and will come, the One who saves, heals, reconciles. He is also Son of God. Not that Jesus was adopted to this, no, he was from the very beginning God in flesh. Mysteriously clothed in flesh he walked among us and gave himself for us.

I weary with those who would speak with any understanding about Jesus who do not have faith. It’s a gift of faith to see him as the One, the Son of God. If the church proclaims anything or anyone else, let her be silenced.

The great Dallas Willard, professor of philosophy, was leaving class one day when a student stopped him and asked: “Dr. Willard, how can you an educated, intellectual, man follow Jesus?” Willard answered: “Who else did you have in mind?”

That’s it! There is no other. He is the One. Know him; follow and find life. If you’ve been with Jesus, there is simply no other place to go.

Dave Nichols

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Top Ten Questions God Asks- Number Six

The sixth question in the “Top Ten” Series of sermons on God’s questions of us is: “What are you looking for?” And, we’re into the New Testament and John’s Gospel. John the Baptist is standing near the Jordan River where, of course, he’s been baptizing people when Jesus of Nazareth passes by. John points to Jesus and says: “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world…” Some of John’s disciples go with Jesus. Jesus asks these new followers: “What are you looking for?”

Recently on Cable TV I saw the replay of the 25th anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was a live concert that lasted for hours. Great musical artists came through. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, Sam (of Sam and Dave), Bruce Springsteen, and many others sang and played together. It was wonderful to me because it was the secular musical narrative of my life. I knew most of the songs and sang along. It was great.

One of the greats who performed was U2 (Bono). He sang with Springsteen one of the his songs: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…” Here are the lyrics:

I have climbed highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you
I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her fingertips
It burned like a fire
This burning desire

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
But yes I'm still running

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Oh my shame
You know I believe it

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

You notice toward the end the mention of the cross. Bono is a professing Christian and it has led him to confront politicians and to get involved in serving those who are most needy in the world. He sings: “But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…”

In one sense he has found what he’s looking for in Jesus. And, yet our restless hearts move us to keep looking. In fact, our faith compels us to keep looking for Jesus’ kingdom coming here. We wait; we look for it. We live on tip toe in hope that God will keep coming to us and to his world.

What are you looking for? Celebrate that it’s Jesus. But, keep looking.

Dave Nichols

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Top Ten Questions God Asks- Number Five

Back to the series of sermons and thoughts about the Top Ten Questions God Asks Us. I said earlier that this series is based on a book by Trevor Hudson called Questions God Asks Us. The notion behind this series is a challenge to look at the Bible in a new way. We are accustomed to looking at the Bible as an answer book. You have questions and you go to the Bible looking for answers. That’s certainly legitimate.

But, what if we came to the Bible to listen for the “right” questions? Questions are a way of calling us to the right agenda, a way of shaping our lives. So, over these weeks we’ve been letting the Bible gives us the questions. Sitting at prayer, Bible in hand, what is it that God is asking us?

We’re at the fifth question here: What are you doing Here? It comes from the story of Elijah, the great prophet, who stands up to King Ahab and Queen Jezebel and the prophets of Baal. You remember that Ahab married Jezebel in a kind of political arrangement to keep Jezebel’s father’s armies at bay.

The price of bringing Jezebel into Israel was high. She brought her gods with her and her Baal prophets. “Baal” means “lord” and there were hundreds of lords and gods to be worshipped. This crass paganism corrupted the “one God” religion of Israel. So, Elijah railed against it.

It all comes to a head on Mt. Carmel when Elijah challenges the Baal priests to a duel. A sacrifice is laid out and the challenge is given: “Let’s see who the real god is. Let’s see who lights the sacrifice.” The priests cry out to their gods but nothing happens. Elijah makes fun: “Maybe they’re on vacation.” Then Yahweh in power and might lights the sacrifice. Elijah is so empowered that he sets out with sword to kill priest after priest.

This so angers Jezebel that she threatens Elijah, and he runs out to the desert. He runs to Mt. Horeb, which is, of course, Mt. Sinai, the last place that God spoke to his people. In a cave, Elijah calls out to God: “I’m the only one left who cares anything about you, O God. Let me die.” – a familiar refrain from prophets. And then the text says that Elijah heard: “a still small voice.”

Scholars are not quite sure how to translate this Hebrew word. It actually means “utter silence.” Elijah hears silence. So do we.

Then God asks: “Elijah, what are you doing here?” Elijah continues to cry out for help.

So, you’re out there in the desert as you often are. And, you are overwhelmed with disappointment, discouragement, pain. You are out there looking for a word from God. And, the word: “What are you doing here?”

Let this question be a chance to answer truthfully. What are you doing in your spiritual life? What is your discouragement? What is your pain about? What are you doing here?

Then, God tells Elijah to get up and eat. God says: “Go back to your people; there is more for you to do. And, eat this food to keep you on your journey.”

When I preached this, it was communion Sunday at Bethel. So, I said something like: “Come as you are out of your cave, out of your disappointment, depression, whatever. Come and eat and get on with it.”

Dave Nichols

Monday, September 13, 2010

Another Wedding- Another Day

I am reflecting this week on the wedding from which we just returned. This was our second wedding (both daughters) in a year. Many of you know that our middle daughter Frances got married to Chris last October. Now, our eldest daughter Betsy got married to Jeff last Saturday, 9/11.

My friend Randy who just married off a daughter reminded me by text message on Saturday that this is very rough on the daddy. Remember that I am the only male in my family- wife and three daughters. I have one sister and was raised by my mother and grandmother, mostly. So, here I was awash in emotion. Tears were everywhere.

The groom’s parents were crying. The mother of the bride was crying. All the women were crying. Good grief! And I…

I, as my wife said, was charged with the responsibility of “holding everything together”. Now, that might not sound like a huge responsibility, but it is. Sure, everyone jokes that Dad’s job is to write checks and keep his mouth shut. I know. And, I have to admit that my hand is sore from writing checks, and my mouth hurts from keeping my mouth shut.

But, as usual, I was obedient and hung in there. Holding everyone together is a huge responsibility. Everyone looks to you like you know the answer. And, even if you do, you keep it to yourself.

Of course, it isn’t that clear-cut, not really. I actually was trying to hold me together. And, now that it’s over, I will spend some time unpacking what it all means- working my way through the emotions of it all. Parental love is all about rearing this child so that one day he/she will go away. We know that when we begin. We rear them to be as independent as we can make them. We teach them to work hard, and live well. We give them our faith, our love, and our hope. We invest so much of our life and time in them that when they are gone we are left asking: “What do we do now?”

Now, that this part of life is passed…we wait on grandchildren.

But, we people of faith know that no matter what our age, or our children’s ages, we are still children of God whose mission and daily life is bound up in the love of God. There is still much to do; I’m confident of that.

Here we were- Betsy and me- at the top of the stairs looking at the people (family, friends, everyone)- It was a wonderful scene. Betsy was crying and I… Well, my masculine ego forbids me to say I was crying. Let’s just say I was misting. Down the stairs, and across the lawn, we walked down the long aisle and up to the pastor.

Jesus, you remember, was with his mother and disciples, at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Emotions filled the air. A party started. It was a grand celebration. Jesus was there. He always is present at all our services, events, and rituals. He is the one who makes whatever we’re going through joyful. He is the wine saved until last.

There’s no way to get through the sadness but to go through it. And to know that in the midst of it all, we’ve added another son (thank God for another man). And, to remember that all our lives are blessed by the presence of the Savior of the world.

Dave Nichols

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Two More Questions God Asks

We are still working on the Top Ten Questions that God Asks Us. The first two questions, of course, were: 1. Where are You? – the question asked of Adam and Eve in the Garden, after sin; 2. And, Where is your brother?- the question asked of Cain, after murder. Remember that we are using as our guide a book written by Trevor Hudson called the Questions God Asks Us. And, he says that so often we go to the Bible with our question, sometimes good questions, expecting that the Bible will give us answers. That’s certainly a way to go to the Bible.

Hudson suggests that we go to the Bible listening to what God asks us. Here we are at the third and fourth questions. The third question is: “What is that in your Hand?” This question is, of course, asked of Moses when he is called to go confront Pharoah. As all those who are called in scripture, Moses is hesitant and makes excuses. God promises to send Aaron that silver-tongued devil with Moses, but that doesn’t seem to help. So God asks: “What is that in your Hand?” It was a shepherd’s staff. God says: “Throw it down.” And, if you know the story, it turns to a snake. Then, God asks Moses to pick it up- the snake that is. Moses hesitates again (I bet), and picks up the snake which turns to a staff again. We worked that Sunday on the notion that God has given us whatever we need to do what he wants us to do. Whatever your gifts and graces, throw them down and God will turn them into a living thing.

The fourth question we worked on last Sunday is: “What is your Name?” This question, of course, grows out of the story of Jacob. It’s night and Jacob sends his children and wives and possessions across the Jabbok Stream. Someone comes running toward him. He can’t see. A man stops close. Jacob and the man (an angel?) square off. A wrestling match ensues until the dawn. The man ( a messenger of God)- theologically it’s God) tells Jacob: “Let me go; the day is coming.” Jacob will not let the man go until he blesses him. The man asks: “What’s your name?”
We know that his name is Jacob. You remember the story. Jacob, Esau’s twin brother, is born with his hand on Esau’s heel. Jacob means “supplanter” or “grabber”. In scripture, names mean character. Jacob grabs his birthright, and his wives and his possessions. He has woven a tale of grabbing. Jacob hears that his brother is coming; so, he sends gifts to soften him. Then, this man in the night comes wrestling.

The man gives Jacob a new name: Israel, which means “one who wrestles with God”. Sinners make good servants of God. Jacob will now use his shrewdness in the service of God. He will leave his old name and claim a new name.

On Sunday, we looked at God who comes to us in the night to wrestle and puts our hips out of joint. You don’t mess with God easily. What name do we claim? Our Confirmation material was called for years: Claim the name. We are given a new name, a Christ name. It’s a hard name to live up to, but all who are called are given this name.

Parents should be careful what they name their children. Sometimes they/we spend their whole lives living up to or down to that name. In church, we are given a name like no other name. We are given a name, the only name given under heaven by which persons may find salvation. Claim the name and let your life be brought up or down to it.

One of the great theologians of the last century said about this text: “O how small is that with which we wrestle; O how great is that which wrestles with us…” (Moltmann)

Dave Nichols

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Top Ten Questions God Asks Us

A couple of weeks ago I started a series of sermons based on the book Questions God Asks Us by Trevor Hudson. The first week we worked on the question of God to Adam: “Where Are You?” (Genesis 3) Ashamed after their sin, Adam and Eve are separated from God. They cover up themselves. They hide. God comes looking for them in the cool of the day and calls out to them: “Where are you?” It is an invitation to come out of hiding to this God.

Last Sunday, we worked on the second question: “Where is your brother?” It’s the question that God asks Cain after Cain has murdered his brother Abel. You remember the lesson. Cain is a farmer; Abel a shepherd. Both bring an offering to God. For some reason, Cain’s offered is not “regarded” by God.

The text is not really clear as to why Cain’s offering is not “regarded”. Some say that it is because Cain did not bring his best, the first fruits. The text doesn’t bear this out. Cain and Abel bring their best to offer to God. We live in a therapeutic age. So, some say that Cain’s heart was not right. He had the wrong attitude. Explain it how you will; it’s just not clear in the text.

What is clear is that Cain immediately gets angry with God and kills his brother. Cain focuses on himself (sin) and asks God: “What about me? What about me?” But, in the text, God changes the focus to his question: “Where is your brother?”

Of course, God knows that Cain has killed Abel. Cain then is afraid. Now, whoever comes upon Cain will kill him. But, God gives him the “mark”, a protection against any who would do further harm by killing Cain.

Notice that sin is contagious. Often we say that if we sin that it doesn’t affect anyone but us. But, the consequences of sin often go for generations. The separation from God and each other in Adam and Eve moves to Cain and Abel to the structures of society (Genesis 11).

In the Genesis narrative, God even wonders whether this whole creation thing is redeemable. So, in Chapter six there’s a flood.

The top ten questions of the Bible that God asks us is an effort to help us think of the Bible in a new way, maybe. Often we think of the Bible as a book of answers, and it is. But, what if we go to the Bible over these next few weeks in a new way? Instead, let’s go to the Bible listening to God’s questions of us.

God asks questions, maybe, to help us focus our priorities and our agenda. God’s questions move us to put our lives in perspective and to see the world as God’s creation all over again. Stand before God, and listen to God’s questions for a change.

Dave Nichols

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sanctifying Grace

On Sunday August 1, we came to the last in our series of sermons on “Methodist Grace”. You remember that for three Sundays we worked on grace as John Wesley outlined it. First, we worked and worshiped around Prevenient Grace. I used Psalm 139 as the scripture which describes the God from whom we cannot escape, who knows us from birth. Prevenient grace means that long before I could think or decide for myself, God’s Holy Spirit came to me preparing me for that day when I could choose grace for myself. Prevenient grace reminds us that God takes the initiative. God loves us first; then, we love. Get the order right.

Justifying grace is the grace that gives us the ability to choose for ourselves. We are justified, made right, put to rights, with God through the gift of Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus came among us, healed, ate with sinners, taught, lived, died and was raised for us. God sent Jesus to death on a cross to show us just how far he would go to have us.

Last Sunday, we came to Sanctifying grace. Some have called it “growing” grace. When we are justified, saved, made right with God, then we are called to be disciples, to move forward, to move in our lives from utter selfishness to utter selflessness in Christ.

John Wesley asked early Methodist lay people to answer the questions: Are you going on to perfection? Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life? Now, we ask these questions of those who seek the high calling of ordained ministry. Sheepishly, we stand in front of the bishop who asks us these questions. The answer is supplied and we say: “Yes, the Lord being my helper.”

Of course, in our world and culture, we are taught to spurn the very notion of perfection. Some tell of parents who expected them to be perfect, as in “make no mistakes”. That’s not what we mean here. Here perfection means “maturing”. John Wesley says that as Christians we are called to be formed by the Spirit of God.

When we are justified, God has more in store for us. So, we place ourselves in God’s presence in worship, Bible searching, prayer, fasting, service, Holy Communion. Through these means of grace, as we place ourselves under God’s grace, putting our bodies and lives at his disposal, we are inviting God to form/shape us anew in love. Every Christian should be able to say that I know more about love today than when I first started out.

A couple standing at the altar to be married makes all kinds of rash promises to each other. They cannot possibly know the meaning of love on that day. Sure, they know it’s beginnings, but give them ten years, twenty years, and they will say: “We thought we understood love, but now after all this time together, to explore the meaning of love, to make mistakes, to grow up, now we know more about love than ever before.”

I do not know as much about love today as I hope to know tomorrow and five years from now, if God’s Holy Spirit is shaping me. I cannot do this thing alone; I need God’s Spirit, God’s grace.

Breathe on me breath (spirit) of God
Fill me with life anew
Make me to love what thou dost love
And do what thou wouldst do

Dave Nichols

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Justifying Grace

Last Sunday, July 25, I preached on the second of the graces that John Wesley talks about. Remember that Wesley’s plan of salvation said that we are “saved by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2: 8-9). Of course, all of the reformers in church history have said this. The Protestant Reformation was, in part, all about a recovery of the notion that we are “justified by faith” and Luther, Wesley, and others added: alone.

Prevenient Grace is the grace of the Holy Spirit which is present in every person. It is free in all and for all. A person may in fact be “before Christ” but no person is “before grace”. This means, as I said earlier, that God acts first in our salvation. God loves first. Keep the order right. God loves; then, we love. Prevenient Grace is the grace that came to you before you were able to think or choose for yourself. God’s grace was preparing you for the day when you could step forward and receive Christ for yourself. God used, uses, every person, experience, gift at his disposal to bring you to himself.

Next is Justifying Grace. It is God’s grace that gives you the gift of being able to choose for yourself whether you will believe, trust, and follow Christ. God’s Spirit draws us to this point and then we are offered Christ and a choice. And, we say yes or no.

Sunday I said that God’s gives us saving faith as a gift. Saving faith is the knowledge that we are sinners, that no matter how much we try, we are self-obsessed. We seek God on the one hand and then turn around to take things in to our own hands. As one writer says, “we strut around as if we owned the place.” We have the knowledge of our own failures and sins and we turn to Christ for forgiveness. God came in Jesus Christ all the way to a cross to show us just how far he was willing to go to have us.

Saving faith is knowledge; it is also mental assent. I decide; I choose for myself. I cannot live on my mother’s faith, no matter how strong that was/is. I have to have faith for myself. So, in my mind/heart I come to give myself over to the God who knows me better than I know myself, who loves me, and who wants to bring me home.

Saving faith is also laying hold of Jesus by choice. It’s stepping forward and laying hold of Jesus as my hope of life and salvation in this world and in the world to come. It’s all about Jesus.

I was talking with a young woman as we worked together on a construction project in a United Methodist Youth Mission. She grew up Methodist but now was a member of the Unitarian Church (no offense to Unitarians, I hope). But, she said she missed her Methodist Church. I asked her what she missed most. She said: “I miss Jesus…”

We lay hold of the Jesus who comes to lay hold of us. Jesus is the embodiment, the incarnation, of the God of the universe. There, right there, right here, in Jesus of Nazareth is the God of all live.

When did you say “yes” to Jesus? When did you choose to follow Christ?

Dave Nichols

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Prevenient Grace

I am working through a series of sermons on Methodist Grace- not that Methodist grace is really any different from any other grace. It’s just that the great Methodist emphasis on grace is central to everything for us.

Grace is gift. And, of course, the grace of God is given to us in many ways but primarily through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, talked about grace as a process of salvation. So, beginning last Sunday I will preach on the three graces: Prevenient, Justifying, and Sanctifying.

Last Sunday we began by working with the notion of Prevenient Grace. This is the grace that comes long before we can think or choose for ourselves. From the first moment of our birth, God’s Holy Spirit is present to us and “wooing” us toward the time when we can choose to accept God’s grace for ourselves.

When we baptize a baby, a precious child of God, we are claiming that child for Christ, and acknowledging that that child has God’s grace already. So, we promise, we parents and congregation, to do all in our power to nurture and teach the child, cooperating with the Holy Spirit, toward the day when the child can accept Christ for him/herself. Baptism is entrance into the church for us, not salvation. Salvation comes as a result of the child’s decision to accept grace for him/herself. We generally call that time Confirmation.

John Wesley said that every human being born into the world has grace, prevenient grace, the presence of God. There is nothing that any person can do either to earn this grace or to lose this grace. It is a gift of God. A person might in fact be before Christ, but no person is ever before grace.

The old English word behind prevenient is the word “preventing” which means preparing.

Now, we Methodists know that none of us would ever be able to accept Christ for ourselves were it not for the preparing grace of God. We can suppress it or ignore or push it away, but grace is always pursuing us, wooing us, loving us, reaching out to us.

Of course, there would be no need for grace were it not for sin. Were not every human being a sinner, born into sin through the human family, and therefore hopelessly about going after our own salvation, and being our own god, then we would have no need for grace.

The grace of God comes to us when we are most helpless and lost, before we can think or choose for ourselves.

St. Augustine says that when you look back over your life it at first appears that the patterns of your life are like the footprints of chickens in a chicken yard, going in all directions at once. But, if you look again, you can discern a pattern, a direction, a guidance, a wooing.

Look back over your life. Can you see prevenient grace moving you to where you are now? Next week: Justifying grace.

Dave Nichols

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Being a Methodist in Summer

Summer is always a time when we are coming and going around here. And, we all need to do that. Vacation is a very good thing. For many of us, it's a time to step out of nine months of routine and find some relaxation. Schedules are put aside and we find some rest. During July I will working with the congregation on three themes of Methodism. Beginning July 18, I will preach on grace, beginning with Prevenient Grace.

As we get ready to think and work our way through the meaning of grace again, I offer these questions from John Wesley, founder of Methodism. He asked all Methodists to ask these questions every day. I give them to you as a gift. Ask them about your own faith? They are:

* Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
*Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
* Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told to me in confidence?
* Can I be trusted?
* Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
* Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
* Did the Bible live in me today?
* Do I give the Bible time to speak to me each day?
* Am I enjoying prayer?
* When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?
* Do I pray about the money I spend?
* Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
* Do I disobey God in anything?
* Do I insist upon doing something about why my conscience is uneasy?
* Am I defeated in any part of my life?
* Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?
* How do I spend my spare time?
* Am I proud?
* Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the Publican?
* Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
* Do I grumble or complain constantly?
* Is Christ real to me?

See you in Church!
Dave Nichols

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ordination in the United Methodist Church

As promised earlier, here are some notes on the meaning of ordination in the church. Above is a picture of someone being ordained last week at Annual Conference. The Bishop ordains pastors.

As you can see in the picture above, our Bishop is Mary Virginia Taylor on the left; beside her is Bishop Robert Spain who preached the Ordination sermon and now assists in the ordination. The person kneeling is the one being ordained. Behind him is a pastor/friend who assists the bishop.

The act of Ordination is a “laying on of the hands” by those in authority to convey authority to the newly ordained person. "Laying on of the hands" is about giving the Holy Spirit.

We Methodists have never been that particular about apostolic succession, and yet we do stand in line with all those who have been ordained before us all the way back to the apostles and Jesus. We believe that every baptized Christian is a minister, an ambassador of Jesus Christ in the world, doing the priestly work of reaching out in Christ’s name. In baptism and confirmation, in the tradition of the church, we lay hands on someone and set them aside to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Think of it, all the way back to Jesus who laid hands on the disciples, and the apostles who laid hands on others, and John Wesley who laid hands on his preachers, to this day, we stand in the line of those who came before.

In ordination, a pastor is told to “take authority”. Elders are ordained to preach the word, administer the sacraments, order the life of the congregation and serve in the world. A Deacon is ordained to service and may serve in specific areas like youth or music ministry, for example. Ordained people have been educated and trained and have now taken on the responsibility of being a pastor in the church. At ordination the stole is placed around the neck to symbolize the “yoke of Christ”. Jesus says: “Take my yoke upon you…”

There are some who serve in the United Methodist Church who are not ordained. They are local pastors who serve under appointment of the Bishop and serve only in that congregation. Elders and Deacons have a ministry to anyone, anywhere.

Elders promise to go where they are sent and are therefore promised to always have a place of service. Deacons arrange for their own work and the Bishop affirms it. The Church (big C) has always set aside persons for the role of pastor in the church. You have two ordained Elders (Senior pastor and Associate pastor) at Bethel.

After extensive testing and investigation, education and training, persons go before a body of their peers ( the Board of Ordained Ministry) to answer any questions about doctrine, belief, or practice. After they pass the Board, they are ordained at Annual Conference and sent out to serve the church in the world. To be ordained means to be “set aside” for a particular purpose. I am proud to be an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church. Blessings! Dave Nichols

Monday, June 14, 2010

Annual Conference- Last Day

As most of you know, I came home from Conference on Saturday night so I could preach on Sunday at Spirit Song and at the 10:55 service. Stacey Beeler spoke at and Greg Force led the 8:45 traditional service; they did a wonderful job. I just felt that I wanted to be in Spartanburg rather than Florence. I also wanted to be here so that I could lead the church in wishing Charlie Graves a happy 90th birthday.

Yesterday the SC Annual Conference concluded its business by passing the budget for another year which included some increase, around 3%. Things were trimmed over the last few years, as in the local church, due the economic downturn. This year, we upped the DS salaries which had been cut last year. We also added a new staff person, a Comptroller, to the staff in Columbia. The reason is that we were paying some $55,000 dollars for an outside audit each year. So, we will hire someone who can stay on top of it in-house.

Conference was scheduled to end around noon, but because of some extended debate about the resolutions, they ended around five pm. Annual Conference ended, as it always does, with the fixing of appointments. Each pastor is appointed/sent to their place of service. I will return for my fifth year. My associate, David Smith, will return for his ninth year.

This "fixing" of appointments is an old Methodist tradition. Back before my time, some tell of not knowing where they were going for the next year until Annual Conference. District Superintendents would approach you at Annual Conference to tell you where you were going and then the Bishop would read each appointment (in SC there are 800 pastors) one by one. Pastors left Annual Conference to return to tell their families and their churches what was going to happen.

Over my ministry, we have developed something called "consultation". Each year the District Superintendent meets with each pastor and hears from each church via the Staff-Parish Committee and then makes a decision about whether the pastor moves or stays. If there is agreement all around, then usually that agreement is honored. However, we all know how it works. The longer a Methodist pastor stays in an appointment the greater the chance that he/she will be at least considered for a move. In our system, when one pastor retires, dies, or is otherwise moved, another plus several others must be moved to make it work. We are so excited to be returning for another year to Bethel.

I will comment some this week on the meaning of "ordination" in our church and the Annual Conference.

Dave Nichols

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Annual Conference- Day Three

Saturday morning began as did each morning with morning prayer and Holy Communion. Business followed as we finished up the nominations and election of officers for the Annual Conference. Late in the morning we honored those pastors who were retiring from the work. Mandatory retirement is age 72. Some were close to that age; others were much younger. 39 clergy retired. Time was given for each one to say something about what their ministry has meant to them. It was recorded and played for the Conference. At the conclusion of that presentation, one of the retirees, Rev. Paul Rogers, passed the mantle to one of the younger clergy, quoting from the Old Testament. As Elisha followed Elijah, he prayed that God would give him a double share of Elijah’s spirit.

After lunch we gathered back at the Florence Civic Center for the memorial service. This service of worship is a time when we remember the saints who have died since last Annual Conference. These are pastors, and pastor’s spouses. Every year that passes I know more and more in this group. Two of them were especially close to me. The families of the deceased gathered for the service and sat at the front. At the conclusion of the service we greeted them in love.

As you can see this day was an emotional day as some of our pastors came to the end of the service to the conference, but not the end of their calling. As we remembered those who had died, it was a very moving time of remembrance.

After dinner break, the Service of Ordination was held. I’ll talk more about Ordination later.


Dave Nichols

Annual Conference- Day Two

The second day, Friday, was a half day of business with reports from places like Spartanburg Methodist College. We are fortunate to have two of the four United Methodist Colleges in South Carolina in Spartanburg. The other one here is, of course, Wofford College. We also have a college in Orangeburg: Claflin. And, Columbia College in Columbia. All four are part of the great Methodist emphasis on education.

The new President of Spartanburg Methodist College spoke about SMC and the other colleges as well.

Other reports followed in the morning hours. The afternoon was spent as part of the day of service as delegates scattered all over Florence to do some act of service.

In the evening there was a special worship service.

Dave Nichols

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Annual Conference - Day One

This morning, June 10, I picked up Phillip Stone, one of our lay delegates to Annual Conference at 7:15am. Phillip is not only one of our lay delegates from Bethel, he is also the Wofford College Archivist and the S.C. Conference United Methodist Archivist. As such he knows a lot about Methodism is SC. If you’re looking for someone to do an interesting program for your Sunday school class or group, Phillip is glad to share what he knows about Methodism.

We left Spartanburg about 7:30am and had a nice drive down to Florence Civic Center. We got to Florence about 10am in time to register for the Annual Conference. Every delegate, lay and clergy, signs in and gets a name tag which allows them to be on the floor of the conference to vote.

After registering, I went to the Clergy session and Phillip went to the lay orientation session. The lay folk talk about procedure and process which is helpful mostly if you’ve never been to Annual Conference before. And, every year there are some who are at Conference for the first time.

The Clergy session is about voting on persons who will be ordained deacon and elder during Annual Conference. After months of writing papers, and answering questions about their theology and beliefs, and years of study, candidates now stand before their clergy brothers and sisters for the final examination. They must answer questions from the bishop, questions that have been asked of every Methodist pastor since John Wesley, founder of Methodism. Clergy take vows of membership in the Annual Conference and Ordination. Clergy promise to go where the bishop sends them; they promise to uphold the doctrine and teachings of the church. They promise to let nothing come between them and their service to Jesus Christ and his church. Today we approved 42 people to serve as pastors in the church. 39 clergy were approved for retirement. We stood in honor of the ones who died since last Annual Conference.

By this time, it was lunch time. The afternoon session started at 2pm with a worship service. The bishop preached. Business started at 3pm after a short break. During this session we organized for the week, and had a first reading of the budget. At this reading, only questions can be asked. Some expressed concerns and asked questions about raising the budget when local churches are struggling still in this economy. We were welcomed to Florence by the Mayor of Florence and by church leaders. We hear the first reading of nominations for leadership in the Annual Conference.

Time ran short; so, we extended the meeting time until about 6pm. I went to dinner with my friend Paul Harmon to his Lutheran Seminary Alumni meeting. It was a delightful time with others who had gone to Lutheran. Tomorrow night, Paul will go with me to my Duke Divinity School dinner.

The evening session was a worship service.

Dave Nichols

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Annual Conference Time Again

Many of you already know that the United Methodist Church is organized in Conferences. When John Wesley founded Methodism, he believed that "conferencing" was a uniquely Christian meeting for prayer, planning and seeking the will of god. There was no such thing as "solitary" religion for John Wesley.

The largest and most far-reaching conference for us is the General Conference which meets every four years, during a presidential election year, to write the Book of Discipline which is our covenant for our common life together as Methodists. Most of the Book of Discipline cannot be changed or altered- beliefs, doctrine, etc. Still as we grow, hopefully together, every four years there are things that need to be updated or changed. So we sent clergy and lay delegates to the General Conference to plan, pray and seek God's will for us in the next four years. People from all over the world will be at this meeting or conference.

Jurisdictional Conference is next. It also meets every four years. The Jurisdictional Conferences are regional. So, we are in the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference the home base of which is Lake Junaluska. Just as General Conference plans ministry for our church in the whole world, the jurisdictional conference plans ministry in the region. It also elects bishops. When active bishops die or retire, we elect new bishops (clergy who are Ordained Elders). Bishops are bishops for life. They never come back to the local church.

Each Jurisdiction (region) has within it several Annual Conferences which meet annually (duh!). Annual Conferences are geographical areas over which a bishop presides. Ours is easy to remember. We are in the South Carolina Conference. Our bishop is Mary Virginia Taylor.

Our Annual Conference meets in Florence, SC. Each local church sends the clergy (David Smith and I) plus lay members to annual conference as representatives. Since we are a large church we are asked to send five lay members.

Annual Conference will set a budget and elect officers for the next year. At Annual Conference, the bishop will ordain deacons and elders to serve the church. We will celebrate successful ministries and we will plan others. We will share in worship and prayer and planning. Then, we will be sent out on the last day to our places of service for another year. The clergy are appointed by the bishop.

We will meet June 10-13. We covet your prayers and support as we seek God's will for us for another year of United Methodism in South Carolina.

I will blog every day about what we're doing. So, tune in for the latest info.

See you in Church!
Dave Nichols

Monday, May 24, 2010

Graduating from High School

Yesterday was a big day at Bethel. It was graduation Sunday and we recognized our high school graduates. Some people are saying that high school graduation doesn’t mean what it used to since many (most) high school graduates now go on to College. I don’t agree. High School graduation is as important as ever. You have to go this far to go farther.

A staff member recently told me that she was going to her grandson’s graduation from sixth grade. I can remember several such commencement ceremonies for our children.

Graduation from high school is an important marker. It is still a worthy achievement to celebrate. It means that our young people have attained a certain amount of knowledge. They have grown to a certain place in their lives. They are now ready for adulthood. Around eighteen years of age, they are moving closer to the time when they will be “on their own.”

So, we marched them into the church to Pomp and Circumstance and sat them on the front pew. There they were in all their beauty, all shined up for the day. The night before, we had a wonderful evening “roasting” them with family and friends. It was a gentle roast as family and friends tried to say something embarrassing about the graduate, and all said something nice.

There they were on the front pew. Parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, and many others were surrounding them. It is always a time when emotions run high. Parents are going between “I can’t believe I’m old enough to have a high school graduate” and “my baby is leaving me.”

The graduates? I can’t remember very much about what it was like when I graduated from high school back in the dark ages. I do remember thinking: “What’s the big deal?” I saw my mother crying and people were congratulating me. I was eighteen, for God’s sake, this was just the beginning. Our graduates seemed to genuinely appreciate all the love and support that we could give them.

I’ve been at Bethel for four years and this is the first group that I have seen go all the way through high school. It was for me a fun time.

In my sermon I quoted a comment made by Maya Angelou to a University graduation class. She said something like: “We’ve given you the best education that we can give you. We’ve taught you all that we know. We gave you all our wisdom.” Then she said: “You owe us something…”

I told them that they owed us. Since so much has been given to them I challenged them to live grateful lives in three ways. I told them to honor their past, to live in the present, and to walk confidently into the future.

As Christians, we are so blessed. We are blessed not to sit around and relish being blessed but so we can go out into the world to bless others. I challenged them to remember that no matter what degrees they achieved or what careers they chose, that they are called to be servants of Jesus Christ.

After worship, we stood them up there and everybody went by to wish them well. Then, we gathered in the Fellowship Hall for lunch. It was truly a wonderful day.

God speed them on their journey.
See you in church!
Dave Nichols

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Learning from Mother

I am not one who dwells on sentimentality. I care deeply but generally I am not one to get caught up in emotions. On Mother’s Day, for instance, I rarely preach about being a mother. I usually acknowledge Mothers somewhere else in the service and preach on the lectionary. Now, sometimes the lectionary lends itself for some mention of the ministry and love of mothers. And, when it does I go with it.

I became aware early in my ministry that some people have real issues about their mothers and fathers. You only have about 20 minutes in a sermon; so, it’s not enough time to open something up and get it closed back, especially if it’s a family issue. For some, Mother’s Day is a painful thing.

Having said that, Mother’s Day reminds me to give thanks to God for my mother. If you had or have a good mother you should be grateful. My mother died back in 1991, way too early for me. She was only 63. Her death was one of the most difficult with which I have had to deal.

As we come to Mother’s Day, consider this question: “What did I learn from my mother?” My mother was certainly not perfect, but she was good. What did I learn from her? I learned:

1. Faithfulness. My mother was a single parent to my sister and me. My father and she did not get along and split up early. I was one year old when my dad left. I never knew him. I spent some of my life regretting that loss and dwelling on what I missed. Somewhere along the way I came to appreciate my mother whose faithfulness made her stay with me. It’s not the parent who runs that defines you; it’s the parent who stays.

2. Faith. I learned that my mother truly struggled over divorcing my father, even though he was gone and never coming back. Still, she felt that her faith would not let her divorce him. She never gave her permission for divorce. He went to Georgia to get the divorce; she didn’t show. I encouraged her to let him go. Didn’t matter. She wanted to do the right thing by her own convictions and beliefs.

3. Love for the church. Every Sunday of our lives, as far back as I can remember, my mother had us in church. None of this: “I don’t want to go…” No, we were Christians and Christians go to church. That little church where we grew up was not perfect. I remember some know-down-drag-outs. That’s alright, my mother’s commitment to Christ and the church rubbed off on me. You could say that we didn’t have anything else to do. I would say that my mother’s priorities started with commitment to the church.

4. Compassion. My mother often showed care for people that no one else seemed to notice. Many times I would be with her and we would see someone who didn’t look very promising to me. My mother always gave people the benefit of the doubt. She would say: “He didn’t have a dog’s chance…” or “Bless his heart…” Some old, hardened person who had made a mess of his life. My mother would treat them with respect.

I learned many other things from my mother. I learned the main things, the commitments that still dominate my life. I am grateful to have had a good mother.

Dave Nichols

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