Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Bleaker View of Christmas

            So, we’ve now moved firmly into the afterglow of Christmas Day.  All of the presents have been unwrapped; most of the Christmas dinners and parties are over; we’ve been back to the malls and stores for those after-Christmas sales.  In a few days, we will begin making preparations to celebrate New Year’s Eve and Day—sort of one last hoorah before we must begin returning to our everyday routines.

            Perhaps you’re different than me.  However, I find this in-between time to be something of a let-down after Christmas.  For the past month, I’ve been busily preparing myself and my church for the celebration of the Messiah’s birth and the confirmation that God loves us and keeps promises made to us.  With such a huge buildup, it is inevitable that there will be a corresponding let down afterwards.

            Of course, life goes on.  Pretty soon, New Year’s will be over and we will have to resume our daily routines.  If you’re like me, then you’ll have to shake yourself out of the post-Christmas doldrums and get back into the swing of things.

            The scriptural story of Jesus goes on after his birth on Christmas Day, as well.  After the shepherds and Wise Men have left the stable, Mary and Joseph face an uncertain future.  In my message this weekend (December 28 & 29), we will reflect on Matthew’s account of what happened after the first Christmas Day. 

In a dream, God instructs Joseph to flee with his family to Egypt because King Herod, who rules Bethlehem, will try to kill the baby Jesus.  Although he is King, Herod is a very insecure man and the prophecy of a mighty future king born in his territory terrifies Herod.  After Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus leave for Egypt, Herod has all of the children, who are two years or younger, massacred in the Bethlehem area.  As a result, this passage from Matthew has been traditionally called the story of the massacre of the innocents.  Although there is no independent historical account of Herod’s action, it is certainly consistent with what we know about King Herod and how viciously he exercised his powers as king.

Most Biblical scholars agree that from Matthew’s perspective this story shows how God was involved, watching over the newborn Messiah, instructing his parents, and insuring that he was kept safe as an infant and young child.  However, historically, many other Christians have looked at this story from a different perspective—the problem of theodicy.  Theodicy is the problem of how do Christians reconcile our belief in an all-powerful, loving God with the evil which persists in the world.  In other words, how could an all-powerful, loving God allow all of those innocent children to be massacred by King Herod?  If God warned Joseph and helped Jesus escape from Herod’s wrath, why couldn’t God also have warned and helped all of the other families with small children in Bethlehem?

In my message this weekend, I will struggle with this problem of theodicy as it emerges in Matthew’s story of the massacre of the innocents.  As Christians, when we struggle with problems of theodicy, there are never any easy or straightforward answers.  However, I think that it is important to struggle with problems of theodicy because I firmly believe that we can grow and deepen our faith by engaging these challenges.  Hopefully, our struggle with theodicy this weekend will prepare us as we celebrate a new year and resume our normal routines after the Christmas-New Year holiday season.

 If you live in the Meriden-area and do not have a regular church home, please consider attending Meriden United Methodist Church.  We have two worship services each weekend:

Ø  Our contemporary service starts at 6 pm on Saturday evenings.
Ø  Our classic service starts on at 10 am on Sunday mornings.

Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Joseph, a Father's Strong Faith

            Perhaps Joseph is the most overlooked and under-appreciated of all the persons in the Christmas story.  Yet, he played a pivotal role at that first Christmas.  So, in my message this week, I intend to focus on Joseph and what he can teach us about Christian faith and discipleship. 

            My reflections are based upon Matthew 1: 18-25.  As Matthew begins his story of Jesus’ birth, we learn that Joseph and Mary were already engaged to be married, but Joseph has recently discovered that Mary is pregnant.  According to Jewish law, an engagement was considered a legally binding arrangement, in which the couple were essentially already married.  As a result, Mary’s pregnancy could be considered as evidence of adultery and Joseph had the legal right to divorce her. 

In Jewish culture at the time, Mary could have been subjected to severe legal penalty that would have been publicly humiliating for her and her family.  But, Joseph was a caring person, who sought to be faithful to God.  So, rather than pursuing his legal rights in a public way that would humiliate Mary and embarrass her family, Joseph decided to end their relationship, quietly. 

At this point, God intercedes, using an angel to speak to Joseph in a dream.  The angel explains that Mary’s child was conceived through the Holy Spirit and that the baby is, in fact, the long-awaited Messiah.  Then, the angel asks Joseph to accept the baby and adopt him as a son.  Since Joseph is a descendent of King David, his adoption of Jesus enables many of the ancient Hebrew prophecies concerning the Messiah to be fulfilled because these prophecies had claimed that the Messiah would be “of the house and lineage” of David.  When Joseph awoke from his dream, he did exactly as God had instructed.

During my proclamation this coming weekend (December 21st and 22nd), I will focus on several key characteristics which Joseph had.

1.      Generosity.  At first, it appears that Mary has been unfaithful and Joseph has a legal right to extract his revenge in a way that will humiliate her.  Instead of following up on this legal right, however, Joseph exhibits profound generosity, as he seeks a quieter, less confrontational resolution to the dilemma.

2.      Protective Care.  Joseph exhibits a protective care in several different ways.  First, his decision to avoid publicly exposing Mary is not only generous, but it also demonstrates his desire to provide protective care, even for a woman who has betrayed him.  Secondly, we know that Joseph cared for Mary during their long, difficult journey to Bethlehem before Jesus’ birth.  Finally, Joseph cared for the boy, Jesus, just as any loving father would.

3.      Strong Faith.  Joseph exhibits a strong faith when he trusts the angel’s rather incredible explanation that Mary has not been unfaithful, but is rather carrying the long-awaited Messiah. 

4.      Obedience.  Joseph is obedient to God.  He follows though and marries Mary.  Joseph also adopts Jesus, welcoming him into his household and caring for Jesus as though he were Joseph’s own biological son.

I believe that each of Joseph’s four characteristics are important qualities for twenty-first century Christians to nurture in our lives.  During my sermon this weekend, I will discuss and illustrate how we can nurture these qualities in our own faith journeys.

              If you live in the Meriden-area and do not have a regular church home, please consider attending this weekend as we reflect on Joseph’s strong faith.  At Meriden United Methodist Church, we have two worship services each weekend:

Ø  Our contemporary service starts at 6 pm on Saturday evenings.
Ø  Our classic service starts on at 10 am on Sunday mornings.

I also encourage you to celebrate Christmas with us next week.  We will have two special Christmas services: 
Monday, December 23rd at 6 pm
A Special Children's Christmas Eve Service,
featuring a Special Children’s Christmas Story that I have written for the children of the church

Tuesday, December 24th at 7 pm
Adult Christmas Eve Candlelight Service,
featuring lessons and carols,
During the service, we will also celebrate the Moravian tradition of a Love Feast,
as we share sweet buns and spiced tea in the pews as part of the service

Everyone is always welcome and accepted at
Meriden United Methodist Church because God loves us all.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Mary's Great Reversal

            In her book, Homespun Memories from the Heart, Karen Ehman recalls reading a Christmas story to her children.  When she had finished the story, her son, Mitchell, asked her “to read him a story from the Bible about the other Jesus.”

            “‘What other Jesus?’” she asked. 

            “‘Not baby Jesus,’ he replied.  ‘Big Jesus, who died on the cross.’” 

            Karen Ehman realized that in her young son’s mind there were actually two people named, Jesus.  She continues by observing, “We can’t have one part of the story without the other.  We can never forget that the hand-hewn manger one day became a rugged cross.  Nor can we peer lovingly into that same manger without looking to the cross.”[i]

            This weekend, we continue our preparation for Christmas by reading about and reflecting on Mary, the mother of Jesus.  On Saturday evening, I will be preaching on Mary’s “song,” from Luke 1: 46-55.  Mary’s song is one of both praise and prophecy.

            The passage begins with Mary giving thanks for being chosen as the woman who will give birth to the Messiah.  Mary says, “‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed…”(verses 47-48).

            Mary’s song is also one of prophecy, as she looks ahead to Jesus’ life and ministry.  Later in her song, Mary proclaims a time of “great reversal” in society, brought about by Jesus the Messiah:

            “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
             He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
                                                                                                      (verses 52-53)

            During the Christmas season, as we focus on the baby Jesus, it is easy to ignore or dismiss the prophetic vision contained in Mary’s Song.  Yet, if we are Christians of genuine faith, then we must allow our lives to be transformed by the other Jesus who died on the cross.  This transformation includes taking seriously Mary’s prophetic vision and allowing it to change our outlook and our lives. 

            We live in a society that has vast discrepancies in income and wealth.  Earlier this week, Robinson Canó, the baseball player, signed a new contract valued at $240 million.  Yet, at the same time, 20% of children in our society live below the poverty line.  How can a truly just society tolerate such disparities in resources and opportunities?

            Jesus expects his disciples to join with him as partners in establishing God’s Reign on Earth.  An important part of being a faithful Christian is working for social justice within our society.  Yet, our churches—as our society—are deeply divided politically.  Within my church in Meriden, we have Republicans and Democrats, progressives and conservatives, all worshipping together, side-by-side, in the same pews.  As a result, many pastors are afraid to preach on social justice because they are afraid this topic will divide their congregation—as a result, Mary’s prophetic vision gets overlooked and ignored.

            In my message on Saturday evening, I will suggest that, despite the risks, faithful Christians must work for social justice, but that this doesn’t have to divide congregations.  Rather, than focusing on what divides us, we need to begin with issues where we can agree. For instance, regardless of our political outlook, we can all agree that human trafficking (modern slavery) is wrong, and we can join together to stop this injustice.  Similarly, regardless of our political outlook, we can all agree that every child in our society deserves the basic resources needed to develop their potential in life.


If you live in the Meriden-area and do not have a regular church home, please consider attending Meriden United Methodist Church.  We have two worship services each weekend:

Ø  Our contemporary service starts at 6 pm on Saturday evenings.

Ø  Our classic service starts on at 10 am on Sunday mornings.

This Saturday evening, I will be preaching on the “great reversal” in Mary’s Song.  On Sunday morning, our Adult Choir will be performing a Christmas cantata, “Glory to the Newborn King.”

Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

[i] Karen Ehman, Homespun Memories from the Heart (Ada, Michigan:  Revell, A Division of Baker Publishing Group, 2005).

Saturday, December 7, 2013

There Is Hope in Judgment

            This Sunday I’m preaching on a very familiar figure during the Advent season, but I’m asking a question that I have never really explored before.  John the Baptist was sent by God to spiritually prepare the way for Jesus to come as the Messiah. 

            Matthew 3: 1-12 tells us that “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’”  John appeared as a wild man in the wilderness.  He wore clothing made from camel’s hair, and he primarily ate grasshoppers and wild honey.  Yet, despite his eccentric dress and diet, John the Baptist became something of a celebrity in his day.  In Jerusalem and throughout the area of Judea, people were talking about this weird man in the wilderness.  Among the Jewish people, all the “buzz” in the marketplace and in people’s homes was about this weird man, who was preaching in the wilderness.

            So, people began to flock to the river Jordan to see and hear this new prophet.  When they found John in the wilderness, he would preach to them about repenting from all of their sins.  When he was finished each day, most people would confess their sins and then be baptized by John in the Jordan River.  John was especially hard on the leaders of the Jewish religion, calling them “a brood of vipers”! 

After he baptized people, John would always caution them by saying, “‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but  one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’”

I have preached on John the Baptist many times over the course of my ministry.  In the past, I have always focused on John’s message of judgment and his call for all of us to repent before it’s too late.  In those previous sermons, I have asked how John would judge contemporary Christians and what he would condemn about our contemporary lifestyles. 

This weekend (December 7th and 8th), I intend to bring a new question to the story about John the Baptist.  This new question is simple:  Why did all of those people take a day off from their lives and go to the wilderness to hear John?  This really is a perplexing question, when you think about it.  In general, most of us do not like to have all of our sins and weaknesses pointed out to us.  And, we especially don’t like to be condemned for our sinfulness.  For instance, most of us have a bit of dread and anxiety when we have to sit through a performance review at work or school. 

So, given that most of us do not exactly cherish being condemned for our shortcomings, why would hard-working people voluntarily take a day off from their busy lives and; take a difficult hike through the dangerous wilderness, in order to be condemned by a strange man with bizarre habits?  Why would so many people do this?

What I will suggest in my proclamation this weekend is that people went out to hear John because they discovered a renewed hope for their lives in his message of judgment and doom.  There was hope in judgment.  Further, I will suggest that most Christians today are not all that different from the crowds who journeyed into the wilderness to hear John.  For us today, there is hope in judgment.

If you live in the Meriden-area and do not have a regular church home, please consider attending Meriden United Methodist Church.  Come this weekend to hear how there is hope for you, even if you’re not perfect.  Meriden United Methodist Church is located at the corner of Dawson and Main Streets in Meriden, Kansas.  We have two worship services each weekend:

Ø  Our contemporary service starts at 6 pm on Saturday evenings.

Ø  Our classic service starts on at 10 am on Sunday mornings.

Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Preparing for the Unknown

            This weekend (Nov 30 & Dec 1), we enter a special time of preparation before the celebration of Christ’s birth.  Within the church, this is a period of sacrifice, confession, reaching out to others, and purification so that we are ready and worthy for the Christmas celebration.  While Advent is a time for looking to the past and remembering Christ’s birth in that cold stable long ago, it is also a time for looking forward to that future time, when Christ will return and fully establish God’s Reign on earth.

            There is another preparation for Christmas that is also underway.  This secular preparation is radically different from the preparation of Advent.  By secular preparation, I am referring to the hectic pre-Christmas period of parties, dinners and, of course, shopping. 

            These two types of preparation are actually two separate “realities.”  Whereas Advent is a time of sacrifice, forgiveness, and purification, the secular preparation encourages and promotes extravagance.  Whereas Advent looks from the past towards the future Kingdom of God, the secular preparation focuses on indulgence in the present.  As faithful Christians, each of us today must live in both realities, the reality of Advent and the secular reality of the larger society around us. 

In a real sense, we have a foot in both realities.  We believe that the Reign of God has already been established through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Yet, when we look around our world and see hunger, war, and environmental challenges, we know that God’s Reign is not fully established.  So, God’s Reign is already here, but not yet complete.  Two realities remain.  Christians currently live in a long interim period, as we wait for Jesus to come again and fully complete God’s Reign. 

            Each year during Advent, there are traditional scripture readings which ground my messages for this time.  This Sunday, I will be preaching on one of these traditional scriptures, Matthew 24: 36-44.  Of course, contemporary Christians are not the only ones who have found themselves living in two worlds, defined by two realities.  Even Jesus’ first followers struggled with the two worlds.  In the passage from Matthew, Jesus emphasizes these two realities as a conflict between two kingdoms.  At the same time, Jesus looks toward the future, to the time when he will return to earth and God’s Reign will be fully established. 

            At the same time, Jesus cautions his disciples that no one knows when this future Reign of God will become the one reality.  He says, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  (v. 36)  Instead, Jesus encourages his disciples to be prepared for that future day, when he will come again and God’s Reign becomes completely established.

            Essentially, Jesus is urging the first disciples—as well as us, living in the 21st century—to prepare for the unknown.  But, how do we do that?  For Jesus, the best preparation is to live faithfully in both of the competing realities.  On the one hand, we live faithfully when we allow God’s Reign to increase within us through spiritual growth.  So, we must prepare ourselves spiritually during Advent through confession and purification.  On the other hand, we live faithfully  when we work to establish God’s Reign in the secular world.  As persons with one of our feet in the secular world, it is hard to avoid the pre-Christmas period, including all of that hectic shopping.  However, even in the secular reality hustle and bustle of pre-Christmas preparation, we can work to establish God’s Reign through making some sacrifices and through reaching out to others in need.

If you live in the Meriden-area and do not have a regular church home, please consider attending Meriden United Methodist Church.  I especially invite you to make attending this weekend and throughout Advent, as a core part of your Christmas preparations.  Meriden United Methodist Church is located at the corner of Dawson and Main Streets in Meriden, Kansas.  We have two worship services each weekend:
Ø  Our contemporary service starts at 6 pm on Saturday evenings.

Ø  Our classic service starts on at 10 am on Sunday mornings.

Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Power of Negativity to Undermine Our Faith

            This weekend, I’m going to preach on a topic which is rarely addressed from the pulpits of Christian churches.  In fact, to be honest, this is the first time that I, myself, have ever preached on this topic.  Yet, my topic this week is a problem that undermines perhaps more ministry programs in churches than any other issue.  It also disempowers more individual Christian disciples than perhaps any other cause.  I call this problem:  negativity.  But, there are other terms for the problem, as well.  For instance, within psychotherapy, it is frequently labelled, “filtering.”

            In his online article, Dr. John Grohol lists “filtering” as the first of “15 Common Cognitive Disorders.”  He describes filtering as occurring when…

“We take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. For instance, a person may pick out a single, unpleasant detail and dwell on it exclusively so that their vision of reality becomes darkened or distorted.[i]

            We practice negativity all of the time in the church.  We take the negative possibilities and magnify them and we magnify their probability, while minimizing positive possibilities and their chances.  As an illustration, consider this exchange that I heard years ago, when I was pastoring a church in Maryland.  The Chairperson of the Finance Committee was reporting on the recently completed stewardship campaign.  She enthusiastically made her report, concluding:  “Thanks to the commitment of our new members, overall pledges were up 8% over last year.”  As soon as she said this, another member of the committee responded:  “Yeah, but how do we know that these new people will really pay their pledges?” 

That’s negativity.  And, it is a very destructive force within a congregation.  Negativity destroys enthusiasm and excitement and creativity.           

Negativity doesn’t just afflict congregations, either.  Negativity also undermines and stymies persons.  As individuals, when we magnify our individual deficiencies and failures, while minimizing our individual strengths and accomplishments, then we have succumbed to negativity. 

When I was in school, I had a friend who needed to pass a language proficiency exam in order to graduate with her degree.  She studied and studied before taking the exam, but she failed it.  So, she had to re-take the exam until she passed it.  My friend began to develop a really negative attitude about this exam, telling herself that she wasn’t smart enough to pass the exam and that she would never be able to graduate.  I, along with many of our classmates, tried to tell her that she could certainly pass this test.  Yet, she continued to focus on the negative.  When she took the exam a second time, she failed; a third time, and she failed; a fourth time, and she failed.  Finally, on about the fifth time, she passed the exam.  Yet, for six months, she became a poster child for the power of negativity to undermine who we are and what we can do.

I believe that negativity is unchristian.  We know from Genesis 1 that each of us has been created in God’s image.  As Christians, we are persons of faith, trusting that we are never alone.  Instead, we trust that God is always with us—in good times and bad.  Through faith, we know that God is watching over us, strengthening and guiding us.  Most importantly, we know that God’s love for us is greater than anything we can even comprehend.  Given this reality, the life of a Christian should always be filled with hope. 

By contrast, negativity empties our lives of hope and prevents us from seeing God’s presence in our lives.  Thus, for faithful Christians, who know God’s love, there can be no room in our lives—or in our church—for negativity.

God intends for us to live positively; to be happy and fulfilled; to excel and to flourish.  And, God calls us together into communities of faith where we praise and serve together.  God expects our church to make a real difference in people’s lives.  Negativity undermines all of these dimensions of living faithfully and positively—and happily.


If you live in the Meriden-area and do not have a regular church home, please consider attending Meriden United Methodist Church.  I especially invite you to attend this weekend, as I venture into uncharted ground with my message and discuss the problems of negativity.  Meriden United Methodist Church is located at the corner of Dawson and Main Streets in Meriden, Kansas.  We have two worship services each weekend:

Ø  Our contemporary service starts at 6 pm on Saturday evenings.

Ø  Our classic service starts on at 10 am on Sunday mornings.

Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

[i] John Grohol, “15 Common Cognitive Disorders,” Psych Central, an online article available at, accessed 6 November 2013.

Friday, November 8, 2013

What Do You Really Trust?

            What do you really trust?  In a crisis, what do you trust to protect and help you?  In everyday life, what do you count on to sustain you?  Most of us have several different resources that we trust.  Some of us rely on our knowledge; others rely on our personality and popularity; others rely on the social power that we have amassed at work and in our community; others rely on family and friends.  We can put our trust in many different places.  Most of us would answer that we have several “go to” sources of trust. 

Of course different persons have different sources of trust.  One individual may place a lot of trust in his intelligence and education, while another person may trust her power and popularity.  While some of our sources of trust may vary from person to person, most of us share one source of trust in common:  we trust our money.  Whether we are fabulously wealthy or just in the middle of the financial road, almost all of us trust our financial resources—our savings, retirement plans, insurance policies, etc.—to be there, if and when we need them.

But is it good to trust in our financial resources?  For that matter, is it smart to trust in our knowledge and education?  Or, our power?   Or, even our family and friends?  Where should we place our trust?

In my message this weekend (November 9 and 10), I will explore the question of where we should place our trust.  My foundational scripture this weekend is Mark 10: 13-22.  This passage of scripture opens with parents bringing their children to Jesus, as he is sitting and teaching.  Some of the disciples try to shoo the children away, but Jesus rebukes them, saying:  “‘Let the little children come to me…for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’”

Our scripture continues with the story of a rich ruler who comes up to ask what he must do to inherit eternal life.  The ruler’s exchange with Jesus helps us learn that he is devoutly religious, keeping all of the Jewish laws.  Yet, there is still something missing in his life—and, in his faith.  Jesus sees this and tells him, “‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then, come, follow me.’”  Mark tells us that the rich ruler was shocked and went away grieving because he had many possessions.

These two stories are contained in all three of the “synoptic gospels” (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and they are familiar to many Christians.  We usually think about the story of the rich young ruler as Jesus’ indictment of material wealth and affluence.  This is a very obvious interpretation, especially since Jesus follows up his encounter with the rich ruler by saying:  “‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’”

However, this weekend I’d like for us to look at this story from a new and different angle.  I’d like for us to ask what was it that Jesus saw in this rich ruler?  Jesus did not always tell people to sell all of their possessions.  Why did Jesus specifically tell this man to see all of his possessions? 

What did Jesus see about this man?  I think that we can answer this question by taking both stories as single unit.  Viewed from this perspective, we begin with Jesus’ claim that in order to enter the Kingdom of God, we must receive it “as a little child.” 

I suggest that we receive “as a child” when we trust “as a child.”  Children do not trust the same way as adults trust.  Children do not trust in their intelligence or education or personality or popularity or power or money.  Children do trust their family and trusted others, such as teachers, coaches, pastors, and God.  When they do trust someone, children trust completely and without reservation.

Could that be what Jesus saw about the rich ruler?  I believe that what Jesus saw was a person who primarily trusted his wealth and power.  Sure, the rich ruler wanted to be accepted by God; to inherit eternal life and to be a part of the Kingdom of God.  But, deep down, his trust was primarily rooted in his wealth and power.  His trust in God could never be complete and without reservation because of the temptation to trust in his wealth and power.

Jesus saw that this man’s trust in his riches had become an un-moveable obstacle, preventing him from having the faith of a small child.  So, recognizing this, Jesus told the rich ruler that he needed to get rid of all his possessions because he could only “receive the kingdom of God as a little child” if he first purged himself of this wealth.  Jesus recognized that as long as this particular man had wealth, he would trust in that before God.

While we may not be exactly like the rich ruler in the story, most of us are a little like him.  We put at least partial trust in our financial resources, our power, our education, etc.  That’s why giving generously to our church is so important for our spiritual growth.  Through our financial giving, we remember and reorient ourselves  towards trusting God as a small child—completely and without reservation.

If you live in the Meriden-area and do not have a regular church home, I invite you to join us this weekend, as we explore what it means to trust God as a little child.  Meriden United Methodist Church is located at the corner of Dawson and Main Streets in Meriden, Kansas.  We have two worship services each weekend:

Ø  Our contemporary service starts at 6 pm on Saturday evenings.

Ø  Our classic service starts on at 10 am on Sunday mornings.

Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

What Is God Calling Me to Do Next?

           One of the core themes in Christian thought is that all persons are created in God’s image and that each of us is unique.  From a Christian perspective, God has given each of us many special abilities and talents.  For instance, some of us have musical gifts, while others are skilled in plumbing or carpentry or dry wall.  Still others have the gift for teaching or cooking or caring for others or financial administration.  (See Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12). 

It is not as though we have only one special gift, either.  Actually, each of us has a unique constellation of special abilities and talents.  For instance, the same individual may be a gifted musician, a skilled carpenter, and a great teacher.  From a Christian perspective, Jesus calls his disciples to use their special gifts and talents, not just for their personal gain, but also to work towards making the world a better place and establishing God’s Reign.  This means that Christians should be in a continual process of discernment, asking ourselves:  “What Is God Calling Me to Do Next with My Unique Set of Talents and Abilities?”

            This process of continual discernment is part of faithful stewardship of our gifts.  Stewardship is a very important concept within Christian thought.  A steward is someone who manages and cares for someone else’s property.  For example, a portfolio manager who invests clients’ money in order to earn a return is a steward of those financial resources. 

As Christians, we believe that Jesus calls each of his disciples to be good stewards of our special talents and abilities; to use these gifts wisely and to be in continual discernment of what God is calling us to do next.  Since the church is largely staffed through volunteers, we usually associate stewardship of our gifts and talents with various leadership positions in the church.  While this is a vitally important focus of our gifts, it is also important to note that we can use our special gifts and talents outside of the Church, to heal the world and make it a better place.  For instance, if we spend an afternoon raking leaves for a neighbor who can’t get outside—or, if we volunteer to read to kids at the elementary school—then we are being good stewards of our time, energy, and talents.

My message this weekend is grounded in the story of Stephen in Acts 6: 1-8.  Stephen was one of the first leaders in the early church.  Stephen’s leadership role was that of an administrator, insuring that all of the early Christians had their basic physical needs met.  This administrative role of Stephen and six other “Deacons” arose because of the rapid growth of the first church in Jerusalem, immediately after Christ’s ascension.

            I believe that the story of Stephen provides several new insights into our understanding of church volunteers and what it means to be good stewards of our unique gifts and talents:

Ø  Each of us must be open to new possibilities and new tasks which God may be calling us to undertake.

Ø  Church leaders must be willing to share their power and authority so that the mission of the Church is never limited.

Ø  God may call us individually to more than one task at the same time.

Ø  The church has a duty and responsibility to be good stewards of individuals’ time and energy.
If you live in the Meriden-area and do not have a regular church home, I invite you to join us this weekend, and see how I develop the four points above in my proclamation.  Meriden United Methodist Church is located at the corner of Dawson and Main Streets in Meriden, Kansas.  We have two worship services each weekend:

Ø  Our contemporary service starts at 6 pm on Saturday evenings.

Ø  Our classic service starts on at 10 am on Sunday mornings.

                Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

Friday, October 18, 2013

"Health and Happiness"

            This weekend (October 19 & 20), I conclude my seven-week sermon series on Becoming a Happier Person.  The final proclamation in this series explores the relationship between physical health and authentic happiness. 

            This relationship between health and happiness has been one of the foci in the recent avalanche of research, investigating the core components for a happy and flourishing life.  This research suggests that physical exercise has a huge, positive effect on mood and well-being.  And, after reviewing 23 of the most rigorous studies on the relationship between exercise and depression, the Cochrane Review concluded that exercise has a “large clinical impact” on fighting depression.  While there is a strong consensus on the relationship between physical exercise and mental well-being, researchers are less certain about how to explain the reasons for this relationship.[i]  Still, the “take home message” seems clear enough:  Physical exercise and self-care contributes significantly to a happy and flourishing life.

            Although researchers have shown that living a healthy lifestyle contributes to our happiness, they have also discovered that persons who suffer from diseases, such as cancer, or other “life-altering disabilities” often live lives that are “just as happy as those in good health.”  The only exceptions were individuals whose daily lives were disrupted by their conditions, such as patients suffering from severe chronic pain.[ii] 

            So, current research indicates that taking care of ourselves physically can significantly help us to enjoy lives characterized by authentic happiness and flourishing.  Yet for the most part, those who suffer from disease or life-altering disabilities are not precluded by those physical conditions from also achieving authentic happiness and flourishing.

            The parallels between this empirical research and Christian discipleship are very intriguing.  My message this weekend will be grounded in two verses from the Apostle Paul’s First Letter to the Christians in Corinth.  Paul writes:  “Or do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”  (1 Corinthians 6: 19-20.)

            These two verses form the third in a series of three rhetorical questions, which Paul asks the Corinthians.  In these two verses, Paul affirms the goodness of our physical bodies, but he goes much further.  Through our faith, the physical bodies of Christians become a temple, or sanctuary, for the Holy Spirit.  As one Biblical interpreter writes, “The Holy Spirit resides in the believers in such a way that their bodies, their very selves, have been transformed into a shrine dedicated to God, who gave them the Holy Spirit and thereby constituted them a temple.”[iii] 

This transformation is possible because we do not own ourselves.  Instead, all that we are, and all that we have, belongs to God.  In verse 20, Paul uses a metaphor which would have been familiar to the Corinthians, living under the Roman Empire.  Alluding to the slave market in the Roman agora or forum, Paul tells the Corinthians that God has purchased them with great price.  Yet, in purchasing us, God also sets us free from our failures and sins, as well as setting us free from our dread and anxiety at the prospect of death.

Among contemporary, twenty-first century Christians, the concept of stewardship is readily appreciated and used in three important contexts.  First, there is stewardship of the environment.  As Christians, we are familiar with the importance of serving as stewards of God’s good Creation, tasked with the important responsibility of caring for the natural environment. 

Secondly, the term stewardship can refer to the special gifts, talents, and experiences that make us unique, one-of-a-kind persons.  God calls each of us to be good stewards of our unique skills and abilities, to do the work of the church and to help build God’s Kingdom, here on Earth.  For example, persons who are gifted with musical ability may use their abilities to sing in the Choir.

Thirdly, the term stewardship can be used to refer to our financial resources.  To be a good steward of our finances and other possessions means to use these resources wisely, including the financial support of our church’s ministries and operating expenses.

In this passage from his Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul suggests a fourth understanding of stewardship.  If our physical bodies are not really our own, but God’s—and, if God intends for our physical bodies to be, literally, a Sanctuary for God’s Presence—then we must be good stewards of our physical bodies, by taking good care of our physical bodies through:

Ø  Appropriate exercise and conditioning

Ø  Proper nutrition

Ø  Preventive healthcare

Ø  Appropriate sleep and rest

Ø  Avoiding addictive and compulsive behaviors

In short, everything required to maintain good physical health is not optional for Christians.  Instead, they are required in order to be good stewards of our physical bodies, which God has entrusted to us.

            In this series of sermons on happiness, we have seen again and again that the core components for authentic happiness are also core components for faithful Christian discipleship.  For instance, earlier in the series we explored how serving others is a critical component for happiness, just as it is for faithful discipleship.  Again this week, the pattern continues:  Just as physical self-care—or, stewardship of our physical bodies—is an important contributor to a happy and flourishing life, so also it is key for faithful discipleship. 

            To summarize this series, God calls Christians to faithful discipleship and that in turn leads to happy and flourishing lives.

If you live in the Meriden-area and do not have a regular church home, I invite you to join us this weekend, as we continue our exploration of becoming happier persons.  Meriden United Methodist Church is located at the corner of Dawson and Main Streets in Meriden, Kansas.  We have two worship services each weekend:

Ø  Our contemporary service starts at 6 pm on Saturday evenings.

Ø  Our classic service starts on at 10 am on Sunday mornings.

Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

[i] The Pursuit of Happiness web-page, “Health and Wellness,”, accessed 14 October 2013.
[ii] Salynn Boyles, “Health and Happiness Are Not Always Linked,” WebMD,, accessed 5 August 2013.
[iii] The New Interpreter’s Bible.