Let’s Get Busy, Not!

The world is in a mess. People are talking about signs of the end-times, the second coming, and apocalypse. There are people who even claim to know exactly when the end of times events will take place. There are even some who have claimed to have known this more than once, but I digress. Every generation has had its signs of the second coming and every generation has been wrong. Why do we entertain the notion that we can somehow know what Jesus told us we couldn’t know? Jesus told us, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Matthew 24.36 NRSV. So why do we use so much of our time in this folly?

As Christians the exact time of Jesus’ return is unimportant. We are to be ready, like the ten bridesmaids in Matthew 25.1. We do not know when Christ will return nor do we know when our lives will be asked of us. We need to focus ourselves on the tasks at hand. We should live our lives in a constant state of prayer. This is not as hard as one might think because anything worth doing can be done prayerfully. Living prayerfully allows us to grow closer to God. I deepens our relationship with Christ and allows the Holy Spirit to guide us into action. Living prayerfully opens our eyes to the needs of the people around us; needs that we may be able to answer.

Prayerful living also reminds us to practice our other spiritual disciplines. Pray, fasting, meditation, daily devotionals, reading the scriptures, and intentional acts of kindness are a few examples of spiritual disciplines. We gather together as Christians to enable each other to go forth to the other spreading the story of Jesus and his teachings, love, and compassion, out to the world. We can be part of the reason the world is in a mess or part of the solution. Christian living suggests that we spread peace, grace, and love out to our neighbors whether that neighbor is next door or the other side of the planet. Our neighbors are everywhere and come in all shapes, sizes, genders, colors, and beliefs. We know our mission, given from Jesus to make disciples spreading the word and knowledge of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit out to the world but we must not busy ourselves. We must not busy ourselves with the mission of the United Methodist Church either. That is to makes disciples for the transformation of the world. We must not get busy. We must get productive! Productive helping our neighbors with their needs and modeling Christian behavior. Productive righting injustice. Productive witnessing to Jesus’ Gospel message.

We can busy ourselves worrying about the end-times. We can busy ourselves with thoughts and actions directed for our benefit alone. We can busy ourselves worrying about the mess we find the world in today. However we could also replace all that worry and focus on the tasks that Jesus would have us do, being productive rather than being busy. Let’s go forth in a prayerful spirit and honor and glorify God in all we do and say so that the world may be a better place.

That’s this pastor’s opinion. What’s yours?

Blessings,

Pastor Tom

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The Proof is in the Pudding

As I was growing up my father, and his family, would often say, “The proof is in the pudding.” The original meaning was that you had to eat the pudding to find out what was inside it. Remember that in the “Old Country” pudding often involved meats and were a main dish. Today the phrase has a slightly different meaning. Someone might use this phrase to mean that what you put into something is what you’ll get out. The proof of a project is in the outcome. If you want really good chocolate pudding you need to put in really good chocolate, fresh milk or cream, and quality other ingredients. After all the proof is in the put pudding.

The proof is in the pudding could be correctly stated as the proof is in the put in. This got me to thinking about some of the tasks that I face on a weekly if not daily basis. Sermon preparation, prayer life, daily devotionals, ordination questions, and many more. Have these projects become routine? Am I simply plodding through them? The proof is in the pudding (put in). I devote many hours on sermon preparation, prayer life, and devotionals, but am I putting my best in other activities? The Columbia District Mission Strategist challenged a group of ministers to be productive rather than busy. Anything worth doing is worth our best work. I see areas that I can work on.

Then I began thinking about the church. Are we giving the best to our church? Here I am not simply talking to the members of my congregations in Williamson County Tennessee. What are we willing to put into our church membership? What are we willing to give up and/or do in order to serve a risen Savior? Too many people go to church with the expectation of being entertained or amused. Too many people go to church on Sunday with a shield put up so that nothing can change them. Too many people go to church and only spend that one hour interacting with God. Too many people spend that hour thinking and praying that the pastor won’t speak for too long because they worry about waiting at the restaurant.

The proof is in the pudding! We tend to get out of something exactly what we put into it. It is no difference for church and worship services. We get what we put in. When we are actively working for God, doing kingdom work, our prayer life is improved and so is our worship experience. This is because when we surround ourselves with the work God cares about we deepen that relationship that should be primary in our lives. When we don’t put our best into “church” we don’t get our best out. This also applies to our expectations. We generally get what we expect; good or bad.

Rev. David Spencer, the pastor at Riverside United Methodist Church tells about a revival he attended. The speaker at the revival told the people in attendance that they had the best pastor in the entire area! This statement was made at a community wide revival. In attendance were people of many denominations and congregational churches. The statement is interesting in the fact that it is absolutely true and can be applied to other aspects of the church as well. This isn’t a competition or a one ups game. If we set our minds on the fact that we have the best preacher/pastor/minister or the best choir or the best messages then we will find that our expectations will be met. The opposite is also true. If we expect the worst we’ll get it.

You see when we expect the worst we notice every small flaw. We notice the minister’s haircut, the missed word, and the way they clear their throat. We will notice the choir looks sleepy and that one, or more, sings off key. When we expect the best we notice the joy the off key singer has as they sing praises to God. When we expect the best we notice the minister’s use of pauses and appreciate the humor in the message. The revival speaker encourage everyone to go out and invite people to hear a great message by the best minister backed by a fantastic choir and congregational singing. If that is their honest expectation and you reinforce it when they show up, their expectations will be met even if the messages is only okay. The proof is in the pudding!

This is simply this pastor’s opinion. What’s yours?

Blessings,

Pastor Tom

 

Sell Our Possessions?!

“Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” Luke 12.33 NRSV

Lately, on Sunday mornings, we’ve been talking a lot about our possessions. Of course I have expanded the term possessions to stuff. Stuff can include anything and everything. Stuff can range from our physical belongings, through our desires, to our relationships. So how can we sell our stuff especially considering that stuff includes relationships and stuff of our desires?

As a Wesleyan, I view scripture as having primary importance. Reason, tradition, and experience help me to understand the meaning of the scriptures and apply them to my life. (The Wesleyan Quadrilateral.) Therefore I do not believe that the Bible is the word by word dictation of God but rather written with inspiration. That is the Bible contains the truth but may or may not be literal. It is very important to take verses of the Bible in context so as to uncover or unpack the meaning meant for us at a given place and time. With this being said I believe that this verse is literal. We are to sell our possessions and give alms.

But we need to put the verse in context. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12.32-34. Now we see that we are being given the kingdom of God and that we must store up our treasure in the kingdom because that is where our heart will lead us. The stuff we must sell are those possessions that have some to possess and control us. We must rid ourselves of all the stuff that interferes with our walk with the Lord. We must drop physical possessions, earthly desires, and even relationships that hinder our relationship with God.

In addition we must be good stewards of our remaining stuff to make sure we are using it to give alms. We are to use our stuff to do the work of the kingdom or to be the Body of Christ to a lost and hurting world. God doesn’t care if we have ten dollars or ten million dollars. God cares how we help and love people. God doesn’t care what kind of car we drive. God cares how we help and love people. God doesn’t care where we are. God wants us to use the blessings that have been provided through the Trinity of God (our stuff) to help and love people no matter where we find ourselves.

Imagine how great the world could be if everyone used their stuff and abilities to make other people’s lives happier and more blessed! Let’s reach out into the mission field that surrounds us and do good deeds for the sake of the kingdom.

This rant has been this pastor’s opinion. What’s yours?

Blessings,

Pastor Tom

Are We There Yet?

Two weeks ago, as I traveled across this great land by car, I heard my seven-year-old son ask a familiar question. “Are we there yet?” Such an innocent question, “Are we there yet?” I simply wished that we had been further than fifty miles into a 1200 mile trip the first time I heard it! It is a question that begs an answer and somehow “not yet” is insufficient. No there needs to be a plan, a report on progress made, and consideration of alternative courses of action. Is it too late to fly?

I wondered about Jesus walking from place to place with his disciples. Did one of the disciples ever ask, “Are we there yet?” I believe they did. Matthew 24.3 (NRSV), “When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?'” That is very much what my son wanted from me. What is the sign that we are there?

So we need a goal, a plan, a report on progress, and we must consider other courses of action that may be more efficacious or being us to a better result. This applies to us whether we are travel across Kansas or looking into the vision and mission of the church. Are we there yet?

Some would say that we have gone far beyond what the church has been called to do. We failed to keep our eyes on the goal and because of that we are not there yet. So what is the appropriate goal of the church? Jesus tended to answer questions with parables. This forced people to think long and hard about the answer and illuminated all sorts of possibilities. But when asked about the goal of His ministry he answered very directly. Love God with all of your being and love your neighbor as yourself. Also go forth and spread the Gospel of peace and love out to a hurting and broken world. (Matthew 22.37, 28.19 my paraphrases.) The New Testament really revolves around these verses. These verses are transformative, transforming the world for the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom on earth. Are we there yet?

The mission field of our church is no longer some foreign land thousands of miles away, although they too are our neighbors. In the good old days of the United Methodist Church* we knew that most of the people outside the doors of our congregations were Christians. They had already received the message. The mission field truly was somewhere else. We got complacent and forgot our primary jobs. Love and spread the Gospel of peace and love. So today we find that the mission field has moved to the communities where we live and worship. We need to be reaching out and loving our neighbors, sharing the greatest gift we have available to us; the story of Jesus’ life and ministry.

How do we accomplish this? We witness to the power, glory, and majesty of Jesus. In other words we tell people about the difference that Jesus has made in our lives. That is a great start but only covers a fraction of the power, glory, and majesty of Jesus. In addition to sharing the stories of Jesus we must show people the impact Jesus has had on our lives. We come together as the Body of Christ and seek out ways to be in service. We go forth helping those with needs, whatever those needs might be. We develop relationships with people that are different than we are whether that difference is racial, social status, or any other difference. We love people and allow people to love us as well. This grows the Body of Christ.

As the Body of Christ grows we reach out farther. We use the power of our voices to right wrongs, to aid the marginalized, demand justice, and fight oppression. We work to rid the world of “isms” such as sexism, ageism, and racism. Are we there yet? The Trayvon Martin case and the fallout over the verdict indicates that we are not, but are we closer? My son is African American. There were some children at Bethesda UMC’s Ice Cream Supper. They were riding bicycles from the parsonage. My son was the only African-American child there and he had gone inside. Someone asked the children who had given them permission to ride the bikes. The children stated that the boy in the green shirt had told them it was okay. None of us were present the night that Trayvon lost his life. We don’t know exactly what the jury heard or was told. We know that a young man lost his life. Color doesn’t matter. A young man with a bright future is dead. His case is one of a countless number of tragedies that occur every year. Was it racism? Was it fear, bigotry, or hatred? Was it silly gun laws? I don’t know. I do know that we, as a church, aren’t there yet.

There is hope however dim. We can and must come together and work for justice and peace and love. We can see the glimmer of hope that is held in the minds of our children and our children’s children. Who gave you permission? The answer wasn’t the African-American kid or the black kid. The answer was the boy in the green shirt.

We have a lot of work to do and we must start that work today. Reach out to your neighbor, the other, in love. Reach out in hopes of developing a relationship based on mutual respect and care. Reach out, as those children did, in hopes of making a friend. Reach out, you might be amazed at what you find.

That is this pastor’s opinion. What’s yours?

In Christian Love,

Pastor Tom

*The idea of the good old days or glory days will need to be dealt with in a different post.