Monday, December 26, 2011

The Audacity to Act

Ron McNair was a NASA astronaut who was killed in the tragic Challenger launch in 1986.  He was born in South Carolina in 1950 in a pre-Civil rights-era rural town.  Ron was brilliant even as a young child and he wanted more than anything to read books and to study mechanics and mathematics.  At the age of 9 he walked a mile to the public library by himself, something that a child of color was not allowed to do. He went to check out a book and the librarian called the police.  When the policeman arrived he saw a 9-year old boy sitting there with a book in his hand.  Ron had the audacity to act.  

Ron McNair later gradated as the valedictorian of his high school class and later graduated from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro magna cum laude.  He was a scientist, an athlete, a musician and an astronaut.

God calls us to be our best selves.  Ron knew who he was, even at the age of 9 and he stood his ground when people wanted to deny him an opportunity to learn.  It is my prayer for all of you in this New Year that you will have the audacity to act.  Be who you are being called to be.  Stand up against systems and negative thinking that would prevent you from following your calling.  Some of that negative thinking can even be your own voice of self-doubt.  Paul reminds us that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-control.” (II Timothy 1:7)

Many your new year be bright with holy boldness and a clear vision for your future.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Special Request from Bishop Peggy Johnson

Indeed this is the season of giving.  John 3:16 reminds us that “God so loved the world that he GAVE his only begotten son.”  Giving is the greatest joy on earth.  People who know how to give generously are never without the things of life they truly need.  I pray that this season of giving will be a blessing to you as you bless others.  I am writing to ask if you would consider paying 101% of your apportionments.  In this way we will help our conference to make the budget for the end of the year and get us on a good start for the New Year.  Please prayerfully consider this request.  

My thanks to all of you for your hard work and service to the Lord.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Occupy Philly and the Christmas Village

I visited “Occupy Philly” two weeks ago on the day when those who were encamped at Dillworth Plaza were to be evicted.  There was much activity going on there because of the uncertainty of how the eviction would take place.  Some people were taking down their tents and moving out while others had decided to stay and see what would happen.  The United Methodist presence could be seen in the form of an informal worship service and some of our churches provided food and meeting space for the organizers. There were other faith-based groups present as well.  I met people who were assisting the many homeless people with bus tokens, counseling, food and money.  A good bit of networking was going on among the activists who were present.  There were people who were part of organized peace movements, homeless veteran groups, anti-war organizations, and groups that worked with ex-offenders who were homeless.   Most of the people there were homeless and had run out of options for life in Philadelphia.  The lack of job opportunities, the cutting of social service programs, the displacement of people with mental illness and those who had substance addictions were some of the reasons for this increasing number of people living in extreme poverty.  I was glad to see the church present offering support, food, counseling, and political advocacy. 
Across the street from Dillworth Plaza was the plaza where annual the Christmas Village is housed.  It is a well-decorated, colorfully lit shopping area with vendors selling Christmas greens, gifts and holiday foods.  The contrast between the two plazas was sobering.  Side by side were affluence and desperate poverty. 
Most of us live in both of these worlds, especially at Christmas time.  The malls are full-to-overflowing with clothing and housewares and gadgets for sale.   There is a joy in giving and enjoying the festivities that is a part of healthy living.  Another part of celebrating Christmas is to intentionally live in the Dillworth Plaza and to seek out ways to observe a holy Christmas in the way it was in the beginning.  Jesus came to us as homeless, poor, and unnoticed.  His family became refugees in Egypt.  His ministry was to bring good news to the poor. 
How can you do that this Christmas?  Don’t just live in Christmas Village.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thoughts on the new Nicene Creed

I was interpreting once a long time ago for a group of Deaf people at a worship service and the closing hymn was “When the Storms of Life are Raging.”  The last verse said “when my life is but a burden and I’m nearing chilly Jordan” and I signed “when I become sick, burdened, near death.”  “Chilly Jordan” is a symbol for death.  When the Israelites crossed over the Jordan they arrived in the “Promised Land.”  The “Promised Land” for us, of course, is heaven.  After the service a Deaf congregant came up to me and said “why did you take away the Jordan?”  I explained that when one is interpreting in American Sign Language it is translating one language into another.  The truth of the text was rendered in my interpretation.  The consumer countered that he wanted the exact text of the hymn.  Some Deaf people prefer translation and others transliteration.  It is important for the interpreter to know their audience so they sign in a way that fits their language preferences.

Perhaps the exact Latin text of the Nicene Creed is what the Roman Catholic Church is aiming at as they unveiled their updated version of the creed that will be used beginning this week.   Where it used to say “I have sinned through my own fault” it now says “I have greatly sinned, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”   Those words are the true rendering of the original Latin, not the shortened one-liner that has been used in the past.   

According to National Public Radio there has been a strong reaction to the change, some positive and some negative.  I think this change, which includes an unmistakable emphasis on personal admission of sin and the gravity of sin, should give us pause to think as we enter the season of Advent.  What is a more proper preparation for the coming of Christ than an admission of sin?  Sin is grievous to God and it spills over into self-abuse and pain or neglect towards one’s brothers and sisters.  Sin separates us from God and from people and it always leads to more sin and more separation.  We are quick to excuse ourselves from our sins, minimalizing them, rationalizing them, or blaming other people.  In this new Nicene Creed three times it says “my fault” so there is no getting around personal responsibility for sin.  The ancient writer knew humanity’s propensity for passing the buck.

As you prepare for the coming of Christ this Christmas of 2011 and as you prepare for the coming of Christ at the end of the age, two realities that are as sure as the sun, what sins do you need to confess?  What do you need to change in your life that is grieving the Lord?  Make a list of those things before you write a Christmas gift list.  Make amends with those you have offended before you plan a holiday party.  Write a plan for living in a new and Christ-like way before you address your Christmas cards.  Repentance and reconciliation is the true heart of Christmas.  It is why Christ came.  Through his death on the cross Jesus brings us life everlasting when we cross the “chilly Jordan” and enter the “Promised Land.”  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

United Methodist Student Day Offering – November 27, 2011

Every year United Methodists receive a Student Day Offering to assist with higher education scholarships for our young people.  These funds are needed more than ever this year as many students are finding it hard to find money to attend college in these challenging times.  When you give to the Student Day offering you are supporting students who are finding new ways to serve God in the world.  You are touching the future with every dollar you give.
Morgan Prettyman is a 2011 graduate of the University of Delaware.   She was active in the Wesley Foundation as an undergrad and now is taking part in the Graduate Student group.  She is a gifted poet.  For the dedication to the Wesley Foundation she wrote the following poem:

I’ve heard this (Wesley Foundation) described in many ways;

A home away from home
A place to be when things go wrong
A place of love, laughter, and forgiveness
People who play hard, pray hard, work hard
A group of talent, of the future
A family
A family is the circle around these many words
It is the hands holding hands in the midst of prayer
It is the familiar faces, the strong smiles
It is the embrace when tears are falling
It is comfort and words of encouragement,
It is the eyes that see more in friends than the friends
Can see in themselves
It is the challenging conversations and the open ears
To hear all sides
It is a crowded home overflowing
From forgiveness and joy
It is a growing circle that loves to be stretched beyond
Its boundaries, loves to be too big for its walls
This circle sings and laughs and cries and struggles and triumphs
And, above all, lives in communion, in this wide open
Ring of linked hands and hopes and friendships
That always finds a way to lift up
I’ve heard this described in many ways: because family is a living word.

Please support promising young people like Morgan as you receive an offering this Sunday.  The future is bright for the United Methodist Church.  Thanks to Morgan for sharing her poetry and for the youth and campus chaplain at the University of Delaware: Rev. Mary Haggard.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What are you serving for Thanksgiving Dinner?

By this time you may be thinking about Thanksgiving Dinner as it just about a week away.  Will you have turkey… ham?  I know some people in Lebanon County have stuffed pig stomach.  On the eastern shore some families serve oysters and crabs.  What you eat is not the main point of Thanksgiving of course.  The giving of thanks to God is the center of this national observance.  As we give thanks we should always be "living" thanks by acts of compassion and sacrifice.  Why not give to the Agricultural Project in the Central Congo Conference of the United Methodist Church?

Last year a team of Congolese farmers were trained at an agriculture school in Zambia, run by missionary Paul Webster. Volunteers in Mission from the Pen-Del Conference assisted with this training. These new farmers are doing some amazing work now in the Congo but they need help to continue to train people and to establish more farms.  This is critically important in order to feed people as well as become a source of income.  The Congo is slowly recovering from years of civil war and food is scarce.  Our Congo Partnership that includes the Eastern PA and the Peninsula Delaware Conferences, have provided $15,000 for start up funds.  We need to raise at least $25,000 for the next phase of the project.  If everyone would donate to the Congo Partnership this Thanksgiving that project could feed so many people.  Just imagine the blessing of adding the Democratic Republic of the Congo to your Thanksgiving guest list this year!!  You can do so by donating.  Send funds to the following places:

Eastern PA Annual Conference
c/o Rev. David Ryan
Hopeland UM Church
295 N. Clay Road
Lititz, PA  17543

Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference
139 N. State Street
Dover, DE  19901

Be sure to write "Congo Partnership Agriculture Project" on the memo line when you donate.

The Agriculture Project Powerpoint (click on the blue link to download) can be shown at your churches and it further illustrates the incredible need and that wonderful progress.  Happy Thanksgiving Philadelphia Area!  We are blessed in order that we might be a blessing.

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Veterans Day

November 11th is known as Veteran’s Day.  It is a day in which we remember all those men and women who have served in the armed forces in our country.  Some gave the ultimate sacrifice.  How will you observe Veteran’s Day this year?   I received an email from a friend that told me an interesting story about the people in the City of Pilsen, in the Czech Republic.  Every five years they have a “Liberation Celebration” to honor the liberation of Pilsen by General George Patton’s 3rd Army in World War II.
Every year since 1945 there is a memorial service in the woods near Pilsen at the location of a crash site where an American war plane was shot down by enemy fire.  For 65 straight years a woman named Zdenka Sladkova has cared for this memorial.  She was 14 years old at the time of the crash and she was so moved by this soldier’s tragic death (he was only 20 years old) that she made a vow to care for his memory.  She is now 79 years old. 
The people of Pilsen also have established a “General Patton Scholarship Fund” and they award money to a graduating senior each year who will either be entering the military or another form of community service.   By awarding this scholarship they are lifting up the value of giving one’s life for a cause that is “greater than self.” 
These incredible honors given by the people of the Czech Republic are touching indeed, given the fact that this is not even their country they are lavishing with such accolades.  They have parades and ceremonies and military citations during these celebrations.  The  people  of Pilsen know how to say “thank you” for the service rendered on behalf of their country.  May we do the same!  Say “thank you” to a soldier that you meet.  Help out the families of veterans that may be challenged with loved ones far from home.  Participate in services of honor and thanksgiving for those who gave their lives.  Let us all dedicate ourselves to live for a cause greater than ourselves….that of service to God and to others.   Jesus said:  “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Paying Back

November is the season for the celebration of Thanksgiving but it is not necessary to wait until the fourth Thursday of November to give thanks.  And saying “thanks,” although important, is best expressed in actions and not words alone.  Recently thanksgiving came to life once again in the amount of a check for $50,000 that was sent to the Eastern PA Annual Conference from the Mississippi Annual Conference.  This check was for Hurricane Irene flood relief and it was sent as a way of saying “thanks” to the many teams of Volunteer in Mission workers who came from PA to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina destroyed so many homes and businesses.  The people of Mississippi wanted the flood victims in Pennsylvania to receive their thanks by returning the favor.  I expect we will see some VIM teams from Mississippi coming to visit us as well. 

What are you thankful for?  Can you give back by returning the favor to someone who has done much for you?  There are so many people we can thank for our blessings.  Do it today.  Returning thanks is a blessing for both the giver and the receiver.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Buildings and Bodies

In the second letter to the Church in Corinth Paul writes: “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (5:1). This is indeed good news for our souls as we consider the inevitable decline and decay of our earthly bodies.  I think this also can give us hope as we consider our many church buildings that are in decline and decay.

Recently the newspapers reported on the front page that the Episcopal Cathedral in Wilmington was closing.  The $400,000 annual cost to maintaining the property was prohibitive. The small number of remaining members will be transferring to a neighboring Episcopal Church and the building will be sold.  This is also a struggle for many of our large, aging United Methodist properties, not only in cities but in the suburbs and the country as well.  It is certainly a source of grief and a neon sign that announces decline and there is sometimes a feeling of failure. 

Paul would not have us so bound to our church buildings just as we should not put too much stock in our earthly bodies.  Buildings and bodies pass away but the Gospel lives on forever.  As we attach ourselves to the mission of the church we will live eternally in heaven. There are constant resurrections here on earth with churches closing and being re-born in new ways in new locations.  It is the cycle of life.  Church was never about a building in the first place.  It is about the spiritual life that comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ.   Paul reminds us in II Corinthians “we walk by faith and not by sight.”  (5:7) Have faith and hope even when the church is closing, that God is up to something new and the gates of hell will not prevail against the true church.  

Monday, October 17, 2011

Poverty Summit Ponderings

Last week there was a Poverty Summit held in Camp Hill, PA that was hosted by UM Advocacy.  There were many wonderful panel discussions, worship services, and a key note address by author and humanitarian, Shane Claiborne.  During one of the panels it was mentioned that relationships are more important than money.  The speaker had voluntarily lived on the streets in order to experience the life of homeless people and he explained how mainstream society totally ignores street people.  Even those who provide help often keep them at arm’s length and don’t want to relate to them as humans.  The point was clear: we need to offer genuine hospitality and respect to people who are poor.  That means taking the time to talk and listen and not just hand people a bag of food or decide for a person what it is that they want.
My mind goes back to an experience my husband and I had when we were pastoring in Baltimore.  We became friends with a homeless man who was mentally challenged.  Herb spoke with a halting, sing-song voice and his imposing body, strong odor and long fingernails scared most people he would meet.  My husband, Mike took the time to get to know this gentleman.  They would talk in his office for hours and Mike would drive him to get a shower at the food bank, help him get to the doctor, and at the end of every month Herb would be asking for money

Mike and I worked with Herb faithfully for 10 years and we longed for him to get into an apartment.  He had diabetes and his legs were swollen and he did not have any feeling in his feet.  Because he was disabled he received a monthly Social Security check from the government.  By a true miracle of God we were able to get him into a Section 8 apartment building that would only charge him 1/3 of his monthly check for his rent.  Normally there was a 7 year waiting list but he got in after only waiting 6 months.  It was a warm, comfortable efficiency apartment and the food bank found him some nice, used furniture.  The apartment became available at Christmas time and our church people were especially generous.  The little kitchen was packed with his favorite foods and he even had a free telephone.  The first night he was in the apartment it snowed and I was so happy that Herb was finally indoors with his feet resting on a clean bed.  And he could have a shower any time he wanted one. 

A few days passed and we got a call from the apartment building manager.  It seems he paid someone to pack up all of his furniture and he was moving out.  He did not like the cramped courters and the noise in the hall.  My husband rushed to the apartment building just as the truck was loaded up and convinced Herb to give it one more try.  The furniture went back upstairs. Two more times he loaded up the furniture and headed back on the street and two more times my husband begged him to reconsider.  Herb could stand it no longer.  The fourth time he succeeded in leaving the comforts of his own apartment in exchange for a life back on the streets that he preferred. 

We did not listen to what he really wanted.  We imposed our values on him.  He was simply unable to live in “captivity” in an apartment and this makes Herb a very unique person. What Herb valued and still values to this day (he still calls us) is that relationship with my husband.  He just wants to talk.  Mike is the only human he really knows. Last week we were visiting my parents in Baltimore and we stopped by the hospital to see Herb.  He has a bad infection in his legs.   Mike’s name is in the hospital charts as “next of kin.”  I guess he really is and I think we could all be a “next of kin” to someone like Herb.  The world would be a better place.  Knowing Herb is really the same as knowing Jesus.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thoughts on the Feeding of the Five-Thousand – Philip or Andrew?

John 6:1-9

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.  A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.  Jesus went up the mountain and sat down and there with his disciples.  Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews was near.  When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”  He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.  Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”  One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”

We are seeing a goodly number of large crowds gathering in our big cities lately. There are crowds protesting the state of the economy and the plight of the poor in this nation.  These are crowds looking for answers, for relief, for justice.  Long ago a crowd followed Jesus up a mountain.  They followed him because he was the answer to their physical ills and the hunger of their souls.  But Jesus was also concerned about their physical sustenance.  He cared that they had food to eat while they were on this pilgrimage.
Jesus still cares about our bodies, what we eat, what we drink, what we put on.  On that day there seemed to be a lack of food for a crowd of that size.  And there we meet two disciples who have two different approaches to the problem:
They are Philip and Andrew.  Philip’s approach was practical but faithless: “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”  Don’t we often feel that way when confronted with the staggering realities of world poverty and need?   In our own strength and our own resources there is little hope to feed this hungry world.  We sometimes get so overwhelmed that we just want to say it is impossible and give up.
Then there is Andrew.  Equally aware of the enormity of the need he looks around for an answer anyway.  He locates a humble lunch that a boy was willing to donate.  He admits it is not much to offer given the need, he offers it anyway.   We can be like Philip and throw our hands up in despair or we can also be like Andrew and do something, even a small thing.  That small thing made all the difference in world because from it the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes came to be. This miracle is so central to the truth of the gospel that it is the only miracle that is recorded in all 4. 
The text says that Jesus asked Philip where he would find bread for the crowd because he was testing him.  Jesus knew what he was going to do.  Still today Jesus knows what he is going to do.  He is going to use the likes of Andrew in this world who offer what they can to turn the world upside down and care for the needs of the poor. 
So you don’t have to have all the answers…just lunch…just lunch and Jesus will do the rest.  What do you have in your hand that you can offer to God to take and break and bless and multiply for the use of the kingdom?  Habitat for Humanity was begun in 1976 with a couple with a tool box and a truck and God did the rest.  Michelangelo had a cast-off piece of marble that he got from a dump and God used that humble stone to create the famous statue of King David.  God will take whatever you have to offer him to bless and feed a hungry world. 
Be an Andrew.  It is how the kingdom of God works here on earth!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Reflections on a Class Reunion

I am one of those people who goes to high school class reunions.  I am not sure why.  I did not go to the first few but after the 15th I was hooked on the idea and have served on the reunion committee ever since.  It is a source of fascination to see how everyone has turned out and who has grand-children, etc.  Last Saturday was my 40th class reunion and out of a class of 430 graduates only 50 of them showed up but that was actually better than the planning committee expected. Those who want to be there come every time.  In our earlier years there was a great deal of loud music, dancing and people going back and forth to the bar.  As we have gotten older the music is quieter, the bartender had few customers and no one was on the dance floor.  We are getting older, maybe wiser.  Here’s the God-part:

Into the class reunion came Mr. Redd, our civics teacher who taught at the high school for 40 years.  He was well-known to everyone.  Some of his earlier students had children and grandchildren in his classes at the high school.  Mr. Redd came in with a CD player and a microphone and proceeded to sing Elvis Presley songs to us.  At the age of 77 his tenor voice was still truly beautiful and the room was hushed.  He said to the reunion attendees that teaching was his greatest joy on earth because he got to work with students whom he loved and he had a chance to shape the future.  When he was finished he got a standing ovation.

Truly Mr. Redd shaped the future with his teaching.  All of the students at Lansdowne High School in Baltimore learned from him and also we experienced his warmth and concern.  Teaching is a very important profession.  Teachers don’t have an easy time, if they ever did, in the classrooms of today’s schools.  Pray for our teachers.  May they continue to love their students, shape the future and make a difference in this world.  Why not adopt a school near your church and find ways to show appreciation for the teachers there?  Church and school go hand-in-hand in many ways to set the tone for the character of our young people.  Be a part of making the world a better place through education.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The DREAM Sabbath

One of the saddest experiences I can remember was the deportation of a Bolivian family that attended the church I used to serve in Baltimore.  The parents and the children were deaf.  They came on a visitor’s visa and decided to stay.  This was not permissible per the laws of the Immigration service but they stayed anyway, sleeping in the basement of a home of their friends who had come to the U.S. years before.  The two deaf children, both teens, had the opportunity to attend the Maryland School for the Deaf for many years and they got a good education there.  Sadly, the family’s undocumented status was brought to light and they were told they had to leave by immigration court.  These young people were sent back with their parents and had to make a way for themselves in Bolivia, where opportunities for deaf empowerment was much less than in the United States.  I still get a text message from this family occasionally.  Life is very difficult for them.  I wish they could have stayed in the U.S.
The United Methodist Council of Bishop’s committee on Immigration, the United Methodist Interagency Immigration Task Force and the General Board of Church and Society encourage congregations of Observe a DREAM Sabbath.
The interfaith observance to be held on a Sunday between September 16 and October 9 will enlist churches, synagogues and mosques across the country to dedicate time during or around their regular weekly worship service to a conversation about the DREAM act, which is intended to rectify an injustice in U.S. immigration law.  The bill, “Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM),” would give undocumented students a chance to earn legal status if they came here as children, are long-term U.S. residents, have good moral character, and complete two years of college or military service in good standing.  The DREAM Act is bipartisan legislation pioneered by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill and Sen. Orin Hatch, R-Utah.
There is a free downloadable toolkit available to help congregation participate in the
Sabbath.  The packet includes planning resources, sacred readings, reflections, and links to videos and sample bulletin inserts. (
As United Methodists we have a history of speaking up for the needs of children.  This is an issue of justice that we need to be more aware of.  Others may not be concerned about the well-being of children, but we know that God’s angels are not only looking at our care for them, but reporting every injustice before the throne of God.  No matter what our political beliefs, God is going to look at whether we are causing his little ones to stumble by our actions or our inaction.  I do not believe that willful ignorance will be a useful excuse when we stand before our Lord.  “When did we see you, Lord, and not respond?”
Ola Kaso came to the United States from Albania in 1998, when she was 5.  Ola recently graduated from a high school in Warren, Michigan.  She was a valedictorian of her class.  She took every Advance Placement class offered by her school and has a 4.4 grade point average.  Ola is on the varsity cross country and tennis teams.  She was treasurer of the student council and treasurer of the National Honor Society at her school.  She tutors students who are learning English.
Ola was accepted into the honors program at the University of Michigan, where she will be a pre-med student.  In a letter to Senator Durbin, Ola wrote, “I aspire to ultimately become a surgical oncologist, but more importantly, I intend to work for patients that cannot afford the astronomical fees accompanying lifesaving surgeries, patients that are denied the medical treatment they deserve.  My goal is not to increase my bank account; my goal is to decrease preventable deaths.  I wish to remain in this country to make a difference.”
The Department of Homeland Security granted a stay of deportation to Ola, to give her a chance to continue her education.  That was the right thing to do.  It makes no sense to send someone like Ola, who has much to contribute, to a country she barely remembers.
Observe a DREAM Sabbath.  Take time to listen to the voices of these young people who cry out to God for justice.  Educate yourselves on the issues and seek the Lord’s guidance on how you are called to act, as a congregation or as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

More information: or

Monday, September 19, 2011

Grapes Grow on New Wood

Recently at a presentation of Large Church pastors, Dr. David McAllister-Wilson, president of Wesley Theological Seminary said an amazing thing: “grapes only grow on one-year old wood.”  He was not talking about gardening, of course, but about church growth and the “fruit” of evangelism, which are new souls won for Christ.  In John 15:2 Jesus reminds us that those who bear fruit will be pruned so they can bear even more fruit.  That is so the wood is always new so the growth can keep happening.
As pastors and lay persons committed to the ministry of Jesus Christ, how can you be more effective?  Is there something that needs to be pruned from your life that is getting in the way of witness or effectiveness?   Pruning is not a pleasant experience but it is more unpleasant not to be pruned.  Making disciples is our goal.  To stay as we are leads to decline and death.  To choose to change and be pruned leads to growth and life.  Choose life.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fruit and Vegetable Month

When the children of Israel went into captivity into Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar enlisted the brightest and best of the Jewish young men to be trained to work in his government.  Among them were Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Daniel.  During their training time they were offered food from the king’s table.  Daniel objected and asked if he could eat vegetables and drink water instead of having meat and wine.  At first the servants of the king objected fearing that this diet would be harmful.  But Daniel persuaded them to allow a trial for ten days.  After the ten days of eating only vegetables and drinking only water the Israelites were healthier than the other interns, who had been eating the royal rations. 
The truth of the Bible never gets old.  Still today we should be eating vegetables and drinking lots of water to keep our bodies strong and nourished.  This month is national “Fruit and Vegetable Month” and it is a reminder of the importance of these basics elements in our daily diet. 

You are the temple of the living God.  Take care of your temple!  Eat right and you will be able to serve the Lord better and longer.  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Reflections on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the modern day “Pearl Harbor” in the American memory we can all remember where we were when we heard the news about the twin towers at the World Trade Center in NY.  I was at home getting ready to go to church in Baltimore and the report appeared on Good Morning America.  My first thought was to go tell someone.  I looked out my front door and called out to my neighbor across the street, who was watering his plants.  For the next few hours we sat spellbound, watching the nightmare unfold on TV, and many tears were shed.  That evening there was a prayer service at the church and we all wondered what would happen next.
Ten years later much has happened.  The innocence of air travel has ended.  Many lives have been lost in wars. Many tears have been shed.  Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent are sometimes profiled and feared.  The poor have become poorer.  Terrorism has increased around the world and there is no telling where it will all end.
If we are people of faith we are Easter people.  We are people that work for life in the midst of death; people who seek hope in a deadly cross; people who personally find ways of waging peace in this world.  The world needs the saving love of Jesus more than ever and no one will know it unless we spread the word.  Just as I urgently told my neighbor about the airplane that struck the World Trade Center on that fateful Tuesday morning 10 years ago, we need to, just as urgently, tell people that God loves them and that in Christ there is peace with God and with all people. 
Telling people is just one part of it.  We need to live in peaceful ways in this world.  Peace making only comes when there is justice for all people.  We all want peace and tranquility but it only comes when the hard work of dismantling oppressive power blocks that keep the powerful in power and the weak under their thumb.  This year is the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer.  In 1961 a group of young people, mostly white college students, came from the north to work for civil rights in Mississippi. They lent their political power to those without voices, helping African Americans get voter registration cards, helping people learn to read, and speaking out in political rallies.  Much good was accomplished but many of them were killed doing this work of peacemaking.  Any time power is challenged the pushback is quick and fierce.  But oppression is never the last word.  Jesus rose from the grave and that ends the oppression of death in this world. 
Wherever you have power, can you lend it to someone without power?  Wherever there is inequity in this world, can you speak out?  Is this not the work of Christians in the post 9/11 world?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Prayers in Action

At a recent meeting of the Commission on the Status and Role of Women that I attended, the preacher, Dr. Joan Wolf related a story about prayer time at her church in a inner city church whose constituents included people in poverty as well as people of means. On one particular Sunday morning when people were asked to give voice to their prayer concerns, one man stood up and said he wanted a job so he could buy his own clothes with his own money and take those clothes to the dry cleaner and pay to have them cleaned with his own money. He went on at great length about wanting a job. The failing economy of the city took away the job that he had and life was difficult. Dr. Wolf thanked him for his prayer request and told the congregation to pray for him. In a moment of “holy disruption” the man jumped back up on his feet and said “I don’t want your %$#@ prayers, I want a job!” Seated around him in this congregation were people who could provide a job for him. A shocked congregation had a lot to think about that day. Dr. Wolf reminded us that we have in our possession many times the ability to answer peoples’ prayers and yet we often withhold those things from those in need.

Be it apathy, selfishness, thoughtlessness or prejudice, we regularly neglect people who need our help. The Old Testament reminds us not to withhold the wages of the worker when it is in our power to pay them. The same is true about the goods and services that we possess that God has given to us for the express purpose of answering someone’s prayers. These things are not only our left-overs but our means. There is always something we can give.

I read a story about an old woman who regularly sent a check to a missionary in China. It was not much but it was regular. The checks began to increase and she wrote to the missionary and explained how. She said she cut off her cable service and the money she saved she gave to the mission. The next month she cut off her phone and the month after that she cut off her hot water heater. The missionary was not a little bit encouraged by this fragrant offering of sacrifice.

What do you have in your hand right now that you can give away that would bless someone? Jesus said that we would be rewarded for even a cup of cold water that was given to someone in his name. Be the water of life for this world that suffers from so much want.


Jewish people have traditionally prayed three times a day. The Shacharit prayer is the longer morning prayer and the Maariv is the evening prayer. Mincha is the afternoon prayer and it is the shortest time of prayer and sometimes overlooked in the busy-ness of the day. Mincha is a short time to stop and give thanks. Psalm 145 is to be read during Mincha: “I will praise you, my God and King and always honor your name. I will praise you each day. You are wonderful, Lord, and you deserve all praise.” This psalm speaks of the wonders of God’s world and how God graciously provides for the needs of the world. “You satisfy the desires of all your worshipers and you come to save them when they ask for help.”

Sometimes in the middle of the day I don’t feel like singing. Work piles up and I begin to think it is me that is running my life. That is when I need Mincha the most. It is a time to stop and recalibrate my soul and put God once again in the center of everything and to give thanks for God’s gracious providing.

Try it yourself. Giving thanks to God lifts the soul to a higher place and assures us once again of the presence of power of our loving God.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Please Help Save Starving People in the Horn of Africa

The United Methodist committee on Relief (UMCOR) is planning a regional response to the growing hunger crisis in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti due to a severe drought. In Somalia, where relief efforts have been hampered by ongoing violence and war, has seen thousands of its citizens fleeing to neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia. It has been estimated that there are 400,000 people in refugee camps there. There are an estimated 3.7 million people in crisis.

Please take a special offering this summer for this urgent need, and earmark your gift to the “Horn of Africa Crisis,” Advance Special #982450.

Read more about the crisis on UMCOR's website:

Monday, July 18, 2011

Christian Education: What’s not Working

Jesus said “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Soon and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a) Christian Education is fundamental to the Great Commission and yet it appears that we are doing less and less of it with our children as Sunday Schools are dwindling.

What is not working:

1) Sunday School on Sunday – often that is a time for soccer practice, a weekend visit to the non-custodial parent’s home, or the time of the Sunday School is earlier than many people want to get up on a weekend morning. Many churches are finding that an alternative day of the week is working better. An after-school program can include Christian education as part of its program.

2) Vacation Bible School as the one effort all year. Many churches that don’t have much of a children’s ministry will still offer a Vacation Bible School with some success. For many parents this is something for kids to do and some will actually shop around and go every VBS in town just to keep the children busy during the long summer months. Follow-up is what doesn’t always happen. Invite those “one time VBS students to other events throughout the year. I know of a church that has a VBS type program during the month of December on a Saturday so that parents can drop off their kids and go shopping. Holidays such as Halloween and Easter also have tremendous outreach potential. The lives of the saints and light and hope can be taught at a Halloween social and an Easter Egg hunt can be combined with a Lent Fair that teaches about the Jesus and the resurrection.

3) Expecting parents to bring their children to church. I remember years ago having a judgmental attitude about parents who just “dropped off their kids” and did not go to church or Sunday School themselves. Now people often don’t do even that. The response of the church should be one simple word: “Go”. We should go out and bring in the children. If you have room in your car you can pick up kids and bring them to church. Transportation is often the thing that keeps it from happening, especially in these hard economic times.

4) The same Sunday School teacher who has taught for 50 years continuing to teach that little class. We need to teach in teams. Our “Safe Sanctuary” policy requires that there are always two teachers in every class. The dear elderly woman in the church who has always taught the children needs to have a second helper. This is protection for everyone as well as a great way to mentor a young person for the future. Remember that every classroom needs to have doors with windows so that everything can be seen from the outside looking in.

5) Taking care of the children of our church members only. That has never been a good way of operating because it insulates the church as an institution that only “takes care of its own.” The church should intentionally target the children that are not from the church family and those who live on the margins of life. We need to invite children of all ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, languages and abilities. Families with children with disabilities need the unique ministry of the church. Autism is a high incidence disability in our society and parents often find it difficult to have a meaningful faith community experience because of the behavior issues that often accompany this condition. A church that would reach out with an educationally appropriate class would speak volumes of love to that family.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Let Freedom Ring

I was at Duke Divinity School on a training for UM Bishops and was having a conversation with Bishop Elaine Stanovsky, who told me this wonderful true story of empowerment that came from the heart of the United Methodist family. Long ago a man by the name of Wesley “Branch” Rickey was the first baseball owner who broke the “color line” and enlisted Jackie Robinson as the first African American player in the major leagues (April 1947). Both Rickey and Robinson were Methodists: Rickey from a devout Methodist family from Stockdale, Ohio and Robinson attended a Methodist Church in Pasadena, CA as a young adult. Later Jackie Robinson teamed up with Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier to help to fund the African American Student Foundation which supported college educations for promising young African people. One of those young people was Barack Obama, Sr., who later became the father of the 44th president of the United States.

The legacy of social justice and freedom for all people is a part of the United Methodist story and on this weekend of celebrating Independence Day in our nation we need to pause to think personally about our legacy of freedom. Who are we empowering to be free, to be all they can be, who can be lifted up to become a future leader in this world? You may never know what your influence will do far down into the future but one thing is certain that God will multiply your good works and use them to bless many people.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why Pray When You Can Worry?

We need to ask ourselves, “Why pray when you can worry,” because that is how we often live. It is truly a flaw in our human nature that finds us worrying instead of praying as our “default setting” in life. Isaiah 44:2 says “Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you in the womb and will help you: DO NOT FEAR, O Jacob my servant!” But we worry anyway. We worry because our faith is weak and we live with the erroneous notion that everything depends on us. God made us and promises to help us. We are not alone, even when God’s timing is slower than we would like it to be, or the provision is less than we wanted. It takes faith to believe that the timing and the provision is exactly what God had in mind and that kind of faith moves mountains.

Last fall I received a phone call from a Congolese student at Salisbury University. She was the daughter of a UM pastor in the Congo. She was beginning her senior year and had high hopes for a bright future working in the Congo as a teacher when suddenly her tuition money disappeared. Family members who had promised to pay were unable to help and the university had no choice but to deport her. That is when the United Methodist Church stepped in and between the Women’s Division and the Board of Higher Education and Ministry her tuition was paid. She just graduated last month and she sent me an email to thank me for the efforts that were made on her behalf. Looking back she could see God’s hand at work, even in the last-minute way it all came together.

Prayer is the greatest power on earth. It can change things, heal people, find money, and convert the world. Try praying instead of worry.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Memorial Day

Jesus said “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13 – NRSV) These words come to mind as I think about Memorial Day. Many who served in the armed forces literally laid down their life for their country in harm’s way. Many others suffered injuries (physical and psychological) that affected the quality of their remaining life. Still others, who did not suffer harm also made the sacrifice of putting themselves in the position of possibly dying or being injured. Love is the motivating factor in all of this. People do not willingly sacrifice unless there is great love and a great purpose that is worth dying for. This sacrificial spirit is very powerful. When something is worth dying for it speaks to the heart of all humans.

I thank God for the veterans who sacrificed and served and suffered for love of family, country and cause. May you spend some time this weekend pondering what is worth dying for in your life. Thank God for sending Jesus who loved us so much that he was willing to die for our sins.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May 21st – The Day of Judgment?

Popular media is buzzing with a prediction that the end of the world is coming on October 21st and that May 21st will be the Day of Judgment and Christ’s return. The Bible teaches that no one knows the day or the hour that the Son of Man will come again (Matthew 24:36) so it would be unlikely that the prediction is true. However it is true that Christ will come again and he tells us to live like we are ready for his return at any time

I used to have a professor in college who would have pop-quizzes in woodwind class. That meant that at any time you could be called upon to play the chromatic scale on the clarinet and for every mistake you made your grade would go down by one letter. It was made all the worse because everyone in the class would be watching and no one knew who would be called on to play. Needless to say we all spent many hours practicing clarinet so to avoid the utter embarrassment of making mistakes.

Christ’s return is unpredictable like a pop quiz but so much more important. This is eternal life and God’s final judgment we’re talking about. Our own goodness counts for nothing in God’s grand plan. It is our trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins that is the righteousness which will get us to heaven. So we need to be sure that we know Jesus and then live like him, walking in obedience to his commands. What was Christ’s main command? Love one another. Is that Simple? Not really. But that is the sign of Christ in our life.

So on May 21st spend the day showing the love of Christ to everyone you meet. The Jesus in you is the best advertisement we have for the truth of the Gospel in this world.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Voice of Hope

Recently at the Council of Bishops meeting in St. Simon’s Island, Georgia we heard testimony from Bishop Boni of the Cote D’Ivoire Annual Conference about the violence that was happening because of the civil unrest over the presidential election. The bishop recounted how for days there was continual bombing and shooting and everyone was in constant fear for their life. At one point gun men came into the church where people were hiding. The people had to keep very quiet so the gun men would not find them. Among the group of people hiding were many women with babies. The babies had to keep quiet or the gun men would know their whereabouts and shoot them. They prayed earnestly that the infants would keep silent while the soldiers were looking around the church. God answered their prayer and for two hours they made no noise. The soldiers left and no one was killed.

Another amazing part of the testimony was the “Voice of Hope” radio station that the United Methodist church continued broadcasting throughout the constant bombing. All other radio stations and phone lines had been cut but the UM radio station continued to play Christian music uninterrupted by God’s grace. The music and the encouraging word of scripture kept hope alive during this terrible ordeal. The bishop thanked everyone for the support of this radio station. It was indeed a voice of hope and it continues to air in Cote D’Ivoire as the unrest continues.

Please pray for our United Methodist sisters and brothers in Cote D’Ivoire. They have one of the largest churches in the world. Our UM presence is waging peace in the midst of war. Thanks to God for protecting Bishop Boni and his staff during this difficult time.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Love your Enemies: Thoughts on the Death of Osama Bin Laden

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” He went so far as to say if someone slaps you on the cheek to turn the other cheek. When Jesus was being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Jesus said “No more of this!”

The assassination of Osama Bin Laden is contrary to Christian teaching. He was our enemy. Did we pray for him? Was the act of killing him a sign of love? Obviously this is a very difficult position to take as it is radical. Christianity is radical, self sacrificing and counter cultural. Acting like Jesus is not popular. Osama Bin Laden committed terrible crimes against humanity. He should have been tried by an international court.

I believe that the assassination of Bin Laden will spur on a whole new wave of terrorism. This act surely has infuriated his followers and they will need to find a way to strike back. Violence breeds more violence and the cycle of death and revenge will continue indefinitely. How sad for the future innocent victims. Think how many innocent people have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11.

I believe this is a sad day with sadder times to come. Proverbs 24:17 reminds us “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” I pray for a day when we know in our hearts the futility of violence and the necessity of peace-making as our best Christian witness.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pornography: it is a bigger problem than you can imagine

Three weeks ago I attended a summit meeting of religious leaders known as the Religious Alliance Against Pornography. This interfaith group is working to educate religious organizations and the public at large about the widespread use of pornography in our society today. It also uses its corporate influence on matters of legal and public policy when appropriate. Members of this alliance are partnering with the National Coalition and iCare to educate people about how to protect themselves from pornography. With the advent of computers, internet, and many kinds of hand-held devices and cell phones pornography, sex trafficking and prostitution has become a multi-billion dollar industry around the world. Just about anything and everything is at the click of a mouse on a personal computer. Many innocent children and teens are being trapped into this culture.

If you have not already done so protect your home and church computers with filters and “smart limits.” Parents should study the kinds of protections that can be put on cell phones and video games. When you see pornography in stores or in the media use your voice to raise awareness and complain to managers and advertisers. Support international efforts to stop sex trafficking of young children and women. The United Methodist Women have many such programs. Speak to church groups and youth groups about the dangers of pornography. Get counseling and help for people with addictions to pornography. Above all else, pray for God’s grace to make a difference in this world by your pro-active witness.

For more info contact

Resources from the General Board of Church and Society -

Sex and the Church — Pornography and sexual addiction
Prevention of the Use of Pornography in the Church (#2082, 2008 BOR)
United Methodist Web site on sexual ethics:

UMSE Bulletin: Monthly News, Events and Information on
Sexual Ethics for The United Methodist Church:

CONFERENCE: Healthy Sexuality in Light of Internet Pornography: The Church’s Place
Camp Hill United Methodist Church, Camp Hill, PA. Save the date -- May 2, 2011.
COST $35 incl lunch. Contact: Darlene R. Schlegel, PA Council of Churches,
717 545 4761.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


The Jewish Passover celebration begins today (Monday). This is the ancient meal that was instituted by the children of Israel to remind them about their escape from slavery in Egypt. The word “seder” means “order” and this meal has an orderly progression of courses of foods and rituals, all of which recount God’s delivery of the Jews from the hand of the Pharaoh. The steps include: the blessing over the wine, the washing of the hands, the dipping of vegetables in salt water, the breaking of the matzahs (unleavened bread), the retelling of the story of exodus, the second washing of the hands, the blessings over the matzahs, the blessing of the bitter herb, the better herb and the charoset ( an apple-nut mixture) eaten on a matzah, the festive meal (which includes lamb), the eating of the last matzah, the grace after the meal, the Psalm of praise, and the closing statements.

In the closing statement the seder is declared complete and all wish that next year the seder might be observed in Jerusalem. This declaration means that they hope that the Messiah will come soon and allow all to celebrate next year in Jerusalem that has been rebuilt.

Christ instituted the Last Supper during a Passover meal on the night before his death. In this meal he brought fulfillment to the promise long ago that God would save people from their sins once and for all. As we observe Holy Thursday and Good Friday this week, may we not only look back at this story of redemption but also look forward to the day when everything is fully restored. Just as the Jews say “next year in Jerusalem” may we pray “next year may the Lord come again and restore all things and we will feast at Christ’s heavenly banquet.” May we prepare ourselves for that great day.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Asleep on the Job

Back in March the news reported a case in which an air traffic controller at Reagan International Airport fell asleep on the job around midnight. Two commercial jets approaching the airport intending to land could not get a response from the tower. They even called on the phone and still no response. Luckily both flights landed safely. I think we are all grateful for that and that we were not on those two flights that night. Certainly this could have been a life-threatening situation.

I think all of us can think of a time when we fell asleep at the wrong time. I remember once I dozed off during a particularly long testimony at a funeral in the deaf church where I was serving as pastor. It was quite embarrassing to wake up, realizing everyone was waiting for me to get up and finish the funeral.

Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his death. He asked three of his closest friends to pray with him but instead of praying they fell asleep. Three times they fell asleep during Jesus’ most agonizing moments with God. If they had stayed awake surely they could have been a comfort and a strength for Jesus.

We can fall asleep literally during important times and not so important times of life. But more subtle are times when we figuratively fall asleep by ignoring important issues of our faith. God is often like a jet pilot calling to us in the control deck of our life but we are rushing through our prayers, ignoring God’s warnings and leading and living as if we were asleep on the job.

What is our job? To love the Lord your God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. To do anything other than that is to be asleep on the job. We only get one life to live and we need to be awake, alive and obedient to God’s direction for our life. What message is God calling to you? How is God trying to get your attention? Keep awake and focused on God’s will for your life, and you will never sleep through God’s plan for your life.

Monday, April 4, 2011

When Religion Divides and Hurts People

The Spirit of God unites people and religion divides people. This statement sums up what is happening in the world today when religion goes painfully wrong and people get hurt. How sad that Rev. Terry Jones decided to burn the Koran causing riots and death to innocent people from the UN. How sad that the Westboro Baptist church hurts so many people during their funeral protests. They do this as a way of making a statement against gay people in this country. When beliefs are such that the people holding those beliefs justify hurt and destruction then things have gone far from the holy intent of religion. We shake our heads in disgust and disbelief.

But do we not do the same thing when we reject and hurt people with our words over controversial issues that arise in our churches? When there are divisions and painful arguments in church over anything whatsoever we have convicted ourselves of hypocrisy. Paul says in I Corinthians 6:7-8 “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead you yourselves cheat and do wrong and you do this to your brothers.”

Instead of engaging in controversy and disagreement, put energy into doing the things that make for the unity of the body. The fruit of the Spirit gives love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22). Peace and unity among people of faith is the greatest witness we have to the love of Christ in this world. How can you wage peace in turbulent times in your church? If we can’t do it here in our churches then we have no room to judge others stirring up controversy and pain in this world.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Restoring the Passover…Restore Holy Week Services

Long ago there lived and good and just king named Josiah. He was the king of Judah during the last years of its time as an independent kingdom. Josiah was a good king but his father before him had been a bad king. During the reign of his father, Amon, the Jewish people were worshiping the idols of foreign gods and did all the evil things that his father did. His father King Manasseh was even more evil. He worshiped idols, shed innocent blood, consulted mediums and wizards, burned his children as sacrifices and set up idols on the very altar of the temple.

Josiah became king at the age of 8 and the Book of II Kings compares him to King David. It says “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.” (II Kings 23:25) When he was 18 he sent workers into the temple to renovate and to purge the house of God of all the foreign gods and evil practices. While they were fixing up the temple they uncovered the Law of Moses. It had not been read in years. When the law was read to the king he realized that God’s people were in serious trouble with God because of their years of idol worship. He tore his clothes and called for a national time of repentance and restoration.

He directed that all the people should come to the temple and hear the reading of the book of the covenant, he destroyed all the idols, he deposed the idolatrous priests, he broke down the houses of the male temple prostitutes. He even burned the bones of the people who had been idol-worshipers as a way of defiling the pagan altars.

He reinstituted the Passover celebration as well. Apparently the Jews had not been celebrating the Passover for a very long time. This was a feast that commemorated the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. It was the Passover that Jesus celebrated with his disciples the night before he was crucified.

Sometimes I think our churches are acting like the Jews before Josiah came along. For the most part we don’t take Holy Week services very seriously. We’ve forgotten who we are. Attendance at our Holy Thursday services are usually small and some churches don’t even have Good Friday services at all. This is a holy remembrance of the most important acts of Christ’s life and most of our church members stay home! This should not be. We go to Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday but skip the journey to the cross. Our churches should be just as full on Holy Thursday and Good Friday as they are on Easter.

I encourage you to be like Josiah. Put God first in your life. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength. Make the holy services a priority in your life. Put away the idols, the competing activities, and live for God only.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

George Clooney Doesn’t Have to Die from Malaria

I learned today that the actor George Clooney contracted malaria while he was on a humanitarian trip to Africa recently. This apparently is not the first bout with malaria and he has been treated and is doing fine. This disease, which kills a child every 45 seconds on this earth is still a killer. However in the United States, where we have more money and superior health care resources people can take life-saving medications so they don’t have to die from malaria.

It is true of many diseases. Years ago people died from illnesses that today would be easily treated with antibiotics. In a new book entitled, How they Croaked, by Georgia Bragg, we read about the death of many famous people. Most of them could have been saved from it they had our modern medicines. King Henry VIII died from infection in his leg caused by gout. When I studied my family history I learned of a woman in the family who lived in the 1800’s who died in childbirth. A simple C-section would have saved her life and the life of the baby.

Here is the point: we know how to save people from dying from malaria. It is not just about nets. United Methodists have raised $16 million dollars for campaign known as “Nothing but Nets.” The nets prevent people from getting bit by the deadly night time mosquitoes that cause malaria. The new campaign: “Imagine No Malaria” takes things even further.Life-saving medicines and lab tests are part of the program. It also teaches people how to properly use the bed nets and how to avoid contact with mosquitoes. In addition it pays for research on mosquitoes and how to stop them from infecting people with this deadly disease.

No one has to die from malaria. Please raise funds for this continuing effort at your church.It is one of the Four Foci of the United Methodist Church. Then bring your church’s offering to Annual Conference or send it to your conference office.

We believe in making disciples of Jesus Christ and then going out and transforming the world. There are many people who die needlessly and we can make a difference by our generosity.

For more information, go to:

Friday, March 18, 2011

Saint Patrick

Born in AD 387, Patrick was the son of a deacon who lived in Roman Britain. At the age of sixteen he was kidnapped by pirates who sold him into slavery to a rich man in Ireland. There he worked as a shepherd for six years until miraculously God provided a way of escape. In a vision he saw a ship that was to take him home and he escaped by the very ship he saw in his vision and returned to his family. He studied for the priesthood and was asked to return to Ireland to work as a missionary in this land that was entirely pagan. His six years of slavery there afforded him the knowledge of the language. His master was a high ranking druid and from him he learned the culture of the druid religion. God used the six years of slavery to train Patrick for his future service. Under his many years of missionary work in Ireland he converted Ireland to Christianity and brought about many social reforms.

I thank God for Patrick’s adversity that God used for good. As we face setbacks and troubles in life we need to remember this godly man’s experience and remember that “all things work together for good as we love God and are called according to God’s purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Here are some words of Saint Patrick that we should pray every day:
I bind myself today, God’s power to guide me, God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to reach me, God’s eye to watch over me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s Word to give me speech, God’s hand to guide me, God’s way to lie before me, God’s shield to shelter me, God’s host to secure me against the snares of demons, against the seduction of vices.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Double Portion of Elijah’s Spirit

Long ago there was a mighty prophet named Elijah. You can read about him in the Book of First Kings. He lived during the time of the kings of Israel and Judah. He was full of the Spirit of God. He told King Ahab that there would be a great drought in the land. During this drought he cared for a widow and promised her, by a miracle of God, that her oil and flour would not run out until the drought was over. Later he challenged the prophets of Baal (the pagan god) to a contest. The god that could light a fire on the altar on Mt. Carmel would be the one true god. The God of Israel won of course, and Elijah had the prophets of Baal put to a sword. Still later Elijah spoke against King Ahab for killing a man in order to steal his garden. Finally he was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire. Just before he went to heaven he asked his assistant, Elisha, if he had any last requests. Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah told him that was a difficult request but if he saw him ascend into heaven then God would grant his wish. Elisha did see Elijah go up into heaven and a double portion of Elijah’s spirit began to manifest itself in the ministry of Elisha. His story can be found in the Book of Second Kings.

Elisha’s ministry was characterized by acts of social justice. He raised money for the pension fund for the widow of a dead prophet by multiplying oil, he changed polluted water into fresh water, he prayed for a childless woman to bear a son, later when that miracle-child, who was born to this woman, died, it was Elisha who raised him back to life, he removed poison from a pot of soup, he miraculously raised up an ax head from the water, he multiplied twelve loaves of bread into enough food for a hundred people, and he healed an army commander of leprosy.

One of Elisha’s most amazing deeds was to conquer an entire army. He did this with the disarming power of kindness. The king of the Aramean army sought to kill Elisha because he was able to predict his military maneuvers and tell them to the King of Israel. The Aramean army arrived at Elisha’s home with orders to kill him. He prayed to the Lord to strike the soldiers with temporary blindness. While they were blind he led them to the capital city of Israel (Samaria) where he restored their sight. The king of Israel saw the enemy army and exclaimed to Elisha, “Shall I kill them?” Elisha told him not to kill them but to give them food and water. This they did and after they feasted the army went home and there was peace between Israel and Aram from then on.

Having a double portion of Elijah’s spirit appears to me to manifest itself in acts of kindness, concern for the marginalized, helping the environment, feeding the hungry, showing compassion for one’s enemies and healing the sick. These are some of the basic ministries of a Christian and you don’t need to be a miracle-working prophet to do these things. God’s Spirit can lead you to places in your world where you can make peace. God’s Spirit can empower you to feed hungry people in your community. God’s Spirit can give you a heart for people who are left out of the things that make life meaningful. You can contribute to the Central Conference Pension Fund.

When you do these things it is evident that you too have a double portion of Elijah’s Spirit, which is the amazing Spirit of God.