Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Freedom Isn’t Free

Photo 69266331 © Paul Brady |

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recently issued some long-awaited, almost unbelievable news: those who have been fully vaccinated can resume life normally without masks.

Of course, those who have not been vaccinated should continue to wear them. I have been asked to give updated recommendations for safety protocols for worship services and other gatherings in the wake of this new news. But this announcement from the CDC has made things easier and harder at the same time. This new freedom is spurring mixed reactions and new things to consider.

It reminds me of a song I heard years ago. Many of my friends in high school joined a singing group known as “Up with People.” They toured the country performing a number of positive songs about the future and the importance of world peace. One of their signature songs was, “Freedom Isn’t Free.” (Written by Paul and Ralph Colwell). I still remember the chorus:

“Freedom isn’t free. Freedom isn’t free. You’ve got to pay the price, you’ve got to sacrifice, for your liberty.”

This was the era of the Viet Nam War, after our many of fathers, brothers and other relatives had fought in World War II and the Korean War. The yearning for peace was on our hearts back then, just as it is now.

Remember those who sacrificed for freedom

Indeed, as we approach Memorial Day, May 31, we know that freedom for any nation is maintained at the cost of countless lives given by service men and women in armed conflict. There is a price and a sacrifice that we honor with grateful hearts. Other kinds of freedom also have a cost. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) Freedom from sin, gained through Christ Jesus, requires a commitment to stand firm in the face of temptation.  

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul admonishes them, “But take care that this freedom of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Corinthians 8:9). In this case he refers to Christians who are eating meat sacrificed to idols, which is perfectly alright in Paul’s eyes. But he is quick to remind the early church that some Christians are offended by this.

The caution is that we should not create problems for those who are more sensitive to this practice by freely and carelessly eating in front of them. The greater goal is not to hurt anyone.

Prioritize love, respect to preserve unity 

The price is to curb one’s expression of freedom out of respect for others. We do this out of love for Christ, in order to preserve the unity of the body.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is waning, it is not yet over. When it comes to wearing protective masks, there are people who prefer to wear them in church to feel safer—vaccinated or not. If that is the case, would it not be best to observe more caution, so that they feel more comfortable? Each church needs to work out its own plans, but love and respect for everyone should always be your ultimate aim.

One more thing: even with these new guidelines from the CDC for those who have been vaccinated, the world is not free from this deadly disease. It is still ravaging many countries on this globe even as I write these words. Is it not true that until all are free, none of us is truly free?

We are one family of humanity, and what affects one affects us all. That is certainly true when it comes to the reach of international travel. And if we believe we are all God’s family, then it is most especially true.

In that spirit, let us freely sacrifice for others in order to hasten the day of full freedom from COVID. Let us give generously of our means to support the efforts of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and the UM Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Still engaged in an ongoing, global response to COVID-19, they have sent $110,000 to our mission partners in India to provide relief for those who have lost income due to the pandemic. They have also provided funds for the purchase of medical equipment, ventilators, hospital beds and hygiene.

UMCOR’s COVID -19 response includes ongoing support of essential health services throughout the UMC health providers network and support of communities affected by the grave burdens of this disease.

You can help provide freedom by donating to the UMCOR COVID-19 Response Fund (Advance #3022612). Send your donations to our Conference office or mail them to Global Ministries/UMCOR, 458 Ponce De Leon Avenue, NEJ, Atlanta, GA 30308. Or give online at

Freedom isn’t free. Protect it and help all to find freedom by sharing with them your respect and loving sacrifice. The greatest freedom of all is in Christ Jesus, our paramount model of loving, caring sacrifice. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36).


Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Pentecost: Come, Holy Spirit!

When I arrived on the campus of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, in the fall of 1977 to begin my Master of Divinity degree, one of the first things I was asked was, “Have you heard about the revival of 1970?” I had not.

The word “revival” was not something I had been familiar with growing up in a middle-class Methodist Church (not yet “United” Methodist), in a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland. I had a vague idea that it was some weeklong event in which a church invited a preacher to come and “revive” a complacent congregation. But I had never attended one.

It wasn’t long before I was duly instructed about the famous “Asbury Revival.” On February 3, 1970, in the Hughes Auditorium at Asbury College (the undergraduate school across the street from the seminary), a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit broke out during a regular morning chapel service. Non-stop prayer and an outpouring of spiritual gifts took control for 185 hours.

Classes were canceled and students and faculty devoted themselves to prayer and fasting. From that fervent prayer revival came amazing testimonies of commitments to Christ, confessions of sin, miracles of healing, broken marriages restored, and calls into ministry and the mission field.

Newspapers and TV stations across the country flocked to the tiny town of Wilmore to cover this phenomenon. Prayer requests poured in by telegram and telephone. Local church attendees, seminary students and curious neighbors packed the Hughes Auditorium to experience this supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit. It was described by one observer as “a weight of glory covering the campus.”

The will to seek God with all our hearts

Surely, we long for that today, and from time to time we experience these kinds of extraordinary signs of God’s Spirit on the move. There could be more of it if we just had the will to seek God with all of our hearts.

When we pray “Come, Holy Spirit,” as we do every year during our annual observance of Pentecost, do we know what we are asking? As the saying goes, “Be careful what you pray for.”

Praying for the movement of the Spirit involves commitment on our part and a willingness to radically shake up our “business as usual” forms of worship and practices of holiness. It isn’t about God coming down and fixing things for us. It is about humbly submitting to being changed and turned around. And yes, it is about sacrificing some of our comfortable ways of keeping God in a safe little box on the shelf of our hearts.

First and foremost, it requires an enormous amount of committed prayer and attention to the disciplines of our faith.

What happens when God shows up

When God shows up, as was seen at Asbury College and on the Day of Pentecost as recorded in the Book of Acts, chapter 2, this is what we will experience:

1) Confession – When confronted with the presence of God in the temple the prophet Isaiah declared, “I am lost, I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5) On the Day of Pentecost, after Peter preached to thousands, the listeners were “cut to the heart and cried out, ‘What shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37)

A sudden, keen awareness of God’s presence always unleashes an acknowledgement of sin and a desire to repent (which means to turn around 180 degrees and go the right way). Are we willing to come clean with God and confess the sin in our life? Sin is a sure-fire way to prevent the flow of God’s power. Confession and repentance heal the soul and open the floodgates of revival. 

2) Financial reckoning – The manager of the Asbury Seminary bookstore testified to how many debts were paid off and stolen books were returned during the revival of 1970. Another sure sign of God’s Spirit working in our life is how we manage our temporal affairs.

Members of the early church were moved by the Spirit to share all of their earthly possessions in common; so no one had any need. (Acts 2:45) Can we take an honest look at our checkbooks or bank account statements and share our means in ways that can help others to simply live? The Spirit provides in abundance as the grip of greed and consumerism is released from those of us who have the world’s possessions.

3) Justice - Micah 6:8 declares that we are to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.” Justice is first because it is God’s priority that all are regarded as equal, beloved and uniquely gifted for the good of the whole. God doesn’t prefer some groups of people over others. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit always gives us the power to overcome and dismantle barriers of race, gender, class, ability, age and sexual orientation.

On the Day of Pentecost diverse languages were spoken, sons and daughters prophesied, young and old had visions and dreams and God’s Spirit was poured out on all the people. (Acts 2:17)

How is that manifestation of the Spirit working in your church, in your life? How can we break down barriers of division that we have created to keep ourselves safe and comfortable with those who look and think like us? The Spirit calls us to be the “salt and light” the world needs—the flavor and flame within to create equity, inclusion and justice for all people.

4) Faith sharing – After the Asbury revival there were over 2,000 witnessing teams sent out across the country and around the world. They comprised students at the college who had experienced the revival. They gave testimony to God’s power, and that testimony caused even more revival in many other places. More than 130 Christian colleges and seminaries saw a dramatic increase in enrollments during that revival era of the 1970, a time of turbulent social change in our society.

One does not have to go to seminary or engage in professional ministry to share one’s faith. Tell your story of what the Lord has done for you. The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say. God uses our hands and feet and our words to spread the Good News of salvation and everlasting life. If not you, who will do it?

As we pray, “Come, Holy Spirit” this year on Pentecost Sunday, remember what that means for you personally. You are asking God to:
  • convict you of sin and repair the wrongs in your life;
  • to truly give God control over your money;
  • to work for justice in this world, (starting with any exclusivities in your church and personal life); and
  • to go out and tell—in your words and deeds—the “old, old story of Jesus and his love.”

  • “God in Our Midst” by Howard A. Hanke,, March 10, 2020
  • “Beautiful Feet”, June 22, 2018
  • One Divine Moment: The Account of the Asbury Revival of 1970, edited by Robert E. Coleman and David J. Gyertson
  • Read another, 50th anniversary account of the Asbury Revival and its lasting impact, published in 2020 by Church of God Ministries.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Freeing ourselves from the prisons in our hearts

The most curious thing that belonged to my father was a cotton handkerchief that he mounted on a frame and hung on the wall in his little antique shop. On the handkerchief was a hand-painted picture of a beautiful Japanese woman, surrounded by a pink cherry blossom tree and some Japanese writing. 

At the bottom was the signature of the artist and the letters, “POW” for Prisoner of War.  My dad served in the Air Force in World War II and was stationed in Guam. He was part of the bomber crew that conducted raids against the Japanese Imperial Army. 

This handkerchief was original art from the hand of a “POW” who was incarcerated at the Air Force base in Guam at the time. This entrepreneur would make deals with American soldiers in order to secure cigarettes and other creature comforts. 

Anyone who would give him a clean handkerchief and a pack of cigarettes or a candy bar, would receive his handkerchief back with a lovely Japanese picture.  My father was one of the customers, and this curious treasure came back home with him after the war.

I used to stare at this picture in awe.  Japanese people were so foreign to me. I had never encountered anyone of Asian descent in my whole life growing up.  I heard about World War II and was glad that the Americans had defeated the Japanese; but I had no idea what had happened just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. 

Japanese incarceration in WW II concentration camps

President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced Executive Order 9066 that created a forced relocation and incarceration in concentration camps of more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, 62 percent of whom were American citizens.  These camps were located mostly in remote areas of Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Arizona, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Arkansas, Wyoming, Colorado and California.

Personal property was seized, assets were frozen or stolen, and there was no recourse or defense for these Japanese Americans.  They were deemed guilty by the fact that they were at least 1/16th Japanese.  They were prisoners of war in their own country. 

At the camps, they were subjected to harsh conditions, forced labor and denial of basic human rights. Their crime was being who they were; and racism, fear and executive Presidential privilege painted the canvas.

After World War II these camps were all closed. The Supreme Court ruled that the practice of incarcerating citizens was unconstitutional, President Gerald Ford, officially repealed the President Roosevelt’s executive order in 1976. The United States Congress issued a formal apology in 1988 and passed the “Civil Liberties Act,” which awarded $20,000 to over 80,0000 Japanese Americans as reparations for these atrocities.

Fast-forward to now. There is a new kind of prison emerging in the rising tide of hate crimes and discrimination against Asian Americans, which has increased since the onset of the coronavirus. Claims by high profile voices that this pandemic was caused by the Chinese people has ignited much violence and suffering for people of not only Chinese but Asian heritage in general. 

Hate crimes against Asian Americans increase

The incidences of abuse and hate crimes has risen by 150 percent this year alone; acts of prejudice that aren’t crimes have also soared with 2,800 cases being reported since March. Asian women are 2.5 times more likely to be targeted than men, adding sexism to the racism.   

This environment creates a culture of fear and a “prison” of anxiety and worry for our Asian-heritage brothers and sisters.  I know of one Asian American woman whose family has encouraged her to purchase pepper spray as protection.

We as God’s people should be speaking out about this, naming it when we see it, and living in respectful, peaceful ways among people of all races, cultures and diverse conditions.  The truth is, when we harbor racist attitudes and practice discrimination, we too are in a prison of isolation, fear and anger that is just as constrictive and deadly to our souls.

Jesus engaged personally with Samaritan, Syrophoenician, Greek and persons of other outcast groups who many despised. He—like his apostles Peter and Paul—calls us today to close down our prisons of fear and open wide our hearts through love, acceptance and a vision of God’s marvelous, diverse creation. 

Through the power of the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus, we can do this. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:14a “For he himself is our peace, who has made us one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.”

I encourage you to engage and seek conversations with people of Asian descent and hear their stories, learn about their families and cultures, and find new freedom of heart, as we tear down the prison walls of separation. Also, become an outspoken advocate against the national tide of hate and rejection of Asian-heritage people.

May is National Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.  What a great time to do all this and more!