Thursday, October 29, 2015
Nov. 1 is All Saints’ Day, the day after All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween. Halloween is always a strange time. For some, this day is a pagan holiday and celebrates the “dark” side, the devil and his angels. I guess this comes from some researchers who say that Halloween was originally a Celtic celebration and that they believed that on a dark night, the spirits of the dead were allowed to roam the streets. Some make a jump from this to the worship of Satan and evil and stuff like that. I now understand that All Hallow’s Eve was not in the beginning a Pagan festival. Even if it were, so were weddings and funerals and Easter and Christmas, and Christians managed to absorb them and turn them into Christian celebrations. All Saint’s was started in the church in the fourth century AD to celebrate the lives of martyrs, long before the Celtic celebrations. The date was changed to Nov. 1 in the eighth century AD. Methodists have joined others during what was called Liturgical Renewal, when the major Protestant Groups joined in a Common Lectionary and common celebrations. Early on, folks were concerned that this was a call to worship the dead. We Protestants are generally against that, though you wouldn’t know that to look at some of us. No, we don’t worship the dead, we honor them. On Nov. 1 or the Sunday nearest that date, we invite the family members of those who have died since last All Saints’ Day to worship with us as we light a candle and name the name. It’s a difficult time for some of us. Not wanting to grieve in public, so to speak, we privatize our feelings. This day is an invitation to come to church, the community of faith, to the same altar where we joined in worship when the deceased died. Here we join together to acknowledge our huge loss and our grief. It is not easy for any of us. Many years, we are still a bit raw from the experience of loss and death and it’s all we can do to hold it together. That’s why we do this together. It’s like all our worship. Sometimes we don’t feel like saying the creed or praying or singing hymns. Sometimes we feel deserted and lost, and alone. But, in worship, we stand and say the creed together and we worship together because Jesus has promised to join in when we are together. Not that Jesus is not there when we are alone, but Jesus promised to come when we are together. No more keeping it all for ourselves or to ourselves, our grief is the grief of the community, the church, and we weep together in common. We weep together. But, there’s more. There’s so much more. We don’t deny death or gloss over loss. We don’t pretend that death is not real. We walk the way of death together because we know there is so much more. Believers in Jesus Christ know about resurrection. And, we know eternal life is knowing Jesus right here – now. All of those who have died now rest from their labors and they join with us in a great celebration. In all our human-ness and sin, in all our differences, and all our opinions, we are lovely creations of God. Though we were not ready to let go of these who died, God receives them with open arms and brings them, ahead of us, into that Kingdom which knows no end. For all the Saints who from their labors rest… We feebly struggle; they in glory shine. We can trust God that all our futures will be caught up in his kingdom. They are already singing. Can’t you hear them? Death cannot stand. Death cannot hold. Death will not win. Jesus is alive and so are they. So, are we. To this- we are witnesses. Thanks be to God.
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
The devil went down to Detroit, looking for a soul to steal. No, I’m sorry, the devil went down to Georgia, according to Charlie Daniels and his band. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, you hear that a statue of a pagan goat, a symbol of Satan, according to some, is being unveiled in Detroit. And, hundreds show up. The church of Satan tried it in Oklahoma. They wanted the statue next to the Ten Commandments and when the Ten were taken down, they lost their case. There are many ways to respond to this nonsense. And, some things to notice. 1. Anybody can get a following. Yep! I’m convinced that in our culture, maybe our world, and idiot can get a following. I don’t care what the position or the idea. Espouse it and you can get someone to follow. We always seem to have people who will follow the latest fad, or notion, or religion, and if it’s upsetting to some, then all the better. Followers come out of the wood work. Are we so open minded that we’ve lost our minds? Are we so desperate to find meaning that we will follow whatever comes along? I do think that some people are so misguided and lost and alone that they will follow even the devil if they can find a group to belong to. 2. It’s not a church- the church of Satan, I mean. How can they call themselves a church. The Greek word is: ecclesia. It means assembly. OK. But the Satanic crowd is using the word just to irritate us Christians. It irritates me that we have so allowed the meaning of the church to be lost in all of the mess of modern culture that the Satan crowd feels comfortable using the word. So much wrong passes as church that they won’t be challenged much in using the word. 3. Do you see the anger in this? Yes, I do mean anger. I don’t know how to identify where the anger actually comes from, but it’s there. It’s a real defiance to anything Christian. Maybe some have been hurt by the church; it happens. Maybe some of them have a real reason to be angry at the church, but they are using it to rub it in the faces of Christians. 4. We have nothing to fear. Satan is not equal to God/Jesus. Nothing in scripture says so. In Jesus Christ, then, now and for all eternity the powers of evil, death, and Satan have been defeated. The followers of Satan have no power; maybe that’s why they have to have such a big statue. We are in a kind of cultural battle, it seems to me. We are coming in to a time when it seems that everything that can be done to define our culture as open, yet pagan, is being done. If Christianity had anything to do with our history in the world, then some want to wipe out any public symbols of Christ. I get diversity. I get a democratic society in which there is freedom to not be dominated by any religion. What I don’t get is why every thing else can be represented and talked about in public but Christian faith. Now, we ought to pray for our brothers and sisters in other countries who are dying every day for their faith in Jesus. We aren’t there yet. But, this is a wake-up call for all of us to be so committed to Christ that our lives reflect him to the world. We are called to know as much about our faith and the Bible, and to do as much in love for God’s world as we can do. That’s the way we do battle, even with the devil. Read 2 Corinthians 10: 3-5 and 1 Peter 5:8-10. Jesus is Lord! Blessings! Dave Nichols
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
The terrible tragedy in Charleston has brought up again the debate about the Confederate flag. If I remember rightly, it was Governor Beasley who worked on a way to get the flag down off the Capital dome and I think it lost him the next election. Congratulations to Gov. Haley for stepping forward, into the fray, to call for the flag to be put in a museum. I know you’ve heard all the arguments for and against, but allow me a few words as a pastor. I was at Clemson UMC when it was discussed during Beasely’s reign. I remember that the lectionary text that Sunday was from Ephesians 2: 11ff. This passage talks about Jesus as our Peace who has broken down the “dividing wall of hostility”. Jews and Christians would have known that this the wall in the temple which was acted out in their lives. It was about Jew and Gentile being brought together in Christ in the same church. Christ is a wall-breaker. I used the poem from Robert Frost called Mending Wall. It says: Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…that’s wants it down. The poem is about a wall between two neighbor’s houses made of stones. Each year, the weather works on it and it has to be repaired. There is something in creation that doesn’t love walls. I paraphrased it: Someone there is that doesn’t love a wall; that wants it down. In my sermon at Clemson I talked about the Confederate flag debate and said that one day it would come down because Christ doesn’t like walls. And, it did come down, and it will be brought down and put in a museum. Theologically, I have to say that God doesn’t love walls, walls that separate and divide. Walls that stand between neighbors, friends, families. Wow! It just all seems to go that way, if we pay attention. And we needlessly, put up walls because Jesus Christ, our Lord, is a wall-breaker. If we worship Jesus, it’s hard to justify anything that separates us from one another. End of Sermon. So what if it doesn’t bother you. It bothers Jesus, and it bothers those who feel excluded from a country and a state that is theirs too. I am grateful to all of those who are stepping out to remove the flag and put it in a museum. There’s something important at stake here: the integrity and respect for all God’s children. Someone there is who doesn’t love a wall. I think you know who that is. Everything, I tell you, leans toward God’s great creation of a new world, a new creation, if you will, where all are valued and loved. God must surely love diversity; he made a lot of it. Blessings! Dave Nichols
Thursday, June 18, 2015
She wrote an email this morning saying: “My heart is heavy…” She then went on to say that she was praying for us all. Today the news blared out the news that some of our brothers and sisters at an AME Church in Charleston, SC, were gunned down at a prayer meeting last night. A white man entered, stayed and hour, and started shooting. Officials are calling it a “hate” crime, and it is. All crimes of murder are in one sense the working out of hatred, but when race is part of the mix, it’s hate indeed. Our hearts are heavy. We like to think that we are past all this race stuff, but this just reminds us that we have so much work to do in our world, our culture, ourselves to put aside prejudice and hatred. How? Why? What? I’m reading through the Psalms for my prayer time daily. I’m in Psalm 119: 57-64 today. In this the longest chapter in the Bible, verse 57 came out at me today. It says: “You, O Lord, are my portion…” Verse after verse proclaims the law as the highest good. The law of the Lord is perfect…but today it says: “The Lord is my portion…” Not the law alone, but God. The law is the way in, the way to, the way through. Obedience brings us nearer to God, but God chose us as his portion, his share. Not, to make us as a people better than anybody, no, but to make us his light in the world, shining. O Lord, you are my portion. One scholar says this means that God is enough. God is my life, my being, my hope, my love. The law is about God, but God is my portion. God is the one. So, what are we to do? We have to do something about this. But what? We pray. We cry out to God. Can’t you do something? Where are you? We pray for the ones who are affected by this tragedy- families, children, parents, Christians, a church, a people, a community, a city, a state…We pray. We voice, put into words, our own pain and hurt. We ask for forgiveness for all that is in us that causes us to hate and hurt. Forgive us, O God, my portion. Heal us. And, in this time, move us to see the utter nonsense of this act of violence. We seek peace. Jesus says: “Blessed are the peacemakers…” The hymn says: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me…” With me. Let it begin with my own heart. “Let us examine ourselves…” Where am I on this journey of love and grace? Where am I on this journey toward peace and reconciliation? What is holding me back from being as loving as God made me to be? What is standing in the way of my own peace? What is the obstacle that is standing in my way when God is calling me to love all as brothers and sisters? We act. We live out that peace as best we can for others. We live it out in our own families. Family is messy business, if you haven’t notices. We love all our children, don’t we? In our own community, am I reaching out to those who most need my help? Am I treating all fairly and faithfully as children of God? Am I refusing to be a channel of hate and learning to be a loving partner with others in the world? A simple cup of cold water for a stranger or a loving gesture toward someone of a different race goes a long way on the journey. Can we listen to the pain and try to understand? I can’t think of a more vulnerable place to be than in church. As followers of Jesus Christ, we follow Christ alone. There he goes again, in to the storm, into the heart of the pain. And so do we. Blessings! Dave Nichols
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
May is always a great month at Bethel. Of course, I think every month is great at Bethel. On May 3rd we had our Confirmation Service in which we Confirmed some of our youth. Youth who had been reared in church, in the faith of their parents, and taught and loved. Terry and Susanne Troutt together with staff and mentors brought them along in class. They stood up before God and everybody and professed their faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a big step for these. As I said in my sermon, we have given as much as we can to this point, but this is just a beginning. They will spend the rest of their lives figuring out what it truly means to follow Christ in the world. It is an exciting, and challenging adventure. We layed hands on them as we did in baptism. We renewed their baptism, and confirmed (made them strong) in their faith. May 10 was Mother’s Day, which is special enough, as we give thanks for our mothers. David Smith preached at the traditional 8:45 service; I preached and gave Communion at Spirit Song. Then, at 10:55 service, the children’s ministry (children) led the service and presented the message in their musical which proclaimed that “Something is Fishy”. God is up to something in us and in his world. We are all different creations of God. Wow! Thanks to Dale Fischer and Jana Mathis and their supporting chorus for a remarkable presentation. Then, Dale brought up JP and everybody stood and applauded. What a moment! Miraculous! Next Sunday, May 17, we will honor our high school graduates. This is always a great time of celebration, tears all around. Parents, teachers, family, friends will fill the sanctuary as we bless them on this journey. I will preach on Psalm 1: “Blessed is the one who walks not in the counsel of the wicked…but whose delight is in the law of the Lord…” It’s about learning to walk in the way that leads to life. I’m still learning. Aren’t you? Come on Sunday to lift up these young people in prayer before God and to bless them in Christ’s name. On May 24, I am delighted to welcome our old friend, Larry Hays, to preach at 10:55 service. He served Bethel as Senior Pastor just prior to me- 1998-2006. He and Sally raised their girls here and we all love them. I am so pleased that he will be in town to do a wedding and I could snag him for this day. Larry is now retired. There are two Vacation Bible Schools in June. One will be for the church’s children, then the youth will join Jana in leading VBS for the Child Enrichment Program children. The first week in June, David and I and our five lay delegates will be in Florence for our SC Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. Our District Superintendent, Dr. Paul Harmon will lead the conference in Bible Study each day, and we will worship and pray, and give thanks all week. We will ordain new pastors; we will license new preachers. We will have a memorial service for the ones who have died in the last year: pastors, their spouses, children. And, at the end of the week the Bishop will do what we call “fixing” the appointments of pastors to churches, and other avenues of service. On June 14, at Bethel, David Smith will preach and on that day after the 10:55 service, we will join him in the Fellowship Hall to show our thanks and to give him our gift. If you would like to contribute please write checks to Bethel UMC and make them for David Smith. We are grateful to David for his 13 years of dedicated service to Bethel. We will miss him greatly. On June 24, we will welcome our new Associate pastor, Tod Alexander, whom you have heard about. He and Carmen come with their precious four children to make their place among us. We anticipate great things and times of faith together. See you in Church! Dave NIchols
Monday, February 16, 2015
At Bethel, we are working our way through the “I AM” sayings of Jesus using the fantastic material written by Rob Fuquay. We started by meditating on that beautiful story where Moses is out in the desert tending sheep. Over the mountain, he sees a smoke signal. Smoke rises. Moses went up to see and to his astonishment he sees a bush burning. It’s on fire but is not burning up. When he gets close to the bush, God speaks his name: “Moses, Moses…” Moses says: “I’m here.” It’s a powerful meeting in which the God of all the universe is revealed. Fuquay says that God wants to be known. In theology, in seminary, I was taught that God was hidden. And, who can argue with that. No matter how hard we seek this God, God seems always to be out of reach. And yet, in scripture, we are taught that God wants to be known. So, he speaks. He calls our name. When was the last time that you heard God call your name? In prayer, listen, I tell you that you will hear it if you listen. God will call your name. God tells Moses that he has heard the cry of Israel in Egypt and that he has come down to rescue them. So far so good. Then, God says I’m sending you to set my people free from slavery. Moses tries to object, but who can say no to this God…for long? Moses says: “OK. So, say I do to Pharoah and tell him that the God of Israel wants you to let his people go and they ask ‘what is his name?’, what shall I say.” Then, in an act of vulnerability God says: “I am that I am.” Tell Pharoah that “I AM” has sent me to you. Wow. “I AM”. It’s a form of the verb “to be.” The “I AM” God is alive and moving. His name is- Yahweh.” A precious name that reveals the nature and character of the God who makes himself known- this God who wants to know you. This is the God of Israel. This is the God who calls our name. From this powerful encounter then, we move to the “I AM” saying of Jesus. I am the bread of life. I am the light of the world. I am. Drawing on the deep knowledge and faith of Israel, Jesus in John calls us to a deeper understanding of this God. Not only is God alive and well and active, he comes in a person, right there in front of us. He is bread and light. He is Jesus of Nazareth who lives out the faith of Israel. On the Sunday when we said that Jesus was the bread of life, we ate a piece of bread. In one of our services, we shared Holy Communion and experienced the beauty of God’s love for us. Taste the bread. Taste and see that the Lord is good. This past Sunday, we came to Jesus as light of the world. We gave everyone a candle and asked them to light a candle this week every day as they prayed as a sign of Jesus the light. Mr. Light comes in to our world of darkness. He pierces the darkness and shines light on the way ahead. Sometimes all we can see ahead is the light take one more step. Jesus goes before us, no matter what our age, or circumstance, or position on the journey. Jesus lights the way. Jesus is the light of the whole world. Next week: Jesus is the good shepherd. See you in Church! Dave Nichols
Thursday, January 15, 2015
This morning, January 15, 2015, I attended the Mayor’s Unity Breakfast in honor of Dr. Marin Luther King’s birthday. I was privileged to be asked to say the invocation. The event was held at Cornerstone Baptist Church. We had a wonderful breakfast, but the hospitality was even better than the food. Every once in a while, we are reminded of just how important it is that we stay committed to unity in our community and everywhere. I can still remember sitting in front of the television and watching the events unfold during the sixties. I was 13 when the Voting Rights Act finally passed in this country. I remember LBJ saying something about passing the Voting Rights Act and then he said: “We shall overcome.” It was and is still a moment. I remember my mother who wondered why it had taken so long to do what was right. Today, as I sat with leaders of Spartanburg I was so proud to be a part of a community that is working hard every day to be inclusive of all. The speaker was our Police Chief, Alonzo Thompson. He gave a great speech and we all shared his hopes and dreams about Spartanburg. The children from EP Todd Elementary School sang for us. One of the songs was: “I have a Dream”. They were great. We were all moved to tears. The Chorus was beautifully diverse and they called themselves: Treble Makers. Everyone who spoke said: “We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go.” No one would deny that there is still much work to do. As long as one of us is living in poverty or homelessness, as long as one of us is unemployed, or alone, we have work to do. We have children to educate and love; we have people of all races to live and love with. When I was in sophomore Philosophy class at Newberry College, we studied Dr. King. On our final exam, we read Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham City Jail. I remember being moved by it. As a Christian pastor, I felt deeply his roots in scripture and in his faith as he sought to lead us forward no matter what it cost him. Of course, ultimately it cost his life. Many in the community were saying to Dr. King that they agreed with everything he wanted to do but the timing was just not right. They said to him: “Wait.” He replied that he had waited, and that it was time to act now. Today, we honor him as a person, a pastor, a community and national leader, a preacher, a civil rights leader. We honor his legacy as a person who tried to do what was right and to lead all of us forward toward the future. Today, we remember our differences and celebrate them. God has made us all different. But, we also share in our likenesses. We are together in a community. The chief said that Dr. King said that we all came over in different ships but we are in the same boat now. Indeed. We are in the same boat and the same community. May we honor each other as brothers and sisters of God. Blessings! Dave Nichols
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Thanks for checking out my blog. I'm new to this, as you can probably see. But, I, like you, have convictions and ideas worth sharing. I hope this will be an opportunity to connect with others who are Christian and/or religious. I am happily United Methodist. I am committed to the basic teachings of our church, and to the compassionate outreach to the world.
I hope these pastoral ponderings will generate something in you that is hopeful.
I hope these pastoral ponderings will generate something in you that is hopeful.
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