Saturday, May 31, 2014

Sharing God's Love . . .

            Quick!  What’s the most important aspect of being a Christian?

            It’s sharing God’s love.  We share God’s love with those around us.  We share God’s love in response to God’s profound love for each of us.  Our foundational text of scripture this weekend is 1 John 4: 7-16.  In this passage, the writer underscores the importance of responding to God’s love, when he writes, poignantly, “Beloved, since God loves us so much, we also ought to love one another.”  (v. 11)

            The elder, who is writing 1 John, goes further by describing how discipleship is informed as a response to God’s love for us:  “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  ..No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”  (vv. 7, 12)

            As disciples of Christ, we respond to God’s love for us in three distinct ways:

1.      Love God.  We love God when we worship and pray.  We also love God when we seek to grow closer to God through Bible study; spending time with God in personal prayer and reflection; and worshipping as a community of faith, especially through celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

2.      Love Neighbors.   Typically, when we think about loving our neighbors, we focus on helping those who have needs.  And, it is vitally important for Christians to help those with physical, mental, and psychological needs.  In his only words about how God will judge us, Jesus focuses on whether we have cared for our neighbors.  It is those who have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited those in prison, who will be saved and welcomed into God's Heavenly Reign. 

But, loving our neighbors also includes sharing the Gospel—literally, the Good News—that God loves us so much that Jesus came to show us how to live.  Even in his death on the Cross, Jesus was still showing humans how to live.  Of course, sometimes the best way to share the Gospel is by simply living the Gospel and caring for the physical, mental, and psychological needs of our neighbors.  At other times, sharing the Good News—that is, to say, loving our neighbors—includes inviting them to come with us to church and to experience the genuine love of a community of faith.

3.      Love Creation.  Sometimes Christians forget that responding to God’s love for us includes caring for the Earth.  We learn from Genesis : 26-30 that humans are special because we are created in God’s own image, the imago Dei.   Historically, Christians have assumed that to be created in God’s own image conferred great privilege upon humans above the rest of God’s Good Creation.  That is wrong.  Actually, the imago Dei comes with great responsibility.  God has entrusted us to be good stewards or caretakers of the rest of God’s Good Creation.  So, part of sharing God’s love is loving God’s Creation by being good stewards and taking care of it.

Meriden United Methodist Church, the church that I serve as Pastor, has the following vision statement: 
 “Sharing God’s love with our community and into the world community.” 
  This Sunday (June 1st), we will be exploring precisely what that means for us as a community of faith.  What does it mean to share God’s love.  Everyone is welcome to join in with us in this exploration.  Our church is located at the corner of Main and Dawson Streets in Meriden, Kansas.  We have two worship services, which are both now on Sunday:

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

Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

How Should Christians Support Our Troops?

            Here in our little corner of the world in northeast Kansas, we frequently see bumper stickers and other signs that proclaim:  Support Our Troops.”  This slogan expresses a nice sentiment, but what does it really mean?  That is, how do we really offer support to our troops? Sometimes, it seems to me that well-meaning slogans like this can become cliché, and we don’t really think seriously about how we can genuinely support our troops.  How can we make a real difference in the lives of our troops and their families? 

So, as we celebrate the Memorial Day holiday this weekend, I want to ask, how should Christians support our troops?

At this point, a caveat is in order.  I have been ordained in the United Methodist Church for over 30 years, and I have served in multiple parishes, as well as ministering in other, non-parish ministry settings.  I have been blessed with very rich and varied experiences in ministry.  However, I have never served in the military, either as a Chaplain or as a typical serviceman.  As a result, I bring very little experience or expertise to this question.

So, in order to help inform my reflections on this question, I sought out another pastoral colleague:  Rev. Douglas Brown, who is a military chaplain, currently assigned to the VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System in Topeka.  During our Sunday services, I will share several video clips from my time talking with Chaplain Brown.  However, essentially, Chaplain Brown pointed out that the first step in supporting our troops was simply to find out what they need.

First, ask military personnel what they need.  What a simple response and, yet, it is also very incisive and profound.  I think that frequently well-being Christians assume that they already know what the troops need—the same is true when we are trying to support others in other contexts.  Sometimes, it seems to me that the slogan, “Support Our Troops” gets high jacked for political purposes by people on various points of the political spectrum.  That’s just wrong.  We should always put supporting our troops above politics.  Chaplain Brown is absolutely correct:  If we are genuinely concerned about our troops, we should first ask them what they need.

The scriptural foundation for my reflections on supporting our troops is 2 Samuel 22: 1, 29-38.  This passage occurs at the end of 2 Samuel and it is a royal psalm of thanksgiving by King David, as he reflects back upon his life as a warrior and a king.  The psalm occurs in three parts.  In the first part, David gives thanks for God’s deliverance throughout his life.  The second part lifts up the importance of moral virtue and working for justice. 

The third part, which begins with our passage at verse 29, is a song of victory.  As the biblical scholar Bruce Birch observes, this section “celebrates both the success of human action and the enabling power of God that makes such actions effective.”[i]  This victory song is permeated with exultant affirmations, “I can crush…I can leap over a wall…I pursued…I did not turn back…I consumed.”  Yet, continually interwoven through the triumphant affirmations is the acknowledgement that, ultimately, all victories are made possible by God.  The epitome of this interweaving of triumphal affirmation of David with acknowledgement of God’s empowering presence in David’s life, occurs in verse 36, where David says simply, “…your help has made me great.”

I want to suggest that this scriptural text forms an important context for reflecting on how Christians should support our troops.  Christians should bring a unique perspective to the question of supporting our troops.  Our perspective differs from the perspective of fellow American citizens because we are persons of faith.  Perhaps one of the most important ways in which Christians can support our troops is by remembering them in our prayers.  But, in addition to that, our Christian faith asks us to see support for our troops within the context of living faithfully for Jesus Christ.

When I met with Chaplain Brown in preparation for this weekend, he also shared with me a speech by General Douglas MacArthur, which he has found especially meaningful.  It was MacArthur’s acceptance speech, when he received the prestigious Sylvanus Thayer Award in 1962.  Among the passages that Chaplain Brown shared, I was especially struck by these words by General MacArthur towards the end of his speech.  Speaking to the West Point cadets, he said:  “This does not mean that you are warmongers.  On the contrary, the soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”[ii]  As MacArthur suggests, in addition to praying for our troops, another important way in which we can support them is by working for peace with justice, so that our troops are not continually placed in harm's way.

Helping our troops with their needs after service; praying for our troops; and working for peace with justice so that our troops are not placed in harms’ way are just three ways in which Christians can support our troops.  I have some other suggestions, which I will make during my messages this weekend. 

Join us this Sunday (May 25th), as we commemorate Memorial Day and reflect on how we as disciples of Christ can genuinely support our troops.  Our church is located at the corner of Main and Dawson Streets in Meriden, Kansas.  We have two worship services, which are both now on Sunday:

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

Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

[i] Bruce Birch, commentary on 1 and 2 Samuel in The New Interpreter’s Bible, volume 2 (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2002), CD-ROM version.
[ii] General Douglas MacArthur, “Thayer Award Speech – Duty, Honor, Country” given 12 May 1964 at the West Point Academy, New York.  Accessed online at on 23 May 2014.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Successful Failing

          Failure is an integral part of life.  Regardless of how hard we try; regardless of how smart we are; regardless of how well we prepare, all of us experience failures throughout our lives.  And yet, even though it is inevitable, most of us try to avoid failure as much as possible. 

            Failure can be a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, failure can be very negative.  Afterall, failure frequently comes with dire consequences that we would prefer to avoid.  Even worse is the fear of failure.  Many people allow their fear of failure to grow and grow, until it takes over their lives.  An unchecked fear of failure can become paralyzing.  We can become so dominated by this fear that we are afraid to step out and try something new.  We become so afraid that we are going to fail that we never take a chance; never make an investment; or never seek to grow.  We become imprisoned by our own fears of failure.

            On the other hand, failure can be very positive.  Sometimes we can learn and grow from our failures.  There is a story about Thomas Edison, which illustrates this point.  Edison and his associates were trying to develop a better battery.  After 9,000 attempts which all failed, one of his associates said, in frustration:  “Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work … you haven’t been able to get any results?”  Edison, with a smile on his face, replied:  “Results! Why, man, I have a gotten a lot of results!  I know several thousand things that won’t work!”[i]  We can learn, mature, and grow from our failures.  At the same time, the fear of failure can also be positive, if it motivates us to try our hardest at whatever we are doing.

            As Christians, we believe that God has given each of us a unique portfolio of special gifts and talents, which we can use to make a real difference in the world and to establish and build God’s Kingdom.  We can make the world a better place by using our special gifts and talents at home, at work or school, and in our community.  Gathered together as the church, God calls us to this work of Kingdom building, collectively using our gifts and talents, through service and witness. 

Whether as individuals or collectively as the Church, God does not intend for us to be paralyzed by fear.  Actually, doing nothing because we fear failure is evidence of an acute lack of faith.  God calls upon us—both as individuals and as churches—to step out in faith, trusting that God will provide.  Will we sometimes fail?  Of course, we will experience failures.  But, failure can become important building stones for success in the future.  We can learn and grow and mature from our failures.  This is just as true for churches as it is for individual persons.

Even when we fail, we have this promise from God that we are not alone.  God is with us, watching over us, and caring for us.  Ultimately, we are in God’s hands.  Jesus expressed this faith very poignantly in his “Sermon on the Mount,” when he told the parable of the “birds of the air.”  Jesus said:  “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6: 26).

Come, worship with us this weekend.  Our church is located at the corner of Main and Dawson Streets in Meriden, Kansas.  We have two worship services each weekend:

Ø  Our contemporary service starts at 6 pm on Saturday evenings.  This Saturday, our contemporary service will be worshiping at Lake Perry State Park, at the “Lake View Shelter House #8.  We will be helping launch our Summer Lake Ministry, led by retired pastor Bob Sutton.  Pastor Bob will lead weekend services at Lake Perry State Park and the adjacent camping area administered by the Corps of Engineers.  The theme of this outdoor service will be “Making Lemons into Lemonade.” See the church website,,  for more details on the lake services. 

Ø  Our classic service starts at 10 am on Sunday mornings.  This weekend, I will be exploring the role of failure in reaching success. 

Everyone is welcome and accepted at both services because God loves us all.

[i] Reported by the Quote Investigator.  See, downloaded 15 May 2014.

Friday, May 9, 2014

"World's Okayest Mom"

            This weekend our society celebrates “Mother’s Day,” a time to recognize the love, sacrifice, and dedication that mothers make on behalf of their children and families.  Many people look forward to Mother’s Day—or, Father’s Day in June—as a joyful time to celebrate and thank their mother, or father. 

Yet often, in our drive to recognize our parents, we praise them to the point of putting them up on some impossibly high pedestal.  On Mother’s Day, we develop some sort of amnesia that allows us to totally ignore our parents’ human frailties and flaws.  At least for the day, our mothers become perfect in every way.  To illustrate this point, consider the following verses from a poem, which I found on the internet: 

“Since the moment I entered this world,
You have cared for me like no other.
There is only one word to describe you,
That is in every way a perfect Mother. …

Your warm touch is one of a kind,
So gentle to send me to sleep.
Your voice is of an angels [sic]
A beauty only you deserve to keep.”[i]

When most mothers and fathers are completely candid with themselves, however, we must acknowledge that we are far from the perfect parent described in these verses or other, similar verses in a thousand different Mother’s—and Father’s—Day cards.  The truth is that most of us parents feel inadequate and mistake-prone most of the time.

There is a great deal of uncertainty and silent anxiety in parenting in the twenty-first century.  As parents, we are constantly trying to balance giving our children both the freedom and the structure which they need in order to become happy and mature adults.  As Christian parents, we are constantly trying to balance the sharing of our Christian values while also respecting our children’s need to experiment with values promoted by a secular society, which is sometimes hostile to religious faith.  As parents we are constantly trying to balance protecting our children and keeping them safe, while simultaneously allowing them to experience some failure, which is required in order to become responsible adults. 

There are no magical formulas for this balance.  Instead, it is an ongoing series of decisions made in a fog of uncertainty and worry.  Frequently, we parents get it wrong.  We tilt too far to the side of freedom and then over-compensate by tilting too far to the other side of structure. 

Our failures at maintaining proper balance are compounded by our multiple human flaws and failures.  Sometimes we get angry and say things to our children that we should have never uttered.  Sometimes we get preoccupied with work or finances or life and we aren’t really listening when our children are sharing something vitally important to them.  Sometimes we just forget or do something else that is … well, human.  We parents are not perfect, just human persons.  Most of us are trying to do our best as parents.  Actually, the parents which scare me the most are those parents who actually believe everything that gets written on Mother’s—and Father’s—Day cards.  The ones who actually believe that they deserve to be on the pedestal.

In the Church, we believe that God creates every single person for some form of ministry.  Each of us is a unique person, with our own special portfolio of talents and gifts for different types of ministry.  These different ministries are quite diverse, including music, teaching, justice-making, hospitality, administration, and building—to name just a few.  Some types of ministry are specialized, while other types are generalized ministries that all of us are called to practice. (See Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12). The ministry of prayer is one of those types of generalized ministry that we are all called to practice.

I have come to see that parenting is also a form of ministry.

I believe that parenting is one of those forms of generalized ministry.  It is not a specialized ministry reserved only for biological parents.  Instead, we are all called to be engaged in the ministry of parenting because it is that important and that demanding.  No two biological parents can ever responsibly raise their children without a lot of help from family, friends, teachers, choir directors, coaches, Scout or 4-H Leaders, counselors, the occasional stranger—and many, many others.  One of the most important dimensions of the local church is that it provides a community of persons who are engaged in the ministry of parenting.

Of course, everyone engaged in the ministry of parenting is flawed and makes mistakes.  That’s why I love Paul’s analogy of a clay jar in his second letter to the Corinthians.  He writes, “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9) 

Of course, when Paul penned these words to the Corinthians, he was thinking about his own special ministry as a traveling evangelist.  Even though Paul has been given this special ministry as an evangelist and Apostle, he recognizes that ultimately the ministry belongs to God.  God has given this special ministry to Paul for a short time.

As he writes these words, Paul is remembering all of the persecution and dangers that he has experienced as a missionary.  Yet, the Bible is timeless, intended to speak to all peoples in all times and places—from the first Christians in Paul’s day to twenty-first century Christians on our day.  So, Paul’s words also apply to each of us in our various ministries as parents.  Even though we are flawed and make mistakes as parents, we are not alone in our ministry.  God is with us, guiding and strengthening us, and working through us in our ministry of parenting.

Just as the Apostle Paul before us, God has given to each of us this ministry of parenting for a short time.  But, ultimately, the ministry belongs to God and not to us.  Of course we are flawed and make mistakes, but despite our frailties and imperfections we know that ultimately God will make all things right.

Come, join us this weekend (May 10th and 11th), as we recognize our Mothers and as we celebrate this special ministry of parenting, which God gives to each of us.  Our church is located at the corner of Main and Dawson 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] Nicola Steel, “A Perfect Mother,” accessed online at, 9 May 2014.