In the heart of Missoula...


Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors
Celebrating God's love since 1871

"Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors" is not just an advertising slogan, but a statement of how First United Methodist Church of Missoula wants to be seen in our community. First Church is a community of open hearts seeking to be a force for God's grace in the "heart" of Missoula's downtown. We are an open minded congregation, respectful of each other yet unafraid of the issues of our time. And we are a church of open doors, welcoming a wide diversity of people to be a part of our congregation. For those who can't manage our stairs you will find the elevator just inside the street level entrance to the right of the stairs. You will always find a place at First United Methodist Church!
Please visit us at 300 E. Main Street.


Check out our new Facebook page. We hope you enjoy it.

Reconcilling logo
We welcome all people into the full life and membership of this congregation.



star Church will start at 10:30 during the school year.
Children 3-12 will leave the sanctuary following the Children's Sermon for Sunday School, except for the last Sunday of the month.

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 service.
There is always a coffee/fellowship time in the Narthex following the service.

You are invited to join us!


candle Christmas Eve Services will be at 5:30, 8:00 and 11:00

On Sunday Choir practice is in the chapel next to the sanctuary at 9:00 and the Faith and Justice Class will meet downstairs at 9:15.

adult ed Additional Adult Classes are offered during the week.  
You are invited to join us!

sermonby our minister Rev. John Daniels.

newsletterfor complete details of all that is happening this month in our church.


December 2 - Tree of Life Lighting at 6 p.m. and service at 6:30 p.m.
December 3 and 10 - Missoula Interfaith Collaborative Legislative Advocacy Training
December 4 - UMW General Meeting 1 p.m.
December 7 - Children's Christmas Program during church
December 7 - Stephen Minister Information Session, noon
December 11 - Ruth Fellowship 10 a.m., church parlor
December 11 - Amazing Grays Christmas Party 5 p.m.
December 14 - UMW Candy and Bake sale following worship
December 14 - SERVV Sale following worship
December 14 - Eagle Watch Service 12:30 p.m.
December 14 - JuBELLation Hand Bell Concert 4 p.m. Facebook Link
December 17 - Vespers 1 p.m.
December 21 - John Floridis Benefit Concert for Family Promise 4 p.m. Poster
December 24 - Christmas Eve Services 5:30, 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.
December 30 Book Club 11 a.m.

Looking Ahead - JANUARY EVENTS

January 30 - Homeless Connect - Volunteers needed FLYER

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.
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 - fall classes, online class information
links to The Book of Discipline, Bible verse search site
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 and training information.
Information on what a Stephen Minister does
UMW - United Methodist Women schedule and fellowship group information UMW
UMM - United Methodist Men
Social Action - Family Promise, Poverello, Habitat for Humanity, Intermountain, UMCOR
Walk to Emmaus - Link to their website

Reaching out with love to our community and the world hearts
Tzedakah Pocket
Poverello noon meal 5th Saturdays
Family Promise Host
January MIC Food Bank Drive
Wesley House
Host for Homeless Connect
East Angola Pastor Support
SERRV & Fair Trade Products
Intermountain Home
Flathead Lake UMC Camp
Blackfeet United Methodist Parish
United Methodist Women’s mission projects
YWCA Battered Women’s Shelter
❤ Cub Scouts
Habitat for Humanity

John Daniels 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.

You Tube video
Retired ministers Hugh Herbert and Barry Padget lead the congregation in singing
Brother Van's Harvest Time. Click on the arrow above to start the video.


Pastor: John Daniels - sermon
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

Music Team:
Greg Boris, Music Director and Chancel Choir Director
Peter Edwards, Pianist/Organist
Brynn Bellingham, Handbell Choir Director
Rhanda Johnson, Joyful Noise Director

hospital **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.

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.

Chancel Choir
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.

bunnyJoyful 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.
 adult ed

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.

Children's Ministries
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. kids christmas 2013

You Tube You can watch a You Tube video of the Twelve Days of Christmas given by the children during church December 8, 2013.
 Click on the You Tube logo.

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 vis
it. 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 facebook
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.

UMW logoUnited Methodist Women
Our UMW is part of the Yellowstone Conference and you can find information
on Conference and District UMW activities on the conference UMW web page.
The Conference covers Montana, 1/2 Wyoming and a slice of Idaho.
The National United Methodist Women also have a website full of information, news, and resources

. UMWUMW 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 Souper Supper, spring Flea Market, July picnic for families who will attend a community band concert at Bonner Park afterward, September Pizza Party at the Carousel, October Apple Pie sales, and December Candy Sale.
Contact President Ellie Barnes 549-1384 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.
contact: Ellie Barnes 549-1384 or Peg Plimpton 542-1543
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: Ellen Stubblefield 728-2115
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.
Chair: Dorothy Avery 549-7117

**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.
Chair: Carole Addis 721-1817

UMMen logoMen's Fellowship Group
The Mighty Methodist Men meet 1st & 3rd Saturdays, at 8 a.m. in the Church Library.

Stephen Ministry ChurchSM logo
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 satisfaction in your own life as you nurture your care receiver.
What is a Stephen Minister?
Call Kay at 543-6722 or Peg at 542-1543 for more information.

Amazing Grays
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.

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.

Social Action - Love in Motion

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.

Family promise logoFirst 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

Human Relations Day -February
One Great Hour of Sharing - March
Native American Ministries - April
Peace With Justice - May
World Communion - October
United Methodist Student Day - November
For more information go to: www.umcgiving.org



Sermons by Pastor John Daniels

Listening to Wilderness Voices
Scripture: John 1:6-8, 19-28
Theme: Many Christians believe that the point of faith is to receive a “faith tan” – receiving what God offers in Christ as a gift meant only for us, a gift to be received to our satisfaction, our security, our benefit. The problem with this is that the gift of Jesus and his love, as designed, as intended, was meant to be both received and shared; you cannot keep it to yourself for it to be real. Otherwise, a kind of spiritual skin cancer grows – cancerous in the sense of that love, meant to be reflected to others, becomes an object of possession, rather than distribution. For Jesus to be real, Jesus must be shared.

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

Who here likes light? Especially as the fog of this past week seems to still be lingering around? Especially as the nights get longer and longer? Especially as the beauty of this season shows forth brilliantly in the light displays in yards and houses and stores. But – things can get out of control, can’t they?

“John the Baptist came to bear testimony to the light…” says our scripture lesson today. This is the light of God in Jesus his Son. It is a light needed by the world. Yet, things can get very out of line regarding this light, and how it was designed to be shared with all by those who receive its radiance – for so very often it is received but not shared, gloried in but not used, praised over but not lived in.
This last week, as I was basking in the radiance of the Christmas spirit – full of light and peace and hope-- I came across a quote that stunned me. The quote had to do with this:
Here is what it said: “Many Christians are preoccupied with tanning themselves in the radiance of Jesus – to sit in the light of God, allowing its radiance to warm, comfort, and encourage their own personal journey in this world. But just as too much time basking our bodies in the sun produces skin cancer, too much time basking our own spirit in the light of Jesus can produce soul cancer, resulting in the paradox of a self-serving faith. The light of God was meant for all – we receive its fullness only as we give it away.”
This brought to mind a story I wanted to share with you, written by Robert Fulghum about a true life experience he had. The story is called Life as a Fragment of a Mirror.

Life as a Fragment of a Mirror by Robert Fulghum
Author Robert Fulghum (All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, and It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It) tells this story of one of his professors, a wise man whose name was Alexander Papaderos:

Many years ago, I was attending a two-week seminar on Greek culture; the seminar leader was Dr. Alexander Papaderos. During the last session on the last morning of the seminar, Dr. Papaderos turned and made the ritual gesture: “Are there any questions?”

Quiet quilted the room. These two weeks had generated enough questions for a lifetime, but for now, there was only silence.

“No questions?” Papaderos swept the room with his eyes.
So, I asked.

“Dr. Papaderos, what is the meaning of life?”

The usual laughter followed, and people stirred to go.
Papaderos held up his hand and stilled the room and looked at me for a long time, asking with his eyes if I was serious and seeing from my eyes that I was.
“I will answer your question.”
Taking his wallet out of his hip pocket, he fished into a leather billfold and brought out a very small round mirror, about the size of a quarter.

And what he said went something like this:
“When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place.

“I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone, I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine–in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.
“I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of light. But light–truth, understanding, knowledge–is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.
“I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world–into the black places in the hearts of men–and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of life.”
And then he took his small mirror and, holding it carefully, caught the bright rays of daylight streaming through the window and reflected them onto my face and onto my hands folded on the desk.

You and I are fragments of a mirror whose whole design and shape we do not fully know. Nevertheless, with what we have we can reflect light into the dark places of this world – into the black places in the hearts of people –and change some things in some people. This is who we are as followers of Jesus. This is the meaning of our lives.

(The story ends this way…..hand out mirrors)

12-07-14 Children's Christmas pagaent - no sermon.


The Potter’s Perspective

Scripture:  Isaiah 64:1-9
Will you let yourself be led by another?  Will you allow for the possibility of someone other than yourself calling the shots?  Will you allow something other than self-interest to mold you and shape you?  Will you be clay in the Potter’s hands?

Chan Gailey was the head coach of Alabama's Troy State in the early 1980’s when Troy State was playing for a National Championship. The week before the big game, he was headed to the practice field when a secretary called him back to take a phone call.
Somewhat irritated, Gailey told her to take a message because he was on his way to practice.
She responded, "But, sir, it's Sports Illustrated."
"I'll be right there," he said.
As he made his way to the building, he began to think about the upcoming article. It would be great publicity for a small school like Troy State to be in Sports Illustrated. As he got closer, he realized that a three-page article would not be sufficient to tell the whole story. Coming even closer to his office, he started thinking that he might be on the cover. "Should I pose or go with an action shot," he wondered. His head was spinning with all of the possibilities.
When he picked up the phone and said hello, the person asked, "Is this Chan Gailey?"
"Yes, it is," he replied confidently.
"This is Sports Illustrated, and we're calling to let you know that your subscription is running out. Are you interested in renewing?"
Alan Price, Chatsworth, Georgia; source: Chan Gailey speaking at a dinner in Dalton, Georgia

Have you ever heard of the saying, “You are either humble or you will be humbled."?

          It may not seem like it at first, but if you carefully read our passage from today from the prophet Isaiah, it gives us a very strong message about humility – or, conversely, the lack thereof in our world.  This is the case back in the time of Isaiah, as the prophet woefully proclaims, when he states that “there is no one that calls upon thy name, that bestirs himself to take hold of thee; we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” – in other words, nothing is about God; everything is about us.  Even the things that seem righteous are less about God and more about self –infatuation.  Even the so-called “good deeds” of the time are suspected of motivations other than faith in God.
          Thank goodness we have grown beyond such self-infatuation!  Right?  Or, not right?  How many here are sick of Black Friday?  How many here are already tired of Cyber Monday?  I’m anxiously awaiting the day not long in the future when they similarly market the Saturday and Sunday in between Black Friday and Cyber Monday – you know it’s coming.  Black Friday followed by Stupendous Saturday, then Celebration Sunday, with Cyber Monday completing the marketing cycle (but it will  go on to Terrific Tuesday, Wonderful Wednesday, Thronging Thursday, and then Fabulous Friday, no doubt!.)
          Perhaps you are like me, in that I am very tired of hearing that I need the newest cell-phone, quickest laptop, fastest car, newest novel, creamiest cappacino, or coolest clothing in order to be fulfilled.  These and most market strategies thrive on exploiting one of the most powerful forces influencing each and every human being – that force being self-interest.  If it can transport us, shape us, strengthen us, beautify us, feed us, warm us, secure us, connect us,  or otherwise dazzle us, we are regularly invited to consider how we need it in our lives.  What a deal – self-satisfaction for $9.95, plus shipping and handling, of course.
          This all reflects the fact that we live in an age of entitlement thinking that has us move farther and farther away from objective reality – with that objective reality being about something bigger than us.  Jean Bethke Elshtain, was an American ethicist, political philosopher, and public intellectual who was also a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School.  In her book  Who Are We?  Critical Reflections and Hopeful Possibilities, Dr. Elshtain has this to say about our present social mindframe:

“Who, then, are we, we prideful late-twentieth-century creatures? Lord knows, we no longer think of ourselves as belonging to anyone or anything. We do not belong—we own; we possess. And that, to say the least, is not the same thing. We plunge into self-aggrandizement convinced that the dazzling success of our projects will prove definitely who we are. But this fails to satisfy. Our triumphs ring hollow. Our victories so often turn to ashes in our mouths. But never mind. Tomorrow we will run faster, climb higher, and one fine morning…. Who are we? We are creatures who have forgotten what it means to be faithful to something other than ourselves.
Jean Bethke Elshtain, Who Are We? Critical Reflections and Hopeful Possibilities (Eerdmans, 2000);

          “We are creatures who have forgotten what it means to be faithful to something other than ourselves.”  These words powerfully bring to life what the prophet Isaiah was getting at in our scripture lesson today when he says in verse 8, “Yet, O Lord, thou are our Father; we are the clay, and thou art the potter;”  in other words, we, as followers of Jesus, who are given to Christ’s revelation of God, who have been touched by grace – we strive to be faithful to something other than ourselves.  We intentionally, determinedly, passionately strive to place ourselves in the potter’s hands, to be shaped, molded, and formed according to God’s purpose, according to God’s will.
          Have you ever placed yourself in the potter’s hands?  Have you ever addressed your clay nature, and allowed the forces of the divine their way with you?  Pastors are required to do this regularly, and, I must confess, a part of me hates this requirement!  I don’t like to have another entity direct my efforts; I don’t appreciate someone else telling me what to do!  I don’t relish putting my own interests and ideas aside, to embrace someone else’s agenda!  But the someone else is not just anybody; the someone else is God, the master potter, who desires to make something more of me than I can make of myself.  And I must admit – it is when I have allowed God to shape me more than myself that I feel most real.
          Back when I was going to engineering school, such an experience like this happened to me.  At that time I had given up on church; I was tired of an organization that seemed to offer nothing relevant to my faith journey.  I was still interested in God, but didn’t know how to pursue my interest.  I wandered about to different groups and faiths, searching, exploring, testing.  During this time, my parents would come by my dormitory room once a week, just to see how I was doing.  My mother, however, had an agenda – every week, she would bring one of their church bulletins and leave it on my desk.  I would toss it in the trash as soon as they left my room.
          Except for one time, when something in that bulletin caught my eye.  It was a plea for volunteers to help with a program working with developmentally disabled youth and young adults.  Two things happened instantly.  My mind said, “That’s not for me!”  whereupon an almost audible voice said, “Then you’d better volunteer!”  An internal argument ensued inside my head and my heart, with me listing a thousand reasons for not volunteering – “I’m too busy, I’m not qualified, they certainly have enough volunteers by now, I wouldn’t be good at that kind of thing, I don’t know what to wear” – but these thousand reasons could not quiet that one voice that said, “You’d better volunteer.”  I can’t even begin to tell you how much I did not want to volunteer!  And how no one, NO ONE, was holding a gun to my head to force me.  But no matter how I tried to think about this, no matter how I twisted and turned inside of myself, I felt I needed to volunteer.  And so I did, for what I thought was a month or two, just to get the feel for this experience.  The month or two turned into five years, with me becoming a staff member for the last two years.  To say it changed my life is an understatement.
          Such experiences like this one have taught me six basic lessons that have helped me not miss the opportunities to place myself in the potter’s hands.  Most of these six lessons are counter-intuitive – that is, they go against the grain of common sense, at least as defined by the world.  But our God is not a common sense God; God is not limited by our sense of what is common.  Here, then, are the six lessons I have learned which have helped me place myself in the potter’s hands:

  1. Pay closer attention to the things you’d rather not do – for God may be lurking there, waiting for you to risk yourself this particular way.
  2. Expect anxiety – often, God leads us in going against the grain of society, self, and sense, and will lead to the unexpected
  3. Embrace awkwardness -- as a sign that God is trying to do something through you that you’re not used to.
  4. Love automatically – give instantaneous benefits of doubt, check egos and opinions at the door
  5. Explore grace – forgive excessively, embrace profoundly, inquire deeply
  6. Expect surprises – of all kinds, good and bad, all having the power to move you and others forward in life and faith.

You and I have been and will be bombarded by messages aimed at our self-interest.  These messages will be very easy to hear because they will speak to our desires.  But woven in between such messages will be messages of God’s interest in shaping us differently.  Our God is a potter anxious to work with the clay of his creation.  But he will only work with the clay willingly placed in his hands.   Being faithful to something other than ourselves is required.

One whom I call Lord, help my call be true; Help me to Take no step but for thee,
To have no thought but of thee, To place no trust but in thee, To have no love but through thee,
That you may do all that is possible with me.  Amen.



Spiritual Quality Control

Scripture:  Matthew 25:31-46
Theme:  Many times, we want to think of God as all-embracing, all-gracious, and all forgiving; but today’s lesson speaks of the judgment of God.  This may be an aspect of God that we naturally like to contemplate too much, but fear not!  The prescription for righteousness before God is surprisingly direct and simple, even if it is not easy – a faith that is consistently demonstrated in acts of love. 

          Today, we are challenged by a scripture that speaks of that quality of God that, if we’re honest with each other, makes us uncomfortable.  We hear Christ describing the aspect of God that we are told to not take on ourselves, that characteristic that is reserved for the divine domain alone, but which we find ourselves tempted by and falling prey to all the time.  Today, we hear Christ sharing the message of God’s JUDGEMENT.
          Sheep and goats.  That’s what you and I are asked to think of ourselves as – sheep or goats.  Which would you rather be?  What would it be like to be a sheep?  Well, you’d always have a wool coat, which means you’d always be warm but itchy.  You’d have an endless supply of food in the form of grass, which means you’d never go hungry, although your diet would be very monotonous.  And you’d have no responsibilities but to eat and sleep and follow the orders of the shepherd – a comfortable, but very boring, life. 
Or would you rather be a goat?  If you were a goat, you’d smell bad, be temperamental, not to mention quite ugly, and your non-discriminating palate would mean that you would just as soon eat a tin can as a steak.  The only thing they have going for them is that they do just about whatever they want – they don’t have the same knack of following a shepherd, which tends to make them less controllable and more prone to dangerous actions than sheep.
          No, it seems obvious to me – much better to be a sheep.  Christ agrees.  But not for the reasons I just described; it has nothing to do with the individual characteristics of the animals, only that they are different creatures.  Sheep and goats – those who follow Christ, and those who don’t.  Today’s lesson invites us to consider this situation, of what it means to be a follower of Christ in the light of the judgment to come, of that time when we will be called to account for the lives that we have led on this earth.
          Then, the question that logically follows is this:  WHAT JUSTIFIES US?  What makes us into sheep?  What enables us to be the kind of people who have nothing to fear in the face of God’s discernment?
          This is trickier ground to tread, if we really want to get down to the business of God’s discernment of our affairs, because we are naturally and deeply biased in our own favor.  Let me tell you what I mean by an example from awhile back in time.

          I was visiting with a friend of mine.  We were catching up on family and friends, on events and situations, and she started to share some things about her family and some choices they were making about their future.  They were considering buying a condominium in a rather exclusive resort area up in the mountains of Colorado.  I thought to myself, well, yes, that might be nice for them; they already owned three homes around the state, and this was their style.  But then she said something that stunned me – she said, “Yes, John, we really feel that God wants us to buy this condominium.”  In my mind, I heard the distinct sound of screeching brakes.  “God wants us to buy this condominium.”  Knowing her, knowing their family, knowing their faith understanding, I couldn’t help but think (not judge, mind you, but I’m aware I’m getting pretty close to that!) that what she was doing was searching for the justification from God toward something she and her family wanted.
          It gets things backward.  It starts with what we want from life, and tries to listen for God’s voice joining ours in agreement.  It’s like the story I’ve told before about the man who was told by his doctor that he needed to lose weight for the sake of his heart.  Exercise, smaller portions, balanced diet, lowering stress – he began to do the works.  But one habit he knew he had to break was his daily trips to the donut shop.  He loved donuts so much, that this turned out to be the most difficult challenge.  But he faced it well.  He began losing weight.  After a few weeks, he wondered if God was ready for him to be rewarded for all of his good work.  “I’ll tell you what, God,” prayed the man.  “I’ll go down to the donut shop; if I see an open parking space, I’ll know that you want me to have a donut.”  So the man drove down to the donut shop.  Sure enough, there was an open parking space, which he discovered after going around the block seven times.
          What we want in life is a very strong motivator.  Sometimes it’s very subtle.  Sometimes what we want in life SEEMS to be the same as what God wants for us.  BUT SEEMS TO BE WHAT GOD WANTS can be very different from what God ACTUALLY WANTS for our lives.  AND WE MUST BE VERY CAREFUL LEST WE ARE GUIDED BY OUR OWN DESIRES RATHER THAN GOD’S.  For if the truth were to really be faced, many times our own, personal desires may not parallel God’s.
There is an engraving from the cathedral of Lubeck, Germany, which reflects our Lord's teaching here.  Think “goats” as I read these words:
Thus speaketh Christ our Lord to us,
You call Me master and obey me not,
You call Me light and see Me not,
You call Me the way and walk Me not,
You call Me the life and live Me not,
You call Me wise and follow Me not,
You call Me fair and love Me not,
You call Me rich and ask Me not,
You call Me eternal and seek me not,
You call Me just and fear Me not,
If I condemn thee, blame Me not.
          We must be careful lest we wind up following the God of our own creation, made out of the things we wish were true about God’s desires for our lives.  Where God remains silent, we dare not write what we hope is his will into the script of our lives.
          I have a favorite teaching that helps me in understanding this fine point in my own faith struggles, and I’d like to share it with you.  This teaching is found in a scene in a Jewish classroom; the class was taught by a rabbi.   Let me read you this story as told by one of the students in that class:

          One day, the rabbi was asked, “Which act of charity is higher – giving out of obligation or giving from the heart?”
          All in the class were inclined to respond that giving from the heart had something more in it, but they knew the rabbi was going to say just the opposite, because in spiritual teaching nothing is logical.  They were not disappointed.
          “Giving from the heart is a wonderful thing,” the rabbi said, “It is a very high act and should never be demeaned.  But there is something much more important that happens when somebody gives charity out of obligation.
          “Consider who is doing the giving.  When somebody gives from the heart, there is a clear sense of oneself doing something; in other words, heartfelt charity always involves ego gratification.
          “However, when we give out of obligation, when we give at a moment that every part of us is yelling NO! because of one reason or another – perhaps the beneficiary is disgusting, or it is too much money, or any of thousands of reasons we use to avoid giving charity – then we are confronting our own egos, and giving nonetheless.  Why?  Because we are supposed to.  And what this means is that it is not us doing the giving; rather we are vehicles through which God gives.”  We remove ourselves from the center, and allow God’s act to shape our identity.  This is the higher form of doing and giving.

If the act is somehow in your favor, brings a positive light to bear on you which others see, is agenda-borne to work you into heaven, or is anxious for reward in this life, IF IT MAKES YOU LOOK GOOD, BE SUSPICIOUS!  The sheep in our parable, the ones who fed the hungry, who gave drink to the thirsty, who welcomed the stranger, who clothed the naked, who cared for the sick, who visited the prisoner … these children of God were SURPRISED that their justification was secure.  They had not acted out of self-interest so much as out of a sense of obligation to be good to their fellow human beings, regardless of the condition of their lives OR THEIR RIGHTEOUS STANDING BEFORE GOD.  The sheep love first, and ask questions later.  They never calculate the benefits of good deeds.  The sheep give without counting the cost or probability of reward.  The sheep provide as the needs around them demand; they do not waste time arguing about doctrinal standards, church protocol, or how this will look in the eyes of the world.  They act out of their love shaped by faith.
Are we sheep, or are we goats?  This is the challenge of the Christian faith.  This is our task, to scrutinize our hearts as to why we do what we do, and to make sure that our motivation has less to do with pride or ambition or self-justification, and more to do with bringing the love of Christ to life in ourselves and others. This love of Jesus will not bear conditions we place upon it – for once we condition our love, once we choose who to love, who to serve, who to care for, who to pay attention to, we begin to move away from the love of Jesus.   It is only in the love that has no condition, the love that is freely given away – even the love that is least likely to be returned -- that we find ourselves practicing how Jesus loved.  As we do to the least of these, God’s children, we do to Christ himself.


God’s Investment Policy
Scripture:  Matthew 25:14-20
Theme:  How we are to invest ourselves – our lives – according to faith may not make sense to the world, but to the follower of Jesus, and in the experiences of following Jesus, they make more and more sense as they are more and more practiced.  The dividends paid out are ones only received through application – and then, are to be measured only by means of grace.

I would like to tell you this morning about a certain year in my pastoral career when I made a very bad investment.  I had hired an unprofessional crew with negligible resources and almost no skill to engage in a construction project six hundred miles away from their regular places of business; the arrangements for equipment, lodging, transportation, and food were very uncertain.  This unskilled labor was to install a sheet-metal roof over disabled woman’s double-wide trailer home – none of the workcrew had ever worked on a roof before, and six of the seven members had never operated power equipment of any kind before.  I had to teach three of them how to hammer a nail into wood.  One experience says it all – at one point, up on the rooftop, I heard one young worker drilling furiously with a power drill.  Wondering what she was doing, I came over to where she was working, and discovered that she was looking for a roof support underneath the roof sheathing – by drilling a series of holes until she hit something solid.  Sixteen holes in a nice line are what it took until she hit a rafter – sixteen holes in the roof we were trying to seal up from leaking.  How shall we say it? -- This crew measured once and cut seven or eight times. 
But this bad investment paid off – at the end of the week, we had indeed installed the roof, and this woman’s home was indeed watertight.  We had grown close to her, and she to us – we who were Christians, and she who was Buddhist -- and I recall on our last day, as we found ourselves saying goodbye in her living room, she said to us with tears in her eyes – “I didn’t know people like you existed.”  All of us – the workteam, this woman – became spiritually wealthier because of this bad investment.

I would like to tell you this morning about a certain God who made a bad investment in this world.  He sent his offspring into this place, into a setting of poverty and foreign, oppressive rule, to work with a people of stiff necks and stubborn nature.  This Son was gifted with no earthly wealth or skill, save a heart strangely shaped by an uncommon love. 
He spoke in unconventional ways, he traveled to unpopular places, he spoke with unacceptable people, and acted in an unconventional manner.  He taught in parables, without clear answers; he healed as much with his willingness to listen and care as with his divine power; he challenged the rulers of this world with an unworldly perspective that threatened the status quo, so much that they sought to kill him – and they succeeded.  Or so it seemed.  As it turned out, this bad investment of God in the world did not end with the cross; in many ways, it was then that it began paying dividends no one could have foreseen – and has brought to the world a light that may exceed our understanding, yet is accessible to all.
Our God is a God who encourages investment practices that are opposite to those of the world in which we live – and yet, these are the investment practices that give to the world the only hope that may carry it forward.  And what are these investments that have the power to change the world?

These may seem like very small things on the global scale, but these are the very things that have positively changed the world the most.  These are the investments encouraged by God, and demonstrated by Jesus. 

By all standards and measurements of this world in which we live, our faith prescribed by God encourages bad investment practices. 

Any good stockbroker would tell you this is no way to invest in the market!  But, we are not investing in the market; we are investing in God’s creation, in God’s kingdom.  And our capital is the grace of God, offered through Christ.   We do not have the luxury of keeping this capital to ourselves, for once saved and protected for ourselves, it begins to die.  God’s grace was designed to be shared by all people, in all circumstances, in all places, in all of its fullness.  God will never be satisfied until all have received God’s goodness.  And we Christians are the ones who are charged with the investing of God’s goodness towards all. 
          You and I have received a very uncommon gift through Christ.  This gift is God’s investment in us.  This investment cannot be fully received until it is fully given away, time and time again.  There are many, many souls who long to be invested in by us – those who don’t know what it means to beloved unconditionally, who don’t know what it means to be forgiven, who don’t know what it means to matter, who don’t know what it means to have value in another’s eyes, who don’t know what it means to have hope.  They are waiting for our investment in them to show God’s investment in all of us.  And each of us has a part to play in God’s investment scheme.  What, then, is our part?  Who, then, are we each to invest in next?

 Let us pray:  God of Creation, Lord of life, show us the risk that brings us closer to you.  Show us the ones who await our investment in them, for the sake of Christ.  We think of those who are perhaps hardest to love:


11-9-14 - Defeating Worry by Preparation

Scripture:  Matthew 25:1-13

Theme:  Preparation for life can defeat worry, for if we are prepared for life – having done all we can and should – we can be at peace, which is the best condition to be in regarding the unanticipated and unpredicted.

          This past week, something happened that caused me great worry.  It happened this last Tuesday; I was going about my business as usual, when suddenly there it was – and my heart began to race, my thoughts began to grow anxious, there was sweat on my brow.  I began to worry about what was going to happen, how things would turn out; I worried that I might have to change my routine, that I might have to cancel a meeting or two; I thought about my wife and kids, what this would do to them if things developed as I feared.  On and on I went, when this worry arose – and, you might ask, what was this worry?  It was this (on the screen) – my engine warning light went on in my car.  They say it’s an engine warning light, but in reality it is a “begin worrying now” light, which is precisely what I began to do – worry, worry, and more worry.  Then, two days ago, something happened which caused me even more worry – can you guess what it was?  THE ENGINE WARNING LIGHT WENT OFF ON ITS OWN.  And, I didn’t do anything to fix whatever was wrong.  Now, I’m really worried!
          Worry is a bad thing.  Do you agree?  Many people have told me so, and I have preached many a sermon affirming the truth, that our worries can undo us, that worry can rob us of life.
Worry has been defined in many ways:

Can we all just agree on this one thing?  WORRY IS BAD!  WORRY IS NOT DESIRABLE!  WORRY IS YUCKY, FRUITLESS, EMPTY, HOPELESS, POINTLESS, AND NOT TO BE ENGAGED IN!  Much better to follow along the profound philosophical wisdom to be found in that pop-music guru Bobby McFarrin, who taught us the wonderful mantra in his famous song – DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY.
          But today, we hear the astonishing message from Christ himself that WE ARE SUPPOSED TO WORRY ABOUT SOME THINGS!  The lesson comes in the form of a parable – ten bridesmaids anticipating the arrival of the bridegroom.  Without going into great detail, this fits with the context of the day – weddings in ancient Palestine (and I am told this is still the case in present day Palestine) were not a one-moment, one-hour affair, but could cover the time-span of a week or more, with a very loose schedule of events.  There were festivities, preparations, and the like, but the bridegroom was to choose the time for his arrival as he desired; everyone else was expected to be ready at any moment to meet him, and proceed to the ceremony.  It was a closed ceremony, once it began.  It was essential to be prepared to expect to join in the moment.
          There are the ten bridesmaids, five wise, five foolish.  Both groups worried, I believe, but worried in different ways.  The five wise maids worried before anything really began, and translated their worry into action; this we call PREPARATION.  They got things ready in case there was a delay.  The five unwise maids worried after it was too late to do anything about it; their worry was translated into DESPAIR over what they could no longer influence.

          Translating worry into preparation.  It’s something to think about, yes?

          There is a proverb which follows along these lines.  An older man was being rowed across a wide river by a young boy one afternoon.  The older man glanced in the river, and saw a leaf floating there.  “Boy,” said the man to the boy, “What do you know about biology?”  “Nothing, sir,” said the boy.  “You’ve wasted 25% of your life,” said the man.  The man gazed up at the sky, and noticed a couple of stars beginning to shine.  “Boy,” he said, “What do you know about astronomy?”  “Nothing, sir,” said the boy.  “You’ve wasted 50% of your life,” declared the man.  Gazing at the rocky hills in the distance, the man said, “Boy, what do you know about geology?”  “Nothing, sir,” said the boy.  “You’ve wasted 75% of your life,” said the man.  Just then, they both heard a terrible noise coming from upstream; the dam had burst.  Seeing the floodwaters bearing down on them, the boy turned to the man and said, “Sir, do you know how to swim?”  The man said, “No.”  Whereupon the boy, jumping out of the boat, said, “Sir, you’ve wasted 100% of your life!”
          The lesson is quite clear – there are some things worth worrying about.  Things that help us to live.  Things that help us to grow.  Things that enable us to be in this life effectively, both spiritually and physically.  Now, this is not to say that these are things to remain worried about, to stay in that worry; appropriate worry is very short lived, a very temporary thing useful only in its motivation to a higher purpose.  Worry is helpful only as it is translated into preventative and positive action; it is only helpful if its life is short, as it motivates us into a life neither imprisoned in the past nor avoidant of the future.  Worry has its proper place as it moves us into action that will change what we are able to change or accept what we cannot.
Preparation.  Readiness.  To change what we can.  To accept what we cannot change.  Doing what is necessary for the likely future.  Now, the scripture lesson is of course speaking about being ready to meet with Christ, for that is the one thing we know for certain is coming our way; we all know that we each shall die.  We thus think about being prepared for the moment of salvation, being prepared to be found worthy and acceptable through faith. 
But I believe there is another type of preparation Christ is pointing out, consistent with his earthly ministry.  PREPARATION not only for salvation, but for the road that gets us there, for the life we have in this world.  This is the kind of life that lives by the habit of Christ’s love, the kind of life that is anxious to meet with the bridegroom on the bridegroom’s terms for the sharing of earthly joy and fulfillment.  I think the lesson is pointing to this kind of preparedness too.

          I love the story of the husband who had been laid off for a long time.  Finally, he responded to the perfect job – he felt he was qualified, but when he investigated, he learned that hundreds of other persons were applying for the same position.  With great worry, he went ahead and applied; he went to his interview, which seemed to go on forever.  At the end of the interview, the panel shocked the man by offering him the job!  He was so relieved.  After accepting the position, he ran home; when he walked in the door, he discovered his wife had prepared a sumptuous feast; the table was all set, and on his plate was a card from his wife.  The card said, “Congratulations!  I knew you’d get the job.  I never had any doubts in your abilities and integrity, and am proud of all that you are!  I prepared this meal to say I love you, and am proud to be your partner in life.  Love, Mary.”  They had a wonderful meal; the air was full of celebration and joy.  When dinner was over, he began helping clear the dishes.  His wife began to protest, but before she could stop him, he had lifted his plate from the table.  There was another card.  He opened it and read the following: “I’m so sorry that you didn’t get the position.  I know you better than anyone else, and that you deserve only the best.  They are missing out on a great thing by not hiring you.   But never mind – we will look forward to the time when the affirmation you are due comes.  I prepared this meal to say I love you, and am proud to be your partner in life.  Love, Mary.”

She was prepared.  Love had prepared her.  Not knowing what the future would hold, she nonetheless took action in all the ways she could.  This is what our lesson is talking about – not knowing the future, but considering the possibilities, and responding as we are able.  This defeats worry.  This calms the anxiety.  This makes us as ready as we can be for whatever may come.

          Ian Maclaren, the Scottish author and theologian, put it this way: 

“What does worry do? It does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, but it does empty today of its strength. It does not make you escape the evil; it makes you unfit to cope with it when it comes. God gives us the power to bear all the sorrow of His making, but He does not guarantee to give us strength to bear the burdens of our own making such as worry induces.”

Let us put the burdens of our own making to rest; and let us trust that, whatever burdens remain, we do not have to carry them alone.



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.

johnRecently, 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.
https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcThvz3F5bt9IDP_J5KiqIDQ-Td3mejihCGxeQ6w-10q4tnfH26g2QFirst and foremost, let’s start with the most worrisome – for one, he is………….a motorcyclist. (picture)  He’d like to think is a Harley-Davidson type, leather chaps and bandana sort of biker, but, in reality, he rides because of the gas mileage and low cost of the machines, which are held together by duct tape and bailing wire.  But still, this is something you ought to know.


johnSecond, you ought to know he is prone to somewhat irrational acts.  Some cases in point – at last year’s Annual Conference, he was asked to be the dunk-tank victim for the cause of eradicating Malaria; this may be thought of as admirable, were it not for the fact that he sat in the dunk tank fully clothed in suit and tie.  And yes, he did get dunked, nine times. 


johnSeveral years ago, he spent ive years building a nineteen-foot boat out of reclaimed materials; when asked why he did such a thing, his best response was “because it was a twenty foot garage.” 

johnA final example involves an outdoor wedding he performed with a couple obsessed with football – and he mistakenly dressed as a clergy basketball player.   These are the kinds of things you ought to know about him.

http://benwilder.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/wrong-shoes.jpgThird, you need to know that this pastor is prone to mistakes – more than once, he got the date wrong for a meeting.  More than once, he mispronounced the word “Melchizidek.”  More than once he called a person by the wrong name (isn’t that right, Kay or Barb?).  But more egregious examples abound.  There was the time when he went to worship one morning, and sensed that something was wrong.  Throughout the service, there were murmurs and whisperings and tension.  At the end of the service, as people left the church shaking this pastor’s hands, he could still tell something was wrong; it was not until the last person came up to him that all was revealed.  This parishioner said “Pastor John, I can’t let you go from here without knowing something – look down.”  Whereupon this pastor discovered he was wearing different shoes on his feet.  These are the kinds of mistakes you ought to know about.

john johnFourth, you ought to know that this pastor tries things outside of the norm, which are, shall we say, sometimes controversial – he has been known to play a hard rock song in worship; he has been known to recite his own poetry; his own poetry has been known to make people ill; he has initiated such things the yuckfest,  where the youth group gathers for an annual event involving shaving cream, alphabet soup, and worm pies; he has helped to start a tissue paper airplane contest, which he won five years ago in a contest that was surely rigged.  You ought to know that he tries things outside of the norm.

struggleWhat you really ought to know about this pastor, however, is the fact that he has confessed to me that he continues to need to grow towards God.  He has told me that sometimes he struggles with his faith – when he faces suffering, injustice, violence, hatred, deception, or animosity, in his own life or in the lives of those in his congregations; he struggles to make sense of why such things exist, and what can be done about them.  And he needs others involved in his life and faith in order to make progress in his journey towards God. 
I lift up these concerns so that you may be more aware of what you are getting into with this pastor; but I share with Paul in our scripture reading today why this pastor was appointed to this congregation.  It is not because he is perfect.  It is not because he is eloquent.  It is not because he is charismatic.  He is really none of those things.  But what he is is committed to Christ even in his johnlimitations; he is devoted to God even while he struggles to understand God; he has found the greatest fulfillment in life to be centered in the authentic relationship of love between human beings based on the principles demonstrated and taught by Jesus, meant for every human being.  And he is determined to do his best to serve God as he serves you, as pastor of this church. 




This pastor did share something with me that I think may give you a sense of his priorities.  These are what he calls his personal faith priorities:

  1. Agree to disagree for the sake of the greater love
  2. Prioritize the vulnerable
  3. Check your ego at the doorways leading to other’s lives
  4. Ask the questions no one else is asking
  5. Pray before and after all things; seek to make prayer as regular as breath
  6. Work to make forgiveness assumed and automatic, never optional
  7. Embrace doubts as pathways to deeper truth
  8. Aim for the right question rather than a convenient answer
  9. Treat self-righteousness the same as lethal radiation
  10. Replace correct doctrine with faithful, loving action
  11. Seek profound substance rather than personal satisfaction
  12. Always seek to add value to the lives of others
  13. Never settle for happiness before meaning or truth
  14. Always do the right and good thing, especially when no one will find out
  15. Remember, in all things, it’s between you and God

johnAs Paul states in our scripture for today, “do not cease praying for him, and pray that he may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may all lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.”  May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power.  And may you and your new pastor grow together as you grow towards God.  Amen


First United Methodist Church of Missoula / Kay Duffield, Webmaster (hart2u2@yahoo.com)