Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Freedom’s Eve

The founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley and his brother Charles first called the people together for a Watch Night service on Christmas Eve in 1755. It was a time for the people called Methodists to rededicate themselves anew to God at the doorway of a new year. It was a time for the Covenant Prayer to be prayed by all:

I am no longer my own, but Thine,
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low by thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am Thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen (Book of Hymns #607)

Recently the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference extended cabinet helped to serve lunch at the feeding program provided at Tindley Temple. Rev. Elaine Ayers, the pastor, explained to me the significance of the Watch Night service as it pertains to the African American community. On December 31, 1862 slaves all around the country gathered together in anticipation of the stroke of midnight when the Emancipation Proclamation would take effect and they would be legally free. On “Freedom’s Eve” they worshiped God and rededicated their lives to God as they moved into a new chapter of their life and history.

God is a God of new beginnings. God is always about the business of offering all of us “Freedom’s Eve.” Whatever is binding us does not need to hold us down if we are in Christ Jesus. I hope that everyone will take time, whether in church or with family and friends to observe a Watch Night time of worship on December 31st. Celebrate your freedom in Christ and rededicate all that you are and all that you have to God. Look forward to new avenues of service to God in the year to come.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


The word “believe” is seen on billboards and bumper-stickers. It is a slogan for city rejuvenation and youth empowerment. It is used in lyrics of old love songs (“Then I saw her face, now I’m a believer!). However, I believe it is best expressed in the meaning of a relationship between God and people. A teenage girl was visited by an angel long ago and told some pretty amazing news: “now you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” (Luke 1:31) Mary believed, even though she was a virgin, even though she was not married, even though she was poor and from a lowly family. When Mary visited Elizabeth, her aged cousin who was also pregnant with an unbelievable baby, she exclaims to Mary: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:45)

Every day the good Lord makes promises to you and to me. Some of them are pretty unbelievable. God is always working for good, doing impossible things through unlikely people. Yet we humans tend to get fixated on the negative and won’t believe what God is promising to do, despite the evidence. Mary had many fine attributes but her greatest one was her ability to believe where she could not see. That is the meaning of faith. What is God promising to you that you will not believe? Put away doubt, fear, and cynicism and believe. A believing heart is precious to God, not only at Christmas but for all time.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Recently a pastor in one of our small town churches told me that they participate every year in a Christmas parade that marches down Main Street. Many years they have entered a float in the parade but this year they simply had a live donkey and a young woman dressed like the Virgin Mary carrying Baby Jesus. They walked along in the procession of colorful floats, marching bands and fire equipment. At the end of the event the parade judges awarded Mary, Jesus and the donkey first prize.

The celebration of Christmas with all of its material trappings, parties and food can occupy our attention and distract us from the real meaning of the season. I hope that Mary and Jesus will win first prize in your life this year and always. Jesus is walking with us in all of the parades of our life. He came to earth to be “God with us.”

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Prayers for North and South Korea

There are wars and rumors of war in every place on the globe. The recent conflict between North and South Korea brings to mind the Korean War and the threat of a new war there is yet another sobering reminder of the strife of human beings caused by sin. The affects of the Korean War (1950-1953) continue even today as North and South Korea are still divided, even after the end of the Cold War.

Bishop Jeremiah Park (the bishop of the NY Annual Conference), writes “Another war must never be repeated…as peace-loving people this is indeed the time to pray for God’s mercy, wisdom and guidance.”

During this time of Advent while we read the words of Isaiah that dream of a day when swords will become plowshares and spears are made into pruning hooks (Isaiah 2:4) let us renew our efforts not only to pray but to wage peace in this world. Wherever we are in the world we can be agents of peace by helping to bring reconciliation and forgiveness. Jesus is our “Prince of Peace” because he was willing to suffer and give his life for the cause of peace between God and people. Likewise, as his followers there is suffering involved in peace-making. Putting yourself in the middle of two warring factions is risky business. Do it anyway and in so doing you are ushering the day of the Lord and walking in the footsteps of the Lord.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Contact Lenses

Recently I learned a new thing about contact lenses. The lenses are not always the same. Having sight in one eye all of my life I have a hard time understanding the two-eyed world sometimes. I learned that you can actually have one contact lens is for far-sightedness and the other for near-sightedness. How the eyes work together is a marvel.

During the season of Advent I think we need to have two different lenses in our spirit. One lens sees the current reality of the coming of Christ in this holy season of 2010. With this lens we ponder our personal walk with Christ and how we can prepare our hearts in such a way that we “bear fruit that is worthy of repentance.” (Luke 3:8) These actions are the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians s5:22). When we truly repent of the works of the flesh we engage in the fruits of the Spirit in new and ever improving ways.

The other contact lens that sees far is the one that reminds us of the second coming of Christ when all things will be judged and evil and enmity will be put away forever. With this far-sighted view we develop a long-suffering attitude, knowing that in the end God is going to make all things right. We want to live in such a way, through faith in Christ that we are worthy to attain life everlasting.

Martin Luther once said that he lived for two days: today and THAT day. That day is the day of the final coming of Christ. May we keep both lenses firmly in place as we experience this Advent Season.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Abolition Sunday

What does the United Methodist Church believe about capital punishment? According to the Book of Discipline, Paragraph 164G: “The death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore, and transform all human beings. We believe all human life is sacred and created by God and therefore, we must see all human life as significant and valuable.” The Book of Ezekiel 33:11 says “As surely as I live,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”

Many Christian churches are working together to repeal death penalty laws across the country. They do so by contacting lawmakers and holding community events for dialog and information sharing. There are many excellent resource people who are willing to speak at your churches. Your church can host an “Abolition Sunday” in which the theme of the worship service revolves around this issue. More information is available at the Equal Justice web site at www.ejusa.org

As with many of our social issues people of good will are of different minds. It is good to prayerfully seek God’s guidance on your response to this issue.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Sign of the Spirit

I am thrilled to see the General Board of Church and Society and the Confessing Movement working together on a project for the whole church. They are calling us to an “International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church” on November 14, 2010. All over the world Christians are being imprisoned and martyred for the faith. This is not a first century phenomena, it is happening today and there has been persecution since the church began 2000 years ago.

GBCS and the Confessing Movement are calling us to “prayerfully and publically stand with members of the Body of Christ who are suffering.” Christians are economically and politically marginalized all over the world but especially in Saudi Arabia, China, Pakistan, Viet Nam, Burma and Iran.

It is a sign of the Holy Spirit when two movements of the church are working together for a common cause…the cause of Christ. Many times the theological left and right are at odds with one another and stand on different sides of the road and wave flags and signs. How refreshing! How delightfully wonderful to see both sides working together on this issue of the persecuted church. I believe that there are more things that the left and the right agree on than disagree on. It is a ploy of the enemy to have us always quarreling among ourselves so the important work of the gospel is left undone. The spirit unites, religion divides.

Let’s stop “othering” and persecuting the theological side we disagree with and advance the gospel. Mark your calendar for November 14th for a day of prayer! May this be a day of new beginnings for the United Methodist Church as well. May we finally find a way to work together theologically.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Spiritual Direction

Living a life of Christian discipleship is a journey. When we travel to a new place in our car it helps to have a road map, a GPS, or someone in the passenger seat who knows where you are going. Once I was preaching at a three point circuit and the pastor of the church led me to each church. This car in front of me did not just show me the way, it was the way. In a spiritual journey it helps to have a guide. The art of Spiritual Direction can provide useful resources, feedback and training that will assist you as you engage in spiritual disciplines. Spiritual direction has been around for centuries and many of the great saints of the faith have engaged in some form of direction. The Apostle Paul served as the spiritual director of Timothy, his son in the faith. John Wesley’s ministry benefited from the spiritual direction of Peter Boehler. Peter taught John that he needed to have a relationship with Christ and not just live by a code of conduct. He encouraged Wesley to “preach faith” until he had it.

There are many spiritual directors in our area. There is an international website that has a directory of directors from all over the world. The website is: www.sdiworld.org.

I have a spiritual director and I find the time I spend doing this to be a great blessing.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Everything You Are

Last night I attended a musical praise event at Barratt’s Chapel. Composer John Thompson and his group “The Reminders” sang a new song with words that ring so true:

If you really want to praise Him then don’t wait till Sunday morning
He can hear an “Alleluia” in the choices that you make
Everything you do can be act of worship
Everything you are can be a song of praise

When all of life is praise we live like Easter people….celebrating life in the midst of a world of death and complaining. When we live like that people can see Jesus in us. It stands out as a beacon of light. I saw a store checker waiting on a very difficult customer in the line ahead of me. The checker was extremely kind and patient to the customer who was mean and unreasonable. In the end the transaction was complete to the customer’s satisfaction (after the checker complied with the customer’s demands with kindness). I gave God the glory for that checker as she was Christ in that food store.

And you can tell people about what Jesus means to you too. Live Jesus but witness to him too. Richard Foster writes “It becomes easy in our sophistication to miss the simplicity of inviting people to Jesus Christ. We do not need elaborate plans or erudite speeches. We need only love.”

Be the love of Christ and tell about it. It’s that simple.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Eliminating Poverty

One of the four denominational “Foci” is “Ministry with the Poor.” For the past two days I attended a “Poverty Summit” in Harrisburg that was sponsored by the “United Methodist Advocacy PA” organization (formerly “UM Witness”). This group is a voice for justice issues that come before the state legislature in Harrisburg. The three United Methodist Conferences in the state of PA all support this effort. The information shared at this forum was practical and timely. These are difficult economic times for everyone and those who are poor are hit even harder and the suffering is enormous. In the United States our poverty levels are considered wealthy when compared to our sisters and brothers in developing countries.

Speaker after speaker stressed the same themes:

1) The existence of poverty is a spiritual issue. People of faith are called by God to respond to the human needs of others. It takes faith to sacrifice ones means for the poor and only when we trust God to take care of us when we “give ourselves away” are we able to give as we should.

2) Personal contact with people who live in poverty is vitally important. These are real people, not just numbers. It is easy to ignore a number, to stereotype people in poverty or to even judge people as deserving of their circumstances. When you take the time to get to know people and learn their stories and share their life it is a blessing for everyone. Likewise when we advocate for the needs of the poor we need to personally know state officials and leaders who make decisions about the distribution of wealth so as to have a greater influence on their votes.

3) Networking is the key to success in eliminating poverty. We need to work with other churches, civic groups, schools, community organizations, and individuals to accomplish the task. Each group has resources that the other needs.

Here are some websites that can help you and your church as you address the needs of people who live in poverty in your area:
http://www.pachurchesadvocacy.org (PA Council of Churches has an excellent training program)
http://www.MovetheMountain.org (Information about the “Circles” initiative that empowers people who live in poverty and pairs them with community advocates)
http://www.ahaProcess.com (Resources to equip educators)
http://www.thecaap.org (can show you how to coordinate a “Poverty Simulation” event in your community …this is a teaching tool)
http://www.umadvocacy.org (The United Methodist site that keeps PA people aware of legislative concerns and is also a clearing house for information on poverty)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Roma People: reach out to people who the world would prefer to deport

Recently the news has shown stories about the deportation of Roma People from France. Roma people, sometimes known as gypsies are a heterogeneous ethnic group who live in South and Eastern Europe. This people date back more than a thousand years and have come from northern Africa. The people of France have been paying Roma people money to go back to their home countries and it has been a controversial and difficult situation.

I am happy to say that the United Methodist Church in Europe is reaching out to the Roma people in ministry and mission. In Hungary they have started Roma churches and last year the first Roma pastor was ordained. Besides worship there is a great deal of social work, literacy training, home economics and agriculture taught at the churches. They have their own song books and style of worship. One of their songs is entitled “I am Proud to be a Roma and a Christian.”

I am grateful to be a part of a denomination that reaches out to people who the world would prefer to deport. We are doing good work in the name of Jesus. Please pray for their ministry and look around for people in your community that people would rather not have around. Reach out to them and include them in your ministries.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Mental Illness Awareness Week

Few things are sadder than mental illness. With it comes a stigma that results in alienation, rejection, misunderstanding and despair. It is more common than people think, with one in five Americans suffering from some form of mental illness. Most churches are ill prepared to welcome people with mental illness and some are outright unfriendly and fearful. Mental Illness Awareness Week is Oct. 3-9 with the National Day of Prayer for Mental illness, Recovery and Understanding on October 5th. There are some excellent resources available on line at


Check out this website and learn how you can become a caring congregation through education, commitment, intentional welcoming and support. It also has a self administered test that helps you determine if you or a family member is suffering from depression. Resources for ministries with veterans are on this website as well. As Veteran’s Day nears (November 11) we need to remember the many veterans who are suffering as a result of service to our country.

How can your church be a more welcoming place and promote mental health for all?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Help for Military Families

The idea of re-thinking church has a lot to do with the church going out into the world and doing acts of mercy and justice. The church does not just gather on Sundays for worship, fellowship and nurture. It is a “verb” that does the works of Christ where people need help the most. The re-thought church keeps a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other hand to be quick to see where people in the world are hurting and in need of Christ’s love and compassion.

Recently many soldiers left Iraq as this military effort has come to an end there. I thank God that we are ending this conflict. When our soldiers come home there are many needs. There are also many soldiers still deployed around the world with families left at home. Our military families are in need of support systems (housing, child care, food, community, counseling, etc.)

A Wesley Foundation near the Ft. Campbell Army Post saw this need and developed the “Lazarus Project”. This program provides for the many needs of our military families using students from Austin Peay State University students. The National Guard in Delaware has a similar program and it matches military families with churches that have indicated an interest in helping. What can you do to help people in the military…either here or abroad? Our area stretches across three states and each area is unique. I challenge you to find out what is happening in your area and reach out to these families. It is all about out-reach...it is all about love.

Order your copy of Care for Returning Veterans, a DVD produced by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. According to Rev. Tom Carter, director of endorsement and pastoral care for the General Board of Higer Education and Ministry's United Methodist Endorsing Agency, "Many resources have been developed and provided for churches, but this DVD is the best that I have seen." To learn more, visit: www.gbhem.org/chaplains.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

School’s Back in Session

Fall is in the air and school buses are once again making their rounds through the neighborhoods of our towns and cities. For many parents this is a welcome time as summer was getting “old” and children were running out of things to do. But for some it is a difficult time because finances are tight and the cost of school clothes and supplies has been overwhelming. For some students school is a troubled place to be. The classes might be difficult. They may speak English as a second language and it is hard to follow the rapid flow of speech. For others there may be the pressures of gangs, bullies, overcrowded classes, and maybe even physical danger. Recently a school administrator from the Philadelphia School system reported to me that the graduation rate for high school seniors is only at 50%. The funds for school improvements, books, equipment and additional staff are hard to find.

The conditions of our schools should be a priority for all Christians. The future is cast in our schools. The quality of education can determine a person’s future success in life. I hope that all of our churches will consider adopting a school in their area. There is a great need for volunteer help at schools and although talking about God is not allowed in the schools we can model the love of God by our words and actions, which is about the best sermon around.

Your church can volunteer in the classrooms but also offer after-school and before school programs, assist with back pack feeding programs (where backpacks are filled with food for the weekend for students from low income families), provide tutoring, parties, summer enrichment programs, winter holiday Vacation Bible School, and help families purchase school uniforms.

As we “Re-think” church, think about getting out of the church building and into the world, where Christ would have us be, and make school more tolerable for young people in our neighborhoods.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Congo Partnership Visit

From July 28th until August 12th I visited the Central Congo Area of the United Methodist Church with a team of people from both the Eastern Pennsylvania and the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conferences. On this team were: Rev. Jonathan Baker, Rev. David Ryan, Rev. Michael Johnson, Ms. Jackie Onwu, Mr. Bill Innes, and Ms. Karen Morgan. Much credit is due to Rev. Jonathan Baker, who organized the trip and handled an enormous amount of administration. Ms. Jackie Onwu, a former GBGM missionary in the Congo also was an invaluable help to the team as she served as our French and cultural interpreter throughout our visit.

The purpose of the trip was to visit the mission sites, attend sessions of Annual Conference with Bishop David Yemba, and explore new ways of partnering with this amazing area. The Central Congo Area consists of 6 annual conferences, all of which meet for one week when they have annual conference. Many of the participants walked for weeks to attend conference and many slept out in the open air with no conveniences. Their dedication, spiritual fire and dependence on God for daily survival was a humbling and awesome thing to experience. They provided comfortable hospitality for us in the midst of their poverty as a sign of God’s love. As I participated in the ordination service of these fine pastors I asked myself if I would be willing to serve as a pastor in a land where there was either no or very little compensation and survival literally depended on having a garden in the back yard.

When we arrived at the annual conference session in the city of Kananga we were greeted by a large crowd of United Methodist people who sang joyfully and played drums that were shaped like a thin, bowed suitcase with holes on either side. The drum was similar to a steel drum that made a variety of tones as well as percussive sounds. We attended a special ceremony in which Bishop Yemba was honored and we guests were officially recognized and welcomed. Each district presented the bishop with a gift and each gift had symbolism that speaks to the heart of the meaning of Christian leadership.

Eagle Claw I was a bit shocked to see them hand to the bishop a large, severed claw of a dead eagle. The presenter said that the eagle was a symbol of a king, as the eagle was the king of all birds. Leadership involves power, speed and the ability to rise above and see the big picture.

Bird This was a carved wooden bird and not a real bird, the first of many fine and intricate carvings we saw during our trip. The presenter explained that the bird was a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God is the source of power for the work of ministry and the direction for all of life.

Civet This was an animal, about the size of a house cat, that I had never seen before. A civet looks like a cross between a miniature leopard and a weasel. This creature was stuffed but appeared very life-like with shiny eyes and whiskers. The presenter explained that the civet is a tenacious creature that always finds a way to overcome obstacles by climbing over top of them. Leadership involves moving forward in the midst of adversity.

Machete The presenter of the machete explained that leaders need to cut away what is superfluous in ministry in order to keep the main thing, the main thing. The ability to prioritize and eliminate the less-important agendas is a vitally important skill for effective leaders.

Chairs The bishop received two chairs that look much like the American plastic lawn chairs that Walmart sells. These plastic chairs were everywhere in the Congo and usually were blue and had French words embedded on the back. They typically said things like “God bless you” or “I love you.” The presenter explained that a leader must have the gift of hospitality in order to bless people and show the welcome of God to all.

In those short minutes of presentation I received an insightful lesson on leadership that applies not only to bishops but to pastors and lay people alike. As you begin this fall season with all of its newness and agenda seek to be the leaders of the church! How do we do this? By depending on the Spirit of God for power and direction, by keeping an eye on the big picture of ministry and not just the day to day tasks, by overcoming obstacles and never giving up, by keenly prioritizing ministries and by exemplifying the welcoming heart of Christ’s hospitality.

It is also my prayer that we will continue to support this partnership in both conferences and find ways to resource our sisters and brothers in the Congo for years to come. Check it out on the website www.congomission.com.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Words of Comfort at the Memorial Service for the Hungarian Exchange Students – July 10, 2010

Grace and peace to you from God our creator, who is with us and is the Lord of life! I send you greetings on behalf of the leadership of the Interfaith Center of the Greater Philadelphia Area. Our brothers and sisters of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faith communities are united in prayer for healing and wholeness for all who are mourning this day. We share in a common hope of God’s providing in time of need, and we believe that nothing in life or in death can separate us from God’s great love.

The text that was read from the Gospel of John, Chapter 11, brings us into a personal, very moving tragedy in the lives of a family whose brother Lazarus had just died. We meet real people with honest concerns: “Lord, if you had only been here, my brother would not have died,” and “if this man Jesus could open the eyes of the blind, why did he not prevent the death of this brother?” Perhaps you have questions as well: “Why this tragedy?” “Why did these precious young people die?” “Where was God?” I do not know the answer. I do know that the story of the raising of Lazarus tells us all we really need to know.

Jesus, God’s son, is with us in our time of sorrow. He came to be with the family. As the Psalmist says “yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for Thou art with me.” Jesus is with you at this time for comfort, for strength, for all of your needs, big and small.

Jesus feels our pain. The text says “Jesus wept.” This is the shortest verse in the Bible and maybe the most profound. Jesus knew that he would raise Lazarus but he wept anyway. Why? Because Jesus feels our pain, understands our deepest grief and cries with us. I know that Jesus wept out in the Delaware River on Wednesday and weeps with you now in your moments of pain.

Jesus reminds us that death is not the last word. Jesus is the resurrection and the life and in John Chapter 11 he restored the life of his friend. Jesus promises resurrection and hope still today! “Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet will they live.” As sure as spring comes after winter and sunrise after darkness there is life after death as we have faith.

Jesus said to Martha “do you believe this?” Jesus says to us as well: ”Do you believe?” Believe in Jesus and receive him in into your heart and you will live forever. No matter what country you are from, no matter what language you speak. This wonderful promise is for everyone. Jesus is that bridge between God and people that gives us life eternal and makes bridges of peace between people of all nations. My sisters and brothers, have faith and you will see the glory of God.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Reverse Mentoring

While visiting the Western PA Conference for the College of Bishops, we took a trip to a new church start known as “Hot Metal Bridge.” This church, on the south side of Pittsburgh has an intentional ministry with the poor, homeless, and counter-cultural community that the church at large tends to ignore. Most of the members are young and many of them are new Christians who never grew up in a church family as children. This church is a model for the new kind of church that Christ is calling forth from the people called Methodists. Reaching new people for Christ and doing outreach that alleviates suffering and alienation is the meaning of “Re-Thinking” church.

Bishop Bickerton has instituted a program in the Western PA Conference known as “reverse mentoring.” In this program an experienced, older pastor is paired with a young pastor or missioner and the young pastor teaches the older pastor about heart of the younger generation. Concern for social justice issues such as immigration, health care reform, earth care and equal rights for all people are high on the list of their interests. They want to make a difference in the world for good as well as take advantage of technology and global networking to make it happen. So far this has been a very fruitful venture in Western PA.

Why not try that yourself? If you are an older pastor or lay person, sit down with young people and ask them to explain their perspective. If you are younger take the time to share. Ultimately everyone learns from each other as there is never one-way street when two Christians share from the heart and really listen to one another.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Perfect Game

On May 29th Phillies pitcher Roy “Doc” Halladay pitched a perfect game against the Marlins in Florida. That means no one from the other team was able to even get to first base and every person was “out” by the time they finished batting….27 “outs” in all. This is very rare, only 20 in baseball history. It is a great honor and a thrill for any pitcher to have achieved this moment and even the Marlins were happy for him that night.

Roy Halladay has great skill for sure but notable to me was when he achieved this moment he deflected much of the credit to the catcher, Carlos Ruiz. No one is an island. Our greatest moments are really a team effort. When we all work together and do our part all of us achieve. There were no un-important players on the field that night. Had anyone not done their part this victory would never have happened.
It is what Paul means when he says that all the parts of the body are important and no one part can tell another part they don’t belong and no part can disqualify itself from body membership. (I Corinthians 12)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sea Glass

Have you seen sea glass? It is simply that…glass that somehow got into the ocean and it floats around in there for years and washes up on the beaches. When it finally washes up much of the glass no longer has sharp edges but is smooth and clear. People are collecting it, cataloging it, making books about it and some of it is made into jewelry. One of my friends gave me a sea glass necklace. It is round and smooth and pale green. Probably when it started out it was angular and sharp and a darker shade of green. With time and the relentless exposure to the sea it has changed into a thing of beauty.

Here we are once again approaching Pentecost…the birthday of the church. Once again we read the Acts 2 account of the power of the Holy Spirit blowing into the disciples’ prayer room and changing the world forever. The Holy Spirit gives us power to witness, gifts for service, guidance for the work, and comfort in times of distress. Let’s not forget the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work that takes the likes of you and I, with all our sharp edges and unrepentant habits, and slowly shapes them into the likeness of Christ. This does not happen overnight but it is the reality of the Christian life. As we continue to walk with Jesus he works on us to perfect us in love and make us in his image.

As we ordain our class of Elders and Deacons this year at Annual Conference we ask them if they are going on to perfection. They say “yes.” May we all say “yes” to the Holy Spirit as it chips away at our faults and failures and makes us, like sea glass, into beautiful Christians.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Wet Wood

Have you ever tried to start a camp fire with wet wood? It doesn’t work very well. Once as a camp counselor in college I had to make a fire for a group of campers who were having a picnic outing in the woods. It had rained the night before and everything in the woods was wet, except for a roll of paper towels that we brought along with the food we were to cook over an open fire. We decided to set the paper towels on fire and that combustion lasted for about a minute so we ate cold hot dogs that night. Wet wood does not a good fire make.

How I wonder at the prophet Elijah who was having a contest with the priests of Baal one day on Mt. Carmel. Elijah and the prophets of Baal each made an altar and put wood on the altar and placed a sacrificial animal on that wood and they called upon their god to light the fire. The contest was to see which god was the real god: the God of Israel or the god of Baal. Whichever God had true sovereignty and power would be able to light the fire on their altar. The account of this can be found in I Kings 18:20-40. It is an all-day event with the priests of Baal going to great lengths to call upon their god to light the fire but to no avail.

Then Elijah prepares his altar by repairing an altar that had been previously destroyed, arranging the wood and the sacrificed bull on the altar and then he does this additional step of pouring water on the altar. He drenches the wood with not 1 but 12 jars of water. He even builds a trench around the altar to catch the water so this altar is as wet as it can be. The point of this no doubt was to make it abundantly clear to the wishy-washy Israelites that only a supernatural, all powerful God would be able to light fire on this altar. The story ends with God sending down so much fire that the altar is consumed, the wood, the stones, the burnt offering, the dust and even the water in the trenches were “licked up.” The people were more than convinced and fell on their faces and cried “The Lord indeed is God.” Our God can do the impossible. The power of God is able to overcome any obstacle.

In our daily lives we face difficulties, challenges, disappointments, tragedies, want and suffering. Sometimes it seems like the old phrase “when it rains it pours” and just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. I am thinking of the people of the Gulf shore region who are suffering now from a tragedy of the oil slick. These people who lived through Hurricane Katrina and other storms have another difficult crisis. I am reminded of the people in Haiti who are going to be getting the rainy season, which will cause flooding in an island that is hardly recovered at all from the earthquake.

Sometimes in life it seems like jars of trouble are poured into our lives. That is when we realize, like the people in Elijah’s day, that it is only God that can make a way out of no way. In our own human strength we cannot overcome the many troubles on our earth. Humanity more or less has made a mess out of things and it is only the power of God that can heal and help and bring solutions to our problems. When things begin to look impossible, remember the wet wood and God’s power to light the fire. Trust in God to bring about the answers. Ask God to direct you in what you need to be doing next. Don’t be overwhelmed by hard times. See it as a workshop in faith and pray for the eyes of faith to see God’s victorious hand in the midst of it. Wet wood is no match for God’s fire.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Deacon Sunday is Coming Up

The first Sunday of June is Deacon Awareness Sunday. The Order of Deacons in the UM Church has only been around since 1996 but it is mighty indeed. Deacons are ordained ministers of Word and Service who connect the church to the world in some amazing ways. This spring I had the privilege of meeting with Deacons from both the Eastern PA and the Peninsula Delaware Conferences. They are involved in a plethora of ministries: youth, chaplaincy, teaching, counseling, hospice, music, nursing, advocacy, HIV/AIDS ministry, retirement community ministry, disability ministry, church planting, international missions, Christian Education, ministry with grieving children, etc. The possibilities are endless. Invite a Deacon to your church to share about the ministry. Encourage people who are feeling God’s call to full time ministry to explore the Order of Deacons.

Deacon Sunday Litany

Within the people of God, some persons are called to the ministry of deacon. Very early in its history the church . . . instituted an order of ordained ministers to personify or focus the servanthood to which all Christians are called. These people were named deacons. This ministry exemplifies and leads the Church in the servanthood every Christian is called to live both in the church and the world.

All: We give thanks for the ministry of the deacon.

Deacons are persons called by God, authorized by the Church, and ordained by a bishop to a
lifetime ministry of Word and Service to both the community and the congregation in a
ministry that connects the two.

All: We give thanks for the ministry of the deacon.


Deacons fulfill servant ministry in the world and lead the Church in relating the gathered life
of Christians to their ministries in the world, interrelating worship in the gathered community with service to God in the world.

All: We give thanks for the ministry of the deacon.

Deacons lead the congregation in its servant ministry and equip and support all baptized
Christians in their ministry.

All: We give thanks for the ministry of the deacon.

Deacons give leadership in the Church’s life:
in teaching and proclaiming the Word
in contributing to worship
in assisting the elders in administering the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper

All: We give thanks for the ministry of the deacon.

Deacons give leadership in the Church’s life:
in forming and nurturing disciples
in conducting marriages and burying the dead
in embodying the church’s mission to the world
and in leading congregations in interpreting the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.

All: We give thanks for the ministry of the deacon.

Deacons exemplify Christian discipleship and create opportunities for others to enter into discipleship:
In the world, the deacon seeks to express a ministry of compassion and justice,
assisting laypersons as they claim their own ministry.
In the congregation, the ministry of the deacon is to teach and to form
disciples, and to lead worship together with other ordained and laypersons.

All: We give thanks for the ministry of the deacon.

Deacons are accountable to the annual conference and the bishop for the fulfillment of their call to servant leadership.

All: We give thanks for the ministry of the deacon.

The deacon in full connection shall have the rights of voice and vote in the annual conference where membership is held.

All: We give thanks for the ministry of the deacon.

Deacons shall be eligible to serve as clergy on boards, commissions, or committees of the annual conference and hold office on the same.

All: We give thanks for the ministry of the deacon.

Deacons shall be eligible for election as a clergy delegate to the General, Central, or jurisdictional conference.

All: We give thanks for the ministry of the deacon.

The deacon in full connection shall attend all the sessions of the annual conference and share with elders in full connection responsibility for all matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of clergy.

All: We give thanks for the ministry of the deacon.

As members of the Order of Deacons, all deacons in full connection are in covenant with all other such deacons in the annual conference and shall participate in the life of their Order.

All: We give thanks for the ministry of the deacon.

Adapted from BOD ¶328 &¶329

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What are you Afraid of?

Fear is everywhere. We see it on the national scene with the way politics have become meaner and even violent as protestors clash on the streets. We see it in the faces of earthquake victims and people stranded in airports in Europe due to the recent volcanoes in Iceland. We see it in our churches where there are dwindling numbers and rising costs. At a Town Hall meeting recently some people told me they came because they feared that their church was going to be closed. We experience fear personally with health issues, family relationship strife and financial shortages.

It’s been said that fear is “false evidence appearing real” (an acronym for F. E. A. R.) and indeed, much of what we fear, is exaggerated in our mind by the emotions of the anticipated calamity. It’s been said that 75% of all the things we fear never happen and 10% of it is not nearly as bad as we expected it would be. However, some things we fear are real and serious. Getting a diagnosis of cancer and seeing the spot on the X-ray film is hardly an imaginary monster under the bed.

Our faith teaches us that we can experience a difficult ordeal without fear. I John says that “perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18). We have the resources of God at hand that we are not fully taking to heart when we live in fear. As the hymn writer says “Jesus knows our every weakness, take it to the Lord in prayer.” (“What a Friend we Have in Jesus”) That is good advice. The thing that the gospels record that Christ said more than anything else is: “Fear not!” It can be found 52 times, one time for every week of the year. The presence of Jesus can relieve our fear and show us the way forward. The more perfected we are in love, the more we trust and the less we fear. It is a journey of Christian perfection as we travel with Christ.

Steve Bradbury in a recent edition of “Encounter with God” (Scripture Union) describes the world of the Apostle John, who was exiled on the Island of Patmos for preaching the Gospel. “The power of the earthly emperor who demanded their worship must have seemed far more real than the power of Jesus, who had not met their expectation of returning in triumph. Wherever we are, no matter how crushing our circumstances, there are wonderfully liberating truths that we can grasp in faith. There is only one God who loves us and has freed us from our sins, whose Kingdom is already under way among the ordinary and even fearful people who serve him, who holds the keys to eternity, and who holds us securely. It is this all-powerful, all-loving God who says to us ‘do not be afraid.’” (Revelation 1:17)

The powerful Roman government has been gone for centuries. The seemingly weak church of the first century still lives on today. That is because of this powerful, curiously amazing God we serve, who works through our weakness and makes a way in the midst of our fearful circumstances to bring about God’s ultimate kingdom.

Look at your fears in light of the whole picture of God’s final kingdom and the sure promise of eternal life and the fear of our times are mere brush fires by comparison. I Peter 1: 4-7 reminds us that our “ultimate inheritance is imperishable, undefiled and kept in heaven for us as we are being protected by the power of God through faith. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

So fear not! Christ is with you! Hold on to the God’s eternal truths as you experience troubles and fears in this life. Trust God to see you through. And to our churches, who are experiencing fear due to low membership and resources, I say “Look up!” Pray for a vision for new ways to reach out to the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Turn your fears into positive energy around new mission and ministry through the power of God!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Native American Awareness Sunday

Sun. April 18th we will observe Native American Awareness Sunday and also receive a special United Methodist offering for our ministries around the country. This year at the PD Annual Conference Mr. Ray Buckely, a member of the Lakota/Tlingit tribe, will be one of the guest speakers. He reminds the church that what matters in life is “not what someone has but what the person is able to give away to others.” In our world of people clamoring to have more things, better things, longer lasting things and the value of people is often judged by their car, their house, their clothes. The voice of the Native American is the voice of God who promises to bless those who give and always take care of what we really need in life. We should measure our Christian devotion by how much of our income we have given away this year. If we are growing in grace and going on to Christian perfection we should strive to give away more than we did the last year. John Wesley, our founder lived on 20 pounds a year during his whole ministry. When his income increased he continued to live on that same 20 pounds and gave away more and more.

Giving from the heart is the main goal here, not so much the amount. Ray Buckley says “it is not the value of the gift but the giving itself that is culturally relevant. Giving a gift that may not have significant monetary worth still has significant spiritual value as it is a sign of a giving heart.”

For more information and resources to promote our six Special Sundays in your church: http://www.umcgiving.org/.

Monday, April 5, 2010

It Wasn't Our Fault

On Good Friday I attended a worship service in downtown Philadelphia that was held out on the street near a gun shop. A large and very diverse group of about 200 people were there to remember the death of Christ and to speak out against gun violence in the city and in this country. We were there to worship, pray, give testimony and also to call the gun shop next door to adopt a code of conduct to deter illegal purchasing and trafficking of handguns. This was not an attempt to stop people from owning guns or change the Second Amendment of our Constitution. It was an attempt to call for a crack down on “straw purchasing” of handguns by people who have clean records who then in turn sell them or give them to people who are unable to purchase guns because they cannot pass a background check. “Heeding God’s Call” is a new multi-faith movement whose aim is to prevent gun violence by calling people of faith “to protect our brothers and sisters and children.”

The United Methodist Book of Resolutions (paragraph 3426) calls us to be involved in advocacy that seeks to eliminate gun violence in our society. Included in that is a call to “visible public witness to the sin of gun violence and to the hope of community healing.” I was heartened to see a large number of United Methodists involved at the service on Good Friday.

Along with the group giving the public witness on Friday was another group of people who were opposed to this witness and they stood in front of the gun shop. During the service they voiced their opposition by shouting things while the Good Friday speakers were presenting. They waved many large American flags and sang “God Bless America” at the same time the service was being conducted at one point. Although there were clearly people with strong differences of opinion standing on the same street corner, I was pleased that there was no violence or verbal arguing between the groups. I was grateful for the presence of a large number of law enforcement officers monitoring the activity.

When I got up to speak there was relative quiet coming from the opposing group except for one comment. I held up a small paper cross that was given to me before the service. It had the name of a young person (age 28) who had been killed in gun violence in May of 2009 on the streets of Philadelphia. I held it up and said “he was alive last Good Friday when the first rally was held, but less than a year later he was killed by a gun on our streets.” Someone from the opposing group shouted “It wasn’t our fault.” It is true that no one in the crowd that day, I am reasonably sure, pulled the trigger on that young man last year.

But what is equally true is that when good people see harm happening and do nothing it is the same as condoning the evil. The sin of omission is seen when committed Christian people do not work toward the elimination of evil in our society. We can’t be saying it is not our problem, especially those who live in the safer, comfortable suburbs. It is our problem as long as someone, anywhere, is getting hurt. Apathy, greed, racism, ignorance and fear are huge issues we need to overcome. Many of our pastors bury young people on a regular basis who have died from gun violence. It is just too easy to do nothing and in doing so…it is our fault. What can you and your church do to speak out against gun violence? The more people who get involved the harder it is for this to be ignored.

For more info about Heeding God’s Call contact info@HeedingGodsCall.orgor call 267-519-5302.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"And Peter"

I am always struck by the Gospel of Mark’s account of the Easter story. It is short and to the point but it adds two words that speak volumes. Those two words are: “and Peter.” In Mark 16:6-7 the angel in the tomb tells the women “Do not be alarmed, you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised, he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him, just as he told you.”

Peter was one of the disciples. Why didn’t the angel say “Go tell his disciples that he is going ahead of you to Galilee”? He included Peter’s name. This can be nothing other than a word of grace to the distraught disciple who denied Jesus in a moment of fear and panic. How Peter must have suffered from guilt and shame during that terrible weekend. But to get this message on Easter Sunday that was especially for him must have sent his heart soaring. Jesus knew he needed to be drawn back in. Jesus knew he had to call Peter by name in order to make it clear that all was forgiven and there was new work for him to do.

You and I have denied the Lord many times and have fallen short of God’s call for our life. Remember the grace and mercy of Jesus to forgive you. Take that verse from Mark 16:7 and replace Peter’s name with your name and know that Jesus calls you by name to receive forgiveness and then go forward into renewed service. Jesus goes ahead of us to lead the way. We don’t go alone and we don’t have to chart the path. Easter Sunday is an eternal day of forgiveness, new life and a call to mission.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Lenten Reflection: Are You an Atheist?

If I were to ask you: Are you an atheist? I would expect all the good people of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference to respond with a resounding: NO! The word “atheist,” according to Webster’s Dictionary is a “person who believes that there is no God. An atheist “rejects all religious beliefs and denies the existence of God.” Surely we believe in God and as Christians we know the God who is revealed in the Trinity: the Father (creator), Son (Jesus, the redeemer) and the Holy Spirit (the sustainer).

The word “atheist” conjures up a reminder of a famous, now deceased woman by the name of Madalyn Murray O’Hair. She was best known for her lawsuit which led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling ending government sponsored prayer in American public schools in the 1960’s. Life Magazine referred to her as “the most hated woman in America.” Although she was murdered in 1995, rumors of her continued activity lived on in the form of internet spam claiming that she was suing the Federal Communication Commission in order to eliminate Christian radio stations. Fear of her atheistic power in a pluralistic society runs deep. Surely none of us would say we were atheists. We know there is a God.

So why do am I asking this question? You can say that you believe in God and that makes you NOT an atheist. But the proof is in your actions, not only what you say. James 1:19 says “Even the demons believe and shudder.” If we truly believe something we act upon it. If I believe that after an ice storm that the roads will be dangerous I will act upon this by staying home and not trying to drive on the ice. If I believe that summer is going to come then I order seeds from the garden catalog.

If I believe there is an active and all powerful, all knowing, ever present God in this world and I have given my heart and life to that God then I need to act like I believe that God is real and has an influence and a presence in my life.

Still you might say, I do believe, so what’s the point? My point is that often we good Christian people say we believe but we function (act) like we don’t believe. Here are some examples:

1) Worry We sing “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.” Then we worry
about things. We worry about our family, our money, our health, our future, our power, our influence. We even worry about food and clothes. Jesus said in Matthew 6:31-32 “Therefore do not worry saying, ‘what will we eat? Or what will we drink or what will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles (the unbelievers) who strive for all these things and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” When we worry we are functional atheists.

2) Lack of Prayer We sing “Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer that calls me from a world of care.” Most of us, if we are honest, do not give God an hour of prayer each day. Jesus prayed all night. Jesus prayed for 40 days in the desert to prepare for his ministry but we are so busy that we give God a few minutes in the morning and run out the door. This is evidence that we believe that it is all about us and not about God’s power. So much more good could be done in this world if we spent more time in pray and in faith believing that God was going to answer that prayer. When we don’t pray then we are functional atheists.

3) Studying the Bible We sing “Thy Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.” How sad that many of our Sunday School classes and Bible studies are poorly attended. The Apostles were relieved of temporal duties in the early church so that they could dedicate themselves to their teaching ministry “It is not right that we should neglect the Word of God.” (Acts 8:2) We are privileged to have Bibles in many translations and Bible studies of many kinds available for our public and private use. Why don’t we make that an important focus in our daily life? When we study it, why do we often neglect to follow what it says? James 1:22-24 says “But be doers of the Word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the Word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror, for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.” When we neglect to earnestly study and obey the Word of God we are functional atheists.

4) Love One Another We sing “Lord, I want to be more loving in my heart, in my heart” and then we spend time talking against our neighbors, passing judging and holding grudges.
I John 1:9-10 says “Whoever says ‘I am in the light’ while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling.” Loving our enemies and those who annoy us is probably the hardest discipline of all. That is why Jesus said “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) Love of neighbor is a unique and radical proof of a person’s Christian faith. If we are in conflict with our brothers and sisters we are functional atheists.

We are all human and we surely fail every day to live up to our high calling. The Good News is that Christ died for us and our sins are forgiven as we confess them. It is God who forgives and gives us the power of the Spirit that enables us to walk closer and more humbly with God. This is nothing new but we need to be reminded of it again and again. The enemy would want you to be ineffective. Don’t fall for it! During this time of Lent take a look at your walk with Christ. Do we act like we believe? Does our devotional life and subsequent behaviors demonstrate that we are walking with a higher power that sets us apart from the world? Let us act like believers and not functional atheists.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Who, What, How, Why, Where, When

When writing a news story good reporter always answers the questions: who, what, how, why, where and when. Scripture can be interpreted through this lens as well. Take Philippians 4:13 for example. Paul writes: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The “who” is you. You can do all things. The “what” is “all things.” That means all the things that God calls you to do. The “how” is “through Christ.” Christ alone is the answer to every need. Why can you all things? Because of the strength of Christ who is all powerful. Philippians 4:13 does not answer the questions “when” and “where.” That is for you to answer. When does Christ empower you to do all things? Now is the time. Christ’s power is available now for any need you have. Where is Christ’s strength found? It is everywhere! The whole earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. Just stop and look around you at the miracles that God is doing in your life.

You have the power of the universe through Christ. Be encouraged that you are surrounded by a God who is more than sufficient for every need.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Keep Moving!

Both the Peninsula Delaware and Eastern Pennsylvania Conferences have begun a well-ness program in their group insurance plan known as “Virgin Miles.” Participants in the program get a pedometer that connects to your computer. Every few days or so you download the results of the pedometer on your computer so you can track your progress. The idea behind this pedometer is to “keep moving.” I got my pedometer back in November and in just a few days I noticed the difference it makes in my health: more energy, clearer thinking, all together better health. I hope that everyone who got a pedometer will use it. Better health means better ministry but also less claims on our insurance and that means better stewardship of God’s money.

“Keep Moving” not only works for our bodies but for our ministries as well. We need to keep moving with new ideas, new people, new outreach opportunities. The first two letters of the word “Gospel” are “G-O.” We need to GO in order to spread the Gospel. Psalm 96:1 says “Sing to the Lord a NEW Song.” Keep moving….don’t get in a rut…exercise your creativity and potential. God is always doing a new thing. If you keep moving God will be doing that new thing through you!

Monday, March 8, 2010

One Great Hour of Sharing

In the past few months we have seen the important work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief as they have responded to the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. These events were just the ones that made the headlines. There are so many other disasters that the rest of the world may have over looked, but not the God we serve. Before the cameras come, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is there transforming the lives of people as servants of Jesus Christ. After the cameras have be turned off, the United Methodist Committee on Relief is still there, not just for days, or weeks but for decades helping people rebuild their lives as the presence of a caring Christ in their midst.

One of the reasons people love to use UMCOR to respond to emergencies, is that 100% of the money donated goes to that concern. Nothing is taken out to pay for the overhead: to share information and make appeals, to pay for staff and for readiness. That money is raised through the “One Great Hour of Sharing” offering. The cost of the initial response, before even the first dollar has been donated to meet the emergency is raised through this offering as well. The money needed for the United Methodist Church to respond to all the needs the news media never tells us about comes from the undesignated funds raised through the “One Great Hour of Sharing” offering. When we use 100% of money designated for a particular cause, we don’t use money raised for one appeal to pay for another. Without this offering the church would be limited to only funding those causes that interest the news media.

Please give generously to “One Great Our of Sharing.” (March 14th). Allow your United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to have the resources to respond to human need, not just for the short term, but for the long term, until the job is done. When the rest of the world has moved on, God still cares. Your gift makes a big difference in the lives of many desperate people. Pray about your gift. What does God want to do through you?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Celebrate Women’s History Month

March is Women’s history month and we have a great history to celebrate. Check out http://www.gbgm-umc.org/ for some inspiring information about the Women of Wesley’s times in the UMW section of the website. Dr. Charles Yrigoyen, Jr. a prolific church historian from EPA is quoted from his book: John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life. “Methodists flourished under the direction of class and band leaders, persons of spiritual strength and insight. Most of them were women! Among them were Sarah Crosby, Dorothy Downes, and Grace Murray, exemplary Christians whose witness persuaded many to accept God’s grace and begin a new life.” Because of this Wesley officially authorized women to preach despite the objections from some of the male preachers.

It is still true today! Women are doing the bulk of teaching in our Sunday Schools and Bible Classes. More and more women are being called into the ordained ministry and serving as excellent pastors in our churches. Do you have a woman teacher or preacher? Tell them “Happy Women’s History Month,” and thank them for their faithful service!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Some Assembly Required...

Recently a friend told me about a huge pile of snow that she saw in a field. Next to the snow was a sign that read “Free Snowmen, some assembly required.” This is funny because we all have had enough snow and would not want any of it even if it was given away free. It is ever more humorous because of the “some assembly required” part of the sign. That conjures up for most of us images of a child’s toy or an appliance that we purchase and when we get it home we have the challenge of assembling a thousand little parts with an instruction manual that was written by a mechanical engineer. But when it comes to assembling snow men it is more about seeing the potential of a snow sculpture while it is still a blob of snow. God made Adam from dust and breathed in him the breath of life. Michelangelo, the famous artist and sculptor would look at a block of marble before he would begin making a statue and imagine the figure inside the marble and that he was charged with the task of “freeing” the statue that was trapped inside.

Having the eye for potential that is not yet realized is a gift from God for people of faith. Whether it is a mission project at your church or building expansion or even a person called into ministry we need to see beyond the present blob of snow and imagine the potential that God sees before it has yet been created. Once we have the vision for what God wants us to do then get busy doing the ”required assembly” to bring it about.

I love these words of Natalie Sleeth from the “Hymn of Promise:”

In the bulb there is a flower, in the seed, an apple tree
In cocoons, a hidden promise, butterflies will soon be free
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see. (BOH 707)

May you have eyes of faith that sees the promise in everyone and everything and a diligent spirit to make a reality that potential in partnership with God.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Olympics 2010 – Vancouver

The Winter Olympic Games begin in Vancouver on February 12th. Many athletes from all across the globe will compete for medals and to surpass previously set records. Some athletes see these games as a higher calling. On a recent interview Tyler Jewel , an American athlete, said that competing in the Olympics was the best way for countries to engage one another in a “fight without death” where athletes “lay down arms” of war and promote peace. The Olympics symbolize for many an opportunity for nations to come together in a unified effort as an inspiration to our broken world.

The symbol of the Olympics: the 5 interlocking rings (blue, yellow, black, green and red) represent the 5 continents of the world. The connection of rings reminds us that though we come from different countries we can have a common purpose and unity.

May we find unity in places in our life where we see diversity and may our competition with one another only serve to improve what we already do well.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Father Peter Spencer

Peter Spencer was born into slavery in 1779 in Kent County Maryland, but he became one of the great leaders in the cause of religious liberty. While he was still a slave he accepted the invitation to join the Christian community. He lived in slavery until the death of his owner, when he gained his freedom.

When Peter moved to Wilmington, Delaware he sought Christian fellowship at Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church. They welcomed him with open doors but not with open hearts nor with open minds. It was alright for him to be seen in worship, but he was not given the dignity of full participation in the life of the church. The Holy Spirit would not allow Peter Spencer to remain silent. He expressed his disapproval of the racism that he experienced in the church. He believed that people of color were entitled to religious equality.

The church refused to listen to Peter’s protests and there came a time when he was no longer willing to submit to the discrimination that existed in the church. Peter Spencer asked permission to build a church where he and his followers could worship freely. He wrote: “In the year, 1805 we, the colored members of the Methodist Church in Wilmington, thought that we might have more satisfaction of mind than we then had if we were to untie together and build a house for ourselves, which we did the same year. The Lord gave us the favor and the good will of all religious denominations, and they all freely did lend us help, and by their good graces we got a house to worship the Lord in.”

Peter’s followers succeeded in getting their own church and holding separate worship, but because of the color of their skin, they were denied any say in the business affairs of their new church. Peter Spencer did not want to start an independent church. It was his intention to only to worship separately in a Methodist Episcopal denomination. However, these faithful African Americans were told they had no rights to conduct any of the business in their church and would have to remain under white control. This seemed unreasonable and unfair to them.

They continued to struggle over their civil rights. Some were expelled from the church membership and others went to court to protect their right to oversee their own affairs as free people. Finally in December of 1812, when Peter’s group realized that the forces against them were more than they could overcome, they decided to organize a free and independent church of their own.

On June 1, 1813, Peter Spencer (known as “Father Spencer”) and his flock left the church they had built and began worshiping as a free and independent church. The church became legally recorded in Dover, Delaware, September 18, 1813 under the title of the Union Church of Africans. This was the first free and independent church entirely under the control of African American people in the United States. It pre-dated the famous beginning of the African Methodist Episcopal Church under Rev. Richard Allen.

Father Spencer died July 25, 1843, after thirty years of service to his church and people. His character, veracity and honor were beyond reproach.

Father Spencer’s fight continues in the church today. We still have open doors, but not always open hearts or minds. There are still those that are kept from being full participating members of our church. They may speak a different language, have a different ethnicity or different political views. Let us not force brothers and sisters of God out of God’s church. Let us learn from the past, repent, and show greater hospitality to all.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Ministry of Lay Speakers and Christ Servant Ministers: Leading, Caring, Communicating

This past weekend the Philadelphia Area hosted the annual meeting of the United Methodist Association of Conference Directors of Lay Speaking (and in Eastern PA: Christ Servant Ministers). A lively group of 80 people gathered at the Ramada Inn in Philadelphia for three days of inspiration, business meetings and encouragement. The Christ Servant Ministers of EPA served as the hosts and did an excellent job preparing for the event, arranging for historic tours and offering superb hospitality.

Lay leadership in the United Methodist Church is as old as Methodism itself. The church has always relied greatly on its lay leaders for conducting worship and sharing the love of Christ in the world. During the circuit-riding days of the early Methodist movement in America, the pastors would only be able to come to each church a few times a year to administer the sacraments and assist with the organization of the church. The lay people did all the work in between the visits of these pastors on horseback.

Still today the ministry of the laity is vitally important. Lay Speakers in the United Methodist Church are more than speakers. Here are some of their ministries: visitation, crisis ministry, pastoral care, leading volunteer mission teams, teaching Bible study, work with youth groups, assisting with church administration, prison ministry - and the list could go on for pages.

Lay Speaking ministries strives to help disciples become aware of their gifts for ministry by offering educational events to enhance and develop skills for fruitful service. To learn more about lay speaking, read about it in the Book of Discipline Paragraph 267, 268 and 269. Check out the website: www.layspeakingministries.org.

Mr. George Hollich, Jr. is the director of Christ Servant Ministers in EPA and Ms. Luray McClung is the Director of Lay Speaking for PDC. They can tell you about training events in their respective conferences.

I encourage pastors to use your Lay Speakers/Christ Servant Ministers as much as you can to extend the ministry of the church. In the church of Jesus Christ there is truly a “priesthood” of all believers.

The ministry of the laity motto proclaims:

All God’s people in

All places,

And in

All times,

Are called to love

And serve.

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

First Haitian United Methodist Church

As a cold winter rain was falling in Salisbury, Maryland, the members of First Haitian United Methodist Church came to worship. It was their normal Sunday morning worship service but since the earthquake of January 12, nothing was ever going to be normal again. Many of the members have lost family and friends who live in Haiti and many more have been waiting to hear from people whom they have lost contact with in their mother country. Their part-time supply pastor happened to be in Haiti at the time of the earthquake and members were greatly comforted to learn that he had finally been in touch with his family and was safe. The service was being led by the lay leaders of the church. About 100 people gathered in a small building that the members purchased from a printing company 10 years earlier and remodeled it into a place of worship.

I arrived at the church expecting a scene of grief and devastation but was heartened to find a group of people who had hope; hope in the Lord for comfort and strength. The entire congregation speaks French and Creole. Some are also fluent in English, however the worship service was conducted entirely in French. The singing was loud and joyful. I asked one of the English-speaking members what they were singing: “We have no troubles for God is here” she whispered. These words were fulfilled as they were being sung.

When I was introduced to the congregation by the lay leader, Faubert Baptiste, he spoke one sentence in English for my benefit and then a sentence in French for the congregants. “We have never had a bishop here,” he said “we are glad you have come.” With Faubert’s help, I offered words of consolation and support. When I announced that I would be reading from the Psalm 46, everyone immediately took out their Bibles and rose to their feet.

“God is our refuge and strength a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea….the Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

Following my comments another lay member, Lucien Jendy, came forward to bring the sermon for the day. He read from Matthew 24: “As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the building of the temple. Then he asked them ‘you see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you not one stone will be left here upon another, all will be thrown down.’”

He explained that every word of the Bible is true and that our earthly buildings and our lives are temporary. He stressed that in life we will have suffering but those who endure to the end will be saved. “We must not lose faith but have hope in God,” said Jendy. His sermon was met with many “Amens.” The service ended with a spirited prayer and the passing of the peace.

I shook hands with the congregants after the worship service, including no small number of children and teenagers, all dressed in their Sunday best. Warmth and respect flowed from their hands to mine. They expressed the desire to go Haiti to help it rebuild and to search for people who are lost. One of the most difficult aspects of this ordeal is not knowing the fate of many who are missing. A faith-filled and determined people are making plans now to visit Haiti as soon as they are allowed to come. They will also be raising money for the UMCOR relief efforts and offering the most valuable resource of all: prayer.

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Martin Luther King, Jr.

We remember Martin Luther King, Jr. and the legacy of freedom and equality that he brought to the world. One of the most important things to remember is that the civil rights movement was born in the church. Rev. King’s non-violent campaign to end segregation landed him in jail many times. From a jail in Birmingham, Alabama he wrote to the clergy: “If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning.”

Still today his words ring true as the struggle for human rights and equality continues. Wherever I go, the churches who are thriving and making a difference in this world have that spirit of sacrifice and service that gives it authenticity. Only when we choose to suffer for righteousness sake we can change the wrongs in this world.

May Martin Luther King Day be a day “on” and not a day “off” in service in your community. May you speak out for justice when you see someone being treated unfairly. May you use your means, your influence, your heart, your soul, your strength to work for peace where there is discord. As you go, have hope and don’t be discouraged when the work is difficult.

Rev. King said in his “I Have a Dream” sermon: “Go back (home) knowing this situation can and will be changed. Don’t wallow in the valley of despair.”

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

You Did It Unto Me (Re: Earthquake in Haiti)

Matthew 25 reminds us as we give to those in need it is the same as giving to Jesus. We have an important opportunity to bless Jesus this week. The earthquake in Haiti has just made the poorest nation in the world more poor and the suffering is unbelievable. Please take an offering this Sunday at your churches and places of ministry for the Haiti Relief (Advance #418325 – Checks can be sent through the conference offices). May God use this crisis to make a blessing happen on the island. When the eyes of the world are on them may the resources begin to flow in new and better ways. Most importantly PRAY for all those who are affected by this crisis and for the many emergency workers.

Bishop Peggy A Johnson

Monday, January 4, 2010

Do Whatever He Tells You

In the gospels there is not much that we know about the Virgin Mary by what she says apart from the passages in Luke that speak about the birth of Christ. In the Gospel of John is a tiny passage about a wedding in which an older and wiser Mary appears. Here we find her encouraging her young adult son, Jesus to intervene when the wine runs out at the wedding reception. Jesus appears to give some push back at the request “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” But almost as if she does not hear a word he says she turns to the servants and says “Do whatever he tells you.” I love that about Mary. Jesus is God but she is still his mother. We all know the rest of the story is the marvelous miracle of the water that becomes wine.

This new year may we do just that “whatever Jesus tells you.” God speaks to us every day in quiet and not-so-quiet ways. We do a fair share of push-back, especially when the request means a sacrifice or an impossibility. Can you imagine what the servants thought when Jesus told them to “draw some out and take it to the chief steward.” They had just filled 6 stone jars full of water. But they did it anyway. Was their obedience and the miracle in some way connected? I believe it was and it will always be that God works miracles through the likes of us when we are obedient. This is especially true when we obey God’s call when we think it is preposterous, an inconvenience, and we cry out “Lord, send someone else.”

Do whatever he tells you this year and see what God will be able to do through you.

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson