Thursday, January 11, 2018

Praying Forward for Good

   This Sunday marks the beginning of a week of concerted prayer for United Methodists across South Georgia. We are being invited to pray for our global church, God's work in local churches, and specifically for the United Methodist Church’s “Praying Our Way Forward” initiative, which launched January 1 and kicked off seventy-five weeks of focused prayer. Each annual conference around the world will take one week to pray for the mission of The United Methodist Church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and for the work of the Commission on a Way Forward. You can read daily prayers at https://www.sgaumc.org/prayingourwayforward
   This is something many in our church have been keenly following and lifting up in prayer for some time, even before our town-hall meetings in the fall of 2016. The Commission, created at the 2016 General Conference, was asked to bring proposals for how we might move forward as a denomination, especially concerning matters of biblical interpretation and human sexuality in the midst of broken trust by lay and clergy persons, and explore options to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church. Bishop Lawson Bryan, who was our guest speaker in September, mentioned in his invitation, “We are called to a posture of prayer, praying for God’s leadership to guide us effectively in fulfilling the mission of the church. All persons – clergy and laity, conferences and congregations – across the denomination are invited to pray for God’s guidance.”
   I was included in a group discussion with one of the members of the thirty-three person Commission a month ago, and heard early sketches of possible proposals that General Conference delegates would vote on in thirteen months. I felt good about their work, and believe that God is making a path. I heard options that allow most of the church to remain together, while giving some a graceful exit based on their convictions.
   There is much spiritual warfare being battled on this topic within every local church and denomination. We would be wrong not to join in or double-down on our efforts of praying for God's will to be done. As your pastor, I remain committed to seeking God's leading in ways that draw people in our community closer to God and with each other. Let us pray. Scott

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Cars Zooming Past

   I was sitting at our men's table group that gathers at 6:00 AM on Tuesdays. There was a lull in the conversation for guys to eat and I found myself gazing out the windows. The headlights of the cars, moving quickly past the Chick-fil-a on Highway 96, seemed to appear out of nowhere and continue on into the darkness. The shape of a school bus caught my attention, as it crossed under the traffic lights going north on Houston Lake Road, zipping along and heading to its first stop.
   "This is a great big world," I thought to myself. Something in that moment tugged at my heart. It has stayed with me.
   I had been thinking ahead to two morning meetings, a list of a dozen things that had to get done that day, and a week filled with opportunities to 'advance the ball down the field' for the church and God's work in our community. Yet, something about those cars moving past gave me reason to pause: every car, truck, and even school bus was loaded with expectations of a new day and all the tasks to be accomplished. We are all more alike than we often realize.
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   The season of Advent begins this week. Observed in churches around the world as a time of waiting and expectation for the arrival of a child born in a manger, the word itself is derived from the Latin word meaning "coming." Advent is about preparing for Christ to come into the world. Paul tells us, "But when the fulfillment of the time came, God sent his Son, born through a woman..."
   Maybe it was a little bit of Advent moving in my heart on Tuesday morning. The Holy Spirit works just like that. I certainly need to be daily reminded of my small place in the world. Christmas is like a reset button, reminding me that even though I am small, God's plans include me and everyone else zooming through life.
   My prayer is that we would allow the word of God, heard in worship and through our own personal devotional life, to take root in our hearts to prepare a place for Christ to enter again this Christmas. God has plans for us and for everyone. Plans for our good and his greatness. Grace and peace, Scott

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Gospel in the Middle of The Table

   Over the centuries, the church has given a variety of names to the meal that Jesus instituted as a commandment for those who follow him. We know it as the Lord's Supper, is breaking bread, the divine liturgy or mass, the service of table, or the sacrament of holy communion. It is known by all these names but none is more ancient than the name Eucharist. It is a Greek word that literally means thanksgiving. This sacrament, passed down directly from Jesus Christ to his followers and referenced throughout the Gospels as the center of worship for Christians, was named early on for the central prayer of thanksgiving, or eucharistia. The Eucharist is and means thanksgiving.
   When trying describe what the bible intends for our meals together, James White, noted United Methodist professor of worship, places thanksgiving at the top of the list. He writes, "It is hard to imagine thanksgiving as absent from the joyful action that bubbled over as the Jerusalem church broke bread with glad and generous hearts" (in Acts 2:46). In fact, Jesus lived out this thanksgiving with every meal he shared with his friends and followers. Thanksgiving is at the center of the Gospel.
   What we do this week, gathered around tables, is the very stuff of the Gospel. Thanksgiving is the good news. We sit and are thankful. We are nourished by what, for the most part, others have gathered and prepared. We suspend rivalries and enmity and celebrate. We slow down long enough to appreciate what we have and from where we have come. All of this is Thanksgiving and all of this is the life of faith. This is what it means to do life together as Christians. 
   You are in my prayers this week. Wherever you are, you are loved. You are forgiven. You are blessed and you are called to be a blessing. May these days find thanksgiving at their center. Grace and Peace, Scott

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Like Lightning Following Thunder

Grace always demands the answer of gratitude. Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning.... Here, at any rate, the two belong together, so that only gratitude can correspond to grace, and this correspondence cannot fail. Its failure, ingratitude, is sin, transgression. Radically and basically all sin is simply ingratitude.
- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics

   What a word: like thunder following lightning! Arguably the most significant Christian theologian of the past century, Karl Barth’s stood against the rise of fascism in Germany through two world wars. 
   His quote prompts me to ask, "What follows the lightning in my life?" When good things appear out of nowhere, what follows? What about when bad things happen?
   I believe that God's grace is available in the good and the bad. Am I willing to see it for what it is? I am keen on suffering, for no person should be. But, if in the suffering I am led by grace into a deeper of trust of God, then it seems that gratitude should follow even suffering. I am not fond of persecution. But, if others speaking against me causes me to pause, reflect and repent of the part of their story which is true, and repentance leads back back to the worship of God, then gratitude should follow even persecution.
   It is perfectly appropriate to offer up gratitude for the good, as we gather around tables of turkey this coming week. It is divinely right to reflect on how God is at work in the not-so-good to grow us in trust and love. They will know we are Christians by our love. May the good and bad of life be turned to love and thanksgiving, by God's grace.
   Grace, peace and cranberry sauce to you, Scott







Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Secret to Changing Others

   I’ve had a number of conversations lately on the topic of getting others to change. Many of these conversations have been in my head, others have been in my office, and others have happened in hallways or grocery aisles or out and about in the daily rhythm of life. To be honest, this topic has been at the forefront of most pastoral conversations I’ve had since submitting and entering the ministry in 1999. We all long for change: mostly other people to change. More about us in a second. 
   Is there is a clear-cut, fool-proof way to help other people change. Of course not. Yet, there is a truth from the scriptures that is born out from our experience. People rarely change because they are shamed into it. Change rarely comes because they are forced into it. And, lasting change almost never happens because of some transaction - "If you do this, I will do this." I read this just the other day:

Humans change in the process of love-mirroring, not by paying any price or debt. 
- Richard Rohr, p 132, The Divine Dance

   If I want others to change, it begins with me. I have to show love. It is like a mirror that reflects an image back to the other. The image I am reflecting must be love. Change in the other person of a relationship always begins with me. 
   Christianity is a social religion. We learn it from others and are commanded to share it with others. Really very little of it is personal or private. If there is, it is my own personal willingness to be changed, by grace outside of my own ability. Change is grace. Change is submission. It starts with me.
   Grace and peace, Scott




Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Memory prompts Action: Remember and Give Thanks

   We remember and give thanks.
   That’s what we do in the church. We remember … and we give thanks. We remember the story, from before time was kept through our own time and forward still, and we give thanks. We remember the story of Jesus Christ - who lived and loved and showed us how to love - and we remember the gift of the Holy Spirit that gave birth to Christ's church and are thankful we can be a part of God's ongoing work. We remember and give thanks.
   This weekend, as we celebrate All Saints Sunday, we will remember how the ministry we share now was embraced and lived by generations before us. We will remember by name those of our church family here at Bonaire who in the past year entered into the Communion of Saints. Names will be read, candles lit, lives honored, and holy memories stirred. We cannot begin to capture the fullness of their lives, but we can recall their place in our congregation and the ministry we carry on from them. And, no doubt, our minds will turn to others who touched our lives with God’s grace and showed us the way of faithful living. We will be invited to call their names, too.
   Finally, before each hour of worship is done, we will remember the words of Jesus, who said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me," in 1 Corinthians 11. Together we will share in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Jesus instructs us that memory prompts action. We remember and give thanks.
   May we be changed for the better by it. Grace and Peace, Scott

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

We all need encouragement

   It was just the boys and I for dinner the other night, so we pulled into a fine dining establishment. It is one of those with a drive-through and is perfect for three hungry guys. As we were standing at the counter placing our order, a dozen employees to our left all shouted something at the same time. When it happened a few minutes later I asked an employee, standing nearby, to explain. She said they shout together whenever someone working the drive-thru has a big order come through, as a way of encouraging each other. I loved it!
   Maybe we need more shouting in church, rallying around people as a way of encouragement. We are all in need of encouragement. We are a community of women and men following Jesus. Following is not easy. We need the encouragement. I am reminded of that quote from a few weeks ago: Be aware, every person you meet is fighting a great battle.
  • We should rally around the parents of small children and the parents of teenagers. And teenager with parents. They all need encouragement!
  • We should rally around those facing illness. We should rally around those in helping professions who go to work everyday to deliver healing. 
  • We should rally around educators, and workers, and anyone who goes to work to make a difference, great or small. We all need the encouragement. 
   Every time someone walks through the doors of our church, God is ready to use us. Every time. We have the chance to give encouragement, to share a plan, to offer a call to action that would lead them to victory. Maybe we need more shouting and noise in church: in worship, in the hallways, in our classrooms.
   Grace and peace, Scott

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

My Mary and Martha Life

While Jesus and his disciples were traveling, Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his message. By contrast, Martha was preoccupied with getting everything ready for their meal. So Martha came to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to prepare the table all by myself? Tell her to help me.” The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. 
It won’t be taken away from her.” John 10:38-42

by Caspar Luiken, 1672-1708
   The heart of God, revealed through the Word, is intended to jar us out of comfort and return us to a place of unease that results in our trusting God for everything. This is why so many passages strike nerves and catch us off guard. None more, for me, than this passage about these conflicted sisters.
   You see, I am both of them; at least, I strive to be like Mary. I have been seeking a sense of inner peace and rest, nurtured by a rhythm of prayer and release, for a few years now. I believe that my heart is being turned toward the way of Mary. I also know that my mind works like Martha! As I write this I have a scribbled list beside me of the dozen things I need to do before my head hits the pillow tonight. I have to complete them all today, in order to have time tomorrow to get that list done. Each day, in this regard, feels like the previous.
   Yet, there are moments that the beating of my heart reaches the corner of my mind and I remember, "Before I ever accomplished anything or every failed to achieve the tasks before me, I am God's Beloved." In the frantic pace of trying to get it all done, I too often rush past this Word that must be heard. I am God's Beloved.
   You are, too. You are precious in spite of your productivity, or lack of it. You are loved, in spite of your lengthy to-do list. Grace and peace, Scott