“Taking Time”

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I will be at Grace United Methodist Church in Slate Hill, NY next 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.

“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!)

“Hard Times”


Meditation for July 20, 2014, the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Genesis 28: 10 – 19, Romans 8: 12 – 25, and Matthew 13: 24 – 30, 36 – 43

And the scripture tells us that Jacob took a stone and made a pillow out of it. Even now, so many years after I first read that passage, I still don’t see how Jacob slept that night.

My pillow is very special to me; I once had a pillow that carried my head at nights while growing up and going to school. It finally died, of course, and I have sought to find another one that gives me such comfort.

Maybe that’s why Jacob had the dream of the angels climbing the stairway to heaven. With a stone for a pillow, you aren’t going to be comfortable and perhaps a little more open to a dream. But in the end, that hard pillow leads to an encounter with God that says the future will be better than the present.

I cannot help but think that we are experiencing hard times. I will even admit that when I see the news and all the troubles that circle this world I begin to think that maybe those who have predicted these are the End Times may be right after all.

But the problem with that scenario, at least for me, is that those who prophecy that these are the End Times feel that only certain people are going to win and that it is all fixed. I have never really liked the idea that the outcome was fixed before we even started, though there have been times when I was certain I wasn’t playing on a level playing field (read the Bartlett High School in band competition in 1966 and 1967; but that’s for another time).

The Gospel reading for this Sunday would also suggest that there is a fixed outcome and that, come Judgement Day, the good will be separated from the evil, the good will survive and the evil will perish.

Where does that leave us? First, what seed are we that got planted in the field. In Clarence Jordan’s translation of Matthew, he uses the term “certified seed”. Farmers know that is seed that is clean and ready to plant, with no weeds or other items that might interfere with the planting process. That is seed that has been prepared for the planting; the seed that the enemy sows has just about everything imaginable in it and when it is planted, who knows what might pop up.

So, are we the seed that was certified? Are we the seed that has been processed and purified? If we are to be planted in the fields, it would be nice to know that we are ready to be planted.

My problem with a vision of the End that says that certain people will win and others will lose always says that this is worked out in advance. And that doesn’t give much hope to those people who aren’t on the “good” list.

But that isn’t what Jesus said or did? Yes, he did say that the good will survive and the bad will lose. But He also gave us the opportunity to become one of the good and cast away our bad life. And yes, that is a hard choice to make at times. We want the good life now, not later.

And yet, that is what Paul is telling the Romans; the good life comes later but you have to give up the bad life right now!

One of the things that you learn in chemistry is that reactions don’t always go right away. Certain factors have to be in place and occasionally you have to add a little something to the process to get the reaction going. But after the reaction gets going, things go pretty well.

Sure these are “hard times” but they will only remain such if we let them. We have been given a great opportunity to see a future that is beyond description but we have to make some choices right now.

Maybe we don’t need to sleep with a stone fr a pillow but I know that the decision not to follow Christ could cause us to toss and turn all night long, undoubtedly like Jacob must have done. In our discomfort, perhaps we will see the path that we will lead us out of our own hard times and into the good times.

But it doesn’t take a pillow of stone for us to change our lives; all it takes is for us to open our hearts and minds to Christ and give up the hard life of sin and death for the good life in Christ.

“It’s A Matter Of Priorities”


Meditation for July 13, 2014, the 5th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Genesis 25: 19 – 34, Romans 8: 1- 11, and Matthew 13: 1 – 9

For some, the Old Testament reading today gives proof of the fixed outcome of life. After all, it will be Jacob who becomes Israel and fathers the twelve sons who will be the foundation of that nation. So there has to be a reason for Jacob trying to get Esau’s birthright; for without it, Jacob will never have the means and resources to become the one to father the nation.

But what if Esau hadn’t been hungry, what then? And what if Jacob had just given his older brother the stew without question or cost? Would the story still have turned out the same?

In cosmology, the study of the universe, a idea that says that this present universe is just one of many universes, one of many possible outcomes. And in this scheme of multiple universes (or multiverses), this present one, the one in which we live, is just an accident of time and place?

I have a hard time with that idea, if for no other reason than I believe that God did create the universe in a particularly unique way. But the story of life is a matter of choices, good and bad, right and wrong. It is entirely possible that the story of how we would have gotten here would have come out the same even if Esau hadn’t been hungry or Jacob had been kind enough to give his brother a meal.

The one thing we know at this point in the story is that Jacob’s future may be very bleak. As the second son, he doesn’t get a whole lot in the way of an inheritance. And his encounter with God, the encounter that results in his name becoming Israel, is still in the future.

And how much of the family history do he and Esau know? They are the second generation of Abraham’s family and they may not have a viable understanding of the covenant their grandfather made with God so many years before. As I was growing up, we knew very little about the history of our family before either of my parents’ grandparents. It wasn’t until some twenty years ago that I discovered my family lineage traces back to Martin Luther and that my calling to the pulpit, which I answered before I discovered my family’s history, was part of a long line of ministers. So we might want to know what Esau and Isaac knew about their family. Did they know that their father had a brother?

For me, it would seem that they didn’t know much of the history and Jacob was more concerned with his own life at this moment that he was with the future of his family. Because as the second son, his future wasn’t that bright. And Esau comes home one day very hungry. And Jacob has the opportunity to gain what he might not otherwise have, the birthright of the oldest son.

I know I am reading a whole lot into this story but why else would Jacob do what he did? His priority at this point is himself and only himself; he has no idea that in a few years he is going to encounter God and his life is going to change. While I am sure and certain that we know when we encountered God and made the decision that changed our lives, up until that moment, did you know that in the next moment that you would encounter God?

Now, we might know when it is that we will encounter God but we certainly need to be in a situation where that encounter can occur. And at this point, I want to jump from being the one who encounters God to the one who prepares the moment.

Do we, in the way we live our life each day, show people the presence of God in our lives? One of the points Paul makes in his letter to the Romans is that the way we live our life has a lot to do with this. After all, if we are only interested in ourselves, we are not likely to find God at all. And if we are not preparing the ground in the right way, it is not very likely that our efforts will produce anything.

Preparing the way is more than just telling people about Christ. Of course, if you don’t tell people about Christ, they will never know that He existed but you have to show people, especially in today’s world, that He does exist. Look around and tell me what you see in the morning. The peace and calm of the rising sun is disturbed by news of fighting and violence around the world. Even our own denomination is dominated by hatred and exclusion and talk of schism.

Is it any wonder that people don’t believe there is a God or that He even cares for us? If the people who claim to be God’s children are fighting among themselves, what hope is there for others who think that they have been cast aside?

So we must prepare the ground so that our efforts to help others find Christ are not wasted. It will take more than simply opening our hearts or our minds or our souls. It will take learning who we are and what we are called to do.

It means getting beyond the law because the law only restricts us, it does not help us grow. It means looking beyond the moment and seeing what the future holds. Esau cared very little for the future because he felt he was dying at the present.

Right now, the future doesn’t seem to good and I think that is because we are more worried about the present. What will it take to bring people to Christ? It will be a group of people who show the presence of Christ in their lives through their words, their deeds, and their actions. They will be the ones who help the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the needy, and the oppressed. They will not worry about the color of the person’s skin, the state of their bank account, or the lifestyle. They will say that all are welcome.

They will know that those who were called Methodists have been doing this for over two hundred years. It is the call that they have received and the call they have answered.

I truly believe that too many people, Methodists included, have forgotten what their priorities are and have gone back to the old days. I think it is a matter of priority that we 1) remember who we are and have been and 2) get back to doing what it is that we are supposed to be doing.

There are some who are not going to like that, who feel that adherence to the law is far more important that welcoming all who seek Christ. The law cannot save us but it can keep us from being saved.

I stare at the words Paul wrote to the Romans and I envision him writing the same letter to each one of us. What is our priority?