“The Value Of Your Ministry”


Meditation for 21 September 2014, the 15th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Exodus 16: 2 – 16, Philippians 1: 21 – 30, Matthew 20: 1 – 16

Sometimes we need to see the Scriptures in a totally new manner, or at least not view them in the way we have perhaps always done it. That, I hope, is the case with this particular post.

As you can see from the title, this has to do with the ministry of the church. When we think of a particular church’s ministry, it is often in terms of the congregation and the needs of the congregation first. The needs of the community in which the church resides are, perhaps, often overlooked, or thought to be the same as the congregation’s needs and wants.

Sometimes, this will work; often times I don’t think it does. My first impression of Rick Warren and his “Purpose Driven Church” model was that the church administration assessed the needs and interests of the congregation and got those people with common needs and interests together and called that a ministry. Now, if your church has the numbers to do this, it might work.

But, and I made this point when it was first presented to me, if your church is anything like the ones that I have worked with in the past, the numbers aren’t there and they never will be.

This has nothing to do with the perceived state of the church today. Some churches are in places where the population as a whole is not changing and is probably going down. Churches in such areas as these have to, by necessity, operate with an entirely different model. And churches such as these need our support more than we perhaps realize, simply so that the people in those congregations don’t think that they are being forgotten.

But there are churches in areas where the numbers speak of growth and promise, yet the ministries of those churches are adapted to the congregation and not the community. These are the churches in trouble. And that is an area that we really need to look at. A church whose ministries are inward and have turned a blind eye to the community outside the walls of the sanctuary is a dying church.

But I am looking at something else at this time. Much of our publication discussion of the ministry of the church has been of two types, one informal and one, naturally, formal. The informal ministry emphasizes our willingness or unwillingness to let the Spirit rule the Law. For some, the Law is everything and, thus, that which is against the Law cannot be allowed.

But there are those (and for the sake of clarity, I believe I am in that group) who feel that the Spirit supersedes the Law and we must often do that which is in conflict with the Law. I fear that this informal ministry will, in the next couple of years, be formalized and become part of the corporate ministry of the church and the denomination.

The formal ministry of the church, at the local, denominational, and general levels, is that by which the church is identified. As part of the corporate structure, the formal ministry is the current measure of the vitality of the church. This is what the church says it is going to do. But there is another view of the ministry, not the corporate view but the individual view.

And I think that we need to see the ministry of the church more from the individual view than from the corporate view. This view starts by asking each member, “What are your ministries? What do you do, individually, that shows others who Christ is and brings them to a point where they can accept Christ?” If your life has been given to Christ, then all ministries are of the same value and that value is, perhaps, priceless (yes, I know, it is part of a 21st century cliché but it fits the Gospel reading).

But if you are like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, angry that God has taken you away from the security of your slavery in Egypt, what value do you place on your ministry? What if you are one of the workers who has put in the long hours and ended up wit the same pay as those who worked less? What value do you place on your ministry? If you feel that your efforts deserve greater rewards, then perhaps your ministry really has no value.

The problem today is not necessarily our corporate ministries but rather the value that we place on them. Many corporate ministries today focus on the needs of the congregation rather than the needs of the community. And individually, we are more interested in what we get out of the ministry than what others might.

As I read the passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians for this Sunday, I could not help but think about all the time and effort that he, Paul, put into his work. And there is plenty of evidence to suggest that he was getting frustrated with the work (and at least one suggestion that the “thorn in his side” was a wife wondering when he was going to get a “real” job).

And maybe Paul did have the right to complain. How many times did he have to leave a town because he angered the power structure? Did the results that he achieved justify the time and effort he put in? Keep in mind that most of the time, the letters that he was dictating and mailing to the churches dealt with problems that had arose in the church. Is what Paul gained truly measurable by the bottom line demanded in the corporate and self-centered individual ministries of today?

What is the value of your ministry? Are you expecting more than what you put in? Or will your efforts offer someone new a hope or opportunity that they might not have received otherwise?

The hardest thing we have to do is finding out what our ministry is. Figuring out how to accomplish it becomes pretty easy. We start by committing our lives and our souls to Christ and then we work to help others do the same. The value of our ministry will perhaps never be known, except to those who are touched.

“Who Are You Following?”


Meditation for 14 September 2014, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Exodus 14: 19 – 31, Romans 14: 1 – 12, Matthew 18: 21 – 35

There are certain things that I believe. Obviously, I believe that Jesus Christ is my Savior. And in that regard, I hope that my life, my words, my thoughts, my deeds, and my actions reflect that belief.

What is important to understand is that I came to this decision on my own. There were countless individuals (pastors, Sunday School teachers, and others) who introduced Jesus Christ to me but the decision to accept Jesus Christ as my personal Savior was mine and mine alone. It was not, as some think it should have been, in the manner of Saul walking on the road to Damascus but more in the manner of the quiet assurance that John Wesley felt that evening in the Aldersgate Chapel.

So in answer to the question posed as the title of this piece, I am following Jesus Christ. And perhaps that is where it gets tricky. You see, the decision to follow Jesus Christ is what some would call a high reward/high risk challenge. The reward is obvious but some may wonder if the reward is worth the risk. You have to be prepared to help others make the same decision that you have made.

I do not believe that my decision gives me the right to tell someone else what to do. It does mean that the life I live must reflect that decision. I cannot simply say that Christ is my Savior and then lead a life where that seemingly applies only on Sunday mornings. If I do not lead a life with Christ all the time, 24/7 as it were, then it was a limited decision.

And while I can make the argument that following Christ is a better path, I cannot do it with threats and intimidation. And I am sorry if this offends some people, that is what many evangelists do today; they threaten and intimidate people, not provide proof that the path one walks with Christ is the better path.

Evangelism today has become, if you will, an embarrassment to the faith. Meant to bring people to Christ, it is, in reality, driving them away. Evangelists today either pervert the Good News for their own benefit (financial or otherwise) or create a scenario that suggests the outcome of life is fixed and the winners are already predetermined. I said it last week, when you create a world based only on one’s own views of the world and law, be it faith-based or otherwise, you create a quasi-moralistic society, not God’s Kingdom (adapted from “Taking Time To Do It Right”).

And while the style of worship is important, that is not evangelism! Borrowing an old line from “American Bandstand”, if it moves your soul, then that what is important. But what may work for one does not work for others. A preacher in casual clothes is great but then again so is a preacher in a nice robe. (Of course, the preacher who spends several thousand dollars on one suite is missing the point here.) Focusing on the style is called marketing and that is not what it is about.

Evangelism is about declaring the good news about what God is doing in the world today. Evangelism should challenge individuals to yield to Jesus, to let Jesus into their lives, and to allow the power of the Holy Spirit transform them into new creations. But it is more than that.

It involves proclaiming what God is doing in society right now to bring justice, liberation, and economic well-being for the oppressed. It means to call people to participate (nasty word there, don’t you think) in the revolutionary transformation of the world. Evangelism is what Jesus said it was: broadcasting the good news that the Kingdom of God is breaking loose in human history, that a new social order is being created, and that we are all invited to share in what is happening. God is changing the world that is into the world that should be and we are invited to live this good news by breaking down the barriers of racism, sexism, and social class.

Evangelism requires that we declare the Gospel not just by word but also by deed and we show God’s presence in this world by working to eliminate poverty, present unjust discrimination and stand against political tyranny. Evangelism call us to create a church through which God’s will is done, here on earth, as it is in Heaven. (borrowed and adapted from Tony Campolo’s foreword to Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel: Luke and Acts).

Now, when I think about that discussion of evangelism, I can’t help but think that we aren’t even close to meeting it. It seems to me in so many ways that we are doing just the opposite and then turning around and saying that we are doing in the name of Christ. There was a time a few years back when I thought we were headed in the right direction but somewhere along the line we got sidetracked and perhaps even lost.

I don’t think there is a person on this earth who does not understand that following Christ is a difficult task. For some, the difficulty is so great that they don’t even bother doing it. This has been clear from the beginning when the writers of the Gospels noted how the people who followed Christ got fewer and fewer as the understanding of the message became clearer and clearer. Others have changed the Gospel to make it easier to follow.

I cannot help but think that too many people follow someone because the ideas that person has seem so simple and easy to understand. And while we would like things to be easy, that is not always the case. Peter was looking for a simple and easy way to forgive someone and Jesus offers something a little more complicated.

And what Jesus offers runs counter to what we feel. In a society that demands retribution, Jesus suggests forgiveness. And not just a quick forgiveness but a rather lengthy and extensive forgiveness. Consistently throughout the Gospels, Jesus offers solutions that run counter to what we want to do. As Jesus pointed out in the Gospel lesson for today, we are quite willing to seek mercy for ourselves while denying mercy for others. And in the end, we will find out that approach will not work and our decision to follow is often impeded because such a decision takes us down a path we do not want to walk.

So we look for information and guidance but, in the end, we must make the decision. It is a decision made in the mind and with the heart; it is a decision not just for today but for one’s life.

In the New Testament lesson for today, Paul wrote to the Romans about cultivating new relationships. For me, Paul said that all were invited to the table and we were not the ones to decide if any particular person could or could not come to the table.

And I know that I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to such decisions as that. On more than one occasion, there has been someone whom I may not have invited to the communion rail because of what they had said or done regarding the church. But I was always reminded that it was not my decision about who could and who could not come to the table.

The challenge that we face today is two-fold. We have to rely on others for our knowledge but we are the ones who must make the decision about who to follow. As the Israelites began their journey, they were guided by the Pillar of Fire and a Cloud.

Even if they did not know where they were going, the Israelites understood who they were following and what that decision meant. True, even when they did get to the Promised Land, they did not understand it, just as those who followed Christ for three years did not completely understand at first what was happening that weekend in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago. But 1) God never left them and 2) they stayed with the decision.

So, shall you follow Christ, knowing that, while the destination is know, the path we must walk to get there is not an easy one? It is not the only option one has in today’s world. But I do believe that it is the only one in which the outcome is certain and by your thoughts, words, deeds, and actions have a chance to make that outcome possible here on earth as it is in Heaven.

“Taking Time To Do It Right”


A quick note – this replaces an earlier announcement.

I am at Grace United Methodist Church in Slate Hill, NY this Sunday, September 7, 2014. The Scriptures for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A) are Exodus 12: 1 – 14, Romans 13: 8 – 14, and Matthew 18: 15 – 20. The service is at 10 am and you are invited to attend.

A quick reminder – don’t forget the pre-Advent Bible Study that we are having at our house on the four Sundays in October; see “Understanding Advent In The 21st Century” or the invitation on Facebook for further information.

I had a thought in place when I began this piece that lead me to entitle it “Taking Time”. But as I looked at things, the title expanded to “Taking Time To Do It Right”, in part because that was more to the point I wish to make. And if you are going to take the time to do things right, one ought to do things right, right?

As one who consciously follows the lectionary reading, it is correct and proper to follow the readings from Genesis with readings from Exodus. But, in one sense, it isn’t logical to include a passage describing the preparation for Passover in readings for September.

With the calendar that was used at the time of the writing of Exodus, the first month of the new year was in April, which explains why it is celebrated then. So why read about the preparation for Passover in September?

Under the present Jewish calendar, the first month of the New Year is September, which is why Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, occurs during this time (this year it will begin on 26 September this year).

So even though Passover is some six months away, we can still look at the preparations needed for that occasion. But note that while the Passover meal is set for the fourteenth day of the month the actual preparations for the meal begin some two weeks prior to the actual meal. There are also instructions for how Passover is to be celebrated after the Israelites ultimately reach the Promised Land.

In His instructions, God places a sense of urgency on the meal, “Eat the meal but also be ready to leave”.

Now, I have been a follower of the legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, for almost as long as I have been a follower of John Wesley. In preparing his basketball players and students for life, John Wooden created what has become known as his “Pyramid for Success.” On paper, it is more of a triangle but it consists of a number of thoughts and maxims that encapsulate John Wooden’s concept of success.

One of those maxims which I feel applies in this case is “failing to prepare is preparing to fail” and I think that it applies in this case. And in thinking about Coach Wooden and his UCLA basketball program, I couldn’t help but remember something Richard “Digger” Phelps did prior to the UCLA – Notre Dame game where the Irish defeated the Bruins and ended the UCLA 88-game winning streak on January 19, 1974. During one of the practices prior to that game, Coach Phelps, in having the team anticipate victory, had the players practice cutting down the nets so that they would know how to do it right. And when that victory did occur, the team was ready for the celebration.  (And as a quick aside to the matter, Coach Phelps is a local boy from Beacon.)

Another maxim that came to mind was “be quick but don’t hurry.” If one observed a UCLA basketball practice run by John Wooden, one observed practices run at speeds matching and exceeding game conditions. If mistakes were going to be made, they were going to be made in practice when they could be corrected and not during the game. And more than one player noted that it made the game seem easier.

The instructions that the Israelites were given regarding the eating of the meal were not given for their comfort but, rather, to prepare them for God’s quick and miraculous delivery. The Israelites had to be quick but not hurry when the time for the Passover came to be.

Now, I am not today nor have I ever advocated any sort of “End Times” theology. It has always amazed me that many of those who do espouse the idea that 1) they are going to Heaven and you are not and 2) there is nothing that anyone can do about it.

And while I am not crazy about that first point, especially others have said it to me, it is that second point that bothers me more than anything else.

If there is nothing that we can do about the world around us, if the violence and destruction that seem so prevalent today are the way that it is going to be, then what was the point of Jesus coming to earth the first time? Let’s not worry about His Second Coming, why did He come the first time?

Let me pause here for some thirty seconds while we think about this; you will understand why in a moment or two.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Let us contemplate the words that Paul wrote for today and what it meant then and what it means now. Paul was writing with a sense of urgency, that Christ was coming and we had to be prepared for His arrival. But he also was warning everyone not to get so focused on that task that they forget their regular tasks.

It appears from the historical record that many individuals, convinced that Christ was about to return, had given up paying bills, sold all their possessions, and sat around partying and having a good time. Paul pointed out that they still needed to focus on their daily lives but lead those daily lives in such a way as to let everyone know that they were Christian.

But how do we do that? Do we simply say every now and then “I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior” and then go about our business as if nothing happened? Or do we make it a point to let everyone know that we are a Christian and do so in such a way that really just irritates them? Or do we live our lives as an embodiment of Christ, treating everyone, no matter who they may be or what they may believe, in the same manner that Christ taught us?

For me, the words of Genesis and Romans speak of preparation, not for a time we cannot predict but rather to live a life today that will work against the powers of evil, death, and destruction.

I will admit that this is not an easy task, especially in today’s society. There are those today who see the world in black and white, devoid of any color or shading. Some of these individuals would create a faith-based society, guided by their own views of the world and law, but it would be a rather limited moralistic society. Others are just the opposite, placing their values and thoughts in a world in which they claim faith has no place; yet, by their very words and actions, they would create an almost identical faith-based, quasi-moralistic society.

If either of those solutions is to be the answer, then I would suggest we prepare for a rather abrupt ending to life. Because that is what we will get. And it is not the life that I feel that we are asked to live or the way we are to believe.

What is the life that we have been asked to live? How, in a world of increasing sectarian and secular strife can we ever find true peace? How can we make the world that Paul envisioned in his letters to the Galatians and the Colossians be the world of today?

Hear those words again, though perhaps in a slightly different matter. Dr. Clarence Jordan held a degree in agriculture from the University of Georgia in 1933. While in school, he became convinced that the roots of poverty were spiritual as well as economic. As a result, he went to seminary and earned a Ph. D. in New Testament Greek. He then took this background and 1) created the Koinonia Farm in Georgia in 1942 and 2) translated most of the New Testament from the original Greek into what is known as The Cotton Patch Gospels.

The development of the Koinonia Farm, which is still in operation, was an effort to show that a life built upon Christian principles could work and that segregation and inequality had no place in ordinary life. That it survived the 50s and 60s is a testament to the correctness, if you will, of the approach.

The Cotton Patch Gospels are written with references to Southern geography and Southern tradition but they are still true to the words and thoughts of the original writers.

Paul’s Letter to the Galatians became the “Letter to the Churches of the Georgia Convention” and Galatians 3: 28 became

No more is one a white man and another a Negro; no more is one a slave and the other a free man; no longer is one a male and the other a female. For you all are as one in Christ Jesus…noble heirs of a spiritual heritage.

Paul’s Letter to the Colossians became the “Letter to the Christians in Columbus” and Colossians 3: 11 became

The pattern for the new man is same for a Negro and a white man, a church member and non-church-member, foreigner, Mexican, employee, employer,…Christ is everything in everybody.

Jordan continued

Wear the clothes, then, that will identify you as a people whom God has selected and dedicated and loved. Your outfit should include a tender heart, kindness, genuine humility, loyalty, persistence. Put up with one another, and freely forgive each other if one has a grip against somebody. You all forgive as freely as the Lord forgave you. Overall all these things wear love, which is the robe of maturity. And let Christ’s peace, into which you were called as one fellowship, order your lives.

And just as Paul called the Romans, the Colossians, and the Galatians to seek a different and newer world, so too are we called to do the same. It may be that we need to reevaluate our thinking process.

When I was working on my doctorate, I was introduced to the concept or notion of “wait time”. This was the time that the teacher or instructor had to wait after introducing something new before proceeding. Research showed that a minimum of thirty seconds was needed for an idea to be established in a listener’s mind. And thirty seconds can be an extremely long time; as you undoubtedly found out a few moments ago.

And in today’s world, we don’t like to wait, even for thirty seconds; we want to respond now and in kind. We have, I believe, taken the thinking of the Bible concerning violence and anger and turned it around. We have become too quick to anger and too slow to think, to reverse the words of James. In James 1: 19, we read,

Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage.

Clarence Jordan, in his Cotton Patch Gospels, translated this as,

Listen here, my dear brothers. Let every man of you be quick with his ears, slow with his tongue, and hard to get riled up, because a man’s temper contributes nothing to God’s cause.”

In a world where we are too often quick to anger, we read in Ecclesiastes 7: 9,

Don’t be quick to fly off the handle.
Anger boomerangs. You can spot a fool by the lumps on his head.

But you will say to me that there is a point in time where we have done everything we can possibly do and we are now entitled to treat another person as a pariah for ever after. How can we respond to the world in a manner that will allow us to find peace?

Let us take a second look at the passage from Matthew that is the Gospel reading for today. Matthew’s Gospel was written to a persecuted, predominantly Jewish church, trying to find a way after the destruction of the Temple. They were also trying to find a way to include Gentiles in their new community. So conflict was a part of their beginning and it was probably a life-threatening issue.

But Matthew reminds the readers that Jesus is speaking about reconciliation and He does not allow for a quick dismissal of those who have hurt us or threaten to hurt us. Even His final words, spoken about those for which reconciliation has failed, are a call to seek and include in our love those with whom we are in conflict. It is a story that invites us into an adventure of constant, unfailing reaching out, seeking understanding, and loving sacrificially.

It is a story that tells us that once we make the decision to follow Christ, we are never off the hook of forgiving and seeking reconciliation. We are called to be those who learn to speak, even in our moments of greatest threat and greatest conflict, words of peace, not retaliation, words of compassion, not rejection. (adapted from http://sacredise.com/blog/?p=1473)

At some point in time, we will have to realize that our walk with Christ will not be an easy one but it will be the right way to go. But we knew that it would not be easy and we knew that it would require an effort on our part to take the time to do it right.

There was only one way that the Israelites would get out of bondage in Egypt. The Romans, enduring persecution for their belief, knew that only one way to lead them to freedom. The early church, followers of Christ, understood that there was only one way to go, and that it would take time to do it the right way.

Shall we rush to the first thing that comes to mind or shall we take the time to do it right? Shall we prepare now or just wait?

“Changing The World”


Meditation for 31 August 2014, the 12th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Labor Day

Exodus 3: 1 – 15, Romans 12: 9 – 21, Matthew 16: 21 — 28

I don’t know about you but there is something “different” about this being the last day of August and yet being the Labor Day weekend. But every now and then, the 1st day of September is going to be the 1st Monday in September and Labor Day weekend begins in August.

I felt that because it was a little different I would have a little different take on the idea of Labor Day and focus on that which we can do with our labors.

Some years ago I used about a phrase that rather intrigued me at the time. It was “vision with action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” This phrase comes from Joel A. Barker and, while I have never heard of this individual, he took the idea of Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm shift and applied it to the business world. (from “What’s The Next Step?”)

Now, as it happened, eight months later I was at the same church and I used a phrase that Willie Nelson said, “one person cannot change the world but one person with a message could.” As I recall, he pointed out that Jesus and the message he carried on the back roads of the Galilee was one prime example. (from “What Does Your Church Look Like?”)

But I didn’t tie the two statements together. Now, obviously I think that these two statements work together. But I think that the question remains as to how it would apply to each one of us. Clearly Jesus had a vision and he was developing a plan that would implement His mission. And clearly we, individually and collectively, are the means by which that mission will be accomplished.

But I sometimes wonder if we, individually and collectively, understand that is what we are supposed to be doing. We are so stuck in this time and place that we cannot see create a new vision. And if we are unable to create a new vision, then, as the saying from Proverbs 29: 18 goes, “without vision, the people perish.”

So you will say to me, “Who am I to take on the world?” You will say to me, “I cannot do anything significant in this world.” You will say, “I can’t even talk right! I wouldn’t know what to say!”

And I will say that you know your Bible, especially the Old Testament pretty well for your responses are the responses of Moses and the prophets when they were called by God and tell the people.

I have used a quote by George Bernard Shaw about asking why and why not but always from a reference to the times that Robert Kennedy used it during his Presidential campaign in 1968. It would appear that Senator Kennedy borrowed the idea of the quote from his brother, President Kennedy. In his speech to the Irish Parliament on June 28, 1963 John Kennedy said, in part,

This is an extraordinary country. George Bernard Shaw, speaking as an Irishman, summed up an approach to life: Other people, he said “see things and say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were and I say: ‘Why not?'”

It is that quality of the Irish, that remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination, that is needed more than ever today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics, whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were, and ask why not. It matters not how small a nation is that seeks world peace and freedom, for, to paraphrase a citizen of my country (William Jennings Bryan), “the humblest nation of all the world, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of Error.”

And if does not matter the size of the nation, then it should not matter how many individuals seek to change the world.

There has to be a point where the cries of the people, both here in this country and around the world, are so loud that people must respond. How long can we go on in a world where the rich keep getting richer, the powerful continue to grab more and more power for themselves while there is a continued increase in the number of poor and the resources of the world diminished, all in the name of greed and the lust for power?

How long can we continue in a world where the powerful and the rich see other people as pawns in their own games, not as individuals with their own rights?

How long will it take before we realize that anger and violence will never remove anger and violence from this world? How long will the words of the Bible which speak of peace be ignored simply because we think that it is easier to respond in kind, with hatred, anger, and violence?

The thing is that we probably cannot change the world by ourselves if all we are interested in is ourselves. I don’t know what it is but it seems to me that when you begin to become rich and powerful, your focus becomes on keeping your riches and your power; you become self-centered and you know longer care about how you became rich or power. You only care about staying that way and you don’t care what you have to do to maintain that. You become blind to the fact that in your grab for all there is, you ultimately have everything and there is nothing left. And if there is nothing left, then sooner or later, you must consume yourself. To ignore others, to not share what you have will lead to your demise and destruction. It is, I believe, the inevitable outcome of greed; to be consumed by your own desires.

For whatever reason, this is what we have come to believe in our society; that we are incapable of seeing beyond today and we no longer have a vision for the future. And if we are to survive, individually and collectively, we must break the cycle of the present and began to see the future.

The term “paradigm shift” is an often abused and definitely misunderstood phrase in today’s society. To have a true paradigm shift, one must change their view of the present situation, not merely seek a change. Too many people today think that any change in the way we do things, especially if it is radical or steps outside the normal operation, is a paradigm shift.

But no matter how much change occurs, if it is all external and the message remains the same, nothing will actually change. It doesn’t do any good to change the appearance of things if the thinking behind the changes is the same. Thomas Kuhn, the creator of the term (from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions), called a paradigm shift a complete change in thinking. (adapted from “The Decision We Must Make”)

And this is where each one of us has to make a decision. Shall we try to change the world in terms of the present mode of thinking or is there an alternative way to seek solutions to the problems of the world? Quite honestly, I don’t see how we can change the world if we don’t seek alternative solutions.

It is important that we note how Jesus responded to Peter upon Peter’s exclamation that Jesus’ impending death and resurrection were impossible. Of course, under present thinking, Peter was right but Jesus was offering a new way to see the world.

Think about what Paul is writing in Romans, “if your enemy is hungry, give them something to eat; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.” Paul, referring to the Old Testament Scriptures, echoes what Jesus told the disciples, and spoke of actions that ran counter to popular and current opinion.

In his book, The Age of Unreason, Charles Handy noted that Jesus changed the thinking of the time by teaching that the meek shall inherit the earth, the poor shall be blessed, and the first shall be last in the ultimate scheme of things (adapted from “Whose House?”).

I will not say that we, individually and/or collectively, cannot change the world. But it will be rather difficult to do so without a vision that does not speak of the world we envision. And our track record in that regard is rather dismal, if the present state of the world is any indication.

Moses feared that he would not be able to lead the people out of Egypt. But God pointed out that He would be there all along the way and that success would follow.

But, if we think about what Jesus said to the disciples that day some two thousand years ago and we accept Jesus in our hearts and our minds, then the change that we seek is possible.

When we accept Christ as our Savior, the world changes. Oh, it will not necessarily be an immediate change and it will not change unless we help to make the change. But the world will change.

There are those who would say that the world cannot change and we have to accept the outcome that lies before us. But that was the world into which Christ came and the world did change.

We see a world without hope, without justice, without compassion and we wonder if there ever will be a time when, in the words of Amos (5: 24) justice will flow like a stream and righteousness will be like a river that never runs dry.

When Jesus stood before the people and announced the beginning of His ministry, He said that He had come to proclaim the Good News to the poor, pardon the prisoners, recovery sight to the blind, set the burdened and battered free, and proclaim the Jubilee. It was time to act.

And it is time to act today. The fact is that we alone, even collectively, cannot change the world in a way that would really mean change. But in accepting Christ as our Savior, we accept a new vision and we are given the ability and power to do so.

If you have not done so, you need to open your heart, mind, and soul to Christ. If you have accepted Christ as your Savior, you need to open your heart, mind, and soul to the power of the Holy Spirit and become empowered to change the world.

““From Which Direction Does The Ministry Grow?”


Meditation for August 24, 2014, the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Exodus 1: 8 – 2: 10, Romans 12: 1- 8, Matthew 16: 13 – 20

This is for this coming Sunday.  I am trying to get back into a writing mode.

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In 1970, while I was a student at Northeast Missouri State College (now Truman State University), there was a transfer of power in the office of the President. But this was more than simply a change in the person who was in charge; it marked the beginning of a change in the attitude and perhaps the intellectual direction the college was taking.

When I began classes at Kirksville, it was known as Northeast Missouri State Teachers College and its primary goal was the preparation of teachers. In 1968, the “Teachers” part was dropped, though I suspect that the purpose and goal of the college remained the same. Ultimately, the goal changed and the name changed to reflect that change. I think this all began when Charles McClain became President of the college in 1970.

Now, during the first four years that I was at Kirksville, three individuals served as President. I knew who each of them were but I had never met them and the odds were very good that I would never actually meet them.

Each one of those three gentlemen operated on the theory of an “imperial presidency”. They may be on the campus but they, to the best of my knowledge, never interacted with the students and with only limited interaction with the faculty. The only time that they may have interacted with the students was on those occasions when they ate in the private dining room off the student dining room in one of the dormitories.

So, for some reason, when Charles McClain became the new President of the college, I decided that I would invite him to be my guest for dinner in the dormitory one evening. And with this in mind, I went over to his office one afternoon, found that he was free for a few moments, and offered the invitation for him to be my guest that evening for dinner. Much to my surprise, he agreed.

As I recall, I went about my business for the rest of the afternoon and then came back to his office around 6 or so to meet him and walk across the campus to the dormitory cafeteria. I do not recall what we talked about that evening though it was probably about college life. What I do remember is that no one recognized him as the new President of the college and assumed that he was my father.

Even the cafeteria workers, employees of the college, did not recognize their new boss. And quite honestly, that would have been expected. The overall “bosses” of the college never interacted with the staff and the only adults that came to dinner with the students were the parents. So it would have been reasonable for them to think that this gentleman in the suit accompanying me to dinner was my father and not the President of the college.

I cannot say how much change happened after that evening. The college would become a university in a couple of years and then ultimately drop the direction from its name when its mission and direction were more clearly defined. But something had to change when the new President did something that none of his predecessors (or the ones that I knew) had ever done.

In the 1980s we would see changes in the business world that spoke of new management ideas, one of which was the involvement of the top level managers in the day-to-day operations of the organization.

Now, I have written about this before (I told the dinner story in “What I See” and the nature of change in “To Search For Excellence”) but it bears repeating, especially in light of the situation that the Israelites face in the Old Testament reading for today. When the upper levels of an organization do not know what is going on, that organization is really in trouble.

And what studies on excellence have shown time and time again is that the best change comes from the bottom up, not from the top down. And if upper level management is going to embrace change in the organization, then they must be actively involved in the process. They cannot simply make a decision that change will occur and then expect it to take place.

The United Methodist Church is faced today with perhaps two problems. But being an aging church is, in my opinion, not one of the problems, provided you see age as a number on the calendar and not a state of mind. You can be young according to the calendar but have a relatively old state of mind. And this is evident in how they view the world.

Too many people in positions of management and/or power hold onto a world view that is outdated and limited. These individuals view the Bible as a fixed and unchanging law book. Theirs is a view of a world some two thousand years ago, when knowledge of the world was limited.

The second problem is that the size of the United Methodist Church makes it impossible to facilitate change and almost encourages a top-down model of operation.

But such models very seldom work and by the time the instructions are delivered from the top to the bottom, the meaning behind the instructions is lost. Now, I am fully aware that the only way the Israelites, wandering in the wilderness, could receive the Ten Commandments was from the top down. But later on, when it came time to implement laws based on the Ten Commandments, then things got confusing.

Second, I also recognize that not much can be done about the present structure of the United Methodist Church. But we can either be bound by the structure, in which case, we lose, or we can, at the lower levels, where all the fun is, take it upon ourselves to do what it is that must be done, remembering the wonderful quasi-biblical phrase that is is better to seek forgiveness than ask for permission. And as I was writing this, it occurred to me that if any one of the Bishops of the United Methodist Church were to wander into my church on some Sunday, I probably wouldn’t know who he or she was. But that wouldn’t stop me from introducing myself and finding out if they needed anything or information about the church.

When you read the Old Testament reading for this Sunday, you can quite easily get the impression that the Pharaoh had no clue why the Israelites were even in Egypt. And because he did not know why they were there, he had ever reason to fear them. What happens when change is occurring at the lower levels of the organization and the upper levels of management don’t know what is going on?

The same is true for the United Methodist Church today. We still hold to a view that everyone should be in church on Sunday and when they are somewhere else, we get worried and scared. But we have forgotten the mission of the original church and what it is that we are supposed to be doing as people who have chosen to follow Christ.

All the talk about splitting the church over sexuality only amplifies the one problem that I mentioned above; an outdated and limited world-view. And as long as we think that limiting who can be a part of our church, we are showing our age and that we don’t know the mission of the church.

We can, if we want, wonder who the next Peter might be. Who will be the person upon which we can build, or in this case, rebuild the church? Quite honestly, I don’t see another Wesley, Whitfield, Boehm, Otterbein, Asbury, or any one of the many founding fathers and mothers of our denomination stepping forward.

I think it would be folly to look for one person to revitalize and/or change our church. But this isn’t a call for one individual; it is a call for many individuals. It has always struck me that as this denomination has gotten older and bigger, it has forgotten from which the strength of the church came, the laity. And maybe it is time for the laity, individually and collectively to step forward and do what they should have been doing all along.

What was it that Paul wrote to the Romans? Use the skills and talents that God has given each of you to the fullest possible extent? I wouldn’t wait around for someone at the top of the organizational pyramid to come up with an idea and hope that it will somehow work in our environment.

What works well for one church often times will fail in another. It isn’t about the lack of people or the lack of motivation; it is how well one mission idea fits within the scheme of each church. A plan that calls for 1000 people will not work in a church with only 10 members. But the church with 10 members can do a lot if it works with other churches, providing talents and skills that the other churches don’t have.

Not everyone can go on a mission trip but everyone can support a mission trip. But for this to work, the people who go have to meet the people who are supporting the trip. We need to start putting faces on the people that make up the church and not simply put a statement in the bulletin. We really need to get back to our roots, to that which helped the church grow.

Any organization that forgets where it came from is bound to fail. The church grew from the bottom up, with its roots in the soil of its community. Each community is different so each ministry is different. But the results of each ministry, unique and different, is the opening of the doors to the Kingdom for all the people.

So take the words that Jesus spoke to Peter so many years ago and put them in your heart. Each one of us is the rock upon which the church will grow and as it grows from our hearts, with all of our love and care, we can see the direction the ministry will take.

Understanding Advent in the 21st Century

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You are invited to join us during the four Sundays in October (October 5, 12, 19, and 26), from 5 to 7 pm, in the tradition of the early United Methodist Church, at the home of Tony Mitchell and Ann Walker for a four week Bible study to prepare for Advent.

Amidst the trials and tribulations of the world today, let us read the Scriptures for each week of Advent and consider the following questions:

  1. Why do we celebrate Advent?
  2. What is the meaning of Advent?
  3. How do we prepare for the coming of Christ in the 21st Century?
  4. What will our response be?

You are welcome to come for one, two, three, or all four sessions. Please let Ann and me know that you are coming.

“A Pre-Advent Bible Study”


All the details haven’t been worked out yet but we are thinking of hosting a pre-Advent Bible study at our place in October.

#1 Yes, I know Advent doesn’t start until November 30th but weather issues suggest having the study in October.

#2 I have come up with the following questions/thoughts:

Amidst the trials and tribulations of the world today, let us consider the following questions:

  1. What is the meaning of Advent?
  2. Why do we celebrate Advent?
  3. How do we prepare for the coming of Christ in the 21st Century?
  4. What will our response be?

#3 What questions would you cover during such a study? (For those reading this on Facebook, I would appreciate it if you would also add your comments on the blog page as well. Thanks!)