Thursday, November 17, 2011

On Not Losing Heart

You might find it hard to believe that a pastor would be tempted to lose heart. But, the times are so difficult for so many still that it is difficult to...You understand. Some of you know that I served as a District Superintendent in the United Methodist Church for a while, and I have been a pastor for a long time.

I have discovered that there are many temptations for all of us Christians. The usual temptations are easy to define: money, sex, power. These are the temptations that Richard Foster writes about. Many of the things that happen to hurt us in our world have to do with money, sex, or power. But, there is a greater and sometimes overlooked temptation for the Christian. We are tempted to lose heart.

In the midst of the way things are, in an increasingly hostile-to-faith world, in and through all of the changes that this world is going through, we are tempted to lost heart, to give up on our faith, on the God-thing, on our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. It is easy to be lured into a kind of funk about money and about the chaos around us.

But, often our memory of faith is our teacher. When we look back over our lives, we can see the work of God, mostly hidden. I am here where I am today because of the grace of God. You are where you are today because of the grace of God. Remember that.

Thanksgiving is next week. Remember the things and people for which you are grateful. Each person that God has given you is a unique and wonderful gift. Each year, each day, each moment is a gift of God.

The Apostle Paul was tempted to lost heart. Paul, who had been beaten and whipped and spat upon, tried in the courts, locked in prison, Paul could say: "Therefore having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lost heart." He says: "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

With the economy as it is, we are tempted to feel it as a huge dark cloud hanging over us. That's the temptation, isn't it? The temptation to lose heart, to give up, on our faith in God is real.

We can get by this temptation, the greatest temptation of all, by remembering with Paul: "Therefore having this ministry by the mercy of God..." Therefore having this ministry, this day, this life, by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.

We do not lose heart, not because of our own power or strength or good works. We do not lost heart not because of our own ingenuity. We do not lose heart because of the mercy of God.

Whatever you're going through at any given moment cannot compare to the great and wonderful mercy of God. The mercy of God is that love that is as tender as a mother's love for her children.

So, say it with me, "We do not lost heart because of the mercy of God."
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Dave Nichols

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Normal Day

It was a normal day, as normal as my day gets. I was in my office on Thursday working on my day and week, moving toward Sunday with sermon on my mind. The phone rang. Again, that’s perfectly normal, but it was my wife. She was at the doctor’s office. She said: “They think I’ve had a heart attack.” Of course, I hung up the phone and went immediately.

I rushed to the doctor’s where I found my wife who looked pale and scared. Now, my own heart is thumping. I gathered her in my arms and put her in my car and we went to the emergency where they took off her clothes and put her in own of those gowns. They hooked up monitors to keep a check on her heart, blood pressure, etc. We were there about an hour, maybe, when she sat up on the gurney saying that she was going to throw up.

She sat up and passed out cold. She stopped breathing and laid back as if asleep. Her heart had stopped. I stepped out of the room and looked back to see them working on her doing CPR, getting ready to do the paddles on her when she came to.

Everyone in the room applauded. We were then rushed to the heart center nearby where they prepped her for a catherization. When that was over the doctor said that they found nothing wrong, no blockages, or problems that he could see.

I said to him that she had flat-lined in the emergency room. He said that they had overreacted. OK. Her heart stops. How can you overreact to that? They kept her in the hospital for the night and her heart dropped to 30 beats per minute. Again, rushing around, phone calls, then her heart beat returned to normal.

After wearing a heart monitor for three weeks, they put in a pacemaker for arrhythmia problems. After several weeks of that, she is returning to normal. And, I think I am, too.

I am writing about this experience to process it for myself. This is what they usually call journaling. It’s a way of working through the stuff that happens to you or what’s going on inside you.

My wife is only in her mid-fifties, not old by any measure today. But, let us say, we feel blessed that she is still around.

Several things struck me during this. One, it happened so fast. Looking back over the last six months or so, I would say that she has not felt good for a while. They said that her heart was stopping for 10 seconds at a time. 10 seconds is a long time.

It seemed to happen so fast. From my office to the doctor’s and then to the emergency room, and seeing her lying on the table completely out. It reminded me that in a moment, in the “twinkling of an eye” life can be over. I thought it was over for her.

As a pastor, I have seen a lot of people die. And, I have seen many ways to come to the end of life. But, this…was different. I was sort of numb going through it all. Sure, I was there but it didn’t seem real. It seemed like I was watching a movie of something happening to someone else. I remember thinking: “Wow. If Mary’s dead, that’s the easiest death I’ve ever seen.”

Thankfully, she is alive and well.

The other thing that occurred to me was what people my age go through all the time when something like this happens. Mortality looks you square in the face. I go on but it’s too morbid too think about. Ha. Ha.

I am grateful for a faith that gives us strength when we run up against the edge of it all. I am a praying man, but that day I prayed with more intensity. I have prayed that way ever since.

I am so grateful to God for the great gift of life and life eternal. I am grateful for my wife. I am grateful for a faith “that will not shrink”, no matter what.

Dave Nichols

Being a Pastor

After doing this pastoral thing for nearly 40 years, I am still excited by most of what I am called to do. I wish I could do more spiritual direction with people. Call it spiritual counseling or whatever, it's the wish to help people, guide people, in their efforts to be Christian. It's being involved intimately with people as they struggle with "real" life and helping to move them to the next level, so to speak. I feel that most people who call themselves Christians live it superficially. Church membership for some is just a name on a roll, but not anything that deeply captivates them. And, I know that the only thing that can deeply captivate them is when they are actually in love with God. Years ago I feel deeply in love with God in Jesus. And, I'm still not over it. I yearn to help others find that love and depth of life that I know. It still excites me.

And, most of the work of spiritual growth is done in small groups and one-on-one. It would take enormous time to do this, but I yearn to be able to do this one person at a time.

I'm not saying that I don't get to do any spiritual direction. Preaching is a wonderful experience for me. I get to study the scriptures deeply and then stand up in the Holy Spirit's power and give what I have seen or heard or experienced to others. Worship is a powerful thing.

But, one hour on Sunday morning doesn't do all that needs to be done. I yearn to do and be more as a pastoral leader.

This time of year we have to delve into the issue of stewardship. And, whether I want to or not, we have to talk about money and giving to the church. Institutionally I am called to lead my congregaton in seeing that giving money, tithing, is part of the whole work of being a Christian.

You see, Christian faith is material. Some religions are about pure spirituality, whatever that is. But, Christian faith is about material, like a cup of wine or a loaf of bread, being the body and blood of Christ. Christian stewardship is about bringing myself and all of my life under the judgement and redemption of God.

I cannot love God (Carlyle Marney) if I love something else more (security, money, things, self).

I yearn to help people see this. We do this kind of stewardship not just to maintain the institution but to give God something to work with in our lives. The greater my investment in God's work, the greater my love for God. Where my treasure is, there is my heart. The greater my investment- a tithe is 10% for everybody as a start. A person of great wealth has something to give; a person who has little still has much to give.

Being a pastor means that I am involved in peoples lives at every level, as deeply as people want me to be. It means that my main calling and joy is in pointing people to the life that God wishes to give us all- abundant life.

Dave Nichols

Comments on Lectionary - Sept. 1

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