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Archive for September, 2008

Church Growth

Are all churches supposed to have 300+ members in them?  Why is it that if a church has around 100 (or less) people regularly attending that it is assumed that they are dying churches?

Some are dying but some people also like small churches.  Not for “sick’ reasons like needing a place to have power and control, but for the close-knit community.  Is that really a bad thing?

I’m not a person concerned with “saving souls.”  I just don’t see that as part of my job.  God saves souls–not me.  However, I do see myself as a harbinger of hope.  That’s my job–to point to Jesus, to create a place where people can have hope in Christ.  Hopefully a place where they can experience God’s grace.  That is what I understand my duty as pastor and Christian to be–harbinger of hope.

So what does that have to do with church growth?  Well, just like most evangelists who are into saving souls; I too want to offer this hope in Christ to the most people I possibly can.  I’m not opposed to church growth at all, however I do wonder if that should even be our goal. 

It seems that the books “out there” which have been reccomended for pastors in our conference to read have intros that brag about “we went into church X that had 50 people and when we left it was 500 and still growing exponentially.”  I would laugh at seminary when pastors on campus would announce similiar things in classes. 

As a new pastor at a church where attendence has surged with my coming I understand how that can be a big ego boost but I also understand that it’s not really about me.  I’m guessing that attendence will go back down at some point and I don’t think that will mean I’m a failure. 

I don’t think people who pastor small churches are necessarily failures.  If a person has a pattern of leaving churches considerably smaller than when they started then that’s worth looking into but it doesn’t neccessarily mean that the pastor is a failure.

I hope to pastor churches and bring new people in–leading them to grow in Christ, to lean on the hope that God has provided for us.  I want to share this hope and faith that I’ve found (or has found me) with everyone.  I think it would change our world for the better. 

I hope that I can help churches to become more active in their communities and understand that this activity comes directly out of their faith–it’s not another “have to” or “should” but a blessing they get to share with others.  I hope to offer support and hope to those both in and outside of my church when they come to me in need.  I also hope those in the church will take care of one another. 

But I don’t have hopes that these churches I get to pastor are huge–that they grow from 50 to 500 people.  I don’t want them grouped into little categories so that they can be with others who look and think just like themselves.  I think we grow most when we are with others unlike us, in diverse groups we have more opportunity to learn and communicate with one another.  Yes, this can be hard work but isn’t this what Jesus did?  Didn’t Jesus hang with the low-lifes and talk with the holy authorities?  Didn’t he attempt to bring them together?

Why can’t my success story read something like “When I first went to the church this is what they were doing, _____.  Before I left we moved beyond just _____ and began to ______, and this____.  We grew spiritually and also reached out to many others. 

Yes, I too would hope and expect that some of the numbers would rise.  It seems fitting that numerical growth comes out of doing the rest.  But I question that having numerical growth as our goal is a positive thing.  If we’re talking numbers doesn’t that diminish the soul, the person?

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It feels like cheating this week.  We are having a marvelous 130th Celebration at Sharp’s Grove UMC this Sunday.  I’m very excited about it–I’m sure it will be WONDERFUL!  That said–I sort of cheated.  I found an old sermon by Rev. Sam Jones and am using most of it as my sermon–in an attempt to offer some that old-time religion.

Hebrew Scripture Lesson:  Exodus 17: 17-21

       From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

New Testament Lesson:  2 Corinthians 5: 17-21

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Gospel Lesson:  John 10: 1-10

‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

       So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

 Sermon

I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking for sermons from the first circuit riders who raced into town, stopping just long enough to deliver a sermon before racing off to the next town  in need of hearing God’s holy word.  However, most circuit writers did not publish their sermons, nor have them compiled into books for us to read 130 years later.  Most of them raced around the country, riding and preaching to exhaustion.  Circuit riders tended to die young because they had a rough life–never even knowing where they might lay their head for the night, they barely made enough to keep themselves and their horses fed,  they placed their trust in God—knowing that whatever came their way God was with them and would provide.

While I did not find a sermon written by one of Sharp’s Grove’s very own circuit riders, I did find a sermon by a well-known and respected Methodist Minister and Circuit rider by the name of Sam Jones.  Reverend Jones was well known for his story-telling and clear wit.  I’d like to share of bit of one of Reverend Jones’ sermons with you—give you a taste of that old-time religion that we sometimes miss and long for.  When I think of old-time religion, I think of preaching about Jesus going to the cross—this is what Reverend Jones had to say about it:

“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.”  I believe that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.  I believe that he was God.  I believe that he was man.  I believe we needed this God-Man.  Jesus Christ is a mediator – one who works between two parties.  I think it was Bishop Morris who put this in the strongest way.  He said, “Jesus was the mediator, the one between the two, and Jesus was divine, and Jesus
was human, and he laid the left hand of his humanity on the shoulder of man, and then, reaching up, caught the shoulder of God with the right hand of his divinity, and he brought God and man together.”  We needed Christ.

And I believe another thing, brother.  I believe the Lord Jesus Christ not only came and lived among men, but he fared largely as other men did and do.  Jesus Christ suffered and died for what he was and for what he said and for what he did.  That’s true.  And Jesus Christ died as naturally as St. Paul died, and St. Paul died a natural death.  

Do you want to know what I mean by this?  I mean that in that day, in the fullness of the time, when Jesus came, it was death to any man to preach righteousness and live it before the people.  And Jesus came and suffered the penalty of his righteous life and his righteous words.  Now, on this question, I want to say, brethren, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of men, suffered the penalty of his words and his works.

It was death to the God-man.  It was death to those who loved this God-man, to talk and preach as he did.  Then I see Jesus on that cross as he suffers and dies; and, listen, brother, on that cross I see the divinest, grandest manifestation of God’s love to man.  If you want to draw out from the deepest depth all that’s true in me, listen.  You see Christ on that cross.  I have heard men say that Jesus hung on the cross to satisfy the claims of divine justice.  I have heard them say Jesus was hung on that cross to appease God’s wrath against man; but I will tell you my conception of it, and this little bundle of paper, the Bible, which I hold in my hand, is with me.  Jesus Christ was not there to satisfy claims of
divine justice.  He was not there as a target of divine wrath.  No. 

Would you make me believe that God was angry with humanity six thousand years ago, and that the only way to keep him from killing out the whole concern was to put his only Son on the cross and sacrifice him? I do not believe God suffered his Son to be crucified because he was mad with men, but that Jesus came and died because of God’s
love for man.  “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him might not perish, but haveeverlasting life.”

God doesn’t love me because Christ died for me, but Christ died for me because of God’s unspeakable love for me.  Now you are getting your theology right on this question, and you can knock all the infidelity out of this country by this great New Testament doctrine.  Love!  “Herein is love, not that we loved Him, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  And this old idea we have,
that God does not love anybody but good people, won’t do.  Some people get this idea in their heads, and the first thing you know they think they have a corner on the grace of God, and are trying to run a monopoly on the love of heaven.

Hear, my brethren, God loves every man in this universe.  I will take this view.  The sun in mid-heaven shines on everything alike.  It shines on the verdant valleys, on the bold mountain peaks.  It pours its vivifying rays on growing grain, fruits, and flowers, as well as on the stricken oak, or blasted tree,  and sterile ground.  It shines on all alike.  Why?  Because it is its nature to shine on everything.  God’s name as well as nature is love, and God loves everything that comes under the burning rays of his love.  God loves all men.  He loved me just as much before I was converted as he loves me now.  If he had not, I never would have been converted.  It is God’s nature to love, and you cannot make it out that God is mad with men.  O thou infinite God of love and mercy,
of long suffering and goodness, show us all that thou hast never dealt with us in anger, but always in love.

God loves us, brethren, and Jesus Christ was not hung on the cross as a target of divine justice, or to placate divine anger, but as the manifestation of God’s love to dying men.  That’s it.  I hope I am orthodox, brethren!  I hope I am.  If I am not, I will tell you this much, I can love God more with this view of the divine atonement than I can with any other; and you must let me have my way, because I can get
along better on that than on any other ground.  We won’t quarrel about it.  You may take the other view of it if you like, or mix the two together if you please, but I love Him because he first loved me.  He is a loving Savior; a loving Savior, living; loving, dying; loving, going to the grave; loving, rising; always filled with love for me.

“Now, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.”  Jesus was emphatically a new creature in the world.  There was none like him before, nor any like him since.  Jesus prayed, “Father, as we are one, grant that these people may be all one with us.”  All are merged into one in Christ – one in purpose, one in desire, one in intention, one in love, one in purity, one in faith, one in forgiveness, one in pardon.  It is a
oneness in sentiment, purpose, virtue, desire, love, and purity.

There it is, that old-time religion.  We are made one in Christ—through Christ we are forgiven and pardoned.  God loved us so much that God became, as Reverend Jones puts it—the God-man.  It was love that spurred Jesus to go on to the cross, it was God’s love for us and now we are called to go out in this same love, the love of Christ and share this wondrous story  with the rest of the world.  God loved us and because of that love Jesus went to the cross, died, and rose again—all for us, all out of love.  How do we even begin to show our gratitude?  By accepting this gift of grace and sharing it with every person we meet.  We are made new in Christ, so that we can share this glorious news of hope and love with the rest of the world, so that they too may become a new creature in Christ.  As long as we continue to tell the story, this church will stand.  Amen.

       In your bulletin you will find John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer.  John Wesley was the father of Methodism and this beautiful prayer is an affirmation of being made new in Christ, as we pray together with one voice, let these words saturate your spirit:

I am no longer my own, but thine.

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,

exalted for thee or brought low for thee.

Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.  And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

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Raise your hand if you know that today is Johnny Appleseed Day!

September 26, 1774 was his birthday. “Johnny Appleseed” (John Chapman) is one of America’s great legends. He was a nurseryman who started out planting trees in western New York and Pennsylvania, but he was among those who were captivated by the movement west across the continent.

As Johnny traveled west (at that time, the “West” was places like Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois) he planted apple trees and sold trees to settlers. With every apple tree that was planted, the legend grew. A devout Christian, he was known to preach during his travels. According to legend, Johny Appleseed led a simple life and wanted little. He rarely accepted money and often donated any money he received to churches or charities. He planted hundreds of orchards, considering it his service to humankind. There is some link between Johny Appleseed and very early Arbor Day celebrations.

So, in honor of this interesting fellow, let’s get on with the questions!

1. What is your favorite apple dish? (BIG BONUS points if you share the recipe.)

Unfortunately I do not have the recipe because I just tasted it for the first time this past Sunday at our  monthly church potluck!  It was a superior apple crumble/cobbler sort of thing.  The woman said she doubled the oatmeal crumble stuff and the key was using FRESH apples.

2. Have you ever planted a tree? If so was there a special reason or occasion you can tell us about?

We planted 3 fruit trees a few years back–for purely selfish reasons, fresh fruit of course!  The plum tree has yet to produce and I think Joel accidently picked up a flowering pear tree rather than a fruity one.  The peaches and apples we have been blessed with are wonderful though!  Praise the Lord for fresh peaches and apples!

3. Does the idea of roaming around the countryside (preaching or otherwise) appeal to you? Why or why not?

Of course!  It would be wonderful to see and meet all sorts of fascinating people and places.  The photo opportunities would be terrific as well. 

4. Who is a favorite “historical legend” of yours?Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day–I find her inspirational and amazing!  She took Jesus’ words about the poor literally rather than trying to water them down and her whole world shifted.  I wish I was brave enough to be like her. 

5. Johnny Appleseed was said to sing to keep up his spirits as he traveled the roads of the west. Do you have a song that comes when you are trying to be cheerful, or is there something else that you often do?
At our house we sarcastically sing “I feel the joy, joy, joy down in my heart.  Where?  Down in my heart!”  I imagine that you know the rest.  It usually brings a few laughs and changes our mood–not always but often. 

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Palin says what?

Ok, so I say dumb stuff all the time.  It would be awful if I was badgered by the press and there were actual recordings of everything I said. Just one of the many reasons I’ll never be a political candidate.

It seems that if McCain is elected then at the very least we’ll have some highly entertaining spoofs on SNL. 

I was intrigued by a news headline that said Palin defends Alaska/Russia statement.  I thought perhaps she was revising her thoughts on possibly going to war with Russia (I was hoping), however it was just more about Alaska being neighbors with Russia.  But then I read this:

Palin was asked if she thought the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan was helping to mitigate terrorism

“I think our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan will lead to further security for our nation. We can never again let them onto our soil,” she said

What?  “We can never again let them onto our soil?” and our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan does this? How so?

Who is she talking about?  I’ll admit I’m rather ignorant on politics and foreign affairs but I don’t see how this makes any sense at all.  It is not as though folks from Iraq and Afghanistan can’t get into the U.S. Furthermore, not all the people of Iraq and Afghanistan are terrorists that we need to fear!

I am not sure which I find more insulting, that McCain picked Palin as a running mate to “woo” women voters or that there are women democrats who are allegedly drawn in by this!  It’s not as though Palin and McCain have suddenly became Democrats and their stances have changed to be reflective of their own.  Egads! 

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Sarah Palin–Qualified for VP or Not?

I recieved this as an email:

PBS has a poll going: Do you think Sarah Palin is qualified to serve as
Vice President of the UA?

Voting started at about 66% No, 30% Yes.  This is now changing.  The right wing has an email campaign going to turn the results around.

http://www.pbs.org/now/polls/poll-435.html

After you vote, please send this to others.

http://www.pbs.org/now/polls/poll-435.html

I thought I’d post it here and see if anyone was interested.  It’s pretty crazy if you ask me. It’s not a scientific poll but like that matters.  Either side will take it and run with it.  I think this whole focus on the “polls” is destroying our voting system.  People stay in or out depending on the polls.  Rather than thinking for themselves everything boils down to the polls–for both the politicians and the voters.  It’s all making me nausious!  Can’t it be November 10 yet?

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My day off

It’s my day off…it’s nearly 3pm and I’m still in my pj’s!  I’ve alternated between lounging around and working on getting the living room in some sort of order and getting our laundry caught up.  Which reminds me that I need to move clothes from washer to dryer when I’m done.  I’ve been very tired–emotionally and physically.  So I’m not going to be too hard on myself for still being in my pj’s.

We have a big day at Sharp’s Grove UMC on Sunday.  It will be their 130th Anniversary!  I’m very excited about the celebration and nervous as well.  We will only be having one service this weekend and I’ve asked the people at the bigger church to attend at Sharp’s Grove to give them encouragement.  I’d do the same for them as well.  It is still nerve wracking–I’m sure there are people who aren’t pleased that we won’t be having a worship service in town this Sunday.  I asked the ad board and they had thought it was a good idea too, so the good news is that I’m not alone.

Yesterday was our DS’s installation ceremony.  We arrived late but  the parts that we observed were wonderful.  I feel so lucky to be in this district with this particular DS.  He has a wonderful heart and also follows up on his word.  It seems that many of us clergy types aren’t so great with follow-up.  I count myself guilty!  He truly inspires me–it’s a wondrous gift and I am very greatful!

Peace and blessings!

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