Monday, November 3, 2014
What are some Methodist Distinctives? We United Methodists are in agreement with the whole church on the basics of Christian faith and doctrine. But what are some different ways that we work and live. Here is a list that I got from Dr. Thomas Langford’s book, God Made Known: -prevenient grace -justification and sanctification -sanctification and perfection -faith and good works -mission and service -nature and mission of the church For John Wesley, all of life is graced, because grace is God present and God is present everywhere and to everyone. Grace is the central theme of Wesley’s theology. The word prevenient is archaic, the closest contemporary use we have is “preventive” medicine- that medicine that prevents serious disease, that which goes before, that which happens first. God acts first. It is God’s character as grace to always take the initiative. God’s beginning comes before our beginning; God’s future goes before our goals. God stands on both ends of life. Before we seek God, God has been seeking us. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God also is ahead of us; God awaits us around every corner. Life begins, continues, and ends in God. Prevenient Grace can best been seen by looking back over your life. From the very first moment of life, God was loving you into a relationship with himself. That’s why we can baptize babies- because God is there at the beginning. Baptism acknowledges that God’s has the prior claim on that life. We mark that child forever as God’s child. Before that child can profess faith for him or herself, we claim that God is holding him/her near. There is never a time when we are before grace. When we accept Christ for ourselves, God has brought us to that point. My friend has his tonsils removed a long time ago. His father was a physician. So, the night before his surgery, his mother had a dream that her son had surgery and started bleeding and they could not find a suction machine in the hospital. So, he had the surgery and his mother refused to leave him in the hospital alone, remembering her dream. In the middle of the night, he started bleeding. He mother, frantic, ran down the hall of the hospital and called the nurses to bring a suction machine. His life was saved. He tells this story as if God has something to do with him from the first moment of his birth. This is prevenient grace. Several times I have rushed to the hospital to visit with parents. The mother had just given birth and the baby was in trouble or already gone. Where is grace in that? Things do not always work out as we expect, but God is always present. God claims every child as his from the first moment of their life. So, if you’re out looking for God, prevenient grace tells us that God was long ago out looking for you, claiming you as his own. I am here not just because I chose to be in Christ, but because much earlier, God’s Spirit was working on me to bring me to Christ. Blessings! Dave Nichols
Thursday, October 2, 2014
What do United Methodists believe? That’s something we should all know. Well, the Book of Discipline outlines the basics of our faith in the section called: Articles of Religion. The Articles of Religion came through John Wesley who kept them from the Anglican Church. He only one that was changed by American Methodists was the one about allegiance to the King/Queen of England. The other Articles of Religion are simply a statement of basic Christian faith. We believe in the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thomas Langford outlines our basic beliefs with this list from his book God Made Known. Here are the things that we hold in common with all other Christians: - Belief in the triune God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - A faith in the mystery of salvation in and through Jesus Christ - God’s redemptive love as realized in human life by the activity of the Holy Spirit, both in personal experience and in the community of believers - To be part of Christ’s universal Church when by adoration, proclamation, and service we become conformed to Christ - That the reign of God is both a present and a future reality - The authority of scripture in matters of faith, justification by grace through faith, and recognition that the church is in need of continual reformation and renewal - The essential oneness of the church of Jesus Christ Langford goes on to say that a typical way of summing up United Methodist understanding of its place in the wider Christian community is to say that we are: truly catholic, truly evangelical, and truly reformed. Truly Catholic points to our heritage in the larger Christian tradition; we align ourselves with all those throughout the ages who are aligned with Jesus Christ. Truly evangelical points to our emphases on the gospel, on the centrality of grace, and on personal conversion. Truly reformed indicates our conviction that the church must undergo continual renewal and be constantly vigilant about its faithfulness to God. We often profess our faith with the historic creeds of the church: the Apostles’ Creed, and the Nicene Creed. These creeds profess the basics of all Christians. United Methodists have always subscribed to these basics of Christian faith. Some have found the creeds old and worn-out statements of faith. Maybe so, but they hold us accountable for what we believe and teach. We cannot say them without having to reflect on what we are saying. And, in a few words they proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We pledge allegiance to the God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ and invites us into that fellowship of the church where we worship, and grow, and serve Christ. To conclude: United Methodists stand with all other Christians who affirm the basics of faith. From the beginning John Wesley, our founder, was not interested in changing the doctrine of the church; he was pleased with the teachings of the church. We, too, in our time are not interested in inventing anything that is not expressed in our historical affirmations. Next week, I will talk about United Methodist distinctions. Blessings! Dave Nichols
Thursday, September 18, 2014
After May 24, 1738, John Wesley set out with new energy. Having his heart strangely warmed was the impetus that he needed to move forward with the Methodist movement. Some call this his "conversion", but I have a hard time calling it that when he's been a Christian all this life nearly. But, if the word "conversion" works for you, use it. Whatever you call it, it was a watershed moment in Wesley's life. He intensified his preaching by going to the coal fields. Whitfield, another preacher, influenced him and helped sell him on the idea that he had to go out where the people were. So, if you can, picture this "perfectionist" and almost "neurotic" professor learning to go out to preach to the "common" person. There were no electric amplifiers in those days; so, Wesley and others had to speak loudly for all to hear. He believed that the Church of England had become a place for only the educated and the wealthy. Wesley's England was that of Charles Dickens. There were the very poor and the very rich. John Wesley reached out to those whom the church had left out, a lesson that every church must learn over and over again. Priests of the Church of England complained that Wesley would preach in their parish, something that was strictly forbidden. So, John was reprimanded but declared that "the world is my parish". He would continue to preach and many were converted to Christ by his preaching. John's genius, many say, was in his effort to put those who were converted to Christ into active classes. Each person was put into a small group called a class. Each week they would meet with a leader who had been trained and they were supported in their faith. Questions were asked like: "How is it with your soul?" Problems were dealt with. Prayers were offered. And, each person in the class was held accountable for their faithfulness to the faith. Some say that John Wesley was the Father of the small group movement. Some even say that he led the way in establishing Sunday Schools, which taught Bible, of course, but reading and other essentials that the poor needed. Each member of the class was encouraged to go to church at the Anglican Church. John had no problem with the beliefs of the church; he encouraged them to worship and to keep the sacraments. Some credit John Wesley and the Methodist movement for preventing a revolution in England at the time with their work with the poor. Maybe we learn something from John here. Maybe we ought to be more willing to go outside our comfort zones to do what God wants us to do, to bear witness. OR, maybe we ought to remember that a large part of his ministry was with the poor. Jesus, too, gave us this mission. So, lest we become so high and mighty, remember that John, though Oxford educated, ordained and all the rest, went where he was led and to people that he might not have chosen without God's guidance. The next time you're in Sunday School or in a small group, remember that this was the genius of John Wesley. Blessings! Dave Nichols
Friday, August 29, 2014
Where did we come from, we Methodists? I try to remember our own story when I start fussing about the current religious situation – with new churches started every day of every brand and no brand. It goes back to our founder, John Wesley. Father John was born June 17, 1703. He was one of nineteen children of Susannah and Samuel Wesley. Samuel was a priest in the Church of England, and poor. There were no public schools; so, Susannah was the teacher. She taught each of them, the children that survived, reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion. She was a profound influence on her children. Also, among the children was Charles. John would grow up in the Church of England and would respond to a call to be a priest like his father. He attended Oxford University, with his brother Charles. By all counts, John was a scholarly, introverted, snobbish Englishman. But something started to happen with him at Oxford. Weekly he would get together for Bible Study with some other students. They would study and then visit prisoners to witness. Think of these university students visiting others who were in prison. These students were made fun of by others and given the name “The Holy Club”. Then, they were made fun of again and named: “Methodists”, because of their stern methods and disciplines. It was meant to be a term of derision but it stuck. And, so it began. John himself went through many ups and downs in his spiritual life. He did not feel that he was doing enough to be right with God. The disciplines where there, but not the experience. So, he met and prayed with other Christians looking for the deep experience of faith. One of the deepest of his experiences came on May 24, 1738. He went to a meetinghouse where they were studying the Book of Romans. And John wrote in his journal:
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart. But it was not long before the enemy suggested, “This cannot be faith; for where is thy joy?” Then was I taught that peace and victory over sin are essential to faith in the Captain of our salvation; but that, as to the transports of joy that usually attend the beginning of it, especially in those who have mourned deeply, God sometimes giveth, sometimes withholdeth, them according to the counsels of His own will. After my return home, I was much buffeted with temptations, but I cried out, and they fled away. They returned again and again. I as often lifted up my eyes, and He “sent me help from his holy place.” And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, if not often, conquered; now, I was always conqueror. Thursday, 25.—The moment I awakened, “Jesus, Master,” was in my heart and in my mouth; and I found all my strength lay in keeping my eye fixed upon Him and my soul waiting on Him continually. Being again at St. Paul’s in the afternoon, I could taste the good word of God in the anthem which began, “My song shall be always of the loving-kindness of the Lord: with my mouth will I ever be showing forth thy truth from one generation to another.” Yet the enemy injected a fear, “If thou dost believe, why is there not a more sensible change? I answered (yet not I), “That I know not. But, this I know, I have ‘now peace with God.’ And I sin not today, and Jesus my Master has forbidden me to take thought for the morrow.” Wednesday, June 7.—I determined, if God should permit, to retire for a short time into Germany. I had fully proposed, before I left Georgia, so to do if it should please God to bring me back to Europe. And I now clearly saw the time was come. My weak mind could not bear to be thus sawn asunder. And I hoped the conversing with those holy men who were themselves living witnesses of the full power of faith, and yet able to bear with those that are weak, would be a means, under God, of so establishing my soul that I might go on from faith to faith, and from “strength to strength.” [The next three months Wesley spent in Germany visiting the Moravians.]More later. Blessings! Dave Nichols
Thursday, August 21, 2014
I am starting a series of blogs on: Things Methodists Should Know. Today I want to talk about the three books of Methodists. The first is, of course, the Bible. Any Christian denomination has the Bible as its main book. The founder of Methodism called himself “A man of one book.” The Biblical narrative is the basis of our common life together. We read the Bible on most every occasion, but especially in worship. The Bible is read and the preacher draws a sermon from the Bible. While you won’t find many Methodist “literalists”; we do take the Bible seriously. There are parts of the Bible which are meant to be taken literally; others are to be taken figuratively, or metaphorically. “Love your neighbor” is have to take any way but literally, though Methodists allow that Christians might find all kinds of different ways to fulfill that scripture. The Bible is the primary means by which we meet Jesus and learn of him and the Christian call to follow. The Second book is the “Methodist Hymnal”. Methodists have always been a singing people. John Wesley’s brother Charles wrote many hymns that we sings regularly. John was the preacher; Charles, the hymn writer. From early days, in a kind of revivalist tradition on the early frontier of this country, Methodists were singers. You will still find in most Methodist Churches a love for hymns, though the modern world wants more than that it seems. Methodist theology is worked out in our hymns: Love divine, all love’s excelling Joy of heaven to earth come down Fix in us they humble dwelling All they faithful mercies crown. Jesus, thou art all compassion, Pure, unbounded love thou art. Visit us with thy salvation Enter every trembling heart. Another great Methodist hymn is: “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”. If you been in a Methodist Church recently, you’ve probably sung out of the Hymnal. The third book, the one that most Methodists know little about is the Book of Discipline. This book is a history book in that it contains the story of our beginnings to the present day. It contains the theology of the church, and its growing attempts to speak on the issues of the day. It contains our form of government. All churches must have certain officers, but there is more freedom than ever to experiment with organizational structure. Our requirements for ordination and expectations of ordinands are there. The expectations of members of the United Methodist church are there as well. Some say that this is our law book, and there are laws and policies which we have to follow. But, more than that, The Book of Discipline is our book of Covenant. All Methodists in the world are governed by this book. We are in this book connected to every other Methodist anywhere. The first thing to know is that we have three books. Blessings! Dave Nichols
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
At Bethel, we are embarking on a new journey. It’s something that I have never down, something that I have never before asked my people to do. That is, we are launching and event called 100 Days of Prayer. We will begin on September 14. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have always taught my people and challenged them to pray always about everything. But this event is different. It requires a specific commitment of time and energy for the specific purpose of prayer. Now, I don’t want to be presumptuous; I know that my people pray. God is working around here that’s proof that someone is praying. I pray for everything and everybody, including myself. But, our times and our situation in the world call us to a deeper ministry of prayer and commitment. It’s one thing to pray. It’s quite another to commit 100 days to an effort like this. I am happy that we have so far 49 persons who have committed to this task. A part of my calling as a pastor is to call my people to God in Jesus Christ. Such an emphasis in prayer will turn our hearts to God as the source of all ministry and life in our church and in our lives. What will God do if we turn to pray with such intensity and mission? What will God do with us? Where will God call us to go, to be? The temptation in all prayer is to bring my own agenda to the task. I know what needs to be done; I just need to enlist God’s help for my list of things to be done. But, what if God will give us an over-arching agenda that is greater than all our small agendas and will draw into the future that he has prepared for us? It’s time as a church for us to bring everything and everyone to God in prayer asking for God’s vision for us. Prayer is not something that we just add-on to whatever is going on. Prayer is the gift of God that calls us to place everything, and everyone under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit. It’s time to ask God as a church to change and move us in the direction of his will. Sure, we’re rocking along just fine, but God wants us to go deeper in our relationship with each other and deeper in our relationship with God. I am excited that we have already 49 persons who are committed to this. I am excited that many more will be praying for God to act. I wait with my people for the vision of God’s will. How will we know it’s God’s vision? Because we can’t do it without God. Blessings! Dave Nichols
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
I start my work day with a process of prayer and devotion. I’m working my way through the Psalms right now. Today, I read Psalm 3. The Psalmist prays for deliverance from his enemies. He says: “Arise, O Lord; rescue me from my enemies.” In my devotions I use a process that I got from Bishop Richard Wills called the SOAP method. S stands for scripture. Read the scripture and then re-write it to express it in your own words. O stands for observation. What do you observe in the text? What do you notice? What stands out for you? In Psalm 3, I noticed that there’s a lot of talk about enemies. The heading says that this was a Psalm written by David as he was being pursued by his son Absalom. I remembered the story of how Absalom turned on his own father. Family war…there’s no war like that. So, Absalom and others were after David. David prays for deliverance from his enemies. He says: “Arise, O Lord…” Sounds like a command but it’s more like a call. Call on me, says God, and I will answer. When have you called on God and god an answer? “Get up, arise, O God…come to me, rescue me from all who would keep me from doing your will.” A stands for application. How does this apply to your life? I have to admit that I don’t think of myself as having enemies. I like to think of myself as someone who doesn’t create enemies but is loved by all. Yet Jesus told his disciples: “Beware when all speak well of you...” I used to say that if someone isn’t upset by me then I’m not doing my job. You know, my calling is, in part, to afflict the comfortable. So, Lord, my enemies are those who would keep me from doing my best, from doing your will, from following your way. P stands for prayer. You guessed it. Write your own prayer here. So I write: O God, is someone, or something, my enemy, or the enemy of your will. Arise, O Lord, and rescue me from all that would keep me from doing your will in my life and in my family’s life and in my church. I only want what you want for me, O Lord. Make me an instrument of your peace… Amen. I share that to say that it has worked for me for a long time, and I hope that maybe someone who reads this may find it helpful in their own prayer journey. Prayer is the foundation of our Christian walk with God. I have not always kept prayer time as meticulously as I have kept “me” time. But, I have come to see this time as precious. God has been so good to me; I am grateful. So, as I begin my day of work, I ask God to “arise” and lead me. I dare not call myself a pastor/priest without the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Arise, O Lord, I need you. Blessings! Dave Nichols
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Yesterday, I preached on the lectionary text from Acts 17. It’s the story of Paul’s visit to Athens. I read the scripture about Paul being led to the Areopagus. But, in my haste to read it I mispronounced it. I don’t know what I said. It sounded like: snuffleupagus. And, in an effort to move on, I didn’t try to correct it. I haven’t listened to the audio of the service yet; I just don’t want to hear how I messed it up. Snuffleupagus is one of the characters/animals on Sesame Street. I do know the difference. But, sometimes, under the pressure of getting it right, or trying to, my mouth gets ahead of my brain, and eyes and well…it happens. So, every time that I said it during the sermon, I had to slow it down and try to get it right: Areopagus. This was the Hill of Ares, Ares, being the god of war. It was a hill indeed. If you google it you’ll see that all there is now is a mass of rock on a hill. There was a building there once. The name Areopagus also refers to the city leaders, kind of a city council, in Athens. The members of the Areopagus made decisions about city affairs. They listened to and decided issues of justice. Here comes the Apostle Paul. He has already been to Thessalonica and Bearea and has been pretty much run out of the synagogues. So, some of Paul’s friends took Paul on to Athens and said: “Stay out of trouble until we get back here.” Paul starts his own tour of Athens, talking to people on the streets, learning about their many gods and their own convictions. Paul starts talking about Jesus and his resurrection and the curious get word to the Areopagus and they invite Paul to speak there- to that group on the Hill of Ares. Paul’s speech is one of the 19 speeches/sermons in the Book of Acts. And, this speech is a good lesson in Rhetoric. First, identify with the audience. He says that he notices that they are very religious, meaning spiritual and a little superstitious. Paul quotes their poets and talks about an idol that is built to honor an “unknown” god. By some counts, there were more than 30,000 statues to gods in Athens. It was enough to make a Jew like Paul go into spasms. But, Paul held his discipline and talked about the things that all human beings have in common. It’s a good thing that the Greeks are seeking after the spiritual. Then Paul brings the clincher: there is only one God and his Son Jesus revealed him to us. Of course, he was revealed first in creation. But, now, God sent Jesus into the world to judge and redeem. We crucified him and on the third day God raised him from the dead. At the heart of all New Testament preaching is the resurrection. But, this is just too much for the Athenians to bear. Paul gives an altar call and very few come. Some did respond positively, but very few. Others responded that they would talk about this more at another time. It’s hard to preach to educated people, not because they are educated necessarily. Education is a good thing. It’s difficult because educated people are likely to think that they are supposed to remain objective in all things. Of course, that is not true. We are all subjective, more so than we want to admit. Everyone, even the Athenians do not come at Christian faith with a blank slate. They have been shaped and formed by their lives, experiences, and education to see the world a certain way. Resurrection comes as something that cannot be explained fully. It is a gift. It means that all who believe in Jesus are set free from dead-end streets. Jesus as Messiah is the bridge to hope. And, so are we. So is the church. Blessings! Dave Nichols
at May 27, 2014
Monday, April 7, 2014
We have been studying the Great Prayers of the Bible. Since it was Lent, we started with Psalm 51, the great prayer of confession. No prayer better gives us words to express sorrow for sin and a cry for forgiveness based on the steadfast love of God. Next, we worked on 2 Chronicles 20: 1-12 which is the great prayer of Jehoshaphat the King of Judah. Faced with the impending threat of attack by three armies, the king gathers the people for a day of fasting and prayer in front of the Temple in Jerusalem. This is a prayer of help. He prays: “We are powerless to face this great army; we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you…” - a prayer of help. Of course, we worked on the Lord’s Prayer and this past Sunday we went with Jesus to pray for the will of God at Gethsemane. “Not my will but yours be done…” Jesus in Luke’s Gospel wrestles in prayer: “If it’s possible, please let this cup pass from me.” We pray asking for what we want. We give expression to our desires our wants before God. Now, admit it, must of our interest in prayer is an interest in getting what we want out of the Almighty. Sometimes I have prayed and my prayer was answered just as I wanted it to be. Sometimes when I prayed for help there was nothing else to do but pray. Often we think that there must be some technique that we could use, some special word, some special posture to get God to do what we want. In other words, we want to manipulate God, use him for our own devices. Many see God as a cosmic Santa Claus that must be bought off or manipulated- as if we could do either. But, prayer proves much more mysterious than that. Sure, we are invited in our relationship with God through Christ to ask for what we want. But, even Jesus doesn’t always get what he wants. So, he and we pray the second part of the prayer. Richard Foster says that this is a prayer of relinquishment. “Not my will, but yours, O Lord, be done…” Foster says that this is not a giving in to fate. We don’t believe in impersonal fate. No, it is releasing ourselves to God’s will. It is learning in prayer to release my hopes, my dreams, my family, my future to the will of God in hope. We pray this prayer knowing that we can be confident in the ultimate goodness of God. We have faith in the character of God. Whatever we wanted in the first place is not as good as what God wants for us. We embrace the present as it is and wait for God’s will. Sounds easy, but it’s not. We expect God to do what we want. Is it human? American? To expect that God will do exactly as we will. It’s faithful to trust God to do God’s will. This is our hope. In Gethsemane, Jesus rightly does not want to face his death and suffering like this. But, in faith Jesus knows that God’s will is ultimately better. From our vantage point, Gethsemane let to trial, crucifixion and death- awful. And, when all else was gone, God brought resurrection. Rather than believe in God’s gift of resurrection, we are fascinated by some child’s fiction about heaven. No. When all else failed. God came to bring life. Blessings! Dave Nichols
Monday, January 13, 2014
January 12 was Baptism of the Lord Sunday. On that Sunday, the Gospel was/is Matthew 3: 13-17. Jesus goes to the Jordan to be baptized by John and John refuses- at first. John says: “No way, man, I need you to baptize me.” But, Jesus, obedient to God’s will that he enter fully in to human experience, goes down into the water. He reaches the bottom of our human experience and identifies with us. He also identifies with the Kingdom of God. He sees the Spirit descending on him like a dove. That’s an interesting verse. He “sees” the spirit. How in the world can you see the Spirit? The Spirit by its very nature is invisible, isn’t it? In John 3, Jesus is speaking with Nicodemus and says: “The Spirit blows where it wills. You don’t know where it comes from or where it goes. You only see the results of it.” When the wind blows, you see the trees moving. But, you can’t see the wind. It says: “Jesus saw the spirit”. Stevie Ray Vaughn was a rock guitarist and when he died he wanted a grave side service and he wanted his fellow musicians to lead everyone in singing: “Amazing Grace.” The pastor who was leading the service said that he was utterly moved when he heard and saw Bonnie Raitt, and Stevie Wonder leading the singing. Others well-known people were there as well. But, the pastor says that it was interesting seeing and hearing Stevie Wonder sing: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost but now I am found, was blind but now I see…” Was blind but now I see. Wow. So, we see with eyes of faith at a level deeper than just our physical eyes. Grace comes to Jesus and is in Jesus for all. When we are baptized, it is a gift of God’s grace in Christ. It’s not that suddenly I became smart and did this. It’s that God, in his mercy, has come to me, to us, and offered his love and grace. And, we spend our whole lives figuring out what it means to now be a disciple of Christ in the world. For us United Methodists, Baptism is a one-time, once-in-a- lifetime thing. And, whether we are a child or an adult, Baptism is a gift, a sacrament, an outward, visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace. Don’t you have to accept it for yourself? Please. Of course, salvation is that transaction between us and God that is only complete when we accept it for ourselves. But, Baptism is just the beginning of that life of faith. Some say: “Babies don’t know what they are doing yet. They don’t understand.” That’s true. And, yet, I have seen those who claim to baptize only those who know what it means, baptize a seven year old. Now, I would argue that that seven year old knows no more than a baby – really. And, then, when it comes down to it, even we adults don’t understand grace. It’s really hard to understand an awesome gift. It comes to us before we can think or decide for ourselves. God is busy loving us into his love. I know. Some take our children who have been baptized and immerse them and claim them as converts. Nonsense. They are already baptized. The grace of God was there claiming and loving that child the first time. Love has always been a hard thing for some folks to accept and they try to turn into something that we do. No, the beauty of baptism is that it says that God loved us first. It’s about grace. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…I was blind but now I see. Salvation is growing in grace to see more and better all the time. Blessings! Dave Nichols
Thursday, January 2, 2014
When I got to church this morning, the Christmas Wreaths were already down. And, it’s time to move on with the New Year, 2014. As always, Advent/Christmas was filled with anticipation and joy. Choirs inspired us with their gifts. Children drew us into their excitement. At Christmas Eve we joined in our usual wonderful service of Lessons, Carols, and Candle lighting. It was amazing. Here at the church during this season we saw some of the neediest of our neighbors coming here for help. We shared with many children through Salvation Army and we gave generously to the church and to the Bethlehem Center. Next Sunday, is sort of the last hoorah of Christmas. Jan. 6 is officially Epiphany Day, the twelfth day of Christmas Season. So, we celebrate Epiphany on the nearest Sunday, along with beginning a new year together. Epiphany is the day when the Magi brought their gifts to Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh. In the darkness, Magi, astrologers followed a star to the place where Jesus was. After Epiphany we enter the season after Epiphany and quickly move from Jesus as a baby to Jesus being baptized by John and growing into his identity as Messiah. This Sunday, we will try to take it all in; Christmas is put away for another year. And, we start out in faith on another year. For some of us, there are things that we need to leave behind in the old year. You can make your own list. Is there baggage that you should put down and move on from? Now is a good time to get on with it. One person recently told me of a Sunday in church when it dawned on her that she had to forgive and go forward. She said during worship she experienced a miracle. (Her words) There are some things that we, maybe, can’t let go of yet. Grief, over the loss of someone we love, is a process. It takes time. For most of us, a year is not enough time to move on from it. So, we should be gentle with ourselves. It’s hard to let go of a spouse, a parent, or someone close. But, even in grief, you can’t linger there forever. No matter how deep the pain, we know that we have to move forward or we die too. There are some things that we are searching for, like the Magi. We are following the star. So, think of the New Year as another adventure ahead of you. As with any adventure, there will be valleys and hills. There will be losses and gains. There will be good experiences and experiences that you’d just as soon not have to face. The Magi are on a mission. They want to get to Jesus. What is your mission? You have a mission too. God has called you in Jesus Christ to this adventure that we call Christian faith. It is an adventure that relies on the guidance of the Spirit of God. When the Magi started out, I can sense their excitement. They had prepared and studied and prayed. Now, they packed their bags, which couldn’t be too heavy to put on a camel. They had their maps. They had faith that they were going to the place God wanted them to be. They had each other. We don’t know how many there were. The church said there were at least three, for three gifts. There may have been more. Let us begin this New Year 2014 as another adventure in faith. We have our map (Bible). We have our preparation (prayer and study). We have the light of the star and the assurance that our lives have meaning and mission given to us by God. And, as we go forward, we have each other. Some of us know each other well. Others of us do not know others across the aisle, but we do know that by God’s grace we are together on this journey. God has not brought us this far to leave us here. God is moving on; who knows what God will yet do with us and through us? Blessings! Dave Nichols
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