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!