Church services at 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
Sunday School: Children 3-12 will leave the sanctuary following the 10:30 children's Sermon for Sunday School, except for the last Sunday of the month. End of YearSunday School party on May 17th.
Communion is held each Sunday and all attending are invited to God's Table
to share in the meal.
Nursery care will be available to those 5 and under during the services.
There is always a coffee/fellowship time in the Narthex following the service.
You are invited to join us!
by our minister Rev. John Daniels plus
2/22/2015 Sermon by Jason Cox and 3/1/2015 Sermon by Daniel Viehland
On Sunday Choir practice is in the chapel next to the sanctuary at 9:00
The Faith and Justice Class will meet downstairs at 9:15.
Religion and Science Class on Tuesdays at 10:00.
New Member Classes - First UMC will be holding new member classes when there is interest. These classes will be not only for those interested in becoming members of the church, but also for those with questions about the Christian faith, church life, the Methodist denomination, and why we do what we do in our church. The class runs for five sessions, with group input shaping potential Sundays for reception into the church (for those who wish to join). If you are interested in this class, please contact the church office at 549-6118 or e-mail at FUMCMissoula@gmail.com. We hope you will join us!
May 30 - Poverello 5th Saturday Lunch, volunteers needed.
June 3 Kitchen Table Conversations, 5:30, Library
June 10 Kitchen Table Conversations, 5:30, Library
June 12 Friday Night Out, 6 p.m
June 13 Rising from the Ashes, 8:30-5:30, University Congregational
June 14 Mission Trip Lasagna Luncheon Fundraiser, Fellowship Hall
June 18-20 Yellowstone Annual Conference, Helena
June 20 Gay Pride Parade, 1 p.m.
June 20 Gay Men's Chorus, 7 p.m.
July 12 Youth Home Run for Kids
July 14 August Tower Tidings Deadline
July 20 Mission u Registration Deadline
August 7-8 Mission u, Mission Valley UMC
Our church is handicap accessible through the street level door on the southeast corner of the building. There is an elevator there that will bring you up to the sanctuary or take you down to fellowship hall. We have large-print bulletins with hymns, large print hymnals, and hearing assistance devices for those that are hard of hearing. We also have video screens for hymns and scripture. Ask the ushers for help when you arrive and they will find what you need.
Office phone and E-mail contact information on the CONTACT US PAGE.
The life of our church includes:
(Click on colored words to find out more information.)
Adult Spiritual Growth - class descriptions, online class information and
links to The Book of Discipline
Children's Ministries - You Tube Christmas program video
Youth Ministries - FUMY
U of M Wesley Foundation - Facebook link
Amazing Grays - Trips for seniors
Choirs - Chancel Choir, JuBELLation Handbell Choir, Children's Joyful Noise Choir
Foundation - donations and scholarships
Membership - joining the church
Stephen Ministers - caring for one another as we journey through life
Information on what a Stephen Minister does and training information.
Social Action - Family Promise, Poverello, Habitat for Humanity, Intermountain, UMCOR
UMW - United Methodist Women schedule and fellowship group information
UMM - United Methodist Men
Walk to Emmaus - Link to their website
Reaching out with love to our community and the world
❤ You can help the campaign to raise money to buy a truck for Ken Koome,
missionary in East Angola more information...
❤ Tzedakah Pocket
❤ Family Promise Host
❤ Missoula Interfaith Collaborative & January Food Bank Drive
❤ Host for Homeless Connect
❤ Poverello noon meal 5th Saturdays
❤ East Angola Pastor Support
❤ United Methodist Women’s mission projects
❤ SERRV & Fair Trade Products
❤ Intermountain Home
❤ Flathead Lake UMC Camp
❤ Blackfeet United Methodist Parish (BUMP)
❤ YWCA Battered Women’s Shelter
❤ Cub Scouts
❤ Habitat for Humanity
❤ Salvation Army
❤ Wesley House
Pastor John Daniels
On July 6, at 9:30 a.m., we welcomed John Daniels as FUMC’s new pastor. Many will recognize Pastor John as the former Western Mountains District Superintendent for the Yellowstone Conference. His July 6th sermon served as an introduction of the new pastor from the DS. You may also recognize his wife Terri, who sings in our choir, and his children Emily, Molly and Ethan. Emily has one year left at the University of Montana, where she is studying music education. Molly is pursuing degrees in journalism and theatre at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. Ethan is a student at Sentinel High School. He would like to attend UM and get a degree in a technical field associated with computer graphics.
Pastor: John Daniels
Administrative Assistants: Sharon Jackson and Rhanda Johnson
Treasurer: Leslie Lindley
Financial Secretary: Kay Duffield
Custodian: John Schaff
Nursery Attendants: Faye Gibson, Audra Clark & Juliette Viera
Junior Nursery Attendants: Sophia Clark, Kade Hedahl, Kayla Leavell, Madison Lightfield and Austin Means
Greg Boris, Music Director and Chancel Choir Director
Peter Edwards, Pianist/Organist
Laura Jacquette, Pianist/Organist 8:30
Brynn Bellingham, Handbell Choir Director
Rhanda Johnson, Joyful Noise Director
**Please let the office know if you or someone in our church family needs a visit in the hospital or at home.
Church Office (406) 549-6118 or Pastor John's cell phone (406) 396-8966.
Office Hours (subject to change - call 549-6118 before coming in or to make an appointment with the pastor)
Monday - Friday: 9 a.m. - noon.
Angolan Pastor Leon Kapumba
Pastor Leon Kapumba is one of the pastors that the people of Yellowstone Conference support. Your support makes his ministry possible and that makes a difference for many people!
Pastor Leon Kapumba serves God at the Cavungo UMC in Alto Zambezi, which is located in Moxico District. There are about 115 people in his congregation.
In the villages nearby, Pastor Leon has started what he calls four missions, what we might call house churches. He goes to these villages at least twice a year on foot. He has no transportation. In each of these ‘missions’ there is a lay preacher.
Pastor Leon is married and has 4 children, 3 of them are in school and one is a baby. He pays school fees for them to attend. It’s very important to him that his children have an education. He has finished the 10th grade. Besides being a pastor, he works at the saw mill. Sometimes they have trouble getting trees to use for lumber. He regrets that he does not have the tools he needs that he could do this kind of work on his own.
His church, which is made up entirely of subsistence farmers, encouraged him to become a pastor and attend the Course of Studies at Quessua. He is in his second year of studies.
When asked how we can pray for him he said: “ I feel blessed that I can serve God and my neighbors in this way. Pray that I will be able to continue learning and serving.”
First Church loves music and hopes you will come not only to listen but to participate in it! We sing hymns as well as praise songs, often have special music and enjoy all three of our choirs. Choirs practice from September till May.
We love those who volunteer to provide special music during the summer. Call the office if you would like to bless us with your music.
FUMC Chancel Choir will begin the fall season on Sunday Sept. 8th. Enthusiasm and love of music a must. Previous experience is not required. Choir meets Sundays only at 9:00 a.m. before service. All are welcome. Please join us! For more information talk to choir director Greg Boris 239-1828.
JuBELLation Handbell Choir
Interested in learning/playing a new musical instrument? JuBELLation Handbell Choir, based at The First United Methodist Church, is looking for individuals interested in learning or experienced at playing handbells this season! There are several ways to get involved and be part of this fun group! Openings include: Full Time, Part Time, and On-call positions. During the school year practice is each Wednesday from 6-8. For more information call Joann Wallenburn at 677-4424.
Joyful Noise Children's Choir
All children from the 1st through the 8th grade are welcome to participate in making a Joyful Noise. During the school year they participate in worship once a month and rehearse on Mondays from 6:00 - 6:45 p.m. Contact Rhanda Johnson in the office (549-6118) for more information.
Adult Spiritual Growth Groups
Do you feel like you are on a spiritual journey? We hope you will allow us to walk with you on this journey and together we will find the answers to our questions. Fall classes will meet on Sunday morning, Tuesday morning, Tuesday evening and Wednesday evening. Click on the blue button below for details.
Interested in online adult classes? Click on UMC classes for more information.
Looking for a specific Bible Verse? Click on Bible Verse Search
The Book of Discipline is available online for your study and review: The Book of Discipline Index, The Book of Discipline Part 1,The Book of Discipline Part 2 and The Book of Resolutions 2012 Part III.
Sunday School meets during the worship service, right after Children's Time and is for Preschool - 6th grade. Our Rock Solid program is a
Bible study that enables children to experience God through Jesus Christ. Activities will include stories, crafts, music and scripture.
Call the church office (549-6118) for more information. Nursery care is available for those not ready for preschool.
First United Methodist Youth Fellowship (FUMY)
7th through 12th grade students meet most Wednesday evenings from 7:00 - 8:30 p.m. from September until May.
They do service projects, make discoveries about themselves and others, and have fun!
Wesley Foundation - University of Montana Campus Ministry
New to Campus? Connect with us! Campus Connection
The University of Montana Wesley House is located across the street from the campus and Miller Hall at 1327 Arthur Avenue.
College students and visitors are welcomed to stop by for a visit. Sunday evenings are family style dinners and Thursday evenings are a Bible Study.
For more information E-mail the Wesley House or Phone: (406) 274-3346.
Join us on
Local Churches: Please send the names of U of M students from your local church to the Wesley Foundation
so they can be invited to join the Wesley House activities. Students are welcomed at either First or Grace UMC in Missoula.
United Methodist Women
Our UMW is part of the Yellowstone Conference, which covers Montana, 1/2 Wyoming and a slice of Idaho.
You can find information on Conference and District UMW activities on the conference UMW web page.
March 6-8 - UMW Women's Event, Fairmont Hot Springs Registration and Scholarship Forms
The National organization of United Methodist Women also have a website full of information, news, and resources
Thank you letter from the Blackfeet United Methodist Parishes for the 2014 Christmas Boxes
. UMW is open to any woman who would enjoy the companionship of other women and is someone who is dedicated to supporting
missions near and far. UMW raises money for mission projects locally, in Montana, nationally and globally. UMW meets the first Thursday Oct-Dec and Feb-May. All meetings are at 1:00 for dessert, program and business meeting, unless otherwise announced in the church newsletter.
Other activities include: Ash Wednesday Soup Supper, July picnic for families who will attend a community band concert at Bonner Park afterward, October Apple Pie sales, and December Candy Sale.
Contact President Klairaine Nichwander 396-1663 for more information.
** UMW Fellowship Circles meet once a month. Nothing compares to a small supportive group of women!
All women of the church are invted to visit groups that interest them.
GEMS Fellowship meets the third Thursday at 7 p.m. in the church library Sept-May
This group of working women is particularly interested in the UMW Reading program and are supportive of one another.
Chair: Laela Shimer 721-1960
L.A.N.S. Fellowship meets the second Monday at 11:30 a.m. for lunch at a restaurant from Sept-Dec and Feb-May.
They are women Living Actively in the New Society. They are interested in social action in the community as well as fellowship.
Chairman: Ellie Barnes 549-1384
RUTH Fellowship meets the second Thursday at 10:00 a.m. in the church parlor Oct-May.
They invite you to come and share their fellowship, coffee, a monthly program, and outreach to church members who need a little TLC and support of missions like the YWCA Battered Women's Shelter.
Chairman: Kay Duffield 543-6722 or Judy Whiddon 258-2719
VESPERS Fellowship meets the third Wednesday at 1:00 in homes Sept-May
They have been meeting together for a long time which has led to many long friendships. They invite you to their program and meeting. Chairman: Kay Norum 721-5750
**Special Interest Groups:
Book Group meets the fourth Thursday at 11 a.m. in the church library year round.
Co-Chair: Laurie Ball 926-1252 & Jackie Krahn 543-3979
Knitting Group meets on Saturdays at 10:00 in homes year round.
Chairman: Carole Addis 721-1817
Stephen Ministry Church
We participate in Stephen Ministries, where trained Stephen Ministers walk with those whose lives are in turmoil for one reason or another.
Stephen Ministers also help with prayer requests each Sunday and serve communion. Anyone in our church family can request a Stephen Minister for themselves. We hope to offer a new class to train Stephen Ministers. Members of the congregation are encouraged to consider doing the 50-hours of training and helping others in this way. As a Stephen Minister you often find tools to help in your own life as well as nurture your care receiver. What is a Stephen Minister?
Call Kay at 543-6722 or Peg at 542-1543 for more information.
The Amazing Grays are a group of church members who have been blessed with some gray hairs. They get together once a month for companionship and an enjoyable time. They go out to dinner, have a pot-luck and game night at the church, a holiday party or sometimes make a day trip by bus to some place in Montana. Friends are always welcome. Rides will be provided for those who no longer drive. Participants may sign up following church for the current activities.
New Members are received throughout the year. To learn more, please contact Pastor John Daniels by stopping by or calling the church office at 549-6118. New Member class currently under way.
Missoula First United Methodist Church Foundation:
Donations and bequests to the Foundation are used for charitable giving, scholarships and fulfilling the church's mission. Brochure with more information on charitable giving and bequests to the Foundation is available by clicking on Foundation Brochure.
Foundation Scholarships: The Foundation offers two scholarships each Spring. The Foundation Scholarship is for an active member of our church and The Katie Payne Scholarship is for a woman pursuing a nursing or medical arts career or a career in law, government or public service. Click on the blue scholarship name above for the application.
The packet containing your application, transcript, and two letters of recommendation must be postmarked April 15th or earlier.
Walk to Emmaus Fourth Day groups for men and women also meet at the church.
Walk to Emmaus weekends for men and women are held each spring. Please check out the Walk website at: www.WesternMTWalk.com
Members from other Walk communities are welcome and encouraged to help with the Walks, come to Gatherings and join 4h Day groups. More Emmaus Community Information from Upper Room.
We give of our time, talent and gifts to local agencies such as Poverello and Family Promise, to state agencies such as the Blackfeet Parish and the Intermountain Home in Helena, to national missions through mission shares, and globally we are supporting a pastor in Angola with a monthly check. We are also a Jubilee Church to help poor countries with their debt.
First United Methodist Church of Missoula is part of 19+ churches who are working to house 3-4 homeless families with children. For more information or to volunteer please contact Barbara Blanchard Mahoney at 493-6713 or go to their website: http://familypromisemissoula.net/
I was hungry and you fed me...
Come feed God's people lunch 4 or 5 times a year at the Poverello Center.
We work at the Pov whenever there is a 5th Saturday.
Call the church office to sign up (549-6118).
We are a church partner with Missoula's Habitat for Humanity We invite you to join us for a work day!
Contact the office at 549-6118 for more information.
Intermountain is a nationally accredited non-profit organization. They provide mental health and
educational services to effectively meet the diverse needs of children and families facing emotional challenges. Their primary services include: residential treatment, community-based services, and community trainings. Operating for more than 100 years, Intermountain is one of Montana’s oldest child welfare agencies.
We care about others. We participate in giving relief to victims of natural disasters through UMCOR. Our church gives generously to those affected by natural disasters like hurricanes and tsunamis and will continue to support UMCOR when it heads to new disasters.
Special Days. Special Ways. We reach out to the world with Special Offerings
Our Prayer For Those Who Go Forward
Scripture: John 17:6-19
Theme: Today, we hear Christ pray for his followers. What does he pray for? Protection, unity, joy, and sanctification. What Christ prays for is ultimately freeing us to live the life we crave – free from fear, clarified by guidance, and fulfilled by uninhibited love.
Recently, I helped the finance committee create a stewardship letter which identified many of the activities/events/ministries we are involved in. A part of that letter – the main part – was to let people know who we are as a church by sharing what we do as a church. Who are we as a church? Let me share some of the answers:
WE ARE: Stephen’s Ministry, Homeless Connect, Al-anon, JuBellation Handbell Choir, Children’s Sunday School, Visitation Team, Mission and Outreach Committee, Volunteer in Mission Workteam, Family Promise, Walk to Emmaus, Adult Spiritual Growth classes, Alcoholics Anonymous, Disciple Bible Study, Joyful Noise Children’s Choir, Tzedakah Pocket ministry, Angola Pastor Support, First United Methodist Youth, Chancel Choir, UMW, Jubilee, Mighty Methodist Men’s fellowship, SERRV, Faith and Justice Class, UM Foundation, Trustees, Missoula Interfaith Collaborative Partner, Intermountain Children’s Home supporter, Finance Committee, Building Project Team, Family Ministries, Poverello Center 5th Saturday Lunch, Nursery Committee, Building Project Finance Team, Staff Parish Relations committee, and Administrative Council.
(at least 44 different regular groups and events)
Now, that’s who we are at First United Methodist Church! Or at least, that’s what we do at First UMC. Do you get a good feel for our activities? For our priorities? For our work together in the Body of Christ?
But how about who we are personally? How about our church’s character, demeanor, and personality? How about our church’s spirit? I thought I might try to list items of our personality here at First UMC.
Smarties ingesters, chocolate lovers, potluck enthusiasts, Dessert by Candlelight partakers, Tzedakah pockets supporters, Griz fans, Seattle SeaHawks fans, book readers, homeless family hosts, Reconcilers, idea sharers, compassionate prayers, genuine helpers, hunters, fishers, gossip-sharers, choir singers, bell ringers, guitarists, floutists, Native American Flute players, conversationalists, relationship builders, change-agents, people who love to hike and bike, prayer shawl knitters, mess-makers, carousel riders, lovers of laughter, coffee drinkers, and motorcyclists.
Perhaps these better reflect our church’s personality -- who we are as a church in our spirit, character, and style.
But today we hear from Christ himself, in a kind of indirect way, who we are to him – and this answer to the question is much more profound, spiritual, and empowering.
Programs, building, education, study, service, outreach, committees, likes, dislikes, affinities, priorities, etc. Push these aside for a moment, and ask again, Who are we as a church? Christ demonstrates his answer in our scripture today: “We are a community for whom Jesus prays.”
WE ARE A COMMUNITY FOR WHOM JESUS PRAYS. Simple statement; huge implication. Christ prays for the upholding of his community of disciples. All of John chapter 17 is about this – Christ’s prayer for his community. And what does Christ pray for? PROTECTION, JOY, AND SANCTIFICATION. Christ prays for his followers to be protected by God, for his disciples to experience the joy of Christ in themselves, and for them to be sanctified (which means to be set apart for sacred work or duty by God). We must not forget that Christ prays for these things just before he faces the cross. He is praying for those who go forward.
But above all, there is one dominant theme which runs through Christ’s prayer of John chapter 17. And that dominant theme is this: CHRIST PRAYS FOR UNITY OF LIFE AND SPIRIT IN HIS PEOPLE. Christ prays, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (John 17:11). Christ prays, “I am coming to you God, and I speak these things that they may have my joy made complete in OR AMONG themselves.” (John 17:13). And Christ prays, “Sanctify them in the truth; as you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” and moving to verse 20, “that they may all be one.”
Christ prays for those who will go forward into the future, and he prays for unity. Now, we must be a little careful here, because it is a particular kind of unity that Christ is praying for – a unity of spirit in Christ. This is to be distinguished by other kinds of union, where there is a combining of people for a purpose, identity, or mutual interest, but this can be quite different from a unity born from faith. It is in this sense that we can distinguish between “UNITY” and “UNION.” I really like how one author puts it: There can be union without unity: tie two cats together by their tails and throw them over a clothesline – see what happens! Union is a neutral term, in this sense – it can be either good or bad, constructive or destructive. Unity, in the sense of Christ’s message, calls forth the embrace of community for unapologetically positive, constructive purposes outlined by God.
Once upon a time, a company rented two racing shells and challenged a rival company to a boat race. The rival company accepted. On the day of the picnic, everyone entered into the spirit of the event. Women wore colorful summer dresses and big, floppy hats. Men wore straw skimmers and white pants. Bands played and banners waved. Finally the race began. To the consternation of the host company, the rival team immediately moved to the front and was never overtaken. It won by 11 lengths. The management of the host company was embarrassed by its showing and promptly appointed a committee to place responsibility for the failure and make recommendations to improve the host team's chances in a rematch the following year. The committee appointed several task forces to study various aspects of the race. They met for three months and issued a preliminary report. In essence, the report said that the rival crew had been unfair.
The report stated "The opposing team had eight people rowing and one leader steering and shouting out the beat, whereas we had one person rowing and eight leaders." The chairman of the board thanked the committee and sent it away to study the matter further and make recommendations for the rematch. Four months later the committee came back with a recommendation: "Our guy has to row faster."
Togetherness is a challenging thing! Teamwork, cooperation, unity of spirit, combining energies into one effort – these do not come easy. And thus, Christ’s prayer. Thus, Christ’s last request of God, that those who follow Christ may experience unity, may be protected, sanctified, and experience Christian joy – TOGETHER.
Many years ago, I experienced the subtle yet firm lesson on how this works, on how this unity of spirit and life may be hard to come by, but produces so much that is foundational to life. I was a co-leader of a mission team that had traveled to a little town outside of Mexico City called Tezompa. Twelve of us were on the team; we were all church goers, faithful disciples of Christ, intent upon doing something out of the calling of our faith. We were sent there to start building the physical structure of a church. We were the experts; I was an engineer in training, and we had several others who were experienced in carpentry, masonry, and other construction skills. We went down to do what we thought the Mexican people in that village were not capable of. Boy, were we wrong.
One instance demonstrated this quite clearly. A group of us Americans were discussing a problem. There was a great big tree stuck right in the middle of the land where we wanted to build the foundation for the church. We didn’t bring tools for this – we had no chainsaw, no handsaw, not even an axe amongst us. And we learned that the village had nothing of the sort as well. In Mexico, heavy equipment was basically the property of the state, and the nearest Hardware store was 200 miles away. So there we were, planning a trip into Mexico City, a half day’s ride away, to purchase a chainsaw, or an axe, or a handsaw. Seemed like that was the only way.
As we discussed this problem, I noticed two Mexican gentlemen walking towards the tree. These two men had sort of worked alongside us, as we let them. They spoke very little, and were quite distant when approached. But here they were, approaching the tree as if they knew what to do. And then I saw what they were carrying – it was rope. Surely they can’t be serious, I thought, and my group began discussing how that would never work, the tree was three feet in diameter, was healthy and growing, and stood easily forty feet high.
We watched in disbelief as they lassoed the tree up high. They got a firm hold, and both of them began to pull. The tree barely budged. We shook our heads, resigned to the futility of this gesture, when one of the Mexican men motioned for us, five American men, to grab the rope. With great futility on the mind and in the heart, we reluctantly began pulling on the rope.
The tree came down in five minutes. The whole thing, roots and all. Didn’t have to dig the roots. Saved us a lot of time and effort. We were humbled. We were even a bit ashamed. We had been owned by a sense of our own superiority, and were brought down harder than that tree to the reality of what can be done if we just open ourselves to community.
This is the way that God desires for us to work in his will, to do his bidding. He desires unity. Not necessarily complete agreement, not necessarily complete harmony, not even complete efficiency or clarity, but unity, the uniting of our lives and our hearts to do God’s bidding TOGETHER. It’s not the easy way, to be sure; it is much less work to care only for ourselves, to pray to God in the vacuum of our own privacy, to do God’s bidding directly and alone, to separate ourselves from the messiness of other’s lives. And God has made us in such a way as to have the power to choose. We have free will. We are able to determine what direction we will take in the future. And all of this points out the natural inclination this gives to any human being to begin, and end, with what is best for the self.
But Christ presents a better way. Not more comfortable, but more comforting. Not more understandable, but more understanding. Not more clearly defined, but more constant of purpose. It is the way of community. Community means not only I. Community means negating the self to a degree. Community requires a check on the self. Community means adding “we” into the conversation. Community means unity of spirit more than union of persons. Community means no longer maintaining vision upon self alone, but casting a glance towards the source of that unity, the motivation and empowerment and purpose of that unity. For the Christian, this is Christ. This is God. This is our common foundation. I believe it is not just the case that we can only discover what true community can mean as we focus upon Christ. It is also the fact that it is only in true community that we can have our full focus on Christ.
May it be that we take on ourselves and our hopes for others that statement of John Wesley, “I want the whole Christ for my Savior, the whole Bible for my book, the whole Church for my fellowship, and the whole world for my mission field.” Amen.
5-10-15 Excessive Attention from God
Scripture: John 15:9-17
Theme: God’s excessive attention towards us may be misunderstood, manipulated, mishandled, or, most easily, missed. But it is this attention that is both our salvation and our challenge – God’s style of loving us is the only one, whereby servants are transformed into friends, whereby those who are commanded willingly choose to obey, whereby the fear of death and hell is exchange by the favor of love and forgiveness. God calls us friend; we are to act thusly.
This morning, I would like to ask that we perform some very basic actions. Would that be OK?
1. produce a semi-rhythmic resonance through pre-tensed stomach contractions and an articulated, audible chordance composed of sonorous pulsating vibrations which reflect and emotive condition connoting affirmation. (LAUGH)
2. engage the lower post-calf musculature in a tensile mode in concert with the activation and stabilization of the frontal thigh musculature while motioning with upper torso in a forward direction and increasing direct downward pressure upon bipedal units in a balanced strategy maintained until all bodily units are in line. (STAND UP)
3. take the slap of the skin of the neighborly one so as to keep from dis'n and show the carin'. (TAKE SOMEONE'S HAND IN YOURS)
4. THE HARDEST ONE BY FAR....I want you to remove your present centristic self from its intrinsic context and concentrate the nebulous domain of aphysical reality with a directive toward expression of affectation conducive of affirmation and emotive communication targeting a separate identity. (BE A FRIEND).
Now, wait a minute, you might say – that last one doesn’t fit! It’s not like laughing, or standing up, or taking someone’s hand in ours. Being a friend is not simply a physical action! Being a friend takes time, effort, a building up of trust, knowledge and experiences somehow connected meaningfully together.
But, wait another minute – isn’t being a friend a choice that we make, like standing up or taking another’s hand? Doesn’t true friendship involve physical things like listening, being present, or helping out when needed? Doesn’t being a friend mean we move beyond words or thoughts, into action?
Or, to put it another way -- Is being a friend more like a verb or a noun?
Our scripture lesson from the gospel of John raises such matters today, for in it we find a very unique type of message very personal in nature for those who follow Jesus. In this passage, Jesus uses a certain term that I don’t think we know exactly how to handle, a term that might seem strange to employ in our faith understanding. Jesus calls us “friends.”
He says, from scripture: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
Christ calls his disciples “friends.” And by doing so, he calls us, as his disciples in this day and age, as followers and believers and ones who trust in God’s revealed truth – he calls us “friends” as well.
In my opinion, this is huge. This is what separates our faith from many others. This degree of intimacy, closeness, affinity, and affection. If we’re not careful, we might think that it challenges the gulf between the sacred and the profane, that it calls into question the separation of significance between the creator and the created, that it would bring us to a semi-sacreligious understanding of God and ourselves as equals. After all, isn’t that what friendship means? Equal partners in a relationship of mutual affection?
I came across a writing that seems to describe a very popular and likeable idea of what friendship means:
What is a Friend? By Joanna Miller
A winer, a diner, an outfit designer
A meeter, a greeter, a chocolate eater
A debater, relater, a smile reinstater
A lift provider, an on-your-sider
A diva, a bopper, a tireless shopper
A snorter, a sniggerer, infectious giggler
A baker, a caker, a mate mickey-taker
An ally, a sister, a gentle arm twister
A lip-gloss provider, a secret confider
A texter, a writer, a party inviter
A colleague, a carer, a problem-sharer
A cocktail blender & cheeky rule bender
A gossipy chatterer, forgiver & flatterer
A handbag borrower, a ring-tomorrower
A ‘stop for a cuppa’, a date fixer-upper
A listening ear, a loyal volunteer
A welcome inquisitor, spare bed visitor
A misser, a kisser, a cinema hisser
A birthday surpriser & cherished adviser
A laugher, a kidder, anxiety ridder...
That’s what makes a friend!
Copyright Joanna Miller 2012. (Author's permission required to reproduce this poem.)
Is this the kind of thing Jesus is talking about when he calls his disciples “friends”? Is this what Jesus is saying when he calls us “friends?” Well, here we go once again – I believe that the answer is yes and no. Yes, the warmth, caring, depth, communication, and understanding, but no, not the equality, not the mutuality that we translate in human earthly terms. I say this, because the two words used interchangeably to translate and speak about the word “friend” in today’s scripture are agape and philos. “Godly love” and “brotherly love.” Without going into the deep theological underpinnings, this is saying that when Christ says “friend” he is saying “those who are loved.”
We are the ones whom Christ loves. We are the ones chosen by God, loved by God, for no other reason than God chooses it to be so. We are no longer considered servants, but are considered friends, as we follow Christ, meaning that we are marked by God’s love.
Why this shift from being “servants” to being “friends” of Jesus? Does it really matter? I believe it does matter, tremendously, when we consider what this particular type of friendship is like.
A servant obeys out of duty. A friend obeys out of love.
A servant knows the requirements of the one he serves; a friend knows the heart of the one he befriends.
A servant is a subordinate in the relationship; a friend is a participant in the relationship.
A servant is bound to the master, a friend chooses the alliance.
A servant can be dispassionate about matters concerning the master; a friend joins in the emotional upheavings of trials and tribulations in his comrade.
A friend is very different from a servant – and Jesus makes it clear that he considers those who follow him as friends.
I came across what I think is a very good exposition of true friendship, and I’d like to share it with you. It’s by a gentleman names C. Raymond Beran: He says
“What is a friend? Friends are people with whom you dare to be yourself. Your soul can be naked with them. They ask you to put on nothing, only to be what you are. They do not want you to be better or worse. When you are with them, you feel as a prisoner feels who has been declared innocent. You do not have to be on your guard. You can say what you think, as long as it is genuinely you. Friends understand those contradictions in your nature that lead others to misjudge you. With them you breathe freely. You can avow your little vanities and envies and hates and vicious sparks, your meannesses and absurdities, and in opening them up to friends, they are lost, dissolved on the white ocean of their loyalty. They understand. You do not have to be careful. You can abuse them, neglect them, tolerate them. Best of all, you can keep still with them. It makes no matter. They like you. They are like fire that purges to the bone. You can weep with them, sing with them, laugh with them, pray with them. Through it all--and underneath--they see, know, and love you. A friend? What is a friend? Just one, I repeat, with whom you dare to be yourself.“
Friendship with Jesus – daring to be ourselves before God. Friendship with Jesus -- embracing how God dares to be present with us in Jesus.
5-3-15 Stewardship’s Pattern for Living—Dialogue Sermon, Rev. Barry Padget and Rev. John Daniels
Scripture: Matthew 6:19-21, 25-33
Theme: Good stewardship begins with a recognition of its definition – understanding that we owe God everything, and God has a right to expect everything. Tithing, sharing, giving, etc. are not just sound ministry practices – they help to keep us focused on the only God, to the strengthening of our faith, and the substantiation of our living.
Stewardship. It’s a word we don’t use very often, and when we do, it usually has something to do with money. In the church, it is a term we typically use to identify our giving back to God what God has given to us in the first place. And our focus is largely about our monetary gifts given to support our church’s ministries.
But stewardship is about much more than money. It is a practical expression of our priorities in life – “where we put our money” is largely tied to how we have shaped our hearts and how we have aligned our thinking regarding life, regarding how we use and take care of what is entrusted to us. If our faith guides our living, then, somehow, someway, what we give of ourselves reflects our faith understanding. And there are many, many testimonies out there that seem to have a faith understanding that is a little off………
I asked Barry to join me today to speak to stewardship in two ways – what stewardship is not, and what stewardship is, regarding what God shares with us in scripture. Barry – how many stewardship campaigns have you been a part of? How many different definitions or understandings of stewardship have you come across? We identified at least four ways in which stewardship seems to have come to mean something less than helpful……
- (JOHN) -- GIVING GOD LEFTOVERS
Around Thanksgiving a few years ago, radio commentator Paul Harvey shared a true story of a woman and her frozen Thanksgiving turkey.
The Butterball Turkey Company set up a telephone hotline to answer consumer questions about preparing holiday turkeys. One woman called to inquire about cooking a turkey that had been in the bottom of her freezer for 23 years. That's right—23 years. The Butterball representative told her the turkey would probably be safe to eat if the freezer had been kept below zero for the entire 23 years. But the Butterball representative warned her that even if the turkey was safe to eat, the flavor would probably have deteriorated to such a degree that she would not recommend eating it.
The caller replied, "That's what I thought. We'll give the turkey to our church."
Paul Harvey daily radio broadcast (11-22-95);
- (BARRY) NOT REALIZING HOW WEALTHY WE ARE:
I have been re-reading the record of the Rich Young Ruler and his obviously wrong choice. But it has set me thinking. No matter how much wealth he had, he could not-- ride in a car, have any surgery, turn on a light, buy penicillin, hear a pipe organ, watch TV, wash dishes in running water, type a letter, mow a lawn, fly in an airplane, sleep on an innerspring mattress, or talk on the phone,
If he was rich, then what am I?
- (JOHN) ATTACHING GIVING TO MERIT:
According to The United Kingdom’s Independent Newspaper, in their February 2015 study, there are currently 2,089 billionaires in the world. Those 2,089 billionaires gave away an average of 1.2% of their wealth to charity. Warren Buffet has been one of the biggest givers, who made headlines in 2005 when he gave away $31 billion to charity; last year, he gave away $2.8 billion to charity, Commenting on this extreme level of generosity, Buffet said: "There is more than one way to get to heaven, but this is a great way." (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5512893)
- (BARRY) MATERIALISM RAMPANT AND ADDICTIVE:
Amount the U.S. spends annually on imported toys: $23,631,000,000
Amount spent by the next 10 highest toy-importing countries combined: $21,729,000,000
Average number of credit cards per U.S. household: 12.7
It's official: For the first time, most American homes now house more television sets than people. According to the latest data from Nielsen Media Research, the average U.S. household has 2.55 people and 2.73 TVs.
In such ways, stewardship has taken on a tough image, exposing our tendency to misunderstand the principle behind giving to God. And that’s precisely what it’s supposed to mean – returning to God a portion of what God has given us for the purposes of Christian love, unconditional love, tangible, practical love that tries to make a difference in the world – to make a real, practical difference in the world.
HEALTHY STEWARDSHIP MEANS ADDRESSING THESE THINGS, AND CHANGING THEM INTO HABITS OF A HEALTHY FAITH. HEALTHY FAITH RECOGNIZES THAT
- ALL BELONGS TO GOD,
- GOD WANTS US TO SHARE, AND
- OUR SHARING PRODUCES FRUIT.
1. STEWARDSHIP IS ACKNOWLEDGING GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY OVER ALL:
Kevin Harney tells the following story in his book, Seismic Shifts:
Years ago, a little boy named Dustin entered the Smarties stage of life. It might not be in the psychological journals, but there is a time in the development of every child when they are ready to receive their first pack of Smarties. You remember Smarties, a row of multicolored, chalk-like, bite-size candies wrapped in clear plastic, about 10 to 12 pieces in a pack. They are perfect for sharing.
I am not a huge fan of Smarties, but when I saw Dustin come into church with a fresh roll, I just had to ask him if I could have one.
Dustin immediately became my Smarties hero. He peeled out a piece with a smile and handed it over gladly. This was surprising enough, but at that moment, something happened in this little boy's heart. From that day on, for the next two years, every time Dustin got a pack of Smarties, he took out the first one and set it aside for me. Every Sunday, Dustin would track me down at church and generously offer me one or more Smarties. He did it gladly, with a smile, as if he enjoyed it.
Sometimes Dustin would open a pack of Smarties during the week, but he would still save me the first round, sugary, chalky tablet in his pocket. By the time Sunday came, the Smarty was a little mangy and would have lint and other pocket paraphernalia stuck to it, but he never forgot to bring it for me. In those cases, I thanked him and put it in my pocket so I could "enjoy it later."
Dustin loved Smarties. He also loved his pastor. Every week before the worship service began, Dustin and I shared a time of communion. Jesus was present as we shared a few moments of conversation and partook of some Smarties together.
Somewhere along the way, Dustin's mother pointed out that the packs of Smarties she bought for him had ten pieces, and she saw this weekly ritual as Dustin's introduction to tithing. What I saw was a little boy who loved to share and who understood the power of generosity. Since that time, I have asked myself many times, How am I doing with my Smarties?
Kevin G. Harney, Seismic Shifts (Zondervan, 2005), p. 188-189; submitted by Marshall Shelley, Wheaton,
2. STEWARDSHIP MEANS TO PRACTICE WHAT WE PREACH: GOD WANTS US TO SHARE….BOTH TO KEEP WHAT WE POSESS FROM BECOMING A THING OF WORSHIP, AND TO WORK TANGIBLE LOVE IN THE WORLD.
(learning to do with out…..) I've become more convinced than ever that God finds ways to communicate with those who truly seek him, especially when we lower the volume of the surrounding static. I remember reading the account of a spiritual seeker who interrupted a busy life to spend a few days in a monastery.
"I hope your stay is a blessed one," said the monk who showed the visitor to his cell. "If you need anything, let us know, and we'll teach you how to live without it."
Philip Yancey, "What 147 Elk Taught Me About Prayer
A few hundred years ago the great preacher and evangelist John Wesley showed us another way. Wesley lived in economically uncertain times, yet from humble beginnings he became so well known that his income eventually reached 1400 pounds per year. In 2001 this would be the equivalent of earning around $300,000.
So what did he do with all this wealth? Did he tithe it? No. Wesley went way beyond tithing. He disciplined himself to live on just 30 pounds of the 1400 pounds he earned every year. He gave away 98% of all he earned and lived on just 2%!
Wesley once preached a sermon on Luke 16.9. In it he spelled out his philosophy: money is a tool that can be used for great good or great ill. “It is an excellent gift of God” he claimed, “answering the noblest ends. In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked: It gives to the traveller and the stranger where to lay his head. By it we may supply the place of an husband to the widow, and of a father to the fatherless. We maybe a defence for the oppressed, a means of health to the sick, of ease to them that are in pain; it may be as eyes to the blind, as feet to the lame; yea, a lifter up from the gates of death! It is therefore of the highest concern that all who fear God know how to employ this valuable talent; that they be instructed how it may answer these glorious ends, and in the highest degree.”
He went on to spell out three simple rules which can guide us: gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can.
Wesley lived out these principles, on another occasion remarking: , “If I leave behind me ten pounds…you and all mankind [can] bear witness against me, that I have lived and died a thief and a robber.”
Source: information about Wesley reported in Christian History Newsletter, November 30, 2001. Wesley’s sermon on Luke 16.9 can be accessed at http://gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/sermons/serm-050.stm
(making a difference through sharing out of love) Witnessing to the holy love of God was always in John Wesley's mind. Even in death. Here was a man who had preached more than 45,000 sermons, traveled (mostly on horseback) a distance equivalent to nine times around the world, written 233 books and pamphlets, and helped with the writing of 100 more. But for Wesley, this was not enough. Even in death he witnessed to the love of God. Among Wesley's funeral instructions was the request that his body be buried in nothing more costly than wool. No silk or satin was to adorn the corpse from which his spirit had fled. And his last will and testament gave final seal to the gospel he had so long and courageously preached. He directed that "whatever remains in my bureau and pockets at my decease," was to be equally divided among four poor itinerants. He specially requested that neither hearse nor coach take any part in his funeral, and he desired that six poor men in need of employment be given a pound each to carry his body to the grave.
Adapted from J. Wesley Bready, "The Passing of a Prophet,"
3. STEWARDSHIP MEANS TO MAKE IT PRACTICAL, to know that our giving can produce fruit, can communicate our love that is our main motivation for giving.
A preacher paid a visit to a farmer and asked, "If you had 200 dollars, would you give 100 dollars to the Lord?
"Sure would," said the farmer.
"If you had two cows, would you give one cow to the Lord?"
"Yeah, I would."
"If you had two pigs, would you give one of them to the Lord?"
The farmer replied, "That's not fair. You know I have two pigs."
The world asks, "What does a man own?"; Christ asks, 'How does he use it?
Andrew Murray (1828-1917+-
I do not thank thee, Lord, That I have bread to eat while others starve; Nor yet for work to do While empty hands solicit heaven; Nor for a body strong While other bodies flatten beds of pain. No, not for these do I give thanks; But I am grateful, Lord, Because my meager loaf I may divide; For that my busy hands May move to meet another's need; Because my doubled strength I may expend to steady one who faints. Yes, for all these do I give thanks! For heart to share, desire to bear, And will to live, Flamed into one by deathless Love-- Thanks be to God for this! Unspeakable! His Gift to me! And my gifts to share!
SKEWED SENSE OF STEWARDSHIP:
A man once came to Peter Marshall, former chaplain of the Unites States Senate, with a concern about tithing. He said: "I have a problem. I have been tithing for some time. It wasn't too bad when I was making $20,000 a year. I could afford to give the $2,000. But you see, now I am making $500,000, and there is just no way I can afford to give away $50,000 a year."
Dr. Marshall reflected on this wealthy man's dilemma but gave no advice. He simply said: "Yes, sir. I see that you do have a problem. I think we ought to pray about it. Is that alright?"
The man agreed, so Dr. Marshall bowed his head and prayed with boldness and authority. "Dear Lord, this man has a problem, and I pray that you will help him. Lord, reduce his salary back to the place where he can afford to tithe."
Kevin G. Harney, Seismic Shifts (Zondervan, 2005),
John Boykin in The Gospel of Coincidence
God entrusts us with money as a test; for like a toy to the child, it is training for handling things of more value.
Fred Smith, Leadership, Vol. 4, no. 1.
Jesus talked much about money. Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables were concerned with how to handle money and possessions. In the Gospels, an amazing one out of ten verses (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions.
Howard L. Dayton, Jr., Leadership
4-19-15 “Shaping Inner Vision”
Scripture: Psalm 4
Theme: Often, we think we know how life should unfold; and then, it doesn’t, and we sulk, grovel, lash out, rebel, or otherwise become wholistically depressed. But it doesn’t have to be that way, if we learn to distrust our omniscience, and trust rather in the Omniscient. Giving yourself to God will not provide automatic happiness; but spiritual security is worth far more.
1Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
2How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah
3But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.
4When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah
5Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.
6There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”
7You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.
8I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.
Not too long ago, I went to the doctor for my annual checkup. My doctor said I’m in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in. And what, you might ask, is the shape I’m in? My bad cholesterol is too high, my good cholesterol is too low, my blood pressure is a bit too high, my triglicerides are too high, my heartrate is a bit too low, my diet is too saturated, my vegetable intake is too low, my oreo intake is too high, my skin is too dry, my hair is too curly, and my jokes are too corny. Otherwise, I’m in great shape.
On the outside, that is. Physically, I’m OK – just need a tweak here and there, exercise more, eat better. But then, the doctor asked me another question – how do you feel? I began to talk about no pains, no aches, but he stopped me and asked the question again – “how do you feel about your life? How do you feel in your heart, and in your mind?”
He was asking about my inner life, the life of thought and consideration, centered in our senses of well-being and happiness and balance. He asked how I liked my job, how my family was doing, what kinds of worries came to my mind, what kinds of hopes I had for the future. I told him I loved my job, my family was incredible, my main worry was if my motorcycle would start this spring, and that my main hope was that my motorcycle would indeed start this spring. He said I had a problem with motorcycle fixation.
It’s an excellent question that he asked me, one that I believe is the point of our scripture lesson today. The question is this: How healthy is your inner life?
So, here it is: HOW HEALTHY IS YOUR INNER LIFE?
If you’re like me, and like pretty much all of the world’s population, I bet you have, from time to time, suffered from particular ailments which rob us of inner peace, of inner health and well-being. One of the most common is called the Internal Task Consternation Hesitancy syndrome, or ITCH for short. ITCH is the depressive state of endless-task frustration – it is the sense that there is too much to do and too little time to do it all in. When afflicted by ITCH’S, even when tasks get accomplished, the sense of despair and being overwhelmed doesn’t go away; one continues to feel as if there is more to do, and that time is fleeting. Have you ever seen someone glued to their iphone, to check on e-mails, facebook posts, or messages of various sorts? They’ve probably got some degree of ITCH. Know someone who seems to never be able to sit and relax, whose regular conversations begin with “I’ve got SO much to do” and end with “I don’t know HOW I’m going to get this done.”? They sound ITCHY to me. If these persons remain ITCHY, they are in danger of a constant, hopeless desperation controlling their lives.
Another ailment that robs us of inner peace and health is what is called the Futility Encroachment Sensitivity Triangulation Exceeding Recourse Syndrome – or FESTER for short. This syndrome is present when one feels like things ought not to be the way they are, yet has no recourse, right, or reason to make the needed changes except for the feeling that things ought to be different. A person who FESTERS might agonize regularly about the weather, how it is always too hot or too cold; a person who FESTERS can’t get over the fact that a certain political party behaves in a certain way; a person who FESTERS curses under their breath every time they have to navigate the intersection of Brooks street and Russell Avenue, otherwise known as Malfunction Junction. These are things one can do very little about, yet they continually occupy the mind if allowed to do so. Peace doesn’t have a chance.
Yet another ailment that compromises our inner health is called the Low Opinion of Self Evaluation Response Syndrome, or LOSER for short. This is where inner peace is attacked by feelings of inadequacy, unimportance, insignificance, failure, or limitation that are paradoxically unfounded; one feels as if one needs to prove oneself time and time again, to demonstrate their value in society’s eyes, or worse – one feels so low, so worthless, that they have given up trying. As the name implies, they feel like LOSERS. This is a terribly disabling ailment that, if untreated, leads to the worst kinds of depression.
Have you ever been afflicted by any of these syndromes?
There are many more, I believe, ailments that drive inner peace away, that cause us to be knotted up inside, tangled and jumbled by things we feel we cannot control, by worries and fears and frustrations and sensations we have a hard time understanding let alone expressing.
Let’s return to that scripture lesson, and read it again – but this time, with the different speakers identified. There is the author, speaking to God, and God responding. Also, there is a word – “SELAH” – which is at the end of verses 2 and 4. SELAH is difficult to translate – some take it to mean “always,” or “to weigh,” “to lift up,” “to pause,” “to exalt,” “so it goes,” “pause and consider,” – but my favorite definition, and the one that I think speaks strongest here, is STOP AND LISTEN; I will read the passage with this definition used.
The speaker says: 1Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
God responds: 2How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? STOP AND LISTEN
The speaker says: 3But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.
God responds: 4When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. STOP AND LISTEN.
5Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in Me.
The speaker says: 66There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”
7You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.
8I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.
To me, the Psalmist is giving us a prescription for our inner ailments; the Psalmist is showing us the way to deal with the knots inside, with the frustrations and resentments and fears and anxieties and busyness that rob us of inner peace and health. It is to intentionally work typical prayer’s reversal. I don’t know about you, but my typical prayers begin with “God, help me figure this out” or “God, be with this particular person in their need,” or “God, give me strength for this situation.”
Petitions. Me asking for God to guide me, sustain me, strengthen me. Me asking for God to walk with my congregation, to show us how to live in faith and love, to move us to help others. There is nothing wrong with these prayers, except perhaps the tendency for us to hear what we want to hear in response – for great is the temptation to put words into God’s mouth. This, to me, is why the Psalmist is advocating a different way of praying, one that does not start out with our own needs and desires but gives center stage to God – as it says, “when you are disturbed, ponder it on your beds, and be silent.”
STOP AND LISTEN. PONDER THE ALMIGHTY. PUT YOUR TRUST IN ME. STOP AND LISTEN – FOR GOD HAS SOMETHING TO SHARE. Let God have the first word.
I would like to leave you with something that has helped my prayer life immensely – it is very simple, very direct, but helps me make room for intentional interaction with God. It is called the five Be’s of prayer:
Be still – seek out some place with minimal distractions, where you can stop moving, stop being active, for a time.
Be silent – let quiet come upon you; this goes for your mind as well as your voice.
Be patient – it takes time to quiet down; it takes time to settle the soul from patterns of busy life.
Be expectant – as you make room for God, as you shift attention, know that God takes notice; know that God is also waiting for this moment. God will share.
Behold – take in what arrives in the space you have provided; look it over, ask questions, talk it over with God, allow God to carry you further in your exploration of whatever God has placed in your heart and mind. Let God guide your interpretation and understanding of what God shares with you.
I close with the words of Dag Hammarskjold, who said: “To preserve the silence within--amid all the noise. To remain open and quiet, a moist humus in the fertile darkness where the rain falls and the grain ripens—[to let the divine work the ground of our inner being – this is peace].”
Dag Hammarskjold, Leadership, Vol. 3, no. 1.
4-5-15 – Easter Message
Christ: Madman, or Who He Claims To Be?
Scripture: I Corinthians 15:1-11
Theme: Either Christ was a madman, or who he said he was. Easter, then, is either a fantasy moment of earthly pretense, simple a scene in the cosmic play that incorporates no eternal hope but only illusion; or Easter is the grandest statement made by a loving, involved, and determined God that we are worth loving. I choose the latter.
Are you familiar with the great butter debate? First, butter is bad for you, margarine is better. Then, margarine is bad for you, butter is better. Then, butter is bad for you again, and margarine is better. Then, margarine is bad for you, and butter is better. Margarine or butter? Which is better? WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE?
You can apply the same argument pattern towards any number of dietary items – eggs, chocolate, coffee – but the debate continues, as to whether or not these items are good for health, or bad for health. Are eggs good for you, or bad for you? Is coffee good for you, or bad for you? And, of course, we know that CHOCOLATE IS GOOD FOR YOU – END OF DEBATE!
Knowing what to believe is a very difficult thing, requiring study, experience, trial and error, experimentation, and rational inquiry. And still, there is debate. People are always going round and round about the different opinions and ideas out there regarding what’s really important to believe – and this is very present in our Christian faith. So often it is practiced in terms of what are the right things to believe – doctrines and creeds are created to try to clarify the items of belief, such as the virgin birth, the divinity of Christ, and the movement of the Holy Spirit.
I have found in my experience as a follower of Christ that knowing what to believe can be a very frustrating endeavor. There are so many opinions out there, even inside of the Christian church! I recently did what any good researcher does to see just how great our diversity of belief is within the Christian faith – I used google to ask “how many Christian denominations are there?” – the answer: 41,000. That reflects potentially a lot of differences of opinion on what to believe.
Well, thank goodness Methodists all agree upon what to believe! Or do we? At least in this church, we all agree on what to believe about Jesus, about God, and about faith? No?
What is it that we should believe? More important, when we say we believe something, what does it mean for our lives? Is believing something relevant if it has no bearing upon what happens in our everyday world? If it cannot be proven, how do we know it is true? What does truth mean, anyway? How do we know if something is worth believing in the first place? Are doubts allowed? Are questions OK, if we find ourselves not sure of what to believe?
I go kind of crazy when I get into such a questioning jumble; perhaps you do too. All of these kinds of questions are not only allowed – THEY ARE ESSENTIAL IF OUR FAITH IS TO BE SOMETHING REAL. They provide a sort of continuum of exploration of God’s nature and reality, a continuum that has us engage with each other in pursuit of the answers. But if these questions are sought to be the foundation of our faith, if these kinds of questions must be answered concretely before we believe, then faith is not possible.
Here is the point: faith is less about knowing what to believe, than knowing who to believe in.
I have found much more progress in my faith by making this trade – I have traded what to believe for who to believe in. There will always be solid debate on the articles of faith; but I believe when effort is given to whom we trust in our faith, and allow that to be our primary motivation, we begin to discover what Christ was about. Not doctrines and creed, not articles of faith, BUT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN US AND GOD, never to be reduced to formula or law, BUT ALWAYS TO BE PURSUED THROUGH AN IRRATIONAL, UNCONDITIONAL, FANATICAL LOVE THAT WILL NOT DIE, THAT WILL NOT STOP, THAT IS OFFERED TO ALL OF GOD’S CHILDREN, BE THEY CHRISTIAN OR ATHIEST, MUSLIM OR BUDDHIST, SECULAR OR SACRED. Relationship with the divine is what Christ was all about; why Christ came to the world, taught and healed, preached and performed miracles, moved onto the cross, suffered and died, and rose again – TO SHOW HOW FAR DIVINE LOVE WILL GO IN ITS EFFORTS TO CONNECT WITH THE BELOVED, to connect with us. Christ conquered death to show us that nothing can separate us from God; God lives in us, through all that Christ was, and is.
In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis says this about Jesus:
“There was a man born among the Jews who claimed to be ‘one with’, …[God]. The claim is so shocking …that only two views of this man are possible. Either he was a raving lunatic of an unusually abominable type, or else He was, and is, precisely what He said. There is no middle way. If the records make the first hypothesis unacceptable, you must submit to the second. And if you do that, all else that is claimed by Christians becomes credible – that this man, having been killed, was yet alive, and that His death, in some manner incomprehensible to human thought, has effected a real change in our relation to God, a change in our favor.” C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p.13-14
Easter is either the greatest foolishness of fantasy, or the greatest gift the world has ever received. To the Christian, it is simply the most profound expression of grace we can possibly imagine – that God loves us so much, he gave us Christ. Christ who came on our behalf. Christ who died for our sakes. Christ who was resurrected in glory. Christ who lives with us and in us still. We may continue to argue about the specifics of this story, we may not agree on precisely what to believe regarding this episode of eternity. But we may all be united in who we believe in, and why.
3-29-15 Mixing Glory With Despair
Scripture: Mark 11:1-11
Theme: Sometimes – oftentimes? – we find the bad mixed in with the good, the harsh with the soft, the desperate with the glorious – and Jesus walks this journey in our lesson for today. Yet, he continues to walk, knowing what is coming, not stopping for the limited glory of the moment. What lesson does this have for us, but to walk likewise, even when we’d rather stay secure in life’s glorious moments? For God is not only found in glory – God is perhaps most often found in our despair.
Several years ago, I happened to purchase an old boat for $200. The price was set at around $10 per hole, so you get the picture of what shape it was in. Here’s a picture of it (slide) – well, OK, it wasn’t that bad, but it was pretty bad – many holes, definitely not seaworthy.
I spent the next three years working on that boat, and got it into pretty good shape – I resealed the hull, varnished the deck, fiberglassed the cockpit and epoxied the rotten wood, of which there were copious amounts. Finally, after three years, my boat was finished.
My son Ethan and I took it for its maiden voyage in the spring of 2008. We went up to Eastfork Reservoir near Lewistown, brought fishing gear and a sack lunch. I had Ethan spot the trailer as I backed it down to the water; once launched, Ethan took his place in the cockpit and I parked the car and trailer nearby.
As I walked toward the boat, my glorious moment was shattered when I heard Ethan screaming something; can you guess what it was? “DAD, THERE’S WATER COMING IN THE BOAT!” One word – despair – flooded my thoughts. That, and the thought that my son might sink with the boat. I ran over to the boat and Ethan, took a look, and saw that yes, there was water coming in, but at a trickle; we decided to risk it, and we fished and bailed alternately for a few hours. It turned out to be not so bad of a day. Here’s what our boat looks like now (slide)– and, yes, it still leaks, but only a little.
What a bad feeling – when I felt my day move from glory to despair.
We find ourselves today, with a similar situation after having heard of Jesus entering Jerusalem, for we know what’s coming. We are not fooled by this moment of glory -- Jesus is heading for pain. Jesus is heading for the cross. And we, as the privileged faithful, know the story, and understand that this journey of Christ will move from glory to despair in a few short days. The crowds will turn; the verdict will be given. And Jesus will die.
. We find this moment mixing glory and despair. Glory over the moment when Jesus is riding high, entering Jerusalem, with the crowds proclaiming him king, lord, ruler of their lives, master of the masses. Despair over the coming cross, the time when all this joy is drowned out in a fit of fury over this Christ who threatens the status quo, and stands for the truth no one wants to hear. Palm Sunday has us caught between laughter and tears.
Caught between laughter and tears; mixing glory and despair. Have you ever been there? Have you ever not been sure if you were going to laugh or to cry? Have you ever felt the tug of war inside your heart when facing a situation, a relationship, an event, that caught you off guard? Hopeful joy on the one-hand; depressing reality on the other?
Glory and despair, laughter and tears, success and failure, joy and sorrow – these kinds of dualisms are often times very close companions. There is often a very fine line between the two, whether it be because of appearances or understandings that are simply too superficial.
Something I have shared with you before is the fact that I have a younger brother. I have also shared with you the fact that my younger brother and I used to fight a lot. There was always a good reason for me to fight my brother, reasons such as:
- he was breathing my air, or
- he was looking funny at me, or
- he was walking in a way I didn’t like, or most significantly
- he wouldn’t do what I wanted him to do.
When we fought over such important matters, I would almost always win, because, of course, I was always right – and I suppose the fact that I was six inches taller than he was helped as well. But the funny thing was that when I would win, I would usually feel terrible. I won the point, but was always losing the game, for the game wasn’t about winning points, but being brothers who were there for each other. It took me a long time to figure that one out.
Winning and losing can be close companions. Laughter and tears can exist together. And this is not necessarily a bad thing at all. When laughter and tears come together, it expresses to me a time when, perhaps, we are more human, more real in terms of the heartache and joy that actually touches our heart, that actually touches our soul. It’s what makes Holy Week, or any time, a good reflection upon when God laughed and cried, a time when the glorious met with the tragic, for the purpose of demonstrating God’s love for creation, and his unwillingness to ever give up on us.
And this mixture of glory with tragedy is no stranger to our lives. This is what Christ modeled – that the greatest tragedies can frame the greatest glories. The tragedy of despair frames the glory of hope when it returns. The tragedy of death frames the glory of the soul’s release from bondage to decay and sorrow. The tragedy of the cross frames the glory of the resurrection.
Palm Sunday takes us there. Jesus knew what was going on. He knew that the people were following him, that their hearts were warmed by his presence, his ministry, his teaching. But he also knew the danger that was present in Jerusalem; he knew the danger that accompanied the human heart. He knew that the cross was ahead, that the cheering crowds would turn quickly when challenged by his call for change in their hearts.
Why was Jesus so resolute in his journey? If it were any one of us, with the same knowledge of the story, with the same understanding of what was going on, we would probably say Jerusalem was the last place to go. Yet, Jesus persisted. He persisted for the simple reason that he knew what was worth dying for.
Now, there’s an antiquated phrase – “Something worth dying for.” In our playful moments we talk about something being “to die for.” Chocolate comes to my mind. Perhaps the latest fashion in clothes, or a particular ninetendo game, or a certain type of motorcycle, comes to our minds. But of course, we don’t actually mean that we’d be willing to die for these things. Or do we?
We are hitting upon one of the great lessons being taught here in the Palm Sunday message, a lesson which strikes at perhaps the greatest problem faced in the world today. We don’t know what’s worth dying for.
A reading by Dorothy L. Sayers puts it this way: “In the world it is called tolerance, but in hell it is called despair…the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.”
Let me ask you this question, one to ponder in your hearts this day. What is it that you would die for? Have you found any purpose, any mission, any goal which you would be willing to lay down your life for? You see, plain and simple, Jesus did. He knew that, whatever else was going on, proclaiming the truth of God was worth laying down his life. Proclaiming the truth of God’s love for his creation, the extent of that love, and it’s unconditional and eternal nature – these were the things worthy of sacrificing everything.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said it this way: “Even if they try to kill you, you develop the inner conviction that there are some things so precious, some things so eternally true that they are worth dying for. And if a person has not found something to die for, that person isn’t fit to live!”
We aren’t fit to live unless we’ve found something worth dying for. That’s a strong statement, isn’t it? This is what is modeled by Christ. This is the significance of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, with the confidence to carry on even in the presence of the cross. Jesus knew what was worth dying for. Do we?
Victory in Defeat – by Edwin Markham
Defeat may serve as well as victory
To shake the soul and let the glory out.
When the great oak is straining in the wind,
The boughs drink in new beauty, and the trunk
Sends down a deeper root on the windward side.
Only the soul that knows the mighty grief
Can know the mighty rapture. Sorrows come
To stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.
3-22-15 On the Edge of Difficult Things
Scripture: John 12:20-33
Theme: Facing difficult things usually invites Fight, flight, or engagement. Christ chose engagement. This is our place as well.
Several years ago, when my children were in elementary school, I experienced what we might call a humbling moment. I gave my children a challenging task. There was a tremendous pile of clean clothes on the couch in the living room, and they needed to be folded. I asked my children to fold them. The protests began. “But Dad, I folded them last time; I don’t know how to fold them; I don’t know where they go; I need to clean my own room; I need to do homework; I need to write my sermon.” (er, that last one was my excuse!). But to no avail. I held firm, and told them they needed to make sure they folded all the clothes and put them away. I didn’t want to see any clothes left on the couch.
One half hour later, I came up to check the progress. I was impressed! Not one article of clothing was left on that couch, nor in the living room. They had done a good job, and I even told them so.
A few days later, I was picking up things around the living room, when I noticed the couch was kind of far from the wall. I went to push it back, but it wouldn’t budge. So I looked behind the couch. Guess what I saw? All those clean clothes. Somebody had jammed – and I mean jammed – those clothes carefully behind the couch so that they could not be seen from the front. I probably should have gotten angry or upset, but it was so well done that I have to admit, I was impressed. Someone had taken great pains to deal with the difficult, unpleasant task of dealing with the laundry.
And that’s how it is with the human race. When we face difficult things, we automatically face temptation in many forms, for when we face difficult things, our capacity for free will kicks into gear. WE CAN CHOOSE IF AND HOW WE WILL FACE THE DIFFICULTY. As a challenge comes upon us, we are fully able to make choices of whether to face it at all, and, if we do choose to face the challenge, we are fully able to choose attitude, perspective, justification, and methodology. In terms of anthropology, when facing a challenge, we can choose flight or fight.
Choosing flight means to escape. The challenge is too great. It would destroy us. It would consume us. Or, more likely, in this day and age, it would make us uncomfortable. It would result in confusion, distress, or anxiety. It would make us change. So we flee from its presence. We jam the clothes behind the couch.
A wife took her husband to the doctor; he was pretty worn down. The doctor examined him, and then took the wife into another room. “Your husband is very ill,” said the doctor, “He will die unless you do the following things. He needs to do no work, not even washing the dishes or folding laundry. He needs to eat three very healthy meals a day. You must wait on him hand and foot, see to his every need, and never upset him. You need to do this for the next year, without fail. Unless you do, your husband will die.” On the ride home, the husband turned to his wife, and asked, “What did the doctor say?”
She turned to him and said, “You’re going to die.”
Rather than face the difficulty, we can often choose escape. This is a very human practice, but it is typically the most ineffectual. The problem, most likely, has not disappeared, but has just been temporarily removed from awareness. Possibly, and quite probably, the difficulty has grown for lack of attention. Somebody, somewhere, at some time in the future, will have to do something with it. And that somebody will probably be the original soul.
The second option we have when facing a difficulty is to fight that difficulty. We can go into battle, attack with all our forces, treating the difficulty as an enemy combatant. After all, difficulties are the plague of humanity! Difficulties are the unwanted occurrences in life that detract, degrade, profane, and otherwise lessen life. Difficulties are the corrosion of hope, the embodiment of suffering, and the expression of an imperfect world. If only we didn’t have such challenges, the blissful life would be well within reach.
Most likely, you have heard of the “Big Brother, Little Brother” program, whereby adults (the “Big Brother”) mentor troubled youth (the “little brother”), to model good behavior and social skills that might have been missing in a young man’s life. Many years ago, I had a little brother named Kevin. Kevin was about 14 years old when I knew him. We’d get together a couple of times a month for a year. We’d go to movies, play basketball, go out to eat, go to the amusement park, and that kind of thing. We’d talk about life, people, the world, manners, relationships, and the past. In many ways, Kevin was just a normal kid with some problems.
One thing about Kevin was hard to miss, however – he always carried a wedge of lemon and a piece of sandpaper. He used the lemon juice and the sandpaper to try to remove a tattoo on his arm. Now this is not a practice I recommend for anyone, and I tried to persuade Kevin not to do it – his arm looked so raw and red when I took him back to the group home. The tattoo? It was a cross. A Christian cross. Kevin and I had many discussions that started with that cross. He wanted it gone with a passion, for, as he told me, “it was religion that put me on the street.” It seems his family was very strict, religiously speaking. They set down the rules, they drilled into Kevin what they wanted him to believe, and when he didn’t follow through, at the ripe age of 12 years old, they kicked him out of their home. At least, that was Kevin’s story of how it went. All I actually knew was that at age twelve, Kevin’s parents gave up all their rights formally for the bringing up of their child.
I don’t need or want to know all the details or accuracies of Kevin’s story, but we know this kind of thing goes on. It illustrates the reality that fighting leaves victims. When we fight difficulties, we find it quite easy to take up sides. The objective all too often becomes not one of reconciliation or a return to balance, but victory. Victory at all costs! Victory against the identified foe! The difficulty of tension between persons could easily be transferred to the new difficulty of severed relationship. Fighting often leaves victims. We forget that the victims are always children of God.
But there is a third option to the flight or fight approach to dealing with difficulties. It is tempting to call these options “flight, fight, or faith” which works well for me, but I think it is more clearly in line with Christ’s teaching to call our options “flight, fight, or engage” the difficulties that come our way.
Engaging difficulty – what does that mean?
A woman had a severe attack of laryngitis and lost her voice for nearly a week. The doctor told her not even to whisper.
Her husband, trying to help his wife communicate with him, devised a system of taps. He explained his system to her: "One tap means "yes." Two taps means "No." Three taps means "give me a kiss." And one hundred and forty-nine taps means "take out the garbage."'
OK, that is a silly example, and maybe not the best for our purposes here. But it does identify the first part of what I mean by engaging difficulty. It means involvement. Becoming involved with the difficulty. Sitting with it for awhile. Doing something to search for a first step, a possibility for address, a way to work with it to the maximum benefit of all parties concerned.
I believe this is what Christ is dealing with in this passage from scripture: “Now is my soul troubled. And what should I say? – “Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”
In this wonderful, terrible passage, Christ demonstrated his humanness in that he was able to conceive of escape, he was able to conceive of God fighting on his behalf – but was able to see further, to see God’s purpose in the difficulty of the cross. This is why he was able to engage the cross.
This kind of thing is essential to our faith – that we continually strive to see God’s purpose and presence in the difficulties we face. It means training ourselves to see God in the dark places of our lives, in the experiences that cloud our understanding, in the moments when difficulties arise that leave us breathless from fear and anxiety. It takes training because each of us is susceptible to first impressions, easily missing what lies deeper. We often must search for God below the surface of our immediate experience.
Every hardship provides an education – for those willing to learn.
Every discomfort helps one practice tolerance – for those willing to bend.
Every tension teaches endurance – for those willing to stay the course.
Every frustration shapes character – for those willing to try again.
Every attack forms stamina – for those willing to face the foe.
Every struggle creates strength – for those willing to exercise all assets.
Every sorrow generates depth – for those willing to accept the loss.
Every difficulty motivates faith – for those willing to trust God in all things.
How, then, does one go about seeing God’s purposes in the difficult things we face? I’ve found three practices or mindsets that help me engage in the difficulties I’d rather flee from or fight against. For one:
- I trust that God is there, somewhere, in every difficulty I face – not necessarily that God causes the difficulties, or that God will present a magical solution to my troubles, but that God is a co-sufferer, that God is by my side, in my heart, a very present figure aware of what I am going through.
- I trust that all things are redeemable by God – somehow, someway, God can work some positive end to even the most negative beginning. THIS WILL NOT ERASE THE DIFFICULTY OR TRANSLATE IT INTO SOMETHING JUSTIFIABLE OR VIRTUOUS; but God can work something out of what we cannot – if we allow God to work in our lives this way.
- I trust that God will, in God’s time, help me to see the value and purposes of my difficulties.
I may shatter some pastoral perceptions with what I’m going to say next, but here it goes – RARELY DOES YOUR PASTOR HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS! Maybe about motorcycles, but rarely, rarely, do I feel like I have sufficient or effective answers to many of the questions that come my way. Why did God allow this to happen? How can I forgive? What am I doing wrong? How should I pray? Where will this lead? Who do I turn to for help? What should I do now?
I don’t have ready-made answers for these kinds of heartfelt, soul-searching questions – but I have found that, if willing to be engaged, together, with a sense of God present and involved, some sort of answer arises. Maybe not complete. Maybe not crystal clear. But sufficient for the moment. Sufficient for this stage of life’s journey.
Theodore Roosevelt said: “It is not the critic who counts, not the person who points out how the strong one stumbles or where the do-er of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcomings, who knows the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end the high achievement of triumph and who at worst, if he fails while daring greatly, knows his place shall never be with those timid and cold souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
“The credit belongs to the person who knows the great devotion, and spends himself in a worthy cause.” The credit belongs to those who hold onto God’s purpose in the difficulty. And God’s purpose cannot be discovered, if it is to be discovered at all in this life, without engagement.
Many are the people that I meet who are fleeing from difficulty – a bad relationship, damaged pride, a past they’d rather pretend never happened, a lie that lives on, mistakes, anger, dealing with damaging habits, shameful behavior and the like -- and they don’t realize that, no matter how fast they run, they can never get away from themselves. The difficulty lives on.
Many are the people that I meet who are fighting with everything they’ve got – against family and friends, against a person holding the opposing opinion, against the truth, against themselves, against God – and they are leaving a trail of destruction behind them that resolves little. And the fighting goes on.
But blessed are those who choose to engage the difficulties of life trusting that God is in there, somewhere, ready to join us in our struggle.
7-6-14 - A Final Word from the District Superintendent
Scripture: Colossians 1:1-14
Theme: The DS has some insights on the new pastor appointed under his watch – and there are concerns! But not if we remember what God has said to us consistently, constantly, as reflected in today’s scripture – we share in the inheritance of the saints in the light; we are given the opportunities to grow in the knowledge of God; and God is with us every step of the way.
Recently, I made a request of our Bishop Elaine Stanovsky – that she would grant an extension to the position of Western Mountains District Superintendent until 10:30am, July 6th, 2014. She graciously extended that privilege, and so I stand here before you as the Western Mountains District Superintendent for the next 25 minutes. I felt this was an important request to make, for as District Superintendent overseeing the new appointment to this church, the First United Methodist Church of Missoula, Montana, I needed to raise up to your awareness some things about your newly appointed pastor. I am uniquely qualified to make commentary, I believe, for I know this new pastor fairly well – we talk on a regular basis, and have done so for over 40 years. Let me put it to you directly – there are some things you really ought to know about him. Read more of the message