Listen Closely

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This past week I saw a video on Facebook. The young man in the video, Jefferson Bethke, states that he hates religion but loves Jesus. He claims that Jesus came to abolish religion. The video has gone viral! Many people have responded to the video but I’m not sure many of the responders have listened closely to the poetic prose of this young man. The responders I’ve heard seem to have jumped to a conclusion of what the video was about based on “Why I hate religion.” They claim the man is preaching “cheap grace.” I don’t think so, but rather than focusing on his feelings about grace why not hear his message regarding “religion?” We should listen closely and heed the wakeup call.  His voice is but one of thousands in our communities that are turning away from churches they see as “Religious.”

In preaching through the Sermon on the Mount I showed where Jesus talked about salt that had lost its saltiness and lights hidden under bushel baskets. I related this to what I called “pretend” Christians and “club” churches (that is churches that are really clubs). When I listened to the video I came to the opinion that Mr. Bethke doesn’t have a problem with the Church, he has a problem with people that are pretend Christians or that belong to a club posing as a church.

I’m currently serving my third charge within the United Methodist Church. The first charge had three churches, the second two, and now I serve a station charge meaning one church. In the dozen or so years I’ve been preaching and the forty or so years I’ve been associated with churches and religion I have experienced what Mr. Bethke is exclaiming. Too many people claim the title Christian without allowing Christ into their lives. These pretend Christians go through the motions, proof text the Bible, go to church on Sundays and maybe Wednesdays, and they can mouth the words to most of the hymns. Unfortunately these people fail to act in a Christian manner.

I have a friend that honked at a car that had a “Honk if You Love Jesus” bumper sticker. The person made obscene gestures and yelled at him. Is that being a good witness to Christ? Is that what Jesus would have us do? Maybe the person was simply having a bad day but it served as evidence that Christians are not what they portend to be. This occurs with great regularity. Pretend Christians judging and behaving as if they are something special.

Likewise churches are also failing at their jobs. Too many churches are inwardly focused. It is not that they are not good at loving but rather the object of the love is itself. The people within a congregation are so busy maintaining the status quo and bettering things for themselves that they have forgotten that the role of the church is to reach out to the lost, the marginalized, and the poor. As I was sitting in my office at a previous church a woman came in for help. She told me her story and asked for groceries. I didn’t have any money to give her but invited her to a Wednesday night meal. During the meal the treasurer began a meeting by announcing that the church had $78,000 in the bank. I was so embarrassed. The $78,000 was for a building that still isn’t needed many years later.

Of all the churches I’ve been associated with throughout my life only a couple have had their priorities straight. A tornado went through Hickman County and devastated the Brushy community. Several of the ladies from Littlelot United Methodist Church went and served a hot lunch to the aid workers every day for a week. This church of ten to fifteen people feed almost 75 people a hot meal every day for a week! That is being church rather than being religious! That is being church rather than being a club.

Jesus Christ has set us free. But what have we been set free to do? We have been set free to let other beggars know where they can get bread. We are to witness to the love of God through our actions of being the Church united with Christ, doing God’s work. By doing the work of the Kingdom of God we can lead more people to know Jesus and thus gain help in the ongoing work of easing people’s suffering and pain.

There is a lot of work to do. Won’t you join me? Right now fully commit or recommit yourself to living the live that God desires for you. Begin living in such a way that people can see our Lord and our Savior in and through us. The work is abundant! What say you?

This is this pastor’s opinion.

Blessings,

Pastor Tom

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Did Anyone Get the Number of That Bus?

Yellow school bus parked at the side of a road

We all know that feeling. The feeling when someone casually says something that causes us discomfort, embarrassment, or shame. All we see is the taillights of the bus we were just thrown under. Many people seem to do this as a reflex. They seem to be thinking, “People are looking for someone to blame. I’ll deflect it to Mary Joe Bobby Sue*.”

That isn’t the only time people get tossed under the bus. Several of my seminary friends, who shall remain nameless cough Kevin cough Will cough cough**, and I would throw each other under the bus on occasion. Sometimes for amusement and other times to test out new ideas, “Professor, we were talking and Tom was thinking (insert strange thought here.)” I can almost hear the rumbling of the bus.school-bus-pimped-12

Unfortunately most of the time when people throw others under the bus it causes harm. Often it is bearing false witness. We throw them under to deflect attention away from ourselves and what we’ve done wrong. This is sinful behavior not simply because bearing false witness is wrong but because it hurts relationships. It hurts the relationship of the one tossed under the bus and the one who tossed. It also causes problems between the one who got tossed under and the others involved. They may think the tossing is true. This runs afoul of Jesus’ command to love one another.

When we talk about witnessing to God many don’t realize that people are watching us. When we announce or share that we are Christian, people begin to watch how we behave to see if Christianity is something worth their while. When we provide a bad witness through our behavior we may actually be leading people away from Christ. So what are we to do?

On the side of every school bus is a stop sign with flashing lights. We need to pay attention to the stop signals. We need to recognize when we are about to throw somebody under the bus and STOP!!!!! Heed the warning signs, fight the urge, and don’t do it. This may be harder than it appears at first glance. This may involve us taking responsibility for our behaviors including whatever we did that we are deflecting by throwing someone under the bus. Also, I don’t think we can simply cease a negative behavior because that creates a vacuum that has to be filled in. So as we concentrate on not throwing people under the bus let us continue to toss. Confusing right?

busWhat would happen if we heeded the stop sign for the negative behavior and changed it to a positive? For example: Who decided to do that children’s video last Sunday? I did but didn’t Sarah and Jill*** do an awesome job! They really work hard to ensure that the children are included and are getting to know and understand Jesus.

So if we cannot stop throwing people under the bus let us at east make it for positives!

This is this pastor’s opinion.

Blessings,

Pastor Tom

*This is an imaginary name it could have just as easily be John Thomas William Wayne.

** Did you see what I did there? Throwing Kevin and Will under the bus…

***Sarah and Jill do an incredible amount of work for Westview UMC especially the children. They are awesome!

Newsletter Letter

This is simply the letter I wrote for the Westview Newsletter.

Dear Friends of Westview UMC,

I am thankful to be returning to Westview UMC for another year as was announced on Palm Sunday. I cherish the relationships that have been forming here and look forward to our future together. We have a lot happening this month with Holy Week and Easter. Maundy Thursday marks the turn in Jesus’ ministry where he is betrayed and arrested. Good Friday marks the suffering of our Lord and Savior. We have services both nights at 6:30pm. Easter Morning begins early with a service at 6 am at Bowie Park followed by breakfast (back at Westview); our regular services and a potluck lunch and egg hunt. I hope you will join us as we walk with Jesus and grow in our relationships with God and each other.

There have been some rumors floating around that I’m going to attempt to stop. We are having a Vacation Bible School this July from the 23rd to the 29th. This year may look different from previous years but I can only imagine what Sarah and Jill have planned for the children. If you would like to help out please talk with one of them. As for rumors; we need to work on communications within our church. If you hear a rumor find out if it is true before you share it with others. This is an act of Christian love that can save people’s feelings and efforts. If there are misunderstandings please go to the people that can help correct the situation but if things are going well share with all who will listen. Seriously! People tend to find what they look for. If you plant the seed that something tremendously good is happening people will tend to see good stuff.

Again I look forward to serving with you in the coming years.

Blessings in Christ’s Name,

Pastor Tom

That’s Just Silly

Hello,

After two years of neglect I’ve decided to renew my efforts at blogging. I am committing to updating my blog at least once a week. I hope it may prove interesting even if the update is simply a preview of a sermon. You may get to see some of the thought processes that go into sermon preparation. So without further ado here is this pastor’s opinion.

This past week during the children’s message I asked the question, “What are our treasures?” I had a range of ages from two to ten or so. Some of the children know that in church the leader of children’s time is looking for particular answers and they try too oblige. Included in the answers were the fact that Jesus loved them and that we should store treasures in heaven. One young man or seven of eight answered that his treasures were, “bubble gum and comics!”

The congregation loves Children’s time in part because you never know what the children will say. Often times the children say very profound things but usually they are simply cute in their naivety. This day’s bubble gum and comics answer brought some light laughs and a beaming smile from the young man. His most prized possessions were bubble gum and comics. If he had a safe that is what would be in it.

It occurred to me that people thought his treasures were a bit silly.
Sure they are important to a child but not to us as adults. For we have outgrown our childlike ways. Right? Right? Rigggght! What do we consider to be our treasures? Gold, silver, cars and trucks? Maybe our treasures are really important things like houses, guns, and maybe even our routines. I began to wonder if when we talk about our earthly treasures, for that is what most people think about when thinking about treasure, if God and the heavenly host begin to snicker at our naivety.SILLINESS-copy

 

In the grand scheme I doubt any of our earthly treasure will matter. What will count us as God’s children is how we use those treasure to enhance somebody else’s life. All we have is truly a gift from God and like all gifts of God they are intended to remain gifts. If we start to posses gifts they instantly lose the power of being from God. The gifts must continue to be given out to those in need whether that need is economic, cultural, political, physical, or spiritual. We will all suffer from one form of poverty or another at some point in our lives. Our goal, which I believe is God’s will, is to reach out and meet people’s needs with the multiple gifts provided for us by God.

In keeping the gifts circulating as gifts we are able to help people experience the love, mercy, and grace that comes not from us but through us from God. I urge you all to reflect upon your earthly treasures and see how to use them to help fulfill the Kingdom of God here on earth thereby saving treasures in heaven.

That is the pastor’s opinion.

Blessings to you,

Pastor Tom.